My Year That Was

I don’t think I’ve ever written something to sum up a year in my life before, and I feel like I kind of abandoned this blog a few months back. But now that it’s officially 2012, maybe I’ll start out by doing something new, and reviving something old, even though my eyes are the only ones that will most likely witness these events. Whatever, I like to write.

2011 was a pretty eventful year for me. The biggest thing that happened–which is also one of the main reasons I often didn’t have the time or energy to write on this blog–is that I started a new job. In August I took a full-time position designing books at St. Martin’s Press. I’m working exclusively on interiors, but I feel those are the unsung heroes of book design elements. Everyone notices a cover, but unless there’s something really catchy inside, most of that work goes unnoticed. Which is a shame, because there’s some really good, fun stuff going on in there sometimes.

The books I design are of a wide variety. They’re everything from saucy mass-market romance books, to the autobiography of Barack Obama’s half-sister, to (my favorite) trade fiction titles from Picador. I love all the different subjects; It helps me push myself to be versatile as a designer. And after working exclusively from home for nearly five years, it’s pretty nice to get out of the house and be around the living again, especially when it all takes place in the historic Flatiron Building. The commute though? Eh, I could do without that. But the health insurance alone would be worth it.

Last year my freelance business picked up a bit as well. I got a lot of work through small presses that I hadn’t worked with before, which is great. I love working with new clients and new projects. Most of the jobs I got were books, but also a lot of web work for some reason. I guess that’s more in demand than book design. But hey, I’ll take what I can get. If I can keep Steven Seighman Design moving forward in 2012 and keep building a bigger client base, I’ll be very happy.

I also took a lot of photos last year and started an Instagram account (my username is stevenseighman–follow me!) to share them through. That’s been a lot of fun and I’ve seen many, many great photographs from other people as well. This year I hope to have a better cameraphone to do all my shooting with, because mine is an iPhone 3G, and it’s just not cutting it anymore. Fingers crossed to more freelance work!

One of the things I talk about on this blog quite a bit is films. I even had a running total for everything I watched in 2011. That died off when I started the new full-time job, but up to that point I had amassed a pretty great collection of movies that I’d watched. And it did keep going after I stopped cataloging them, I just didn’t have the time to maintain the list anymore. I’m beginning again for 2012 though, and while the list might not be as long this year, it’s still going to be awesome. So far, only one movie: The Future. But that’s a great way to start off the year. I’m hoping for quality over quantity this time around.

Also in 2011 I celebrated my one-year anniversary as a vegan. This is something that I am very, very excited about, as you might know if you’ve read past entries in this blog. It’s a lifestyle that I am incredibly proud of, and hope to celebrate many, many more anniversaries of as the years go on.

There were some great highlights for Monkeybicycle last year, too. Aside from putting out one really terrific print issue (what should’ve been the second is coming out this month), we held what was probably one of my favorite readings that we’ve ever done over the nine years that the journal has been in existence. The Night of 20 Women, happened in NYC in July and featured some really amazing readers–all women–including Dawn Raffel, Deb Olin Unferth, and Shelley Jackson, just to name a few. I think it was one of our most attended events ever. I hope 2012 brings even more great things like that for Monkeybicycle. It’s our ten-year anniversary, so we need to make it BIG.

An only slightly less self-indulgent thing that happened last year, too, is that my girlfriend, Laura Carney, left her job in the trenches at OK! Magazine for the greener pastures of Hearst Tower and Good Housekeeping magazine. This made her very happy and, in turn, also made me very happy.

So there you go. My 2011. I’m guessing no one even made it to this page. But if they did, they surely didn’t make it to the end of this post, which is fine. In 2012 I pledge to write more interesting things that concern only me. Maybe then I’ll have more readers.

Happy 2012 everyone.

Guess the Designer Baby

I’m a little late to this, but Design Observer has been running baby photos of designers in a lead-up to Mother’s Day next month. Today’s image is the last one and it looks like no one has hit the nail on the head yet. If you know you’re designers (even when they’re babies), take a stab at it and you could win a nifty new Design Observer t-shirt.

Venture your guesses here.

Bourbon Penn

Lately I’ve been scouring the net for freelance work, and the place that seems to be the most friendly–at least to me–is Guru.com. I say they’re friendly because I’ve been bidding on jobs left and right and they don’t charge to do that. Of course, the bid credits are limited and now mine are exhausted, but not before I was able to lock down my first gig through them.

Bourbon Penn is a fine new literary journal based out of Austin, Texas. The job they posted was for a cover designer for their first print issue, and based on my work with both book design and literary journals (I founded the journal Monkeybicycle back in 2002 and still work on it as much as possible), they accepted my proposal.

The stories in issue one of Bourbon Penn are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, and always really good. Their site incorporates a lot of dramatic, surreal photography, so I wanted to keep that in mind as I designed their cover in order to tie the book to what they’ve already established as an aesthetic. And while the concept they signed off on (pictured below) ties into that overall feel, I think it speaks a little more to the stories in the book than the photography on the website–it’s a fine companion. The overall brand remains in tact and I’m excited to see how well the book does. If you have a few bucks to spend on something new to read, I recommend investing in Bourbon Penn. It’s inexpensive, but the content is worth a ton. Order the book here.

 

Rejected!

