Off the Page: Meg Morley

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Here’s your chance to get behind the scenes with fanartists who bring your favorite young adult books to life.

If you like YA, you probably already know Meg Morley. After all, in addition to being a graphic designer, Morley is a co-blogger over at the fantastic blog Cuddlebuggery. “Among other things, like being a part-time velociraptor and incredibly terrible at telling people about myself. You can find me in Ohio, land of corn and hills and astronauts.”

“My favorite YA is Melina Marchetta and Maggie Stiefvater,” said Morley, with a special emphasis on Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles and Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series. “I’m also quite fond of Terry Pratchett and Mira Grant, but they aren’t all that YA – though there is a YA branch of the Discworld books and you guys should check it out because it’s awesome. I am also a member of the Harry Potter generation and no amount of ‘your fav is problematic HP edition’ will ever take those books away from me.”

Morley’s fanart isn’t the kind traditionally featured on Off the Page. She’s taking her graphic design background and applying it to redesigning beautiful covers for her favorite books.

“The cover redesign project was born out of a combination of things,” said Morley. “I really like doing fan art, though I talk about it a lot more than I actually follow through because what is spare time, and book covers are a really great way to creatively showcase my love of my favs. Sometimes I’ll read a book and have such a perfect idea for a cover based on my interpretation, it needs to be done. Also, ever since I first got into graphic design, book design has always been the dream. Unfortunately, to do book design you generally need a few book designs in your portfolio because employers aren’t big on hiring creatives based on ‘yo, trust me, I’ve got this.’ Further unfortunately, there aren’t lot of opportunities to get into fiction book design in my area as it is not NYC so the best way to get some pieces to put in my portfolio is to just do them myself for fun. Several years of extreme procrastination later, the cover redesign project was born.”

  • Meg Morley's redesign of the Girl of Fire and Thorns series covers.

What is it about the authors’ writing that inspired your redesigns?
I am so in love with the Fire & Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson and while I wouldn’t say it’s underrated, it does seem like its epic-ness isn’t as widely known as it should be so I decided to do some exteriors that (I thought) reflected the epic-ness of the interiors. I mean, what’s fancier than putting actual gold on the cover, right?

Are there any other influences you included in your redesigns?
I am obsessed with Jessica Hische – her work is my absolute favorite. I wasn’t specifically thinking of her work when doing the Fire & Thorns covers, but she’s probably one of my biggest influences in terms of any typography-based design I do.

What’s your process?
Hahahahahahahaha, process, that sounds so organized. I generally set out with a vague idea of what I’m going for and then just play around until something clicks. Sometimes my vague idea works immediately and I sit around patting myself on the back for being a genius and sometimes it doesn’t come together at all and I spiral into a pit of self-doubt and despair and wonder why I didn’t go into, like, professional math or something. It’s tons of fun, ask any creatively-oriented person. Oh, I always work in black and white first when it comes to typography and graphics. I think if your typography/graphics rely on color to work, it may have some foundational weaknesses that may need to be accounted for down the road. (This isn’t always true/doesn’t always matter but I try to incorporate it as a guiding principle)

In the case of this particular redesign, I knew I wanted to do some kind of fancy type focused cover because I am all about the fancy type. I like to draw my own lettering, but in this case I started with a font and then customized the individual letters to work in a cohesive layout. I played around for a while and actually spent a lot of time developing a particular style before attempting to put it into a background and deciding it didn’t work and actually I didn’t like it at all and could do better. I had this idea that I would do the backgrounds incorporating photography of settings in each book but when I put the type in, it was so busy and not really communicating the epic fantasy vibe I was going for, so I decided to scrap the whole thing and start over from scratch. I kept the original typography idea but go in a different style direction and decided to simplify with no photography, convey book specific details with iconography (simpler than photos). Lo and behold, the covers I ended up going with took shape.

