Book List of the Week

Patterns, Printing, and Bookbinding: Coralie Bickford-Smith’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter July 16, 2013
Coralie Bickford-Smith

Graphic designer Coralie Bickford-Smith: Penguin Books UK (London)

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“My book list contains the favorites that I find in my hands time and again when starting a project or feeling a bit lost,” says London-based graphic designer Coralie Bickford-Smith, whose covers for Penguin Classics’ clothbound series recalling the age of Victorian bookbinding have won her recognition and fans worldwide. “Each book on my list has its own memory of how and why it ended up in my consciousness and what it taught me.”

A self-described “pattern-obsessed” designer, Bickford-Smith includes among her book choices Lewis F. Day’s Pattern Design, originally published in 1903, which she characterizes as “perfect for dissecting the fundamental elements of pattern and for learning the rules from the beginning.” She also cites two books by 20th-century design historian Lesley Jackson: 20th Century Pattern Design: Textile and Wallpaper Pioneers (Bickford-Smith calls it “a great sourcebook”) and From Atoms to Patterns, which tells the story of a unique collaboration between scientists and engineers for the 1951 Festival of Britain. The “Festival Pattern Group” as the collaborative venture was known, used diagrams of atomic structures to create patterns used on consumer products such as textiles, wallpaper, ceramics, and glass.

Selection of bindings from Penguin Classics’ clothbound series one, designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, 2008. Courtesy of Coralie Bickford-Smith

And of course there are books on printing and bookbinding. Michael Twyman’s Printing, 1770-1970: An Illustrated History of Its Development and Uses in England, has a particular resonance for Bickford-Smith. Its author “was my professor, so I remember it being printed at Reading University—it was an exciting event for a wanna-be book designer.” Ruari McLean, the author of Victorian Publishers’ Book-Bindings in Cloth & Leather (as well as its companion volume, Victorian Publishers’ Book-Bindings in Paper) is “a hero of mine,” says Bickford-Smith. “This title is lusciously illustrated and historically informative,” and McLean’s books “have been integral to my research in this area of book history.”

Selection of covers of books by F. Scott Fitzgerald featuring metallic foil and matte paper, designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith for Penguin Classics, 2010. Courtesy of Coralie Bickford-Smith

Along with several other intriguing books on graphic design, on her list is William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, perhaps the best-known of the poet’s Illuminated Books, in which reproductions of Blake’s hand-lettered poems are intertwined with his color illustrations—text, image, and design enhancing one another. It is, comments, Bickford-Smith, “my best friend in the form of a book.”

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