Jacob Covey is a marvel of modern design, a man who pushes ahead, even with passion and justification, even when he has no other reason to do it. With over 20 titles besmirched with his hand-drawn, beautifully executed collaged and type-faced covers, he is a model of a modern major… graphic designer.
How would you describe your design style? Are you influenced by anyone in particular?
I’d say my style is heavily influenced by where I first learned how to design– making photocopied black and white flyers for rock shows. I feel like that, far more than anything else, taught me most of what I’ve learned about how to make type and image work. There’s an incredible challenge with limited-color design and the punch that it has when done well creates a lot of the best and purest work.
Art Chantry had a big impact on my development. Not only with his aesthetics but his drive to make low budget work that looked better and was more relevant than most high-end design. Lester Beall, a 1940s WPA designer, probably best represents the ideal art-and- commerce graphic design that I love. Then there’s the Constructivists, Alex Steinweiss, Saul Bass. Those flat, bold aesthetics come up in a lot of what I do. Looking at those guys taught me that relying on digital tricks might mean you’re not doing your job right. …Though I still need my Mac.
Graphic design is a tricky business to be a part of, and you’ve seemed to really throw a lasso around it and make it your own. Did you just wake up one day in your youth and decide you were going to design?
No, I had no idea what graphic design was until I went to community college to study photography and in the second year we were teamed with the design department to do commercial projects. Up until then I had no idea that I could actually do something with my fixation on drawing letterforms. But I didn’t know how to use a computer and design was all being done that way so I thought I had to go back to school to learn it. While I saved up money for that, I worked at the public library all day where I fell in love with the idea of designing books. Then at night I hung out with bands taking pictures at shows in bars and basements, literally getting black eyes and broken fingers from shooting in the pit.
Photography was a hard business, way too extroverted for me. And the kind of photography I was doing was, in one way or another, going to kill me anyway. So I went to University to study design and how to use a computer.
What was your first memorable accomplishment as an Artist?
It felt pretty great when I entered the student photography contest back in high school and won first, third, and fourth place. Obviously I was gifted by the standards of my rural home town.
In the beginning, did you ever have to design something you were not completely in love with?
I’m fortunate to be working mostly on projects I’m proud to be a part of but it is a job so sometimes I have to figure out how to do justice to something I’m not very into. And I like that about graphic design- there are things I’m always researching and learning about. Things to be interested in if only for the duration of a job. The whole thing about book design, in particular, is that you’re packaging atmosphere. You’re setting the tone of the content, unconsciously preparing the reader and even accentuating the content with visual cues. So I just have to look for what that tone is and hopefully find how to do something new with it.
Would you say that to be in this business, it would be better to go to school for it now or just hone your skills and dive in?
Passion is the critical thing so diving in is most important. I’ve thought a lot about the fact that “who you know” does in fact get people work. But the reason isn’t because people are selfish and just promote friends but because you get to know people by being a part of the community that does what you do. The talented people are always working on something outside of what they HAVE to be working on and it makes them better at it.
But that said, I look suspiciously at people who just own a computer and call themselves a designer. Education is really important to me and college exposes a person to a lot of things they wouldn’t otherwise know about. The only relevant design to me is educated design. Work that is smart and has history behind it.
Are you working on any projects that excite you right now? Would you say that it takes a little something extra to get you excited about design anymore – or are you still a ball of passion?
I love what I get to do. I’m my worst critic so there are a lot of days when ideas aren’t forthcoming and I feel like a total failure as a designer but when things click it’s amazing to do this work.