Monday, November 29, 2010

Good news and the proper use of envy

I just found out one of the books I designed for Benu Press, High Notes, by Lois Roma-Deeley, has won a design award and will be part of the 2011 New York Book Show! Don't know yet just what it won, it is in the general trade/poetry category, but to be part of the show, an honor.

I became a designer because one day in my early 20s, as I was filing signed author contracts in a wall full of gray metal cabinets, I watched a graphic designer working in the spotlight of her full spectrum lamp. I was transfixed. She held up a bright photo and font sample, squinted at them as she held them at arms length and called over to me "Hey Carlson, do you think this type looks like cowboy boots?"

"Without pausing for thought I blurted, "I want your job!" I wanted her job, her work questions, and the drafting table with Pantone swatches and pots of rubber cement. I wanted her straight hair and 20-20 vision too but was wise enough to know that envy is a good prod for careers but rather undermining when applied to the realities of appearance.

I took design classes and was not one of the better students, the professors would say, "Carlson, stop illustrating the cover and use type and design features to express the author's concept!" I looked at the best work in the class, a bit enviously, and decided I'd figure out what they were doing that made it work so well.

I carried my portfolio from art director to publishing director looking for my first book designer job. One creative director took the time to sit me down and say "Carlson, see all the other people in the waiting room, they all want this one job. I am going to do you a favor and tell you I don't see anything in your portfolio that stands out, this is a tough low-paying field. Do yourself a favor and find well paid work where you can excel!" I looked at her shelf of design awards and decided I'd find a way to get there.

After years of designing book interiors I watched the brilliant Cynthia Krupat design a cover for a Farrar Strauss & Giroux book. She repeatedly photocopied some type to give it a weathered look. "Ah hah!" How cool, she had ways to play with type that made the design fit her aesthetic while serving the book...I hoped some day to create covers that looked like I had designed them, in the way everyone could identify a Krupat design. I envied the happy authors and editors and marketing folks who felt her cover was right, right for the vision and the marketplace. In order to get cover design experience I took on freelance work since my day job was as an interior designer.

Sometimes they turn out well, other times I wish the muse had visited with a larger bucket of ideas. I look at the work of the best folks in the business and know I still have a lot to learn. But it is lovely when the universe sometimes says "Hey Carlson, good one!"

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Joseph Hayes said...

Hey Carlson, congratulations. You're brilliant, talented, and connected to the strange cosmos. Trust yourself. We love you.

Caitlin Allen said...

It's so interesting to imagine you of all people struggling with design. I didn't realize that you had to fight so much to get that initial bump into the business. I'm all the more proud.