Sometimes I’m a designer


Sometimes blogs provide an creative outlet for those who need them, when their creative needs aren’t being fulfilled in other areas. Sometimes blogs are adjuncts to creative outlets or the cherry on top of everything you do. Sometimes blogs are your only form of creative outlet.

My blog has always been an additional outlet, something that gives me the option to expand on other areas of social media and sometimes my actual work work.

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything about my work on my blog (it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything on my blog) but if you’ve been watching you may have noticed I updated my portfolio section with a few projects I did last year.

I don’t know how long I can continue to profess how exceptional lucky I feel working in the Australian publishing industry until it sounds insincere and contrived. But if I won the lottery tomorrow I would show up on Monday morning ready for work because the people and the projects make this a career I’ve worked very hard to realise and I wouldn’t give it up for nuts.


It’s a job, there are highs and lows just as any other work but over years I have built some wonderful relationships with publishers and editors that have given me an outlet to play and push myself further in my design practice, question my abilities, reach further into my conceptional mind, doubt myself terribly one day only to perform crazy dances for my dogs when I am finally successful the next day. I am not a robot at a computer pushing pixels for someone else’s idea but a collaborator – my ideas are respected and my voice heard.

And the end product is extremely satisfying. Who doesn’t love browsing through a book shop? Or flipping through the pages of a lifestyle book on a friend’s coffee table? People remember their favourite book as a child, and most people relish the gateway that a good story provides.

Being able to clothe a manuscript – give it a form that presents itself to the reader, introduces and entices, strikes a chord, generates goodwill – is a lot of responsibility.


One of the questions I am frequently asked is do I read the manuscript before designing and my answer is: I try to read as much and as many as I can. I have worked out a few tricks for reading the MS (that’s manuscript in publishing abbreviation) like reading them on my iPad in the evenings; using the Text-to-Speech function on my computer so my Mac reads to me as I work; having a text reader app on my iPhone which is like having vaguely personable robot read an audio book (but is great for the gym or when I commute). But I don’t have the luxury of sitting around for days reading books, I have work to do and as a freelancer deadlines wait for no one.

Some books I get very excited about reading and fan out about them – last year I designed the cover for the Australian release of ZEROES . I devoured the MS and loved the story – I am a sucker for super hero storylines and particularly like the UK TV series Misfits – and I have recently been started designing the second book in Zeroes series and am so excited to get to read the MS (for designing purposes only – er-hem!).



Some books I get stumped by and I have to call my braintrust and talk at them for a while until I can unknot the concept from my tangled thoughts.

I would say 60% of my job is thinking. Just thinking not actually doing or producing but considering the message and audience and thinking of how to create a window into the story. Some concepts can take days, if not weeks of labouring to get a design that feels right, others can be knocked out in a morning (but only after quite a bit of thinking). It’s not an exact science and I don’t have a formula, but I do use the principles of design as a base.

Sometimes I have to design 35 cover concepts until the cover is approved, sometimes the final cover is chosen from the first round of concepts. Sometimes I think I’ve nailed it and the publisher goes in a different direction.

Sometimes I use stock images, other times I shoot my own photographs and on very special occasions I get to commission a photographer. I illustrate stuff, work with commissioned illustrators. I hand draw type and nerd out over fonts.

I’ve given talks and run workshops about book design with publishers and editors, aspirating writers, primary school kids and tertiary design students. I can talk your ear off about colour meaning and type placement.




My work is shown across social media via publishers, authors, book reviewers and readers. Most people wouldn’t have a clue who I was, or even think about the actual designer behind the book and that’s completely fine. Sometimes I get tagged in an appreciative post twitter or instagram by people who know me or my work, which I am always grateful for. I love finding discussions about book covers I’ve created, it gives me enormous insight to be a fly on the social media wall.

