The Art of Correspondence

Mary Callahan, the award-winning designer of ‘The Art of Reading’, shares the story of her design through correspondence with the book’s publisher.

16 October 2015, 11:58am

Dearest M

Brief as follows:

Short synopsis

In The Art of Reading each chapter explores a literary virtue – patience, curiosity, courage, pride, temperance, justice – reminding readers of their power: to turn dark marks into new experiences. Philosopher Damon Young celebrates the virtues and pleasures of this intimate pursuit. The Art of Reading is for everyone who sees literature, not as a duty or technical skill, but as a lifelong adventure.

Prime market

People who enjoy engaging with the idea of reading, of what other people read, and of placing the art of reading into a more rigorous framework. Serious readers. Mostly women. The author is a well regarded philosopher and has quite a following.

Suggestions for cover treatment

The author has wanted to use an illustration, but the examples he sent through leaned too much towards looking like illos from a kids’ book. Sort of decorative/illustrative element would be a good idea as there isn’t much type on the front cover.

Marketing don’t want a photo on the cover, nor do they want a mumsy, over-stylised illo on the cover. It needs be young, hip, design aware and smart.


20 October 2015, 4:22pm

Dear M

So we’ve just had our fortnightly editorial meeting, and they’ve decided that The Art of Reading is to be a touch fancier than the ordinary B format. It can now have flaps. We can print one colour on the inside front and back cover, and we also want bookmarks.

Matt lam with spot gloss or emboss are the embellishments. I’ve attached the first pages.

Hope your week is not too dire.

L x

26 October 2015, 9:17pm


Please find covers attached. I hope I’ve achieved a poetic, clever, smart and fun take on the subject matter.

Have brought the pages of a book to the cover, and the punctuation is running riot.

The readings of the punctuation-based illo are endless, so I won’t even go there and look forward to hearing your take on it.

Pages 2 and 3 are playing with the quote credit as the winking eye… it’s a little out there, but I think it needs to be … And I like the quote suggesting a blushing cheek?

Then again, maybe the bracket is better for the job of the winking eye.

This cover would be better served being printed on an uncoated stock … I would forego the bells and whistles you mentioned, and swap them all for uncoated and flaps if we can.

The Art of Reading concepts

27 October 2015, 11:05am

Hey M

Thanks for sending the covers through; however we don’t think they quite hit the mark. A little too esoteric?


27 October 2105, 11:30am



Weeks passed and stress levels rose as I put off the evil hour of sitting down and coming up with a solution to this brief. One morning, I stayed home, found my collection of coloured paper and started cutting out shapes. I began to see possibilities. I rode into the studio, scanned my little cut out shapes and there was my reader.

9 November 2015, 1:49pm


Have attached a pdf here with 6 pages. It’s one idea, but with colour variations.

So, it’s a different approach … have dispensed with the ‘punctuation as illustration’ idea and have gone with another style. It’s kinda rough still – I need to do a better job with the hands. I like its looseness, though.

I think it would make a lovely cover with flaps… can see emboss on the illo – the shoes, the hands and the daisies?

Would be brilliant if we could print on an uncoated stock… would be a truly beautiful production then.

I prefer the versions with darker colour backgrounds… oh, I do hope you loik … respondez-vou with your initial reaction before you send to the troops?

The Art of Reading concepts

The Art of Reading concepts

The Art of Reading concepts

9 November 2015, 2:57pm


I SO LOIK!!! All of them. Although maybe because I saw the grey one first I love that one first.


9 November 2015, 3:25pm


Well, the team went for the colour. There is one change they want to make. Even though the design brief was skewed towards females, a young literate female audience, now they are wanting to include the boys who read philosophy. Would it be possible to maybe put the lass in jeans?! Or pants? Something a bit more unisex.

9 November 2015, 3:45pm

🙁 groan, sigh

that means no daisies!

would like to keep some kind of patterning on them …

will give it some thought …

was there a colour preference?

9 November 2015, 3:52pm

They loved either the blue or the green. Any chance of girl on front, man on back? Too twee?

13 November 2015, 10.12am

Dear M

S sent through the green cover rough to Damon, who loved it. Here were his comments:

Thanks again for this. My first thought was: “Oh, I *like* it.” Love the green, the austerity, and the slightly abstract design.

My only worry is that the reader’s not immediately recognisable, i.e. too abstract. Perhaps the book needs a suggested spine, e.g. a line between the cover and back, or a gap? I’d like to see variations on the hand shape, too.

But, really, my initial response was ‘ooooh’ and so was Ruth’s. Male friends immediately said ‘ick’. So there you go.

S followed up the email with a phone call to Damon, and these are the two points he wanted to make.

  1. Even though Damon requested a girl reading, he now wants to find out if we could create a less ‘gendered’ version. Maybe jeans?
  2. He would also like to see a spine in the book, as he doesn’t feel that it indicates that it’s a book and he wants it to be super obvious that it’s a book. And I know that you are working on the hands. Sorry, I sent it out before it was ready.

When we showed it to marketing they also made the comment about it being too gender specific, even though most of his audience is female. He still does have a few males and no one wants to alienate them.

Let’s discuss.

L x

19 November 2015, 10.30am


Have put some jeans on our reader and smartened up the hands, plus made the book look more obviously booky.

It’s less abstract and whimsical now, which is a great pity. I feel that the responses about gender are only going to water down what was a good idea …

If everyone was so adamant about this being a female market, then I guess I’m interrogating the change of heart.

Is it a matter of losing nerve I wonder?

anyhoo …

I’m not sure the green palette works now … so I’ve done a blue one again, plus a new purple/mustard one which I quite like.



November 20 2015, 9:14am

Hi M, Sales and Marketing and us in Editorial agree. So please work up the daisy cover.



November 20 2015, 11:36am



The Art of Reading cover

The Art of Reading won the best designed non-fiction book award at the 2017 Australian Book Design Awards.

Select imagery used in draft cover concepts is shown here for the purpose of review/education only.