Interview: Alice Marwick on Book Design, Peaceful Work Spaces, and the Isolation of Freelancing

12:00 pm


The image above is of the cover of Girl Trouble, and this is the cover that sold the book to me, before I even knew what it was about. It turns out the book itself is absolutely grand, but that's not what we're here to talk about today. Alice Marwick, the creative talent behind this cover, is a freelance designer and illustrator of gorgeous books, and we chatted about her designs, her artistic history, and having your own peaceful space to work.

--

Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Alice! First of all, for any readers who don’t know your background, can tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Alice Marwick:
Pleasure! I am a designer and illustrator of book covers. I have been happily working freelance since 2009 for a growing number of publishers, starting with a few smaller independent ones such as the excellent Zed Books and more recently also working with larger houses such as Simon & Schuster and Hodder & Stoughton. Almost all my work is for non-fiction, covering a big variety of subjects from gender studies to medieval Islamic history. Clients primarily tend to approach me when they have an illustrative approach in mind, which is nice for me because I love drawing, printmaking, paper cutting, making etc and a love of all of that hand-crafted stuff is what got me into design in the first place.

Magic & Musings:
If you could describe your design style in three words, what would they be?

Alice Marwick:
I try not to have a style, but rather to do whatever’s appropriate to the brief. Although I probably do have one without realising it!

Magic & Musings:
When did you first get into design? Did you study it formally or come across it as a hobby? If you did study it formally, would you say this was a good or bad experience regarding allowing your creativity to flourish?

Alice Marwick:
I studied at the University of the Arts London, Camberwell College and did a degree in graphic design (I started an illustration BA then switched after a term when I found myself envious of my graphic design student flatmate’s briefs). My time at Camberwell was great because it broadened my thinking, helped me to interrogate my design habits and assumptions, and to think more conceptually. It was certainly challenging though and made me feel quite unsure of myself. It was only a little while after college that I actually felt I had found my feet and felt confident creatively.


Magic & Musings:
On Magic & Musings I love talking about female-identifying and non-binary artists and their work. Which female artists, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? Do you have any favourites to look at when you need a spark of inspiration?

Alice Marwick:
There’s quite an impressively large sisterhood of cover-designing women on Twitter! I love seeing what they’re all up to. Coralie Bickford-Smith, Kimberly Glyder, Anne Jordan, Yehrin Tong, and Anna Morrison are just a few I could mention off the top of my head.

I’m a big fan of graphic novels and comics and stare in wide-eyed fan-girl wonder at the work of Emil Ferris, Jillian Tamaki, Fiona Staples, and Marianne Satrapi.

And on a personal level, my friend, the brilliant illustrator Rachel Stubbs, has inspired me with her amazing sketching habit to get out and do more drawing. 

Magic & Musings:
Of all of your designs, which are you the happiest with and why?

Alice Marwick:
Of my recent projects, I’ve been really pleased with how my cover for Lady Fanshawe’s Receipt Book turned out. It was an unusually straightforward process: I had a happy day or two making an intricate papercut illustrating scenes from her life, put it together as a design and it was chosen from among the other options I sent with no alterations needed! I’m really happy with the end result. Also, I am continually excited by how the Object Lessons series I’ve done for Bloomsbury is shaping up.


Magic & Musings:
This is a question I like to ask purely because of the variety of answers I get! I’m really interested in how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done, like a milky cup of tea or a particular album of music you listen to? 

Alice Marwick:
To have a peaceful space of your own, preferably jungle-ified by houseplants. And beyond that, Woman’s Hour followed by Lauren Laverne on 6Music, some good podcasts in the afternoon, and not too many emails coming in. 

Magic & Musings:
Oh my goodness, that sounds idyllic!
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively?

Alice Marwick:
I’m sure I’d get stuck if I was mostly doing self-initiated projects but having a variety of different briefs coming in, each generally demanding a different approach and a tailor-made solution, forces you to keep things fresh. Going to an art gallery or a bookshop and finding inspiration to try something new there can help too.

Magic & Musings:
What are your favourite tools you use to create your designs? Are there any books on creativity and/or working for yourself you would recommend to others? 

Alice Marwick:
I seem to get through a lot of black gouache! Excellent for creating things that can be scanned in, coloured, and layered up in Photoshop. I’d recommend Come Alive: the Spirited Work of Sister Corita. She ran a screenprinting workshop in her community in San Francisco in the 1960s. Her passion and creativity are an inspiring example. 

Magic & Musings:
Have you ever explored working in another medium?

Alice Marwick:
Not really… I did think for a little while after college that I might get into mural painting, having had a lovely time painting an alpine scene on the wall of a Bavarian Beerhouse one summer (I did all sorts of odd odd-jobs to keep myself going when I first started out). Quite glad I didn’t pursue that one though!


Magic & Musings:
What would you say your relationship is like between your business and the internet/social media? Would you say this has helped you greatly in your success, or not?

Alice Marwick:
As a freelancer you can feel quite isolated and so joining Twitter has been a revelation! To see what other designers are doing, to be able to share your work, and to be part of an online community is brilliant and can be really motivating. I don’t think it’s got me any new work though, although it can’t hurt to have your name out there. As for Instagram… I’ve only just joined and I’m not sure I like it as much as Twitter - too many lunch photos!

Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out working in this field?

Alice Marwick:
That when you are asked for a selection of roughs, don’t actually send them roughs! ‘Roughs’ means mostly fully worked-up good designs. My art director was bewildered by the clumsy mess I sent her for my first job. Thankfully, she gave me another chance…

Magic & Musings:
Onto a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song? 

Alice Marwick:
Oh yes. My Favourite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris is being hailed as a new graphic novel masterpiece and I’d say believe the hype! It is incredible. An emotionally rich and exciting storyline and just mind-blowing biro cross-hatched illustrations. Emil Ferris is a true artist and a hero (she wrote the book whilst half-paralysed by West Nile virus). There’s an ace short comic about her writing the book here.

A recent film I’d recommend is The Eagle Huntress. A hugely uplifting and intriguing documentary about a Kazakh nomad girl and her efforts to become an Eagle Hunter in Mongolia (it has traditionally been a skill past down from father to son). She is a hugely capable and courageous 13 year old, determined to break into a man’s world. Thankfully she has a lovely dad who’s happy to train her up.

When I need to concentrate but still fancy having music on I enjoy listening to a bit of Steve Reich. It’s such good music for focussing. All those repeating, shifting, layered phrases make you feel clever and efficient!

Magic & Musings:
Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work? 

Alice Marwick:
I have lots of work up on my website: www.alice-marwick.co.uk and post mostly about book covers on Twitter @AliceMarwick. My instagram is @alicemarwick too.

You Might Also Like

0 comments