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Coralie Bickford-Smith: Artist Interview and Giveaway

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Artist Interview & Giveaway: Coralie Bickford-Smith |

Photos courtesy of Coralie Bickford-Smith.

As I’ve mentioned before, I love Penguin Books. So, imagine my delight when I stumbled upon the website of one of their book cover designers — Coralie Bickford-Smith. It was like waking up to snow on Christmas morning. Besides having a delightful name, she also has a keen imagination when it comes to literary design. And, with her work — you can definitely judge a book by its cover.

To top it all off, she was kind enough to let me barrage her with questions over several emails in order to give you a behind-the-scenes peek at book jacket design. And — give  away a lovely original screenprinted literary illustration, too!

It seems like more often than not these days, people are cutting corners, so it’s inspiring to hear of artists and companies who understand the importance of time and immersion and thoughtfulness when it comes to art.


Penguin Books Designer: Coralie Bickford-Smith

After my initial email of questions, I realised there were so many things I wanted to know — and I wished I could hang out with Coralie for a day to see her process in person, but with her in London and me in Kansas City, that wasn’t possible. Thankfully, I found the next best thing: videos! So, interspersed with the interview are two brief videos from Penguin Books‘s Vimeo site that show a closer look at a few of her designs, as well as share some of her behind-the-scenes creative process.

Also, I couldn’t help but insert a few comments, so to clarify: (these are my asides).

Without further ado, here’s Coralie.

The creative process | Coralie Bickford-Smith

Photos courtesy of Coralie Bickford-Smith.

Did you always want to design book covers?

Coralie: All the things I liked as a child pointed towards one thing, and that was art and design. Early influences were a love of books, collecting books, stamps and generally admiring the qualities of printed objects. Also I used to spend hours in supermarkets looking at packaging design – I have thankfully contained this habit now. It was not until I went to Reading University and the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication that these passions made sense, and only then I realised I could get a job designing books.

How did you arrive at your current position?

Coralie: Trial and error, plenty of mistakes and some luck.

Do you get to choose the books you design?

Coralie: No, it’s all filtered through our art director Jim Stoddart. He hands out the work depending on who is available and what he thinks would suit which designer.

What does your illustrative brainstorming look like?

Coralie: A mess, just a lot of paper scribbled on and strewn around my desk for a while. I used to keep my initial ideas but now I am so busy they get lost and then thrown away. I don’t have the space at work to store that part of my working process. So I have to cull it. It’s a shame. I should be more strict with myself and have a dedicated notebook. I find it hard to make myself behave as I think I should because my process is essentially pretty anarchic.

(I want to start using the word “anarchic” — especially to describe my own creative process, as well!)

Do you select the materials &/or colours, or just create the illustrations?

Coralie: Yes, I am very hands on with the production process, I work very closely with the production department at Penguin. I create my illustration to fit with certain production techniques. So much of what I can do is governed by limitations of the materials I want to use. Then, of course, the tricky balance of the budget. I like to be involved with all aspects of the cover design. If it means a trip to the printers that’s even more exciting for me.

Bookmark detail >> Penguin Books Fitzgerald series designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith

Photo courtesy of Coralie Bickford-Smith.

Speaking of all aspects, I was particularly drawn to the matching bookmarks included with the Fitzgerald books — was that your idea?

Coralie: Yes it was my idea, always pushing production budgets that bit further…

(A beautifully designed book, plus a matching bookmark complete with a quote from the book? Brilliant.)

[The giveaway mentioned in this video is over, and not connected to Gimme Some Reads.]
When you’re brainstorming, do you consider your favourite quotes/passages/characters and then choose an image that relates? 
Do you consider important themes? Does it change based on the book and how you’re feeling that day?

Coralie: Yes, I consider all these things when coming up with a motif or icon for the cloth classic book covers. I am always trying to do something that is not the obvious and has a connection with the text or the author. It has changed as I have progressed the series, from fabric designs popular with the era the book was written to certain objects or a just a pattern that portrays a certain theme or emotional response. Each time my approach to design is slightly different. I want to keep the series fresh and visually exciting.

Penguin Books Cloth Classics series designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith

Photo courtesy of Coralie Bickford-Smith.

Which of your covers are your favourites?

Coralie: The cloth classics. I have now designed, illustrated, and art directed about 50. I work with a freelancer illustrator Mike Topping on certain titles as he has different strengths to me and it’s good to keep the pace of the illustrations exciting. These have been so popular world over it’s really quite incredible. They represent my total love of the book as an object and the pleasure of losing yourself in a good book. It also means I am much more well read than I ever was, as I have to read every title I illustrate and immerse myself in the literature. A true perk of the job.

Penguin Books Cloth Classics series designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith

Photo courtesy of Coralie Bickford-Smith.

