The Artist

I just realized that over there on Facebook, Language Log is using an image I created a few years ago as their profile cover. Geoff Pullum had thought a visual representation of Language Log might work as something to be incorporated into the cover for Far from the Madding Gerund, whose type is incorporated into that Facebook profile cover also.

I'm very happy to have something I did featured like this, and hey—it looks pretty good to me. How would I know, though? I'm not an artist. I have some friends and acquaintances who are very serious and talented and successful, but I am only very lightly any of those three things. Required. To be an Artist.

That does not keep me from doing stuff, though. I came into book editing at exactly the time that computers started making layout work doable by the masses (I was, and still am, a mass), and so part of my duties in book production for a small publisher has always been design work, often creating book covers and ad pieces. Some of this work has been passable, including that cover for the Language Log book, Far from the Madding Gerund. Some of it has been hasty and quite uninspired, like a cover I generated in one 30-minute stint before going away on vacation:

I left instructions to use this type as a possible basis for creating something else that could actually be the actual cover. When I returned from vacation the book had been shipped to press with the cover more or less exactly how I had created it, including using color swatches entirely from the readymade palette that ships with Adobe Illustrator. The book went on to sell more copies than any other book we have ever done. Art, you see, doesn't matter much when it comes to selling books about computing.

For another Windows book, I created something I liked pretty well but never used or even showed to anyone:

I think it looked too fun, though. I once was told to make sure the cover never looks more fun than the book really is, and that's probably good advice.

I've created dozens of book covers over the years, and part of the reason I know I'm not an artist is that it is never torturous for me. I always enjoy it, even when it is clearly not going well at all.

Back to Language Log—I had a few other visualizations for what Language Log Plaza might look like:


All of this is true—I am not a serious artist and only consider myself a designer when it is professionally expedient to do so (I'm a book editor, that's my self-definition)—but what is really, really true is that I have no skill as a photographer, and yet (another Language Log tie-in), I am very proud that my photograph of Mark Liberman is the one that shows up on the side when you Google Mark's name: 

Which has the background knocked out. The original photo, taken at pod in Philadelphia, looks like the one you see on the left side of the row of Mark Liberman images:

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