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.
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?
AbeBooks: The classics seem to have a special place in your design heart. Have you done any design work for new books?
AbeBooks: What was your first book cover you designed - how do you feel about it today?
AbeBooks: There has been much debate about real, tactile books vs. e-readers. What is your opinion on this subject?
AbeBooks: Have you read all of the books you designed the covers for?
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?
AbeBooks: Who are your favourite illustrators? Living and dead?
AbeBooks: Who do you admire in the book world.