As a freelancer I find it hard to say no to work, it’s the nature of the job sometimes. But most of the time I can’t say no because the project I am being offered is just so damned good I’d be a fool to pass it up. I have come to the point in my career that I am able to say no but (due to the aforementioned smug love of my job) I just won’t.

Letterpress at Tiliqua Studios


I like to think of myself as a bower bird. I am attracted to certain aesthetics with which I feather my nest. Always on the look out I can never stop.

As a designer I have a similar habit. Continually exploring new avenues of creation, enjoying the process of mastering a technique then moving on to something else leaving a trail of colourful mess in my wake (which interestingly is exactly what my kid now does).

My latest adventure into a new area has been with something that I have had an interested in for many, many years: letterpress.

Now a very fashionable thing, back in my early design days it was a highly specialised area reserved for super nerdy typo-philes with only a few printing presses running commercially. It was expensive to print because it was so incredibly time consuming – as I have since found out first-hand – but the results were always impressive.

For the non-design nerds: letterpress is a form of printing that involves creating a composition using type or a engraving, rolling ink over it then pressing paper on top to create the print. It’s a bit more technical but essentially that’s what it is.

A few years ago my friend and co-author, Felix acquired a FAG (Fournitures pour les Arts Graphiques) proofing press along with many draws of type – including type used for printing Queensland Rail’s timetables in the 1960s! After he settled into his co-op studio Tiliqua I finally got around to hassling him to let me use it.




I had a couple of projects to play with but the main one was new business cards for me.

One thing you need to know about me, is that I like to make my life difficult. Learning new processes and creative outlets? I like to make them as fiddly and tricky as possible, for some unknown reason that’s just my modus operandi. So why make a simple letterpress business card that would involve several hours of painstakingly hand-setting 10pt type, letter by letter, using tweezers in the first place. When I could also hand letter the back of each card with brush script, print the cards with a blind impress AND have colour edges.

Talk about tall order but I did it! And love the outcome and enjoyed the process immensely.





Felix and I played with the press, experimenting with card stock, ink and pagination after I hand set the type. I came up with a super technical way to accomplish blind impressing one line of type: masking tape. And it worked an absolute treat.

We trimmed the cards down with an old guillotine, then I clamped a small stack at a time and once again used a very low-tech method of painting the edges with a Posca paint pen.


All this work was done over a number of days and the was serious effort in all aspects but the outcome was very worth it. With every roll of the press produced slightly different results with ink impress, this along with the cut up script on the back makes each card textural, graphic and unique.


IMG_2180Since I producing these cards I’ve had a number of people express interest in commissioning something of their own – so who knows? Maybe I will return to Tiliqua again and again to collaborate with Felix on many more letterpress projects to come!


Book Design Process: Birth to big school

Time has gotten away from me and I am most certainly on holiday time, I had to ask SAH what day it was the other day as I couldn’t for the life of me remember – surely a good sign that I’ve relaxed a little and am truly on holidays for the first time this year? Well it may not last long as I have a huge work load to continue on with over the New Years break but for the last week there has been no work, just play.

This year I tried to work a lot more play into my work and having a child has really helped me explore this. I was given a brief from Pearson Education for an early learning and children’s services educational textbook series. The production editor included images of children painting as suggestions for the cover and it inspired me to combine work and play with Little A.

As Little A happily splodged and splattered paint about I photographed the sheer joy of it all.

The outcome was a uniquely tailored image for my client showing elements crucial to the learning outcomes in the textbook: freeform play, exploration, kids being kids and getting messy!

The internal designs continued the painty theme with splashes of watercolour on the page corners, as well as using light, bright colours for the pedagogical features.



Book Design Process: Giveaway!


You could win an awesome Design Cherry gift pack containing a hand printed tote bag, rosette and Little Veggie Patch Co seeds! (see below for details).

