Haunting horror covers inspired by a Valentine's day card

On a mission to breathe new life into a collection of novels by the Old Masters of horror, book cover designer Coralie Bickford-Smith sidestepped hackneyed horror tropes and turned to an historic printing method to create a modern, eerie aesthetic.

What was your inspiration for the series?

The idea of using cyanotypes came about when my boyfriend made me a Valentine's card using a Sunprint Kit. I kept looking at it when I was meant to be working on the cover concepts and eventually I realised the answer to my brief was literally staring me in the face.

How did you create them?

Cyanotypes are created by exposing light-sensitive paper to sunlight with areas masked off – in this case with objects, paper cutouts and printed acetate. The technology was developed around the time that some of these books were written, which was an added attraction. It's quite crude compared with later photographic techniques, and the mottled texture and indistinct lines it produces create an ethereal effect ideal for these ghostly tales.

Were there any constraints with this method of working?

I wanted to remain as true to the cyanotype prints as I could, but once they were made I scanned them and manipulated them in Photoshop to add the colour and type. The aim was to create a look that worked for the genre, but didn't fall into some of its more over-used conventions. I chose the yellow and blue combination, and a restrained type treatment that didn't compete for attention with the graphic elements.

Which is your favourite design?

The cover for The Spook House was created almost by accident and became my favourite of the series. I wanted to try using knives to create an image, and the size of blueprint paper I had meant I needed two sheets. Originally intending to join the two halves seamlessly in Photoshop, I discovered the bisected image was much stronger. Serendipitous moments like that are wonderful.

Coralie's book covers have been recognised by AIGA and D&AD, and have been featured in publications including The New York Times, Vogue and the Guardian. She currently works in-house at Penguin Books. This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 228.

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