Self-portrait by Coralie Bickford-Smith
Self-portrait
Coralie Bickford-Smith

Penguin’s brightest star is not an author but an illustrator called Coralie Bickford-Smith. She is setting new standards for bookish artwork in the modern era of publishing and her books are must-haves for anyone who loves the combination of art and literature. You might not be familiar with her name but you have probably seen her work. She’s produced startlingly brilliant covers for the Penguin Classic series, her mouthwatering artwork for the Great Food series has been acclaimed around the world and her interpretation of a three-volume edition of the Arabian Nights was memorable.

This London-based designer studied typography and graphic communication at Reading University and has been featured in Vogue, the New York Times and The Guardian. Her designs often include a nod to the golden age of illustration and also various art movements from the past 150 years.

Coralie Bickford-Smith was kind enough to answer our questions.

AbeBooks: When you were a child, what did you want to do for a living? Has design always been your passion?
Coralie Bickford-Smith: My childhood was a mix of either obsessively reading or frantically drawing. It was a revelation when as a young adult I realised that a career could be filled with the same activities by becoming a designer. It sounds like it was all so simple but my path to becoming a designer was a rocky one.

AbeBooks: How did you end up at Penguin?
Coralie Bickford-Smith: After a lot of hard work and quite a few jobs I eventually got into the hallowed doors of Penguin when I was invited for interview for position of cover designer. Penguin Press Art director Jim Stoddart saw something in my work and I will always be thankful.

A Selection from the Clothbound Series

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Great Expectations
by Charles Dickens
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen
Cranford by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
Cranford
by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Tess of the D'Urbervilles
by Thomas Hardy

AbeBooks: Can you tell us what a typical work day is for you? Are you in an office for the day, in front of a computer, looking at books, walking about for inspiration?
Coralie Bickford-Smith: It is exactly that, a mix of everything, from reading books, sourcing ideas here, there, everywhere and spending hours in front of a computer fine tuning minute details before letting a design go to press.

AbeBooks: If you could design a cover for any book, which book would you choose?
Coralie Bickford-Smith: I have been so lucky to have ticked off many of my favourite book covers, working with the classics team in Penguin has made me one spoilt designer. I have just got to design a cover for Robinson Crusoe, which I wrote my dissertation on, that was on the list. I still would love to do a cover for William Blake.

AbeBooks: Can you tell us about some of the books you have on your bookshelf at home? What are you currently reading?
Coralie Bickford-Smith: My book selves are full of design books and Penguin classics. Its terrible to admit I have to let go of many of the books I have read as I am running out of space for the titles I have designed. Beside my bed live all the books I am reading right now. This month it varies from The Tibetan book of the Dead to Making Ideas Happen to The Sisters Brothers.

AbeBooks: The classics seem to have a special place in your design heart. Have you done any design work for new books?
Coralie Bickford-Smith: The classics will always have a special place in my heart as it's where I really got to run riot with my ideas on some amazing series of books. I am usually designing new books alongside the classics work I do as well.

AbeBooks: What was your first book cover you designed - how do you feel about it today?
Coralie Bickford-Smith: It was a book about hanging baskets and container gardening. At the time it was my first ever, real life, cover design and I was very scared to make a good impression. I think I did a good job of livening the book cover up, it was a small step to what I wanted to do so at the time it was a big milestone.

Penguin's Great Food Series Box Set
Penguin's Great Food Series, Box Set. Designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith.
AbeBooks: There has been much debate about real, tactile books vs. e-readers. What is your opinion on this subject?
Coralie Bickford-Smith: I am an enthusiast of the book as an object and I will always prefer the way a printed book works in my hand and tells the story of its existence in the folds and creases of its pages.

AbeBooks: Have you read all of the books you designed the covers for?
Coralie Bickford-Smith: I had attempted to read all the books I have designed and was doing pretty well until I had a year to design the Penguin English Library (100 books). I read as much as possible given the deadline. I love to get to read what I am designing for - it's what makes the job so pleasant.

AbeBooks: Secondhand bookstores are sacred places for some. Do you spend time wandering the aisles of bookshops? What do you look for when browsing for used books?
Coralie Bickford-Smith: That is also true for me, I am always searching for elusive old lettering/typography books. When I find one I am as pleased as punch no matter how big they are and how far I have to lug them home.

AbeBooks: You have a pretty serious fan base. There are numerous blog posts about you and your work, Tumblr feeds, celebrity endorsements etc.  Who do you admire - designers, authors, literary characters?
Coralie Bickford-Smith: Yes, gaining a fan base was unexpected but highly appreciated by me, it's quite incredible.
Designers: Lousie Filli, Peter Mendelsund, Jenny Grigg, John Gray, John Gall, Romek Marber to name a few...
Authors: Ruai Mclean, Gertrude Stein, Charlotte Brontë, Rohinton Mistry, Milan Kundera, George Orwell, Peter Hoeg
Literary Characters: Winston Smith from 1984 and Viktor from Death and the Penguin.

AbeBooks: Who are your favourite illustrators? Living and dead?
Coralie Bickford-Smith: Dead: William Blake, William Morris, Rockwell Kent.
Alive: Matt Dorfman, David Gentleman, Andy Smith, Swava Harasymowicz, Lauren Child.

AbeBooks: Who do you admire in the book world.
Coralie Bickford-Smith: Visual Editions for their interesting "do-it-differently" approach to publishing. They do things to books that make me swoon with delight.

More from the Clothbound Series

The Sonnets and a Lover's Complaint by William Shakespeare
The Sonnets and a Lover's Complaint
by William Shakespeare
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Oliver Twist
by Charles Dickens
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Woman in White
by Wilkie Collins
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Gulliver's Travels
by Jonathan Swift
Inferno: The Divine Comedy 1 by Dante Alighieri
Inferno: The Divine Comedy 1
by Dante Alighieri
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Dracula
by Bram Stoker
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Middlemarch
by George Eliot

F. Scott Fitzgerald Series

Gothic Horror Series

The Beetle by Richard Marsh
The Beetle
by Richard Marsh
The Haunted Dolls' House by M.R. James
The Haunted Dolls' House
by M.R. James
The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins
The Haunted Hotel
by Wilkie Collins

Boys' Adventures

The 39 Steps by John Buchan
The 39 Steps
by John Buchan
The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton
The Man Who Was Thursday
by GK Chesterton
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Treasure Island
by Robert Louis Stevenson
She: A History of Adventure by H. Rider Haggard
She: A History of Adventure
by H. Rider Haggard

Sherlock Holmes

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
A Study in Scarlet
by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Hound of Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Hound of Baskervilles
by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Return of Sherlock Holmes
by Arthur Conan Doyle

If you had to pick one (which is nearly impossible), which Coralie Bickford-Smith cover would you choose as your favourite?


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