I love making things hard for myself. I do. It’s like a disease. I complain to SAH about not having enough time for myself, what with working full time as a book designer, part time as a lecturer and the fullest time as a mum and yet I devise these projects that are so fiddly, have so many components, with tricky ways of printing or producing the end product, they take me weeks from designing to assembling. Late in to the night I toil, sometimes completely scrapping everything and starting again. It’s exhausting! But I do it again and again.

Why? Because the outcome is always awesome. Oh and I am probably a masochist.

You might remember I made little flags to wave at the book design awards this year, which took quite a few evenings to complete because there were a few different colour plates to print on the card (then cut and glue to make the flags).

My clients are always recipients of these elaborate projects at Christmas, whether they like it or not. I love giving hand made gifts as it’s a way to flex my creativity and continue to push myself for my clients. In the past fiddly things I’ve made for clients include a flip calendar: 3 colour gocco printed base with ring bound number cards that flip over so you can customise the date (each number card was hand cut and individually stamped with vintage grocer price stamps). As well as pom-pom cherry garlands, and hand made, printed and bound books… the fiddly list goes on.

This year was no different. I screen printed tote bags, hand made rosettes and hand picked seedlings to create the ultimate summer gift pack.

I traded a home BBQ smoker cooked meal for a bit of copy writing with this clever lady for the tote bags ‘Baby got book’ (I found everything I came up with sounded stiff and corporate which was completely disappointing but sometimes you need to realise your limitations and call on the talent and lovely squishy brains of your friends), from that phrase I designed the bags using my print gocco to create the screens, but as I was screen printing on fabric I had hand pull each screen rather than press the prints in the machine, I used Pip’s hanky printing tutorial over here to learn how to do this.

I had a lot of trouble with the black text plate and had to create numerous screens but in the end I was more than happy with the results.

Inspired by the totes I made rosettes that continued the hilarious rapper/book nerdiness ..

I completed the package with considered selections of seeds from The Little Veggie Patch Co. – those of the wonderful  seed packets that are reminiscent of vintage style book covers.



And guess what? YOU could WIN one of these packs! That’s right a hand printed tote bag to carry your summer reading in, a little rosette to display with pride and a pack of seeds that (with a little love) turn into some delicious fruit!

All you need to do is leave a comment below and tell me what’s on your reading list this summer!
(This is open to International entries as well, so you may like to tell me what’s on your winter reading list instead)

Entries close 27 December and the winner will be drawn by a random number generator.

SO! What are you reading??


The Giveaway is now closed.



Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 9.40.03 am

Kellie / Dear Olive

*As Disqus does not number comments I numbered each entry from 1- the first comment to 8 – the last comment.

Book design process 2013: Racing the Moon

As mentioned in my previous post, this week I am doing a bit of a retrospective on some of the books I designed this year.

RACING THE MOON // Allen & Unwin

Another Allen & Unwin title I worked on was Racing the Moon, a children’s/young person book. As soon as I got the brief I knew I had to illustrate the cover, in my mind there was no other option, and while I did provide photographic concepts in the first round the publisher agreed – illustrative all the way.

This was a tricky cover, as the story is set in 3 distinct places in 1930s Australia: urban workman suburb Glebe, an upper north shore Sydney Catholic boarding school and a south coast reform school/farm. Which location to show on the cover? I felt Glebe would offer me more scope of concept, so I hopped in the car and drove around the suburb, stopping to take snaps on my iPhone and make a few sketches before heading back to the studio to create the first round concepts.

These concepts are about linking the suburban landscape of Glebe with the terraced houses, to the rolling hills of the south coast/ the moon.

This concept is my favourite cover this year, hands down. I used the optical illusion cube pattern as my inspiration and illustrated workmen’s cottages, stacking them to show urban build up – everyone living in each other’s pockets which is a stark contrast to the open farm in the south coast.

Unfortunately for me, the author was keen to have a more country/rural scene on the cover. So after many rounds of concepts and a revision of illustration style, we had the final book cover.

Internal illustrations, title page pattern and chapter opener icon.

