By Gabrielle. Photos by me and Sarah Hebenstreit.

As promised, here’s a post about how the cover design came to be for the Design Mom Book. (Did I mention you can pre-order it now?) It started with an email. My editor, Lia Ronnen, sent me a photo — black hands in a pattern — and wondered what I thought about it for a cover idea. It was so striking! I loved it immediately. I had known I wanted a cover photo that did not show an interior space, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to use instead. The hand pattern idea was perfect! It was graphically interesting, made sense with kids, and felt timeless to me. So I started experimenting with handprints and hand outlines to see what might work.

Design Mom Book June Printing

Eventually, I decided to use actual handprints from each of my kids — I loved the idea of each print being imperfectly made with real paint. I bought a giant roll of white paper, the kind you use as a backdrop in photo shoots, and a few tubes of black paint. Then we cleared space between the sofas and the kitchen table, rolled out the paper and got to work. By the way, this all happened last summer — it was July.

Design Mom Book Roll of Hands

Once the paper was rolled out, it was time to make handprints. We started by practicing. It took us several tries to find the best consistency for the paint. Not too thick, not too thin. And it took some experimentation to find out how much pressure was needed when pushing the to paper. Once we had a handle on things, we made a ton of handprints. We started with Ralph, and went in age order. We did some handprints in sections — one area for each kids, and we did other prints in diagonal patterns, with all their handprints mixed in.

Design Mom Book Cover Shoot

That same day, Sarah Hebenstreit of Modern Kids came to photograph the prints. She shot from above because it was the best light.


For the final shots, once the paint was dry, we had little June reach in to the photo and touch one of her handprints to see how that looked. We loved it!

Design Mom Book Cover Drafts

Once the photos were processed, I sent them to the book design team at Artisan Books in New York, and they got to work designing the cover. They sent a ton of options! Pictured here are 4 so that you can get an idea of what some of the earliest drafts looked like. They tried several different colors that would contrast nicely with the black & white photo.

Yellow was by far my favorite, but I wanted MORE yellow. And I could see that I really loved the title bar on the left.

Design Mom Cover Drafts 2

Once we had decided on the left title bar, plus the color yellow, the design team started making variations. There were a bunch of these — I’m just showing two here — as we hashed out the details. I had strong opinions about fonts and placement and even what the subtitle should be. So we did several rounds of back and forth until we were all happy.

Design Mom Cover Semi-Final

At this point, the cover stayed like this for a couple of months, and I had time to sit with it. I sent it to a few friends for feedback, but I didn’t want to send it to too many people. I was afraid it would turn into design-by-committee which is never a good thing. I was also so invested in this direction, that I was afraid someone would tell me to do something completely different, and I didn’t want to hear it — mostly because I simply didn’t have time to concept any other options.

Design Mom Cover Photo Edits

During this time period, we also starting editing the photo. Should the hands be sort of scattered? Or in more formal lines? Should the paint be more black or more charcoal? Should we move them around in photoshop to make them closer? Or further apart? Are there any particular hand prints that are too smudge-y that we need to replace? That sort of thing. Luckily, we had about a million handprints to choose from, so we didn’t need to re-shoot anything. : ) It’s all in the details!

Right at the end, when the text and info were added to the back, and I was seeing the almost-final proofs, I panic-ed about fonts once again, and the book designer had to talk me through everything and calm me down. We made a few small adjustments and I was satisfied. And this is how the final turned out:


I’m so delighted with it! I love how it looks, and I love even more that each one of my kids is a part of it.

Anyway, that’s the story of the book cover. I hope you enjoyed getting a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes process. (I LOVE reading about creative processes!) Also, as the cover came together, I kept thinking what a pain in the neck it must be for publishers when they’re working with an author who is also a graphic designer. So many opinions. Hah!

I’d love to hear what you think. I can’t change the cover at this point, so please don’t tell me you hate it. : ) Have you ever gone through a process like this? And if you were writing a book, how involved would you want to be with the cover? Do you have strong opinions about stuff like this, or would you rather have a design team make these sorts of decisions for you?

P.S. — The book comes out April 7th, but is available for pre-order now.