Working in graphic design usually means managing large files. That’s the case for me, anyway. As the designer of several publishing imprints, space fills up pretty quickly on my hard drive. It’s to the point now where I’m at capacity and preparing to delete a lot of things in order to move forward. Going back through my files from the past few years I’ve discovered a lot of rejected book jacket ideas. It’s interesting to see just what makes the cut and what doesn’t. In the spirit of one of my favorite book design blogs, Shelved Books, I thought it would be fun to post some of them here as a way to say goodbye before they make their way to my iMac’s Trashcan. I prefer some of these to what ended up actually being the cover that was chosen, but some are also obviously not the right fit. I won’t say which is which; you can decide for yourself. It’s also nice to see what I believe to be some significant growth in my design capabilities, despite making a few great (lucky?) choices early on.

Behold:

30 Covers, 30 Days

The great Office of Letters and Light is smack dab in the middle of their 30 Covers, 30 Days project. The gist of this is that 30 NaNoWriMo authors were selected to participate, and they provide the title and synopsis of their project, and then OLL‘s incredibly dreamy collection of designers–including greats (and some of my favorites) like John Gall, Rodrigo Corral, Chip Kidd, and Sam Potts, to name a few–will each be assigned one title and have only 24 hours to create a cover. It’s super fun to follow if you’re a book designer. Maybe even if you’re not, I don’t know.

Follow along at here.

Further Adventures in the Restless Universe

Today the Huffington Post is running an article called 21 of the Coolest Book Covers This Year. Among those listed are titles designed by some of the industry’s best: Barbara De Wilde, Allison Saltzman, and Rodrigo Corral, to name a few. Clicking through the slideshow I found myself getting very inspired. There are so many great designers represented here, and as someone who works on books regularly, I’m always looking at the work of others to get me motivated.

When I got to number 20 on the list, I wasn’t looking at someone else’s work though; I was looking at my own. Included in this collection of 21 cool book covers from 2010 is Further Adventures in the Restless Universe, a short story collection by the brilliant Dawn Raffel, that I designed for Dzanc Books sometime around January. The book is a beautifully written collection of stories about–among other things–the fragile and beautiful relationships between parents and children.

I have to admit that the artwork for this cover was supplied to me by the author. It’s a drawing by her young son and, considering the subject matter, that seems fitting. What I did was clean up the image and add the typography. It was a lot of fun because I was able to pull some of the shapes and incorporate them throughout the rest of the cover and the interior of the book, which is always nice to be able to do. The nature of this drawing made those things relatively easy. All in all, it was a pleasure to work on this project.

There are a lot of book designers out there. I know because I compete with them for freelance work everyday. So, to be included in this list is a tremendous honor. Hopefully, I can keep getting better and maybe show up on some more lists down the road/

Why I Missed Writing About This Week’s Episode of Mad Men, and an Interview with the Great John Gall.

I wanted to write a post about Sunday’s episode of Mad Men–how we saw the return of some great characters; how Don continues a lonely, downward spiral; how Bobby’s lines rival those of Roger Sterling–but due to some monumental computer problems and a day of travel, I fell behind. Now, I think it’s a little untimely to do it, but I will have one on Monday–this week’s episode promises to be another great one.

In the meantime, I’ll just post a link to this great interview with book design legend, John Gall, over at Design Bureau today. Even if you’re not a designer, if you’ve ever set foot in a bookstore, you’re probably familiar with Gall’s work.; he’s responsible for some of the best book covers of the last decade. Recently, he amassed a collective of some of the industry’s best designers and reimagined the entire catalog of Vladimir Nabakov. You can see them, along with a bunch of other really great stuff, on his blog, Spine Out.

In his Design Bureau interview, Gall talks about the future of book design. “Everything is in flux at the moment. I originally thought I had five years left doing this, now I think it’s more like five months,” he says, half-jokingly. I’ve heard similar statements before, and I’ve heard the opposite–that, despite this digital boom and the ever-shrinking sales of physical books, cover design will never see its end. To me, even the fact that this debate is going on is frightening. I’m relatively new to this industry, having only done book design professionally for the past four years, and I’d really love to the chance to move from small presses to bigger ones for more exposure and more money. I guess my question is this: if book sales are down and about to head the way of the dinosaurs, are there going to be any opportunities? I’m wondering if I should move out of book design altogether in order to find a little security, or cross my fingers and hope that actual books continue to live. Either way, I love reading interviews with people like Gall. Even when they ask scary questions, they always inspire me to be a better designer, wherever I end up.

Mud Luscious Press

For the past year or so, I’ve had the opportunity to do some book jacket work for Mud Luscious Press. If you don’t know about them, you should. They’re a small press doing big things.

Run by author J.A. Tyler, MLP has been putting out chapbooks for some time now. These little lo-tech pamphlets always contain a single story from some brilliant author, and are perfect for a quick read on your commute, or while waiting for your wife to get ready for your evening on the town. If you have even less time, MLP has a great program called Stamp Stories, which is exactly what it sounds like: a story on a stamp-sized piece of paper. To get these, though, you have to buy a book through one of the participating presses. A clever idea, Tyler got other companies to distribute these for him when they fulfill their orders. Not a bad marketing plan!

It wasn’t until recently that MLP started doing larger books. These are the ones I’ve been working on. (See them above, or view larger versions on my Work page) To date, there have been a few novellas and an anthology of all the first year’s chapbooks. These titles are pocket-sized and perfect-bound, and Tyler’s author selections have been spot on. Ben Brooks, Sasha Fletcher, Molly Gaudry, all writers who are fresh and exciting, like the press itself. I hope that the work I’ve done for MLP reflects this, because these are great books that deserve a lot of readers, and that’s what will keep this fantastic press going. If you haven’t already, check out their website.