Coralie Bickford-Smith.

“I had a tidy up before I took this photo – it’s a bit like having visitors isn’t it?

So I decided it’s better not to show you the messy reality. Right now I’m in the middle of designing a 20-book series, as well as sundry standalone titles, and my desk is usually a mess of ideas and scribbles on innumerable scraps of paper. There’s a whole archaeology of business cards, post-it notes and other treasures under there. I like to be surrounded by the current proofs to make sure the designs are working and that any tweaks are made in time for the final print. I like my desk – it’s my own tiny world in a big office.

There’s a shelf behind me where I keep all my cloth bound books in a row, to remind me which colour combinations I’ve used – it’s also great just to look at when I hit a creative wall. A Harland Miller print lives at the end of our desks – one of his Penguin pastiches called “Don’t Let the Bastards Cheer You Up” – it’s like a funny friend. Typically, there are as many books on my desk as I can cram- sometimes more. It’s quite noticeable when they start to spill over onto Richard’s desk as he somehow manages to work in a very tidy way.

On the their side, Sam has similar book build-up issues as me, so the border between our desks is less easy to find. To be honest book build up is a recurrent theme in my life – it’s a similar story in my flat, just on a larger scale…”

Coralie Bickford Smith is an award-winning book cover designer and has created several acclaimed series designs for Penguin Books. Art director Jim Stoddart first spotted her latent talent six years ago in the page layouts for a supermarket pet club magazine. At which point Coralie breathed a huge sigh of relief, as on the whole she prefers designing book covers. Recently she has been working on projects with students at London College of Communication, passing on the principle that underpins her own work: ‘stop designing, start playing’.


FROM YOUR DESKS: How do you choose your colour palate? How does F. Scott Fitzgerald wind up in classic black?

CORALIE BICKFORD SMITH: Availability of materials is a big factor – there’s a very limited choice of foil and cloth available for the Clothbound Classics. Then there’s the text itself: the black and white of Dorian Grey reflects the duality at the heart of the story and is also a nod to Aubrey Beardsley’s classic Wilde illustrations. For the Fitzgeralds, I used uncoated black and white paper stock in combination with gold, silver and copper foils. It was all about echoing the Jazz Age glamour of the period.

FYD: Which classic book cover did you spend the most time pondering?

CBS: The F.Scott Fitzgerald covers took a lot of pondering so much so that my work colleagues were as relieved as I was when I hit on a winning solution but for different reasons that my own (me stop asking questions). I think they all take a fair amount of time to be honest, it’s in my nature to make them as good as possible in the time I have.

FYD: What is your favorite colour (I’ve always been asked that since childhood).

CBS: Orange: I have a small collection of orange plastic kitchen objects from the 60s and 70s. I’m also a fan of muted tones of green, especially for cardigans – lovely.

It was all about echoing the Jazz Age glamour of the period.

FYD: Could you share what else you are currently working at right now at Penguin. Any personal projects?

CBS: For Penguin, I’m working on Great Food, a series of 20 books about food from Tudor times up to the present. This is an amazing project and has set me off collecting pieces of ceramic table ware, one of which is sitting on my desk. I’ve used its pattern on the cover of Love in Dish by M. K. Fisher. The bowl was designed for Hallcraft by Eva Zeisel: a wonderful designer, very inspiring work.

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