As cover design began, Jessica Henderson, the designer and professor who oversaw our unusual process, asked me to describe my aesthetic. I said, “I’m sure this isn’t going to help, but my design aesthetic is gorgeous. So much of what comes out of evangelicalism is ugly– it’s essential to me this book subverts that. I’m, frankly, a little evangelical about it.”
No, I’m not good with jokes. But it’s a testament to their aesthetic, skill and insight that cover designers Heidi Kao and Emily Swanberg got exactly what I was trying to say– that day, and from the pages of Triptych.
The cover is gorgeous. And, as with any beautiful thing, that means it is wise, elegant, carefully crafted and fascinating– what another great, faithful designer, Mike Cina, calls “an object of desire.”
More about the process of designing Triptych will come along soon, but we wanted to recognize the cover in its own right. Emily and Heidi’s work was responsive, but they created an independent work of art that can be admired even without the story behind it.
Kelsey on the cover:
Design, develop, and choose a cover that will connect the reader to the story before he or she knows what the story is? No pressure.
The process of cover design presents the challenge of keeping creative and practical concerns in some kind of balance, or at least a helpful tension…or at least a non-hostile coexistence. I’ve also found it to be a surprisingly personal process—not something I was expecting, considering I wasn’t the maker of the text or the cover. The first design meeting I attended included an early proposal of the image that is now the cover, and my gut reaction was “This is it.” I tried to keep that reaction from influencing the way I saw other proposals, but part of me secretly thought the job was done right then and there.
Of course—thankfully—April is much more thorough than that, and “the cover” continued to be a topic of probing and thoughtful conversation for several following weeks. Every opinion required justification and an examination of both the text itself and each designer’s experience of reading the text.
My first attempts to explain my gut reaction came in terms of opposites:
“I like how it embraces the mystical with the vines, but also the logical geometry in the triangle structure.”
“It really commingles the natural with the crafted.”
“I like that the vines just feel ominous, but also beautiful—and then there’s this solid, almost comforting, structure in the midst of it.”
I could pull out plenty of individual examples from the book to support any of these claims, but I grew frustrated with my inability to verbalize why it was this cover seemed to connect me to the story in a way the other proposals didn’t.
Then one day a friend pointed out that the white color scheme emphasizes the spiritual focus in the book, which sparked a recognition of one of the themes that makes this book so important to me: It doesn’t follow the common spiritual association with the color white—cleansed, pure, etc.; instead, white represents an absence, anticipating a presence.
No third-grader uses the white crayon—on most paper it doesn’t do or show anything. Blank sheets of paper, freshly fallen snow, bridal gowns—all connote the empty and untouched, but an ‘empty’ and ‘untouched’ that is soon to be colored in or filled.
In both spiritual and relational experiences (and the commingling of the two), April and the Triptych readers grapple with absences of desire, satisfaction, clarity, divinity, and the longing for “a relationship with both substance and meaning, truth and presence.”
Suddenly all of those dichotomies felt lit up and projected onto a much larger screen.
Which fills the absence more—the vines or the structure? Or do they both merely divide up the absence in different ways? Where is the presence of God experienced—in the logical or in the mystical? Or do these merely help us cope with the lack? Is God ominous or beautiful, him or her, comforting or wrathful, personal or indifferent—or are these all merely 26 letters rearranged, a grasp at “a puzzle, a flame, a fight”?
My hope is that all of you will somehow connect to this cover. Maybe the connection will be logical, maybe it will be instinctual. Maybe you will fall for the vines or be intrigued by the geometry. Maybe you will hold the book in your hand and speculate for a long time on what the title word could possibly mean.
My hope is that this cover sparks a recognition in you like it did in me, a gut reaction that prompts reflection and, perhaps, revelation.