The old adage goes, “never judge a book by its cover.” Those who enjoy literature know that this is very unreliable advice. When there are a sea of possible novels to select from, a catching cover can grab the attention of a reader and help them begin to explore the world that the author has created.
Nailbiters is the first work that I have published. The entire process was very personal and when it was time to have a cover designed, it felt right to ask a friend. Fortunately, I have an extremely talented friend named Nora Gecan who is a book lover and graphic designer. After seeing her first designs for the cover I knew that this was the right fit for me and for the book.
Nora didn’t only give Nailbiters a cover, she gave Dora and Simon a face, a relatable image for readers to connect with. Since I have had the privilege of knowing Nora for 14 years, I thought it was time for the audience to meet her formally.
Meet Nora Gecan:
When did you first know that you wanted to be a designer? When I was little, I dreamed of being a writer, like my dad (and you!) or a marine biologist, because I read a children’s book about scientists who swam and spoke with dolphins. I did not dream of being a graphic designer, and I don’t think I knew what a designer was! However, I was artistically inclined my whole life – I loved drawing, reading, and writing. This translated into taking extra art classes in high school, attending summer art programs, and going to Parsons School for Design. I was fortunate enough to have incredibly supportive parents who encouraged all of this. After my freshman year at Parsons, during which all students take roughly the same courses – drawing, 2D design, 3D design, art history, etc – I decided to choose graphic design as my major. I had been deliberating between fine art, illustration, and design, but design was the best fit – I love how equally artistic and utilitarian it can be.
Who is your favorite designer?- can be any medium. I love Chip Kidd, the famed designer of all of my favorite book covers! I am also in awe of Louise Fili, a letterer and designer who helped to train another of my favorite designers, Jessica Hische.
What has been your favorite project that you have worked on (other than Nailbiters)? This is a really tough question, because I love so many of my projects for different reasons. Nailbiters was definitely a favorite because I got to READ A BOOK! And because that book was written by you! Early in my life as a designer I worked with the Alaska Marine Conservation Council on their report for the Bering Sea Elders Group. That was a very rewarding project for many reasons. It was my first time laying out a long-form document (it was about 50 pages), and I got to work with some incredible photography of rural Alaskan communities and landscapes. The maps within the report were a combination of scientific data from NOAA about species habitat and migratory patterns and traditional knowledge from Native elders and hunters about their subsistence use of those species (whales, seals, fish, and the like). Being able take all of their hard work and research and present it professionally and beautifully just felt great, and I learned so much through that process.
You also teach typography, what do you enjoy most about teaching? Teaching has been an unexpected joy in my life! I replaced a friend of mine who taught Type at UAA (University of Alaska Anchorage), but had to move out of state. The week before my first day of teaching, two years ago, I had bitten all my fingernails down (how fitting for this interview!). I was so nervous and was sure that I had no idea what I was doing. I’m not saying that isn’t true, but I’ve managed to teach for two semesters and directed two students in an independent study and can say with confidence that my students have definitely learned a thing or two. I teach in the evenings on Mondays and Wednesdays, 7-9:45. Even if I’m completely dead after work at 6pm, I always leave class feeling energized and happy. Being able to take the knowledge I’ve gained from my academic and professional experience and give that to new designers is the best feeling.
What do you want future aspiring artists to know, given your years of wisdom and practice? I don’t know how wise I am, but I guess this is the best advice I can give: keep cultivating your creativity and skills. You won’t always know what you want to do or what the end game is, but if you keep the flame alive, a path will make itself known. Also just live your life! So much of the best inspiration comes from experiences that are so completely unrelated to looking at art and design. Travelling to an unfamiliar country, getting your heart broken, learning a language, being a friend – everything that you live will impact your ability to be a creator and a communicator.
What is your favorite book- based on the story? I could never pick a favorite. I just read a great book called Station Eleven, which you might like. It’s by Emily St. John Mandel. Also a post-apocalyptic tale!
What is your favorite book- based on the cover? I love Chip Kidd’s cover for The Book of the Penis by Maggie Paley. It’s hilarious.
What future projects are you the most excited about? I’m excited about taking a break from projects this summer! I have been going hard this winter and am really looking forward to rediscovering that thing I’ve heard about, work-life balance. I’m also so excited to play a supporting role in a photography project for which my girlfriend, Jenny Miller, just received grant funding. I’ll be her photo assistant and will eventually design gallery ephemera and a book. She is creating portraits of LGBTQ Native people, also called “Two-Spirit,” and her project is called Shapeshifters.
What design aesthetic are you the most drawn to? I like design with a sense of humor, which is why I love Chip Kidd’s work. It’s not something that I acheive myself very often, which is perhaps why I admire it so much.
If you could take one of the world’s problems and solve it with your designs, what would it be and how would you do it? Good question! I recently read an article about the effectiveness of those “share the road” signs. You know, for bikes and cars. Apparently they’re completely useless, and this is why: bicyclists read it and think it means “get out of my way, cars!” while motorists read it and think it means “get out of my way, bikes!” Signs that say more specific things, like: “bicycles can use the whole lane,” are more effective. This phenomenon is a perfect illustration of how people interpret the world through their own biases. If I could solve one problem, it would be to remove that barrier and allow people to step into the shoes of others. I can’t help but think that solving that would solve so much more.
If you would like to see more of Nora’s incredible work, visit her online portfolio or like her Facebook Page.For other authors looking for an exceptional cover art or if you have other design needs, you can reach out to Nora to help with your designs. She is professional, uniquely talented, and super cool.