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Designer Spotlight: Sandy Cull
Posted 22.09.2022

Designer Spotlight: Sandy Cull

Sandy Cull has been designing books for more than 20 years. In 2011, she was awarded the Joyce Thorpe Nicholson Hall of Fame Award for her award-winning work and contribution to the field. Sandy is an Australian Book Designers Association founding committee member, has been a guest speaker at writers’ festivals, and an occasional guest lecturer on book design at secondary and tertiary level. In 2020, she was awarded ABDA's Best Designed Non-Fiction Cover for The Thinking Woman, and was commended for the Best Designed Literary Fiction Cover in 2021 for both The Mother Fault and UQP's own Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe.

You have designed so many incredible book covers, including UQP titles. What has been your favourite UQP cover to design so far?

My favourite cover for UQP was way back in 2009, The Blue Plateau by Mark Tredennick. Very understated type, lots of white space and a beautiful etching by John Caldwell, from Waragil Studios. I once harboured fantasies of being a printmaker and this cover has the feel of a limited print. It’s printed on a textured stock, Freelife Felt, that is now too expensive to be used in most commercially published books in Australia.

What do you love (and loathe) about book design?

I love reading, so getting my eyes into a new fiction manuscript is a particular thrill. I do grimace a tad when they’re more than 100k words. If there was something to loathe, it would be those times when the concept I’m least enamoured with is chosen. It’s not always possible to avoid including these concepts in the mix, especially if they’ve been asked for in the brief.

How do you choose which projects to work on?

I am a slow worker and so it’s mostly about timing for me. Being stressed by missing deadlines can be a disaster for me creatively, so if I can’t fit something in the schedule, I very reluctantly have to turn it down.

Which Australian author/s would you love to work with?

I’m sort of living the dream already, working on books across the spectrum from emerging debuts writers to some of the really big guns and everything in between. Having the mix is ideal.

How did you develop your style?

I guess I am drawn to particular visual styles which then leak into and influence my work.

What is your advice for aspiring designers?

Find what it is you’re into and immerse yourself in it – become an expert. Early on for me it was printmaking, and this slowly broadened to publishing design. I volunteered with Ross Reading in Greens Conservation Bookshop way back, and was on the committee for The Footpath Library for several years. I’ve done courses in life-drawing, printmaking, etching, bookbinding, letterpress printing and sculpture. I’m currently on the committee for my local Williamstown Literary Festival. In a nutshell, find what you love and get stuck in.

How did you get your start in the industry?

I somehow always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. I worked in magazines for a few years in London, and then again in Sydney. When I returned to Melbourne a friend told me about a 6-week spot going at Penguin. I stayed for 12 years, during the 'golden years’ of publishing, and working under the best of the best: George Dale, Leonie Stott, Bob Sessions and the visionary Julie Gibbs.

If you could have designed any book cover throughout history, what would it be and why?

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale. It’s a cliche but I love her work and this book remains seminal piece of feminist writing.

Tell us about your latest project!

I’m very excited about a short story collection by an emerging author, Else Fitzgerald. The writing is stunning, and I think this will be the first book of many for this writer. I found the cover image on Instagram. It’s by Serbian digital artist Indg0 who, for permissions reasons, re-created the image especially for the cover meeting, totally obligation-free. It feels like an accomplishment to have successfully matched the writing with this artist. The cover makes you want to dive right in.

Whose work inspires you?

At the moment, I’m really drawn to collage artists and digital image makers. And the UK and US book designers remain, collectively, the most accomplished and clever in the world.

What does an average day look like for you?

I walk, swim and/or do yoga most mornings and am usually sitting at my desk by 9 or 9.30am. I work from home since the shared studio I used to work out of shut down during Covid. I’m usually working on up to 10 books at any one time, all at differing stages of production. This ensures I am at the mercy of the many milestone deadlines dotted throughout my work calendar. I down tools around 5.30 or 6pm.

What is the most fulfilling part of your career?

Designing a beautiful page of text.

As a child, what was your dream job?

Not sure as a young child, but my favourite subjects in high school were English literature and graphics so I’ve managed to nail both as a book designer.

Do you have any favourite UQP authors, illustrators or designers?

I am a tad obsessed with David Malouf. I have worked on a few of his books over the years, and I still harbour vague ambitions of producing one of his texts in hot metal using my ARAB platen press. I loved a recent book I worked on for UQP entitled Bone Memories by Sally Piper.

How can we follow you online and where can we see more of your beautiful work?

Through my website, Instagram, and the ABDA website.