Creating the Cover for Sarvat Hasin's The Giant Dark
Recasting the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice through the tale of a tormented rock star retreating into an illicit affair, Sarvat Hasin's The Giant Dark is one of the most audacious novels of the summer. The book's cover art is similarly astonishing and, in this exclusive piece, Dialogue's in-house designer Sophie Harris and illustrator Sophy Hollington discuss how such bold and striking images came to adorn the front of the book.
Sophie: The Giant Dark is an edgy, feminist, avant-garde retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set in the modern world in which the Orpheus character, Aida, is a rockstar. It is narrated by both the characters but also by a chorus of Aida’s fans, who serve as a Greek chorus.
Sharmaine Lovegrove, Dialogue’s publisher, was really open with how I interpreted the brief, and really let me have fun with this. Sarvat Hasin being a debut author was a blessing as we didn’t have any restraints such as an author style to follow.
I really wanted to use an illustration that straddled classical mythology and the contemporary. I thought of Sophy straight away, as I’ve admired her work for some time. I loved the symbolism in Sophy’s pieces, and the textural element of the linocut felt so expressive, I knew she’d be a perfect fit.
The themes we wanted to convey were depression, love, fear, literature, obsession, belonging and tension. It was a lot to ask for in one image, and I think Sophy did an excellent job of creating such a narrative in the illustration.
Sophy: I was first approached by Sophie back in November 2020, and after sending the brief, I agreed that it sounded right up my alley! Sophie sent a manuscript and a synopsis, as well as some image references for colour that used those blues, teals and pinks you can see on the final jacket. She asked that we include the two main characters on the cover along with the ‘chorus of adoring fans’ who worship Aida and that there would be a gentle classical feel to the artwork in parts.
I started the sketching process which I do digitally, using an iPad. I’d been sent the dimensions rather than a template and had a completely free reign when it came to the general layout and typography, which I more often than not carve by hand for commissions like these.
I started off referencing a piece of my own that I felt contained the right amount of compositional tension and detail, along with a good balance of classical elements and modern flavour. This was a piece of personal work I’d made for a show in the US a year earlier where I explored alchemical symbolism from the middle ages, which itself descended from ancient Greek philosophy and science. I kept the border from this piece but gave it a more Grecian feel.
I wanted to be a bit literal with the ‘Giant Dark’ as a concept, so had the main character; Aida’s lover tumbling backwards out of her grasp and into it. This represented both his death and the depression that caused it, as well as creating a satisfying ying/yang balance of light and dark which was also an important theme in the book itself. He’s surrounded by symbols of his life, love and death. The chorus is represented by an identical gang of hat-wearing, androgynous fans who joyfully observe their tragic lives. When the sketch was finished I pinged it off to Sophie and we had a bit of back and forth making some minor edits before arriving at a final sketch that I could take to a final.
To make the final, linocut artwork I printed out the sketch using a bog-standard inkjet printer and then taped this to a sheet of grey lino cut to the right size. I slipped a piece of carbon paper in between the two and then used a pencil to go over the sketch and transfer it directly on the lino. When the whole sketch was transferred I used small carving tools to carve away at the lino’s surface, removing the ‘negative’ of the image and leaving behind the ‘positive’. This was then inked up using a roller and black ink. I printed it by lying a sheet of paper directly on top of the block and then used a wooden spoon to rub over all the raised/inked areas of the lino that were touching the paper. This was lifted off to reveal a linocut print that is the reverse of the carved image. I often don’t flip my artwork to take this into account as it’s so much easier to carve it the right way around and then flip the printed version digitally once it’s scanned in.
The final print was scanned and I used photoshop to add colour and make any small tweaks where I may have slipped carving or the inking was uneven. This was then dropped in to the layout template and I used some of the smaller symbolic elements to decorate the back and the flaps surrounding the copy.
Sophie: I wanted to keep the printed jacket as close to the original linocut piece as possible, so I chose a matte, textured paper to print on, and added a clear foil to the illustration to regain the rich colours and emulate that slight stickiness of block printing ink on paper.
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