The new novel from Michel Faber, The Book of Strange New Things, features a cover designed and art directed by Canongate’s Rafaela Romaya and illustrated by Yehrin Tong. In the latest instalment of our Front to Back series, the pair talk through the process behind creating a unifying symbol and pattern design for the book…
Aside from The Fire Gospel, Faber’s 2008 contribution to the Canongate Myth Series, The Book of Strange New Things is the Dutch-born author’s first new novel for 12 years – his previous books include Under the Skin (adapted by Jonathan Glazer and Walter Campbell in their film version of last year), The Courage Consort and The Crimson Petal and the White.
According to Canongate, the new book follows the journey of a missionary, Peter Leigh, who leaves behind his beloved wife “for a remote and unfamiliar land, a place where the locals are hungry for the teachings of the Bible – his ‘book of strange new things’.”
Creative Review: What did the briefing process involve?
Rafaela Romaya: We wanted to position Michel with confidence – as a serious contemporary heavyweight alongside names such as David Mitchell and Donna Tartt. However, the brief itself was pretty open in terms of how we could achieve this and create an iconic jacket that reflects the emotion of the novel in an original and fresh way.
CR: Can you talk through the design process?
RR: After reading an early draft of the manuscript what struck me was the relationship not only between Peter and his wife but also between Peter and the ‘Oasans’ which highlighted just how ‘human’ the book is. By setting the book in an alien environment, Faber is able to reflect on what relationships mean to us and how far they can test our pre-conceived ideals from a distant and unexpected perspective.
First visuals toyed with the idea of raindrops and teardrops, shattered lettering, even metal covers, says art director, Rafaela Romaya
Water is also a huge theme in the book and there’s a beautiful line where Peter describes the seeing the rain in space for the first time: “The rain! The rain wasn’t falling in straight lines, it was … dancing! … hundreds of thousands of silvery lines all describing the same elegant arcs.”
It’s a book about relationships and environments, so after reading that line the cover was conceived as a droplet that could also represent a human tear of both joy or sadness.
The concept developed with the teardrop as the central icon. Texture was created through the illustration and the use of a foil to create a ‘stardust’ effect on the jacket. Two editions – in silver and gold – were also considered
I really liked the simplicity and symbolism that the teardrop shape gave; I wanted the teardrops to dance like a musical script and the jacket to give you a sense of wonder, a sense of possibilities – like shining a magnifying glass on a universe made up of the same stardust that created all of us. It was also a great central motif that’s a very pure icon for such big ideas.
Enter Yehrin Tong: I’d been a fan of her work for a while but never had the perfect brief for us to collaborate on until now. Her work has a quality, beauty and sensitivity that married perfectly with the cover we wanted to create.
CR: Yehrin, with the concept and overall design in place, how did you go about creating the specific artwork for the cover?
YT: It was great working with Rafi who was already in tune with how I work with shapes and patterns. We were on the same page when it came to envisaging how this might come together; I loved her bold yet poignant teardrop concept and wanted to highlight this by keeping it as simple and elegant as possible.
The teardrop being the strong focal point, it acts as a vortex that swirls and blends the circular motif into the finer detail of the background. The teardrop stands out from a distance then gradates as it merges with the background to a different depth of pattern that has a more subtle and gentle tone up close.
This version (above) addressed the type hierarchy: strong author branding with room for the title to breathe meant that the central teardrop icon could be showcased at centre
There’s a theme of repetition and rhythm to my work, much like a musical riff with subtle nuances, that lends itself well to the sense of undulating fluidity, warmth and emotion that we were looking for. To know that a client understands your process, trusts your abilities and has the patience to let you work to your full potential – Rafi was always open to suggestions and positive which made this a truly enjoyable creative process.
Pattern for the metalic bronze Pantone endpapers
CR: With such a detailed illustration, what were some of the challenges in producing/printing the cover? How did the final version turn out?
TY: There was a minor technical issue with the foil bleeding together. I was reluctant to simplify the artwork, as I was very happy with the piece as it was, so I spent a fair amount of time combing through the whole piece making sure there was the minimum space necessary without losing the detail needed to create the overall effect.
The final effect is mesmerising. It looks beautiful as the light changes and plays with the foil giving it a feeling of movement. The texture of the foil has a very tactile braille-like quality to it. It looks timeless, other-worldly and I’m delighted with the result.
Cover detail: note the flow of pattern into the type. “The title became part of the illustration,” says Romaya
RR: The response to it so far has been amazing, which is lovely, and I like the way the design and attention to detail was followed through the whole package including the finishes. The foil used across the full jacket – rather than just the front/spine, which is often the case – gives the teardrops a wonderful magical quality. They are never static and they truly do appear to be dancing!
There’s also a beautiful line in the book taken from the Bible, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world”, which is debossed into the front cover casing – which I think is the perfect note to leave the reader with.