Behind the Covers: ‘Classical Seattle’

BehindCover-ClassicalSeattle-3dThe past 50 years have seen a tremendous arts boom in Seattle, which has given the city not only internationally recognized classical music institutions but also great performance halls to showcase their work and that of visiting artists. In Classical Seattle: Maestros, Impresarios, Virtuosi, and Other Music Makers, Melinda Bargreen documents the lives of prominent figures in the local classical music world. In this guest post, UW Press Senior Designer Thomas Eykemans walks us through his creative process in designing the book’s cover.

This cover design presented a challenge that we frequently encounter: how to visually capture the essence of a rich book full of varied stories, photographs, and personalities in a singular and striking image. Though a collage approach is often tempting, it tends to dilute the composition and lessen the impact of any one image.

I looked to musical notation for inspiration in my early concepts. A musical staff with its clefs, notes, and other symbols provided a rich collection of shapes and forms from which to draw. Upon reflection, however, this direction felt a little cold and detached from the warmth of the people and stories contained within.


An early concept using abstracted musical notation.

I began to think about how unique aspects of the Pacific Northwest environment might be appropriated for the design. Ripples from raindrops struck me as a particularly effective solution, nicely tied to our region. They could be interpreted as visualizations of sound waves, or as a poignant metaphor for expanding spheres of influence and overlapping experiences. Though these designs felt strong, their impact seemed too abstract to be effective.


An early concept using rain and ripples.


An early concept using rain and ripples.

I then looked to musical instruments and their many peculiar shapes for inspiration. I soon identified the sound holes of stringed instruments as a potential solution. They often have forms reminiscent of typographic detailing, which establishes a bridge between image and word. The f-hole of a stringed instrument in particular has a shape that pairs nicely with the word “Seattle” in the title. The color and texture of the instrument’s wood finally lent the book the warmth and approachability that I had been looking for.


The final cover design.

The title is set in Avenir, a geometric and humanist sans-serif typeface designed by Adrian Frutiger. The text is set in Warnock, designed by Robert Slimbach. Both typefaces are used throughout the interior of the book as well to produce a cohesive package.


The full jacket design.