I Saw Nick Drake - the cover design process

I thought it might be interesting to pull back the curtain and go behind the scenes on the thought process behind the layout for the front and back cover for our second book, I Saw Nick Drake: Photographs by Keith Morris.

It’s also interesting to see how we could have opted to tweak it slightly, and why we chose not to….

1. The image to use on the cover of the book

The choice of an image for the front and back cover of a book is, of course, really important! Of all the hundreds of photographs of Nick Drake that Keith Morris made during the three year period they worked together, how to pick the one to use on the book cover?

Well, it has to be an important image. One that resonates and means something to Nick Drake’s many fans. Something that captures him at an important part of his career. It also needs to ‘work’ in the context of the book design - when viewed from the front, the back, and when the book is open and both front and back are visible.

We tried a number of things but kept coming back to one image that had it in spades. You know it… it’s the ‘running man’ image that appeared on the back cover of Five Leaves Left, and on the front cover of his first US release, the album titled Nick Drake. It is, in my humble view, the definitive Nick Drake portrait.

Here’s the full image, with the film reference numbers, from the original contact sheet of 35 images:

On the back of the sleeve of Five Leaves Left the image appeared cropped slightly: some of the wall on the right hand side of the image had been removed by the sleeve designer.  Keith Morris wasn’t best pleased with this. That is typical of most photographers: they hate having their images cropped.

Here’s how it appeared in the UK on Five Leaves Left:

On the US Nick Drake album, it appeared full frame, on the front cover, like this:

When you compare them, you can see how it was cropped on the UK sleeve.

2. Presenting the image on the book cover

Here’s a photograph of the book standing up, open to reveal the full extent of the image as it wraps around the front and back cover.

 We have deliberately set the dimensions of all Ormond Yard Press books at a massive 24 x 36 inches / 60 x 90cm - spread size. The proportions of 1.5 to 1 (width to height) have been specifically chosen to mirror the aspect ratio of 35mm film, where the width of a landscape orientation image is 1.5 times the height.

These dimensions enable us to select a single 35mm image to wrap around the front and back cover of one of our books, as an alternative to choosing a single image for the front cover and a different image for the back cover.

If you choose a wrap-around image, it has to make sense both when the book is closed and when it is open.  When the book is open, the whole image comes into view, as shown in the photograph above, but when it is closed, only the front and the back can be viewed at any one time. So the image has to work in two halves as well. The right had portion of the image has to work in isolation on the front cover, and the same holds for the left hand side of the image, which appears on the back of the book.

Here’s the front:

Looks great doesn’t it?

Here’s the back, with the running man, who so far as I can tell, has never been identified:

3. To Photoshop or not to Photoshop, that is the question…

While we were laying out the image onto the book template at the design stage, it became clear that the position of the running man in relation to the back cover and spine of the book was, at first sight, slightly too far to the right. As you can see from the design layout below, the right foot extends into the spine, and actually slightly onto the front cover.

It would have been possible, with a little bit of cleverness in Photoshop, to create some additional wall in the middle of the photograph, thereby moving the running man back to the left slightly. The result of this jiggery pokery would be to contain the running man completely on the back cover of the book, like this:

Tempting as that was, you know what?  We didn’t want to do that.

It would have meant altering Keith Morris’ original image. For one, Keith would not have liked that.  For two, we think it actually works best with the foot wrapping round. The foot is just visible when the book is viewed head on from the front. It provides an important visual link, a hint if you like,  that there is something going on on the back of the book, and invites you to explore. 

And we like that.

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