Pencilled in – How the cover for Stuart Dybek’s The Start of Something was made

Vintage Books creative director Suzanne Dean worked with artist Marion de Man to create the cover for Dybek’s new collection of short stories – using over 60 pencil stubs


“He is master of the unexpected turn, the twist of surprise and the casual overturning of narrative convention,” says Dean of Stuart Dybek’s writing. “It was this very skill in taking you somewhere that you never so much as glimpse at the outset of the story, that made me commission Dutch artist Marion de Man.”


Dean says that she had recently come across de Man’s work and thought her collages of short pencils “their jagged layouts, pointing this way and that seemed to match the twists in the narrative”.

On visiting the artist in her Amsterdam studio, Dean realised that de Man’s pencil collages don’t actually exist as permanent pieces. “Nothing is stuck down,” Dean says. “They are always temporary, and swept away after they have been photographed.”


The pencils themselves are all given to de Man by her husband, an artist who sharpens each one with a knife and then draws with them until they are reduced to tiny stubs of wood and lead.

De Man then works from these objects, moving them around into square and triangle shapes. She photographs them under natural daylight to give them a softer edge, says Dean.

“When I commissioned her, I requested a red pencil cover with a few odd coloured pencils thrown into the mix,” says the creative director. “I gave her the grid and asked that the pencils butt right up to the edge. Marion supplemented the few red pencils she had with ones from the Dutch public library and Ikea.


“Once they had been sharpened to size it was as simple as pushing the pencils into the book’s format,” says Dean. “I subsequently added the title, author and quotes in Photoshop. I took care to replicate appropriate fonts and added tone to make the type shine like foil.”


While in de Man’s studio, Dean says that she also came across the artist’s collection of beautiful papers, tickets and notebooks (see below). These, too, “are frequently collaged together, photographed and put away”.

The Start of Something by Stuart Dybek is published in hardback by Jonathan Cape/Vintage on November 3; £14.99. Check out the Vintage book design blog, CMYK, at


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