Carol Devine Carson, VP and Art Director at the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, has been designing book covers that have deeply resonated with readers for more than two decades. Her work has been featured in various art shows and design publications, but Carol says that most gratifying for her has been the opportunity to work on great books by an impressive variety of wonderful authors: “Who gets to meet Katharine Hepburn, Julian Barnes, Katharine Graham, John Updike, Bill Clinton, or Julia Child by simply going to work?” Keep reading to hear more from Carol.
Q: What initially drew you to the world of book cover art design?
A: I was fortunate to have beautiful books around me from earliest memory. I never tired of looking at every detail and every color combination in the art. DOCTOR DOOLITTLE IN THE MOON (cover and endpapers) is but one example that still looks fresh and sophisticated to me. I believe the accompanying visual must support the writing and complement it, while bringing fresh ideas and surprise to it as well.
For example, in designing new volumes for the Everyman’s Library series of classic writing, which we launched at Knopf in 1991, I like to imagine a child getting a copy of THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, THE POPPY SEED CAKES, or maybe ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND.
Q: How would you describe the conceptual processes you follow when creating a book cover?
A: It all begins with the author and the writing. I have designed a few jackets for books that literally stunned me as I read them. The first being DAMAGE by Josephine Hart. I think I could read that book again today and feel the same way. I knew the jacket had to be stark and nonrepresentational, since the characters had to be solely in one’s imagination.
Another example is Anne Carson. She was a poet who was new to me when I worked on her early books. When I read AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF RED, it put a new twist on ancient lives. The image I used was an antique print bought at Argosy. Pretty old school–seeming now.
Joan Didion’s THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING was such personal writing that the jacket had to reflect that. When I began to lay the title and author name out in lettering the name JOHN (her late husband John Gregory Dunne) simply stood out in its natural sequence. (Editor’s note: THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING is a Landmark Title in memoir on Book Country.)
While reading Julian Barnes’ eloquent volume on grief, LEVELS OF LIFE, I kept thinking of the hot air balloon imagery he wrote about, but it seemed rather light-hearted. The final design came to me literally at five in the morning after a night of trying to solve it in my sleep.
Q: What role do you think a cover plays in attracting a reader to a title?
I think a jacket has to be appealing enough to be picked up in a bookstore. Or, if browsing online it needs to have enough impact even in a small electronic format. That’s what I had in mind when creating our poetry series SELECTED POEMS. I loved the large photographic portraits.
About Carol Devine Carson
Carol Devine Carson is Vice President and Art Director at the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Her designs include many iconic book covers, some of which can be seen here.