Alison was kind enough to agree to an interview about her work.
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CAUSTIC COVER CRITIC: You were a professional dancer and a poet before becoming a designer. How did this transition happen? And looking back, how planned has your designing career been?
ALISON FORNER: I suppose you could say my design career wasn't planned at all. I had always taken studio art classes from the time I was a young child through high school, but training for a dance career doesn't leave much time for other serious pursuits. So I guess you could say the ability was always there, but never fully explored because I was always dancing.
After some serious flailing, I took a "Quark for Production Managers" class given by a colleague, and it was then that I realized I wanted to be a designer. We were creating fake book covers in order to understand the entire production process, and I was so engrossed in designing my fake cover that I completely lost track of what was being taught. I was hooked! I decided the next day to start taking design classes at Parsons. I continued with night classes for several years until I built a presentable portfolio (with a focus on cover design). I started doing some freelance work for Random House, then eventually landed my current job at Ecco.
CAUSTIC COVER CRITIC: Do you work full-time at Ecco now, or do you still do freelance work?
ALISON FORNER: Yes, I'm full-time at Ecco, but I also do freelance work. I love my freelance clients--the process is very different from working with an in-house team, but just as rewarding. I've learned so much from this aspect of my career. Some of my clients don't have in-house art directors, so I end up playing both designer and director (and sometimes even production manager).
CAUSTIC COVER CRITIC: In a literary-oriented press like Ecco, where covers don't have to match a certain commercial look, how much room is there for making use of unusual design ideas?
ALISON FORNER: At Ecco we're lucky to have an amazing publisher, Dan Halpern [also a successful poet], who encourages and appreciates creative thinking. It's a pleasure designing covers here; we have a fantastic list of books that don't always fit into a perfect mold. Ideal conditions for interesting covers!
CAUSTIC COVER CRITIC: I'm interested in how a cover like yours for The Interrogative Mood comes to be: was it your idea to leave the title and author off the front? And how much of a battle was it to get that idea accepted?
ALISON FORNER: I love how that jacket has inspired so much curiosity--as only a book of questions should! Again, I need to mention our publisher Dan who saw the imagery I created and knew immediately that we should leave it as is. Interrogative Mood is such an unusual and wonderful book--it really did beg for its own unique visual treatment. And it managed to sail through the approval process without a hitch. Strange, but true!
CAUSTIC COVER CRITIC: Have you ever been asked to design/cover/illustrate a book you couldn't stand? I'm not asking you to name names, I'm just interested in the process of aesthetically representing something you don't feel any sympathy for.
ALISON FORNER: I will answer this in very hushed tones... yes, I have. But I won't reveal which ones! It certainly makes the design process harder--I think it's always easier to work on something you feel passionate about. But there are so many things that can inspire visuals--whether it's a really compelling title, subtitle, subject matter, you-name it. So disliking something doesn't always lead to a dearth of ideas. It's really our job and challenge as designers to create something worthwhile despite our personal opinions.
CAUSTIC COVER CRITIC: Is there any neglected book you'd like to draw to the attention of readers?
ALISON FORNER: Can I recommend a somewhat neglected form of writing? How about giving poetry some love? Poems are perfect for our dwindling attention spans. They're not scary! Just tiny and compact. And they pack a punch. I suggest starting with one per day and seeing where that takes you. I think we're all so programmed now to skim instead of read; poetry forces you to slow down, pay attention, and let your imagination take over. Now doesn't that sound like fun?
CAUSTIC COVER CRITIC: It definitely does. Thank you, Ms Forner!
Alison's site also includes some beautiful covers that never got used for one reason or another. Here are a few to whet your appetitie. See the rest here.