The Children’s Book Review | April 28, 2018
Leslie Mechanic is a Senior Designer at Penguin Random House where she oversees design for middle-grade titles from concept to final product. She is responsible for reinvigorating established brands and turning unknown titles into tomorrow’s bestsellers. Leslie joined Penguin Random House in 2015 from Scholastic, where she spent over five years designing a broad range of board books and picture books. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with concentrations in Illustration and Graphic Design from the Rhode Island School of Design and currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. When she is not working, Leslie enjoys traveling, reading and watching sci-fi thrillers, perfecting her piano skills, and pining after all the adorable dogs in her neighborhood.
I design because …
My two greatest passions since childhood have consistently been creating artwork and reading. As a kid you could have either found me in the “zone” making artwork, curled up reading a book, or a combination of both – writing and illustrating children’s stories of my own. I was fortunate enough to pursue my passions, and attend the Rhode Island School of Design, where I was able to tailor my education to building skills that would help me land my life-long dream job of working in children’s publishing. I thought that this would be the perfect fit for me since it would combine the two things I had always loved the most. It wasn’t until a college internship at Scholastic, though, that my love of design itself began to rapidly develop. After graduating, I began working as a children’s book designer at Scholastic, and later at Random House where I currently work as a Senior Designer.
My favorite thing about reading has always been imagining what the characters and world that the story takes place in looks and feels like. As a book designer, I not only get to dream up these images, but truly bring them to life on a cover. While designing, my focus is always on creating a package that will appeal to children (and parents alike) and inspire them in the same meaningful way that I was, at a young age. I whole-heartedly believe that growing up reading books can shape a person, and I love the idea that I can play even a small part in that.
A book cover should …
As a designer, I strive to create covers that will stand out on a shelf, draw you in to take a closer look, and make you want learn more about the story within.
It’s important to convey the flavor of the story without giving away too much. We want the reader to be able to understand the subject of the book from a very quick glance. Whether it be through color, style, typography, or interesting iconography, there are many ways to visually convey the mood of the book, without showing a full narrative on the cover.
The latest published book with a cover designed by me is …
The latest book to hit stores that I designed is the repackage of “The Incredible Journey.” This was an especially meaningful project for me to work on, as Homeward Bound – the 90’s movie based on the original book– was an integral part of my childhood video rotation.
My artistic process is …
When initially approaching a new design challenge, I always try to think as big and outside the box as possible, and avoid taking the safe route and staying within my comfort zone. If the concept is too big for some stakeholders to grasp, it’s easy to then pull back a little, as needed. This way of working usually yields more exciting and groundbreaking design solutions than having taken the safe route from the get-go.
Technically speaking, my artistic process as a cover designer goes something like this…
Read the book -> Take notes as I go -> Sketch thumbnails/create concepts -> Hire Artist -> Present artist sketches -> Refine until sketches are approved -> Present final artwork -> Refine until final artwork is approved. This can either be a simple and concise process, or a lengthy drawn-out one – each project is unique.
My most used creative supply or tool is …
Can I say my brain? I believe that no matter how beautiful or masterfully created a piece of cover art is, you need a solid concept or idea behind the work for it to translate.
After this ideation phase, and before jumping onto the computer like many do, I like to kick things back a little old-school, and create (many!) cover thumbnail sketches by hand. There is really nothing quite like working with traditional media before moving onto the computer, and I find that the projects I begin this way have an extra layer of “je ne sais quoi” in the end result. That being said, the number of sketchbooks I have amassed over the years is alarming!
I am inspired by …
Anything and everything around me. When I am stumped by a design challenge, the answer almost always comes to me in an organic and often unexpected way, through my surroundings. I am beyond lucky to live in the infinitely stimulating city of New York, where ads on the subway, snippets of passerby’s conversation, or even a spontaneous conversation with an Uber driver can spark an idea that can later evolve into an innovative concept for a book cover.
On top of that, the creative people I am surrounded by, and collaborate with at Random House each and every day inspire me endlessly. The relationships I have with design teammates, illustrators, and authors teach me new things, and consistently push me to think in new and exciting ways.
When I’m designing a cover I like to …
When I am designing, it is rare that I am not listening to music. I have a carefully (probably more like compulsively) curated collection of playlists I have created over the years, and listening to them helps me get into the zone. If I’m working on a playful cover, my go-to is usually something with a little pep, but if the book has a deeper, emotional tone, I gravitate towards more mellow tunes.
All-time favorite cover of a children’s book I didn’t design …
This is so hard – can I choose a few?
Eloise, The Little Prince, Anything by Seuss, Roald Dahl or Shel Silverstein are some of my all-time favorites.
A literary classic I would love reissued so I can design a cover for is …
Probably The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. This story has so many interesting visual elements to pull from, to help create an enchanting and beautiful cover design. The seasons, the natural elements, the magic, the characters, the theme of good vs. evil…I can go on for a while. Apart from that, this book was so dear to me as a child, that my mother actually painted a sign that read “To Narnia” and hung it on the wardrobe in my childhood bedroom. It may or may not still be hanging there today.
Currently working on …
I am currently smack dab in the middle of the brainstorming stages for our upcoming Summer 2019 list.
I start off the process by combing through each book’s manuscript in search of key elements that will inform my design decisions later on. Getting to know the characters and location of the story are important of course, but identifying icons, symbols, themes, as well as the overall tone and flavor of the narrative are crucial ingredients to creating a successful (and attractive!) book cover.
I am also in the midst of working on a very exciting project with a groundbreaking format on our Spring 2019 list. It is a non-fiction interactive choose-your-own adventure book about the Titanic, where kids will be doodling, destroying, and demolishing their way through history. It is going to be a lot of fun!
Connect with Leslie Mechanic …
Written by Dianne Touchell
Cover Designer: Leslie Mechanic
Publisher’s Synopsis: For fans of Counting by 7s and Fish in a Tree, a touching story about the power of love and family in the face of a parent’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Foster Sumner is ten years old. He likes toy soldiers, tadpole hunting, going to school, and the beach. Best of all, he likes listening to his dad’s stories.
But then Foster’s dad starts forgetting things. No one is too worried at first. Foster and Dad giggle about it. Dad goes out for milk and comes back with cat food, when the cat has been dead for five years. But then the forgetting gets worse. And suddenly no one is laughing anymore.
A heartbreaking story about what it means to forget and to be forgotten, as well as the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s and the strong families behind those who suffer from it.
Ages 9-12 | Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1524765484
Discover more book cover design inspiration and books like Sticky Notes, written by Dianne Touchell and cover design by Leslie Mechanic, on The Children’s Book Review by following along with our Behind the Cover series and articles tagged with Middle Grade Books.
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