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Cover Artist Spotlight Series #4 – Isaac Tobin #CoverArt #Design #Books


Welcome to another exciting instalment of my cover art spotlight series here on Always Trust In Books. The series is really heating up now and I am getting some brilliant feedback from the readers, which I appreciate so much, thank you :D. Today we have Isaac Tobin sharing some interesting insights into his life and work. Isaac’s work is incredibly bold, varied and eye-catching. I have been looking through his website trying to choose pieces to share with you here and there are so many choices, I want to show you them all. I will do my best ;). First a few details about Isaac and then straight to Q&A!


About Isaac Tobin

I’m a senior designer at the University of Chicago Press. I have a BFA in Graphic Design from RISD (2002). I worked as a Book Designer at Beacon Press and then freelanced for a year in Buenos Aires before settling in Chicago in 2005.

Some awards and publications include:

ADC Young Guns 7

NewCity Lit50 (#50)

AIGA 50/50
AAUP Book, Jacket and Journal show
The Type Director’s Club

The Society of Typographic Arts Archive 09

Print Magazine Regional Annual

Fully Booked from Die Gestalten Verlag

All Messed Up from Laurence King



Lauren Nassef (frequent collaborator and wife)


Michael DeLucia

Shaun Krupa

Julia Rothman

Maia Wright

Dustin Kilgore

Mike Brehm

Matthew Avery

This bio was taken from Isaac Tobin’s personal website:


The Q&A Section – Isaac Tobin

Could you tell us a bit about your career as a designer/artist?

I went to art school and majored in Graphic Design and really fell in love
with typography. My two favorite teachers and mentors in school both
designed primarily books, and one of them encouraged me to try book design
because she knew it would be a good fit for me.

Do you work with specific genres of book or are you open to any sort of

Because I work for an academic press I tend to design mostly academic
nonfiction, but that includes a wide variety of books. History, science,
philosophy, literary criticism, poetry, political economics, etc, and even
the occasional novel. But I’m definitely up for anything, and it’s always
a good challenge to work on new sorts of projects.


What sort of challenges do you face as an artist in this industry?

Book covers typically have please many different stake-holders, and
sometimes it can be difficult to find a solution that makes everyone
happy. For example, an author may have a different idea of how their book
should be presented than the marketing department, and sometimes a cover
design is asked to paper-over that conflict. Or sometimes a book’s title
doesn’t do a great job of explaining the subject matter, and so the cover
must step up and communicate that instead.

Where do you draw inspiration from when you set out to design a piece?

Most of my inspiration comes directly from the books themselves. This is
especially true when I’m working on a book about a specific time period or
place; I always start with visual research and that generally leads
directly into a design. That approach is harder with books that are more
conceptual in their focus, but in those cases I still try to find my
inspiration in the subject matter itself.


Do you have a particular piece of artwork that you are especially proud of?

I don’t work on many novels, so it’s always fun when I get to do one. I am
particularly happy with the cover I designed for Norte by Edmund Paz
( I
really liked the novel, which weaves together a few different narratives
all revolving around the US/Mexico border. Some of the characters include
a young Lucha-Libre-loving serial killer who rides Freight Trains into
the US and an old schizophrenic outsider artist living in an asylum in
California. Designing a novel is so different than non-fiction: often you
want the cover of a non-fiction book to clearly communicate the subject or
thesis of the book. But it can be reductive to treat a novel the same way,
and I prefer covers that focus more on capturing the tone or mood of a
novel the illustrating every key plot point.

Is there any artists/illustrators that have influenced your work?

Tons! Book covers must exist in and communicate with the larger visual
culture, so of course I look at everything. It’s always hard to name any
single influence, but more than any other designer I have to credit Jan
Tschichold. I’ve learned so much about working with type by studying his
work, both the dogmatic and radical modernism of his youth and the
neoclassical refinement of his later years in England.


Could you give us a brief overview of how you plan/approach a cover design?

I don’t normally have the time to read whole manuscripts (or would
necessarily understand them) so start by reading the helpful summaries our
editorial staff prepare. Then I’ll move onto the introduction of the book,
and any included artwork. Meanwhile I start doodling little images and
thumbnails, which sometimes lead directly to a final design. But more
often I don’t know exactly where to begin and create big messy files in
Adobe Illustrator where I dump in visual research, image possibilities,
and start setting the title in dozens of different type treatments. From
there it’s an iterative process of mixing and matching and generating
variations, ultimately leading up to the hardest part, which is editing
down to the single strongest design.

What is the best part about being an artist in your opinion?

I’ve always loved to make things, and there is nothing more satisfying
than when you finally manage to achieve the type of relaxed focus where
your conscious mind disengages and it feels like possibilities unfold
themselves in front of you.

Have you recently read a book or article that you would recommend to me
and the readers of this post?

A fascinating article on graphic design and automation.


Thank you to Isaac Tobin for taking the time to answer a few questions for me as part of the cover art spotlight series. I had a lot of fun looking through all of Isaac’s amazing pieces and all the work he does for the University of Chicago Press. I am loving this series and I hope to get more instalments out to you all as soon as I can. Thank you for stopping by, I appreciate your support, and until next time, happy reading!


2 thoughts on “Cover Artist Spotlight Series #4 – Isaac Tobin #CoverArt #Design #Books

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