🎨 Thirteen Questions with Cover Artist Sarah Dyer
Born and raised in the US South, Sarah Dyer escaped as soon as she could and found herself in sunny L.A. Along with falling into a career in UI/UX design, she sang in choir, made Comic Con buddies, and went to as many concerts as she could afford. After a certain worldwide event swept Sarah north to the Windy City of Chicago, Sarah is still trying to figure out how to Mad Men from home and retire early so she can work on things like queer lit presses, painting, reading, writing, cooking, and gardening.
Space Fruit Press: What’s your background?
Sarah Dyer: I was an art major and concentrated in graphic design. After school, I did some soulless production work recreating “art” from cardboard boxes (excuse me, corrugated) for making printing plates for various box manufacturers. It was drudgery, and I eventually quit to do some contract work for a while to figure out what I wanted to do next. I ended up falling into UI (user interface) design, and found a great team and art directors who taught me all about UI and UX (user experience) design. So that’s what I still do now. It’s sort of a niche skillset, but also broadly applicable, and growing, and it pays well since every tech company needs designers.
SFP: How do you work?
SD: Great question! I’m still figuring that out. In the past couple years I have become well acquainted with the term executive (dys)functioning. I’m all about organizational systems and routine… but also changing things up and switching to new tools as needed to help me focus. My current favorite desk item is a sticky notepad that says “Today’s Top 3,” and I just list what the day’s priorities are. It’s done wonders for helping me prioritize and let myself off the hook if I’m less productive or struggling on any given day. I take breaks to eat, drink, water my plants, water my kitties, chase one of them around with the dreaded brush, do the laundry, etc etc.
Okay Sarah, but how do you work? I have a Leuchtturm notebook where I write everything down. To do lists, notes, schedules, etc. Most used digital tools: Notion for documentation and tracking projects, Figma for design (both for main job and for SFP design work. I love a good pen, and have been experimenting with fountain pens recently, but these Muji pens are still my favorites.
SFP: What does your ideal work space look/feel like?
SD: I work from home, and I’ve set up about 3 different workspaces so far in our current apartment, but I still keep jumping from desk, to couch, to loveseat, to the dining room table, and back again. I like a lot of natural light, which we are lucky to have in abundance in our current space. I also have lots of plants now— typical millennial. I actually have a huge architect’s table and a kneeling chair for my current desk setup, and I work with my laptop and an external monitor. It’s really nice to have a big screen for doing any kind of design work. I also need some good background music. Ideally, I love when a friend comes over and we can both be working, since body doubling really helps me when I am feeling blocked/unable to focus on work. I also think I would prefer having at least three different office chairs to switch between, so my limbs don’t experience the same strain over and over whenever I get focused on a task.
SFP: What themes do you pursue for cover art and/or design for SFP?
SD: I try to work with the author to pull out visual themes from each story. We talk about tone, and what look/feel we want to go for, and then I start pulling in imagery and typefaces that might work to convey the genre/setting, and we go from there.
SFP: Where do you find your inspiration?
SD: For this last anthology Binary Stars, I did a lot of looking at old pulp sci-fi novels, which was super fun. I don’t do a full inspo board for each book, but for the big anthologies I like to go a bit deeper into the research. I really want to make sure the cover is representative of the good work that the authors are doing. We ended up going with a slightly different direction with the cover, but that was still fun and inspiring research.
SFP: How have your life experiences influenced how you approach the art for SFP?
SD: This is an interesting question. I feel like my career has definitely influenced me in my current approach: keeping things simple. I know that deep down I want to go off and hand paint every cover in oils or do a hundred sketches before picking a direction, but it’s just not realistic. Also my career in UI and UX has highlighted to me the importance of accessibility and legibility. People foremost need to be able to read the title. If I get too fancy with the type treatment, I’ll alienate a subsection of our audience who can’t read small type, or are color blind, or are turned off by an inapproachable cover.
Ironically, one of the tenets of design is that “people don’t read.” Clearly we are hoping they do, but we also know that our audience does read, and that they enjoy it. But the sentiment is more that graphics need to instantly convey what you want to communicate. Obviously on the book covers, it’s the title foremost, but also the feeling and the associations we want people to make.
I try to keep it classy, keep it simple. I don’t want my covers to distract or turn folks off before they open the book to read some really great queer romance.
SFP: What are the top five things you keep in mind when designing a book cover?
SD: The biggest things are: the look and feel of course, but also balance and legibility. I have to remember that these covers will be seen as thumbnails on a low-res black-and-white Kindle screen— and they need to stand out from the other books on that digital bookshelf. But they should also reflect the stories themselves, the genre, the setting, and the characters.
SFP: How do you know when a design for a book cover is finished?
SD: This is honestly the hardest part of design, or art in general. A lot of it comes with experience, but it’s also about that deadline. It’s one of those kinds of work that, for me anyway, always expands to fill whatever space it’s given. I like to do at least 3 or 4 rounds of editing with feedback from the SFP team or other design friends. That can take anywhere from a week to a month, or more. I could fidget with various designs forever, but I also have to be mindful of how much time I’m spending on them. I’m one piece of the production pipeline, so I can’t take too long on each cover.
SFP: If you could make a book cover using any medium, what would it be?
SFP: How about those SFP logos! Did you have a vision going into designing those or … ?
SFP: What is your dream design brief?
SFP: Where do you hope to see SFP in the near/far future?