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Jenny Grigg on designing the cover for Alexis Wright’s Praiseworthy

Jenny Grigg discusses her process in designing the hardcover edition of Alexis Wright’s latest award-winning novel, Praiseworthy. The design is currently shortlisted for the Australian Book Design Awards.

As the Praiseworthy manuscript was being resolved, I was wondering what handmade techniques I could use to convey the authenticity and qualities of Alexis’s writing. After lots of tests and discussions, while away on holiday and limited to the materials available in a suburban Spotlight, a series of smears made by pushing ink across the smooth surface of acetate showed potential. The tarriness of the printing ink helped me to inhabit the power in Alexis’s writing. I had to use strong hand movements to force the ink across the surface. My right hand cramped. Conceived as more than a front cover, while the ink smears were drying, I bent the prints to imagine how they would appear wrapped around the book’s volume; a process that helped the perception of the jacket as a landscape that wrapped a book.

‘All these butterflies floated and spun into a silent screeching of hot air in this atmospheric flooding…’

I was working on a suite of cover designs for three of Alexis’s novels at the time, and, typical of working abstractly, the ink smear selected for Praiseworthy originated as a rendering of a swan intended for the cover of The Swan Book. As Giramondo Publisher Ivor Indyk’s brief highlighted, many passages in Praiseworthy featured butterflies as if they were ‘force fields’, and an interpretation of this appeared when I flipped and rotated the swan image. The form dynamised the concept. A storm picks up on the front cover, pushes around the spine, and appears to tail out on the back cover. I like the monochrome. With no distractions from colour, the sense of space and texture created by the process suggests a mythological atmosphere. The addition of yellow on the cover of the paperback edition modifies the meaning of the original image a second time. The storm becomes butterflies, ‘floated and spun’.

The raw cover artwork in progress.
The final hardcover version, wrapping around the book’s spine.
The addition of yellow on the cover of the paperback edition.
The suite of covers for the new editions of Carpentaria and The Swan Book, and Alexis Wright’s new novel Praiseworthy, all published in 2023.
Jenny Grigg