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Cover Stories: Andrew Solomon's 'Far from the Tree'

Color Commentary

July 7, 2016

Among the reasons why printed books have survived in the age of digital media, the appeal of a well-designed cover must rank high on the list. This summer, SVA Features is presenting notable recent titles whose covers were created by School of Visual Arts alumni, with comments from the designers and the books' authors. Some originally appeared in the article "Color Commentary: Book Cover Design," in the spring 2016 Visual Arts Journal; others are online exclusives.

This week's entry: Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity (Scribner 2012), a National Book Critics Circle Award-winning work of nonfiction by Andrew Solomon. Rex Bonomelli (BFA 1998 Graphic Design) designed the cover. Solomon's latest book, Far and Away, was published in April. Bonomelli's cover for Susan Cheever's Drinking in America (Twelve 2015) was recently chosen as one of Design Observer's 50 Books | 50 Covers for 2015. He also created the wizarding school logos for the set design of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which will have its world premiere in London on July 30.

Far from the Tree
Nonfiction Stories of families whose children are deeply different from their parents
Author Andrew Solomon
Designer Rex Bonomelli

Bonomelli: The cover was really Andrew’s idea. It’s a photograph of his son.

This was a big book for Scribner, so I wanted to give it something special. My idea was to have the jacket printed on foil, to give the water a shimmery quality. But you have to be careful with foil—done the wrong way, it can make a cover look gaudy and overly commercial.

When you’re designing for a big, serious nonfiction book, for the typeface you try think about things its audience would read, like smart newspapers and smart magazines. The typography for those kinds of publications has a certain look, and I wanted this typeface to be in the same vernacular. It’s in all caps because if it weren’t, it would feel like a smaller book.

a man looking ahead
Andrew Solomon photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Solomon: The photograph on the cover is by Adam Fuss. Adam’s technique is to place the child in a tray with about an inch of water and a piece of photographic paper lining the bottom. All the lights are out in the room, he wears infrared goggles, and when he feels he sees the photo he flashes a light, which creates the image on the paper. The child’s shadow and the ripples of the water come out in black and the rest of the paper takes on the color of the strobe.

I made an image of the photo and brought it in, and Rex worked out the type and the layout and the spine. Then he approached me, rather shyly, and suggested we do it on foil. My first reaction was, “Foil? Won’t that look like Christmas tinsel?” But he was absolutely right.

Next week: Alex Mar's Witches of America (Sarah Crichton 2015).