In the end I compromised on my original illustration style of flat colour and black outlines but was able to once again push myself to add more depth to the image with grainy shading and creating brushes in Photoshop. The entire cover was illustrated in Photoshop.


Book design process 2013: Twinmaker

I made myself a promise at the beginning of the year to challenge myself more on every single brief, don’t just do what I know I can do – push myself, experiment, use different techniques and different idea creation processes – and that’s just what I did, making this year one of my most creatively satisfying years as a book designer.

Don’t get me wrong, I do approach every brief individually but in the past I found I was relying on stock images too much and not being as deep conceptually as I could – possibly had something to do with time limitations and baby brain.

But  this year I illustrated more, hand drew more typography, explored shape and colour, tried to get under reader’s skins and took a lot of photos – which I am keen to do more (especially since taking a photography workshop in July my pictures have improved outta sigh, if I do say so myself).

And now the end of year is upon us, with Christmas next week and the new year the week after I thought it would be nice to look back on a few of the books I’ve worked on this year. So all week I am going to be posting different projects and talking about the design process for each one.


Earlier this year I started working with Allen & Unwin, which has been an amazing experience of challenging briefs and mind-bending concepts.

Twinmaker (Jump, Crash, Fall) is a young adult sci-fi trilogy and not only did the project call for something commercial-feeling but different-looking from the rest of the pack, it was also my first job with A&U so there was a bit of pressure to impress my new clients.

To get inspired I walked around the MCA with some of my brain-trust (mum and Little A). I instantly gravitated towards the art works that had some form of fragmentation…

The main mode of transport is a D-Mat in the books: you stand in a tube and get turned into particles then transferred to your destination any where in the world. But something is going wrong with the system and so begins the adventure… I wanted to focus on idea of people being dematerialised and losing a sense of identity, so above are my first round concepts.

We moved forward with the first concept in the row above, and this is the final full cover for Book 1: JUMP. The entire cover – aside from the stock photographs of the people and the fonts – was created from scratch in Photoshop by me. It was a fantastic challenge in learning new techniques and exploring brush creation.

We did go through a fair few rounds of revisions trying to find the right people for the cover to represent the main characters, so many that I might have gone a little crazy… and sent A&U the following concept…

What? It’s totally a story about D-matting sci-fi cats right?

The other covers in the series.

I love the bold colours of each cover combined with the curving shapes made by the characters falling/d-matting, there is a great sci-fi feeling to the design with elements that make it eye-catching and compelling to pick up in the bookstore.

Possibly from this display in Kinokuniya, Sydney?

Don’t forget to come back tomorrow for another process post!

Book Giveaway!

As mentioned in my previous post, I am very proud to be able to hold my first ever giveaway and Random House Australia have generously donated an awesome prize pack. The pack contains the following titles, which were all designed by me!

1. Burn Bright
Blood Song
3. The Iron Witch
4. Star League: Lights, Camera, Action Hero – Book 1 * Winner of 2012 Australian Publishers Association Book Design Awards Best Designed Children’s Series * Cover Designed by Nahum Ziersch, Internal design and typesetting by me.
5. Caesar the War Dog

To enter see my previous post: The Beetle Shack

Flags up and waving

A couple of weeks ago the Logies of the Australian book world, the APA Book Design Awards, were held at the Powerhouse Museum. Usually I am a bundle of nerves and occasionally searing disappointment while keeping my beauty queen graciousness (but who is anyone kidding? When you don’t win an award it’s pretty sad). I am like this because for the last 6 years I have had one or two projects shortlisted for awards and last year I won two! Which I was particularly chuffed with especially since one of the books was my own {Graphic Design} Australian Style Manual – you know that book I authored, yeah no big deal.

But this year I was not shortlisted because I had been on part time maternity leave so didn’t have a huge folio of work published in 2012. Which yes, I got a pang of the sads when I walked into the ceremony but it was quickly washed away with the hilarity that came with relaxing and hanging out with my fellow designers and book publishing kin.

