Q & A with Charmaine Cave

Charmaine Cave is a Perth based book designer and owner of Cave Design, the graphic design studio she founded in 1997. She’s been involved in the WA branch of AGDA for many years, serving as their president from 2012–2013 and in 2014 co-wrote the book ‘Swanning Around Perth: An Exploration of the Black Swan in our City’ with Alex George AM.

Did you mean to end up as a book designer? What was your trajectory?

Yes. I have always had a love of art, writing and reading. I first heard about graphic design in high school when I was fifteen. A fellow student read out the job description for a graphic designer during a careers information session. It sounded like the perfect job for me, so I went to my art teacher and asked her if graphic designers created books. She confirmed that they did and so I decided that I would study graphic design when I finished school. After I obtained my Diploma of Art and Design at the Perth Technical College School of Art & Design I worked as a graphic designer for WAAPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts) and for TAFE Publications, which gave me valuable hands-on experience in the publishing world. In 1997 I founded my own design studio, Cave Design, which specialises in book design.

Does art — gallery, museum art — inspire you? Or film, tv etc? If so, what do you like?

Everything inspires me! I file anything interesting I have seen away in my head for later inspiration. I love visiting art galleries and museums as I have a keen interest in art and history. Lately I’ve become addicted to watching Antiques Roadshow and Bargain Hunt as you get to see a vast range of weird and wonderful objects from all cultures and eras. I recently saw the Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design which is a fascinating insight into the lives of designers from various disciplines. I have always enjoyed the escapism of the movies, although those that are adapted from books rarely exceed the source material.

What do you listen to when you work?

I have my own iTunes library playing my music, which is an eclectic mix of pop, rock, soul, classical and alternative music. Favourite artists include Sting, Adele and Emeli Sandè.

What question do you least enjoy from people when they discover you design books?

I can’t say I’ve ever had a question I’ve found annoying. Most people are genuinely fascinated as they have usually never met anyone else who does that for a living.

What is your favourite tool on the computer? (Not just a program but within a program or OS)

InDesign is my favourite program, but it doesn’t have a stand out tool. I like the Pencil Tool in Illustrator and the Magic Wand tool in Photoshop makes selecting an area a lot easier than it used to be.

How do you know when a project is done?

Interesting question. Obviously the job is complete when you have the printed book in your hand, but deciding when it is ready to send to the client is an instinctive thing that you can’t really put into words. You just ‘feel’ that it is, like when you know that a painting is finished.

Walk us through your design process. 

I usually design the entire book, so my process can be summarised as: client briefing, note taking, estimating, approval of estimate, research and design experimentation, draft cover and intro pages, client approval, layout and design of rest of book, editing and client changes, contents page, index (if there is one), final edits, final client approval, print proof, sign off, printing, binding, delivery, book launch. Repeat with next project.

Which book would you like to design the cover for?

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel so I would know when it was coming out! A book on movies or a children’s book would also be fun, but I welcome any design challenge.

Who is one of your favourite book designers and why?

I admire the simple, strong covers of Chip Kidd’s work and I even had the opportunity to meet him when he visited Perth. On the local front Allison Colpoys illustrated book work is truly lovely.

Your favourite place (store, library, blog etc) to look at books?

Boffins Bookshop is the place to go for art and design books in Perth. The new City of Perth Library is a wonderfully designed building and has a great range of titles too.