detail from "Pocketful of Posies"
When we first started talking about the front cover for Pocketful of Posies, the editors and I didn’t yet have a title. We were a few years into the project when one of the members of the production team suggested that I incorporate the title and byline into my artwork, thereby stitching the letters instead of dropping in the usual type set words. After going back and forth with title ideas for several months, someone from Houghton Mifflin came up with a name we all liked, Pocketful of Posies. We added the subtitle A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes to emphasize that this was a collection of rhymes, rather than a story book.
My first drawing for the cover had a circling group of characters from the book, echoing the ring around the rosies theme. I presented it to the powers that be and it and was asked to try again. No problem, I needed try something different. The design was too balanced and straight forward and, well, too boring and static for a cover, which should be dynamic. When it comes to sales, books are judged by their cover, especially picture books. People should feel the compulsion to open the book and look inside!
I decided to keep some of the characters, but had them doing different actions in a natural environment. I played around with angles and curves, adding large leaves to separate the sub-title and by line. I decided to enclose the action with a border and bendy, circular vines, which move your eye around inside the picture.
Some of the characters were removed in the process of translating this final sketch into the finished sewn illustration. I never know how things are going to turn out until I start cutting out shapes and constructing dolls. I made sure that both boys and girls were represented, as I didn’t want my sewn artwork to come across as too girly centric.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to make the letters, but I wanted to try something that had depth, so that the title would pop out. I figured that if it didn’t work, the graphic designers could always type set the words. I found some titles done in a nice flowing script in a book my mother had as a child, Chimney Corner Stories, by Lois Lenski. I liked the way the P looked, which featured prominently in my title, so I used this lettering as a guide.
from "Chimney Corner Stories" 1925
Using green cloth-wrapped florist wire, I wrote out the words by bending the wire to form the connecting letters. I then wrapped the wire by hand with 2 ply variegated embroidery floss. I don’t really remember how I finished off the ends, but probably made knots at the back (no glue). The picture below shows my first attempts at bending and wrapping. I had to try different ways of compressing the U and Y, so that the words could all fit on the leaves. I also changed the floss color to something lighter, so there would be more contrast with the green leaf background.
Besides the title, the cover illustration has a lot of other thread wrapped wire. The stems, vines and every leaf are edged with wire, making it possible to bend and shape the parts, tweaking until the last-minute, when the photograph is taken. See other posts with wire lettering here and here. I used red felt for the background, so that the green leaves and vines would stand out. Also, many of my recent books have had blue covers and I wanted something different.
detail of "Pocketful of Posies" front cover
See this original illustration and 45 others in the Pocketful of Posies Traveling Exhibit , which will be on display in the children’s gallery at the Danforth Museum in Framingham, Mass. from Nov. 13th to Jan. 23rd. I’ll be there for the opening reception on Sat., Nov. 13th from 6:00-8:00 and will return on Dec. 6th, to sign books from 1:30-3:00pm.