A big part of this evening is the networking, especially for us freelance designers. So I decided earlier in the year I was going to make ‘something’ to take and hand out. In my usual style I dreamt big, hand-made and quirky.

I designed a little flag for the evening. Its purpose was to celebrate the awards, book design in general and all the very talented people shortlisted this year – YAY Huzzah for book design! Wave your flag! On the back of the flag I updated my promotional illustration (I have a character of myself that appears on most of my promo material but I had to update my hair style as I hadn’t revised her since I had my hair chopped off) and reworked my logo. I used Great Lakes typefaces, of which I am now besotted. And then it was time to print!

Of course I used my Print Gocco, it’s my signature print style and I use it for all my own promotions.

There were two plates for the front (black and white) and three plates for the back (black, white and orange).

It was a little tricky and very time consuming as I had to attach the registration plate for every print, so 30 prints x 4. It was laborious but I was determined that each print would be as aligned as possible. I don’t mind mis-registered prints, I really like that style but I felt the illustration would suffer if anything was too off.

After both the front and back were done and dry, I creased and rolled the left edge of each card and glued it to a skewer. And after the glue had dried I cut the long edges to create the flag shape.

I learn a lot about the restrictions of craft with a toddler, it forced me to clean up the dinning table every evening and pack all my equipment away before hurricane toddler awoke the next morning and got his mitts on to anything. Yes, it’s forcing me to actually clean up after myself and take care of my equipment, ridiculous!

And here are the flags in action on the evening. Megan and I waved the flags furiously as her wonderful book Things I Love, and its designer won Best Illustrated book but I think I saw Megan’s flag fly across the room as she jumped to her feet when it was announced her book had won Best Designed Book of the Year.

Congratulations to all this years wonderful designers and YAY HOORAY FOR BOOK DESIGN!

Well hello there.

Erm, so let’s try this again shall we?

Life got in the way of blogging, and once you stop making time to sit down and write you just stop, right?

So what has happened in the last three months?

– I have been very active on Instagram, image blogging @astredcherry

– Archer has gone from a wriggling, grabbing baby to a mobile menace! He is 8 months old and furniture surfing. On friday he grabbed hold of his Ikea wooden jungle gym and used it as a walker and proceeded to march up and down the studio. Much to his amusement and my horror (OH MY GOD he’s walking!) Scary.

– I am back at work, lecturing at Billy Blue College of Design. Which I really love to do.

– I am also back at work freelancing for lovely publishers designing their lovely books – which I adore!

– SNH went to Milan for a couple of weeks for work and I was a single parent for a while. It was a struggle but we got through, thanks to my lovely parents and father-in-law. (Expect a longer post on this and possibly a guest post from Mr Milano himself)

– I got my hair cut short into a bob, which is pretty drastic for me. After having long hair for years and loving it my poor hair suffered dreadfully from the post-preggers shedding and started looking shocking. So off it got chopped and I am loving it. It also means there is a lot less length for the baby to grab and pull.

– Oh and I won two awards at the recent Australian Book Design Awards: Best Designed Tertiary and Further Education book: {Graphic Design} Australian Style Manual (yes MY book * that I created, co-authored and co-designed WON! Was a sweet victory) and Best Designed Children’s Series: Star League. I was overjoyed with the wins. After years of being shortlisted, commended and what-not I finally won, not one but TWO awards in a night. Truly special.

And now I have to save SNH from the baby menace so he can construct more baby-proofing for the studio. Gah! This kid is getting into everything.


Archer chair surfing

Chairs all lined up for better surfing

* I just wanted to clear something up, a couple of people have asked about recently: {Graphic Design} Australian Style Manual was not self published, it was signed, commissioned and published by McGraw-Hill Education Australia. Yes, I got a real book deal. 😉


Back to top