I am delighted to share an interview with Jan Marshall, the talented book-designer who has created the Valerie Holmes eBook covers.
What inspired you to become a graphic designer?
First of all, Val, thank you for inviting me to take part in this interview; I’m so flattered you asked me.
I suppose the simple answer to your question is I didn’t really do much choosing; graphic design rather chose me. Creative pursuits – mainly drawing with a pencil – had always been in my blood. So, all I had to do was pin down a way of converting my creative obsession into a way of making a living, and graphics was my answer.
You have a vast experience within the industry. How did you learn the job?
Art college was a great starting point, and I’d recommend it to anyone embarking on a career in the business – it taught me how to ‘think’ like a designer – but, like learning to drive, as soon as your training’s over, although you’re qualified, you’re not necessarily good at it yet. My first job, in an ad agency, made me aware of gaps in my art college education – mainly technical skills. So I spent some years in the typesetting and pre-press industry, where I absorbed essential hands-on skills, some of which I still use today: typography, artwork, hand-lettering, proofreading. Learning doesn’t ever end of course; especially since the advent of computers and rapidly changing software, designers’ skills must constantly be reinforced and updated.
What have been your personal highlights so far?
The most rewarding time in my career has to be the ten years I spent immersed in the world of movies, creating designed materials for mainly Universal and Paramount films, ranging from huge outdoor posters to video covers and film-based interactive teaching aids for schools. I was privileged (and extremely proud) to work on movies as diverse as: Babe, The Rugrats Movie, Apollo 13, the three Pierce Brosnan Bond movies, The Addams Family Values; Dragonheart, Twister, Twelve Monkeys, and The Mummy. On a more personal note, another highlight came in the shape of a short thank you message. It was from the late, truly adorable Peter Cook, who, having briefed the job to the team in a safari suit and pith helmet, later described my design for the ‘Derek & Clive Get The Horn’ video sleeve as: “…the best I have ever seen on a video pack. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am”. I was thrilled too.
If I may, I’d like to give credit here to the rest of the talented design team from those days, especially the lovely Lizy Thompson, my hard-working right-hand woman and loyal friend.
Of the various styles and techniques you use, which is your favourite?
The movie work taught me how to use photoshop to comp images and type in intricate detail – large media can be unforgiving of less than perfect retouching; a tiny error on screen can be seen at ten feet tall on a supersite poster! And that attention to detail has stayed with me; I get a great deal of enjoyment out of combining images and type to make tight, detailed book covers.
What is the technique used for the beautiful Valerie Holmes ebook covers?
Thank you for your lovely compliment, Val. When we embarked on this big project – to repackage more than 30 titles plus some new stories – we decided between us that, for speed, economy and ease, it would be best to ‘keep it simple’.
Your covers are incredibly enjoyable to illustrate, not least because, in the same way that characters in a novel seem to take on their own personalities, the people I draw for your delightful Valerie Homes stories emerge, almost accidentally, from their scribbly beginnings into fully formed ‘human beings’ with their own individual characteristics.
What other interests/hobbies do you enjoy?
In my work life, I’m embarking on an exciting (to me, anyway!) new venture to run alongside the cover design, that of proofreading and copy-editing, a discipline I used to love so much while working in typesetting all those years ago; I’m presently working through a certification course.
And I have lots of hobbies and pastimes: I sew, make jewellery, up-cycle junk, grow bonsai trees, cook, paint, draw… And I walk miles every day. But the most important thing I’m doing in my free time right now is writing: I’m attempting my first novel. And it’s an amazing experience – it’s like nothing else I’ve ever done. Pure escapism. I can see why you love writing so much, Val!
Thanks so much for all your dedicated work and I look forward to seeing yet more original covers in 2014. Happy New Year!
I’ve been a graphic designer for many years more than the requisite ten thousand hours. Specialising in book cover design at present, I’ve worked on all sorts of graphic design projects in my time – some simple, and some utterly extraordinary, from key rings for the CBI Conference to supersite outdoor posters for Universal and Paramount movies. “It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m not even there yet!”
Cover design: I’m not the cheapest designer you’ll find, but I do go the extra mile to provide a premium service: I’ll send you a questionnaire/brief sheet about your book, read your manuscript, produce concept after concept until we find the one we both like the most, then hone it (in high resolution) until it’s perfect. And I guarantee we’ll end up with a cover you’ll love.
Cover critique: Creating your own cover design? Why not get some expert advice to help you along the road. Send me a jpeg of your cover design at any stage in its completion and I’ll give you an idea of how you’re doing. Critiques start at £20/$35 for a 10-point ebook cover checklist. Contact me for a quote if you’d like an in-depth report or if you want help with a particular aspect of your project.
Proofreading and copy-editing: Please contact me at email@example.com. Although this service is available now, my formal training and certification will be completed late Spring 2014.
You can follow me on Twitter here: @Jan_Marshall and visit my website here: jan-marshall.wix.com/thebookdesigner. There’s a contact page on the website or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I’d love to hear from you.