(I remember when I first saw these Penguin cloth classics — suddenly even a brand new book could be as lovely as an old one. So, when I realised I was emailing the person who had designed so many of them, I couldn’t believe it. And on top of that, she only illustrates books after she’s actually read them! Love it.)

For the record, she’s also one of the main designers for the Penguin English Library, designing at least 20 of the 100 paperback books. I was particularly intrigued with Frankenstein‘s subtle colour pallete and anatomical heart design: 

Penguin English Library: Frankenstein designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith

Photo courtesy of Penguin Books |


(I like that she used the words themselves to be the cover art; and appreciate her efforts towards authenticity by finding lines within the book to create the circled quote she wanted to highlight.)

Which book covers (not your own) do you love/are you inspired by?

Coralie: There is so much brilliant work that inspires me and has inspired me in the past. As a designer, I am always searching for fresh visual thinking. I never dwell long on any particular cover but kind of visually feed on everything I come across. There are certain cover designers that I check out periodically or come across their work in book shops time and time again: gray318, Peter Mendelsund, David Pearson, Barbara deWilde, and Kelly Blair to name a few.

Are there classic books you hope to redesign someday?

Coralie: Philip Pulman would be top of my list. I recently got to design J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, which was a life long dream. I would love to do something for a William Blake book or for a book about him.

(She illustrated Lord of the Rings???!!! I admit — I actually gasped when I read that.)

BS&J original screenprint: William Blake

Photo courtesy of BS&J.

Do you have other artistic endeavours outside of book design?

Coralie: I have been working with Samantha Johnson; we have been friends and colleagues in the Art Department at Penguin Books for almost ten years where we work on book jacket designs. We have started out on many collaborations for book covers and thought how great it would be to take certain design themes further, to be freer with our brief and follow our design ideas for other products. The result is Bickford Smith & Johnson. We can create bespoke surface pattern designs for your products or license existing designs from our portfolio. We also create limited and open editions of hand-printed screenprints for sale in our Etsy shop.

Which leads us to our giveaway!

Coralie Bickford-Smith Screenprint Giveaway |

Photos courtesy of BS&J.

What is Included in the Giveaway?

One lucky winner will receive:

Jane Austen print: Original pattern design printed in dark blue ink on white paper (50 x 70 cm). Features a quote from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice: We are all fools in love.

William Blake print: Original pattern design, based on a single seed pod, printed with copper ink on Somerset black paper (A2: 59.4 x 42 cm). Features a quote by William Blake: To the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.


How to Enter the Coralie Bickford-Smith Giveaway:

Note: The giveaway will be going on through December 13th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Follow Coralie Bickford-Smith

Disclaimer: This giveaway is sponsored by Coralie Bickford-Smith. She did not compensate me to host this giveaway. All opinions are 100% my own as always.
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bet mercer

Bet Mercer is a poet-photographer who writes at Gimme Some Reads and Everyday Poetry. She loves quotes, reading her favourite books over again, great conversation, laughter, trees, films, and travelling the world. Follow along with Bet on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, Etsy and Google+.

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48 comments on “Coralie Bickford-Smith: Artist Interview and Giveaway”

  1. I really like Coralie’s designs for the Fitzgerald and Cloth Bound Classics series, but have to give a mention to the English Library edition of Dracula. Coralie ran a giveaway to new followers on her Twitter, but i already followed her, so she sent me one any way!

  2. Beautiful work. My favourite of Coralie’s designs are the F. Scott Fitzgerald series. The matching bookmarks are a really nice touch. The sycamore seeds are a lovely motif for the William Blake print as well.

    • Aren’t they stunning? I really want her Fitzgerald series now. I already have three different paperbacks of The Great Gatsby, but… :)

  3. I love the cloth bound series! Particularly the Alice in Wonderland with the cute flamingos.

  4. As beautiful as the Clothbound Classics covers are, I’d say that the ‘Books for Boys’ range is more visually grabbing. I saw “The 39 Steps” and “Greenmantle” by John Buchan in the Southbank book market, and had already parted with my money before I even read the blurb! Seeing the colour spectrum of the full set online makes me want to own them all.

    • I hadn’t fully checked those out as I got sidetracked with cloth classics & Penguin English Library books. But I can see why they grabbed your attention…and your money! :) I love The Man Who Was Thursday design — and book. :)

  5. I am a huge fan of these editions. I love thoughtful book design and I’ll always pay a little extra for something with bookshelf staying power. I really like her “Crime and Punishment” cover.

    • Agreed, Amy! I too am intrigued by her Crime & Punishment. Didn’t get a chance to ask her, but I see it like the maze of the main character’s mind — or perhaps the routes he would walk over and over.

