Book cover: a profession and its secrets

We have to admit that we also judge a book by its cover. Or better said: The cover is usually the first contact we have with a book and is, therefore, something that we notice the fastest. This is another reason why designing a book cover is not an easy task.

How does a book cover designer actually work? What kind of research is behind this particular graphic activity and which impressions inspire the design? Driven by this curiosity, we contacted Maurizio Ceccato – comic artist, designer, editor, illustrator, bookseller and of course book cover designer – and asked him a few questions.

In the past 25 years, Maurizio Ceccato has designed book covers for over 30 different publishers. He started designing the covers for Castelvecchi Editore and Malatempora in the mid-1990s. Over the years he has worked for Fazi, Elliot, Laterza, Hacca, Arcana and many others worked.

Maurizio, let’s start with a little “history”: You started out as a comic artist. How did you come to design covers for various Italian publishers over the years?

I didn’t work as a graphic designer from the start. I got stuck in this profession after using drawing boards for many years – equipped with pencil and ink. In the beginning, I dealt with comics and illustrations, which I haven’t given up until today. Let’s put it this way: I don’t see the work of a graphic artist as anything other than that of a comic artist or illustrator, because in all cases it is always about the search for images.

I came up with the design of book covers through the editorial offices of newspapers and magazines for which I worked as an illustrator. It was in one of these editorial offices that I met Francesco Coniglio, co-editor of Castelvecchi. It was he who suggested I get some covers for the publisher. That was the mid-1990s. Since then I have been designing covers.

What kind of research is behind the design of a book cover? Where do you get inspiration?

The design of a book cover is – if you pardon me this expression – the “most dangerous” work because it is the part of a book that is noticed first and therefore also the part that can be put up for discussion quickest. Behind this is extensive research on the image.

But the design and research never begin with the book itself and not even in the world of graphics. I always look for the starting point and the impressions somewhere else and I find them in my other passions such as photography, history, coinage, music and science. I still remember one of my teachers teaching in high school today: “Go to markets”, he told me, “and look for ideas there … not to art exhibitions.” Of course, I was always in contact with the world of graphics and art. But there you come across ideas that have already found their form and not the impressions I’m looking for.

On the subject of practice: How do you go about your work and which tools do you use?

The phase of the design is the most important, it gives my search for images a form. I always make my designs on paper. This is the fundamental part of my work, which mainly takes place in notebooks and sketchbooks as well as on loose sheets. In the end, I filter everything to find the right picture.

I use the computer as a “scanner” of the image that I “found” and to correct the last mistakes.

What advice would you give someone who would like to pursue this job?

I don’t feel in a position to give much advice on this. The only thing I would allow myself to recommend is to do research, to be constantly on the lookout and to experiment with logic: to look at what other “thinkers” have done and also to others Turn to areas of interest. Nowadays technology makes this type of information access much easier.

So I would focus less on the technological aids like software and apps – which undoubtedly speed up the editing process and with which you can design a book at home – but rather on the part that requires dedication and perseverance: searching for an image is like searching for a square root or a prime number. Perhaps in this way you can make your own personal contribution to the search for the visual and for originality.

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