This post originally appeared on the Library as Incubator Project in March 2013.

Today’s featured artist is book cover designer Coralie Bickford-Smith. Coralie is the talent and hard work behind Penguin’s revamped classics covers and we are really thrilled to talk with her about her relationship to libraries! ~ Laura

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the work you do?

I am a pattern obsessed book cover designer who has been working at Penguin for 10 years or so. I have been very lucky at Penguin because I get to work on the books I love for which I have gained a reputation as a designer.

Clothbound series, designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith.

Clothbound series, designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith.

Can you tell us about your relationship to libraries – growing up, and now – as a reader and as an artist?

I remember my first trip to the library I was a small child and it was a big deal. I could not believe the choice of books to take home and read. I lovingly kept the chosen books by my bed and took extra special care of them. I was hooked and regular visits became an important part of my early life.

As I grew up I found solace in libraries where ever I was. They would be my place of choice to get away from it all.

I find that a library is the best  place to disappear and hide from the world and make new friends from between the pages of a book.

You design covers for new works, but also for reprints of many works of classic literature. Can you talk generally about your process for designing a book cover, discussing how the process differs (if at all) between a new book and a classic work?

The process begins with getting hold of what ever I can about the book, be it a manuscript, a summary, or the actual book. I read and research who the author is or was; when the book was written; and the social background to the period or the visual trends of that era. It varies on whether the book is modern or an older classic. I love to immerse myself in the visual identity of that period or the period in which the book is set. I enjoy digging up new visual odds and ends that I can play on in the work. I might disappear out of the office to a library or a museum or a second hand book shop. It all depends on the time I have and the style of book. But one thing is for certain: London has a whole heap of things to see and do to get inspiration.

I then start to lay down ideas and make a general mess. I let the information I find mix around in my brain. Something usually appears out of nowhere at a strange moment and I have to work on it straight away or write it down in one of my note books for later. I love that surge of ideas that leads to the ‘I must work now’ feeling. It’s important, and when it’s not there I let my creative side alone and work on the more mundane tasks which are needed to keep things ticking along.

Where do you look for inspiration for your cover designs? Do you have favourite books, websites, collections, illustrators, etc. that you find you turn to for reference and/or inspiration?

In my study I have three big bookshelves full of books that I use for inspiration and I am always adding to them. I love having a huge collection of material to turn to when seeking ideas. I am always trawling bookshops to add to my collection. Every so often I find the ultimate book – the forgotten lettering book. It hides in dark corners in second hand bookshops. I love the hunting down those rare beasts. The web plays a big part also but it never is as rewarding as finding incredible things that exisit as ink on paper that you can take home.

As an artist, what would your ideal library look or be like?

Now that I have my own place to live I am enjoying creating my own library. The fiction side of things is very organised and tidy, colourfully arranged. My design library is a mass of over sized books that constantly move around on the shelf as I pull them out and put them back out of order. My current reading library in my bedroom shifts constantly; it grows and shrinks weekly. These personal collections of literature are each like a living thing that reflect the different moments of my life, depending on what I am working on or if I am taking a break from cover design. I love my book collections and I suppose now I have created my own space I am going to libraries less as I have my own place to hide away.

Coralie sent us this update in November 2017: 

Read more and see more of Coralie’s work on her website,

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