  6. Great interview with a great designer. Fun giveaway too!

  7. I have personally collected almost all of the clothbound editions – all of which are beautiful.
    I also have two of the Fitzgerald series and will continue to collect these as the designs are so lovely and Fitzgerald is a favourite of mine – I especially love the cover for ‘the Beautiful and the Damned’.
    What I find most impressive is that the actual style of the books themselves are taken into consideration, the very design emulating the writer’s work.
    A truly talented artist.

  8. I love the Vanity Fair clothbound. The jewels and color scheme went together quite well.

  9. Oh I love Coralie’s work. I have most of the clothbound classics and they look absolutely gorgeous all together on a bookcase. Is it bad that I have a half-formed wishlist of classics i’d love to see added to the series?

    I too had to gasp a little on reading she’s designed a cover for Lord of the Rings. Can’t wait to see what she came up with (HarperCollins have actually recently brought out some clothbound special editions of the three books, but I don’t think they’re by Coralie).

    • Ben, if they’re the ones that just came out in November, where the spines of the trilogy create a tree, then yes — those are Coralie’s. :)

    • Oh are they? How brilliant. I’ve been coveting them but knowing they’re Coralie’s designs has pushed me over the edge of temptation.

    • Are you in the UK? B/c here in the US they haven’t yet been printed and aren’t available _at all_ for sale. :(

  10. I like the Fitzgerald set.

  11. What an interesting post! She is so talented and I thank you for the giveaway.

  12. I am a Coralie fanatic, so I was so happy to see such a fresh interview with her!
    I have all of the clothbounds, so picking one is nearly impossible. I will go with Madame Bovary, since it was the first and the one that got me going on my CBS journey.
    She is keeping the art of bookmaking alive!!!

  13. These are the times I wish I actually had a Facebook account because I am a great fan of Coralie Bickford-Smith! I almost own every clothbound classics, but my personal favourite is the design of the one I don’t own yet: Madame Bovary!

  14. I love the clothbound series. I love how the cover designs reflect elements of either the book or recognize previous publications (e.g. Lady Chatterly’s Lover). Her designs are amazing and no doubt enhanced by the fact that she is a true book lover. Can’t wait to see what she has coming up in 2014!

  15. I have a love for old books especially the leather bound.
    Though not leather one of these cloth bound has a cool, modern yet nostalgic feel.

  16. I think my favorites from Carolie are the wave from the Homer cover and the cover for Northanger Abbey from Austen.

  17. So many beautiful books! I really like the covers of The Odyssey and Cranford … and the William Blake print.

  18. Awesome! I didn’t know she was the designer behind the Fitzgerald Penguin books. I loved those, especially Flappers & Philosophers and The Beautiful & the Damned.

  19. I LOVE the Sense and Sensibility and Jane Eyre Covers.

  20. Thanks for the great interview! I’m so sad that Crime and Punishment and Madame Bovary aren’t available anywhere but eBay – and they are selling for around $800.

  21. i love the cover for Persuasion.

  22. I really like Oliver Twist and The Picture of Dorian Gray

  23. I was clueless about this designer until 15 minutes ago – so cool! I need to point out that what caught my eye was the Gothic Horror collection. Nope, I’m not usually a horror reader, at all, but I love those covers!

  24. I have to go with Madame Bovary, the colors make the cover especially eye catching, I have all of the clothbound classics and it was probably the toughest book for me to get since it’s no longer in print. The art deco inspired Fitzgerald collection is also gorgeous. I also like what she did with the Great Food series.

  25. I love them all…but Wuthering Heights and Crime & Punishment are especially beautiful.

    Her work is SO BEAUTIFUL! what a fascinating job!

  26. That Frankenstein cover is incredible. Delicate yet morbid. Love it.

  27. My ultimate favourite from Coralie’s collection is the Flappers and Philosophers edition from the Penguin Hardback Classics F. Scott Fitzgerald range. Not only does it evoke the decadence and the obsession with aesthetics of the period, but it also demonstrates her mastery of the simplistic yet charming 1920’s art decor. Coralie’s book designs always communicate to the viewer her knowledge of the text, as well as knowledge of the historical and cultural contexts of the time period in which is was published. She does a very fine job, indeed!

  28. I love love love Coralie’s clothbound of Crime & Punishment and her rendition of Frankenstein! Keep em coming!

  29. Crime & Punishment is my favorite :)

  30. Most recently, I think Moby Dick is my favorite.

    Otherwise I still love Sense & Sensibility, The Odyssey, Alice and The Picture of Dorian Grey.

  31. Loved hearing about the story behind these prints, the care taken and then to see the beauty of them. Thank you for doing the ‘behind-the-scenes interviews, I’ve really enjoyed them!

  32. I love these covers, so neat! Thanks for sharing how they come up with them.

  33. i have 17 of coralie’s cloth bounds. i love them so so much. my favorite is little women, which is just so perfectly girly. whenever someone needs a present idea for me, i always mention the books. i have also given 5 or 6 of them as gifts. they are just so beautiful.