What programs do you like to work with?
I use the Adobe Creative Suite, specifically Illustrator and Photoshop in this case. I do all of my typography work in Illustrator, I am obsessed with that program. If I had to pick a favorite design program, that would be it. It has its strengths and weaknesses (Photoshop is obviously better for photo manipulation and color work, InDesign is better for layout projects) but I love the control it gives you over lines and shapes and idk, maybe it’s because my original artistic background is in drawing and it’s the most precision drawing-suited program, so it speaks to me? I don’t know. Anyway, that’s what I used.

What encouraged you to share your redesigns?
I’ve been talking about doing them for a while now and will sometimes go on design-focused rants about different covers and my friends are always like ‘omg Meg, design your own’ and I’d be like ‘you know what? I will’ and then, you know, not, and finally it just started seeming pathetic that I flaked on follow through every time. Plus the aforementioned, I’d really like to do this for a living and need to get a portfolio together thing.

What other redesigns can we expect from you? What dream book do you want to redesign?
At some point I will definitely do The Raven Cycle and The Lumatere Chronicles (even though I’m terrified there is no possible way to actually do them justice, but we’ll see). I actually started concepting out a set for The Raven Cycle and got to the ‘I’m trying to develop this idea and it’s not working so maybe I should scrap it and start over’ stage when life intervened and I haven’t had a chance to work on them but they’re coming. I also have a really clear idea for Dangerous Girls by Abagail Haas that I need to get down on paper (or the digital equivalent, whatever). I’m not a huge planner, I kind of let half-assed ideas roll around in the back of my head and run with whatever one bubbles to the surface the most pressingly. I also take requests with a disclaimer that there is a chance I won’t follow through for a very long time.

What do you wish publishers would do more of in cover designs? Less of?
I am so, so, so in love with typography and illustration covers. I really like interesting/striking use of color. I also really like when series have a cohesive overall design concept (death to mid-series redesigns, especially when the redesign is incredibly underwhelming compared to the original design). I like when covers subtly incorporate key things from the books that maybe don’t make sense until after you’ve read them. I really like stylistic stuff. I am also a sucker for badass ladies that look like they’re less than 3 seconds from murdering everyone, bonus points if they’re illustrated.

Personally, I am super over the girl-in-fancy-dress trend. Ditto the giant eyeball trend. I get why they’re popular (fancy ball dresses are pretty and fun, eyeballs are super cool and very much get your attention) but I feel like the market’s been way over-saturated at this point. I don’t dislike photography-based covers, but a lot of times they don’t overwhelm me with awesomeness.

What kind of advice or insight would you give to other aspiring designers?
Do design work, find designers you think are awesome, keep an eye on their work, pay attention to how they approach projects. Spend a lot of time on Pinterest soaking up styles and trends, definitely keep an eye on trends (The Awwwards is good for web trends and they also do yearly free/cheap font round ups with awesome fonts), amass a resource library (you never know when a design element you saw months ago will be the missing piece that makes your entire design click together). Um, I don’t know, design stuff, all the time. Pay attention to the principles of design in addition to the mechanics. Design is more than being really good at photoshop and making cool looking things, it’s about communication. A really good designer has a good grip on theory and intent just as much as mechanical skills.

Thanks for having me! This was super cool and I hope I wasn’t too ramble-y. You can find me at Cuddlebuggery, on twitter at @megsaysthings and Instagram at @mego_42. I’m also on Tumblr but that’s mostly incoherent fangirl reblog nonsense.

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About Author

Nicole Brinkley

Nicole is the editor of YA Interrobang. She has short hair and loves dragons. The rest changes without notice. Follow her on Twitter at @nebrinkley or Tumblr at nebrinkley. Like her work? Leave her a tip.

1 Comment

  1. Great interview Meg!!! And great questions Nicole! I loooove your redesigns for GoFaT, they’re so gorgeous. I love learning how people create their art even though I’m not a very artistic person. And even though I do like pretty dress covers they are SUPER overdone. I love beautiful typography and striking designs. Can’t wait to see what other covers you’ll do in the future 😀