Books, Art, & Visual Culture


Writing and design by Melissa Hill, graphic designer.

Bookshop visit: Hill of Content, January 2019

To kick off this year’s bookshop visits, here’s a super quick round up of my latest visit to Hill of Content. It is always a treat to have a browse in there, and this occasion was no exception.

Here’s what caught my eye:

1. Everything Under, by Daisy Johnson. This one is designed by Suzanne Dean, but she’s had the good taste to keep it simple and let the stunningly intricate illustration do all the talking. I don’t actually know what this book is about, but the illustration by Finnish artist, Kustaa Saski, gives it a feeling of magic and mystery, a hint of strange and watery worlds. Although this is a lot busier than the designs that usually appeal to me, the illustration is so unusual that it makes for a striking and memorable cover.

2. The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai. Something about looking at this cover makes me feel like I’ve seen Flareserif on covers a lot lately, but then when I went a’Googling to find examples of other ones, I couldn’t find any. So I’m definitely not as smart as I thought. I really like the use of this typeface though: it’s a step away from the standard Futura and Gothamesque typefaces that are so prevalent, but it’s a bit more modern and edgy than going full-on serif, whilst still also being a tad softer than other trendy choices like Sabre or Lydian. And I’m such a sucker for orange and pink pairings. Designer Ben Denzer certainly has a flair for a bold book cover.

3. Motherhood, by Sheila Heti. In contrast to the previous two selections, I enjoy this cover design for being calm and soothing. The hand-painted type and different paint textures (the fill of the type looks like watercolour, whilst the image beneath looks more like an acrylic) give it a lovely crafted feeling, with enough visual interest, but the neutral background colours and the somewhat tonal pairing of beige and pink are very restful. It looks as though designer Leanne Shapton specialises in painted cover designs.

4. Landfill, by Tim Dee. The quirky illustration by Greg Poole, makes this non-fiction book about urban gulls looks like something I might actually consider reading (I probably won’t). I really like the graphic style of the illustration, it has so much personality.

5. The Wisdom of Trees, by Max Adams. I’m sorry, I couldn’t find the designer for this. If you know, please let me know. The graphic use of tree rings and the choice to make them gold foil against a lovely earthy green is striking. I don’t usually think much of green and gold together (feels too much like Aussie Olympic uniforms to me), but the particular shade of green on this cover really is a lovely setting for the gold foil.

6. Felix Culpa, by Jeremy Gavron. Thanks Scribe… “Design by Scribe” doesn’t really help me here. I love the tonal palette here, the orange on cream with black plus that type choice gives it a very retro flavour. I enjoy how the type echoes the vertical stripes.

7. The Death of Murat Idrissi, by Tommy Wieringa. I’ve admired Daniel New covers before and this one really is lovely. I bought Sarah Wilson’s First, We Make the Beast Beautiful simply because the cover was soooo gorgeous and I could see myself doing the same with this book. The delicacy of the watercolour softens the strong graphic shape of the illustrated figure, which otherwise may have been too harsh as black on beige. As it is the effect is earthy and tactile, especially as you can see the texture of the cover material emphasised by the warm greys of the watercolour. The hand rendered serif type has the effect of having been painted over the top in gouache and almost looks like its sinking into the illustration in parts. It all feels very organic and classical, as though we are about to read a Greek myth or an even more ancient folk tale.

It’s just a little selection this time, but I’m sure I’ll be visiting more bookstores soon!