Editor’s Note: Anatomy of a Cover

One of the best tasks of my job, and one of the most difficult, is choosing the cover for each issue. The cover is our one chance to make a first impression. If a reader is captivated by that full-page image, they will hopefully take look inside. In fairness to my colleagues, the cover choice is a group effort. The other two editors, the graphic designer, the production artist, the editorial support team, and the publisher all weigh in. Because Pottery Making Illustrated prints only six issues a year, that means there are only six opportunities to highlight some of the amazing pots that are featured in the magazine.

So, what considerations go into choosing a cover? Because we believe all the artists in the magazine are worthy, every image submitted is considered. This large pool is narrowed based on the following criteria:

  • How good is the photo quality and the lighting on the piece? This is the first and most important consideration.
  • Is the image large enough for print? While we do have a few tricks at our disposal, low-resolution images never make for a good cover.
  • Is the image in focus? If the depth of field is shallow and only a fraction of the piece has sharp detail, the image will look awkward.
  • Is the orientation more vertical than horizontal? Long and wide or tall and narrow vessels rarely fit the page well.
  • Will the image allow the PMI logo to be prominent and legible? We do our best to avoid obscuring the brand logo.
  • Does the UPC barcode (a mandatory evil) conflict with the artwork? We also try to avoid this as much as possible.
  • Is the image of a finished and fired pot, a detail of the surface, or a part of the artist’s process? All of these options are considered.
  • Does the piece represent the focus of this issue? While it’s not mandatory, it’s nice to pair the two.

After a difficult process of elimination, the designer mocks up potential covers. Those mock covers are hung up in the office and, as a group, we discuss what works, what doesn’t, what was featured on the covers of recent issues, what message we are conveying, and, of course, what the readers may find engaging and inspiring. Some cover mockups are pulled down while others are sent back to the designer for adjustments. New versions are hung up and the process repeats until we whittle the selections down to two or three candidates—occasionally this requires a vote! Then, we pull the publisher into the conversation. This is when it gets real. The editors discuss the rationale for choosing the final contenders with the publisher and a final, often painstaking decision is made.

So, what about this issue’s cover? We started out with 16 potential covers and ultimately chose a detail of Joyce St. Clair Voltz’ vessel. It’s a striking composition of color and melted glaze; is a crisp and clean image; fits the focus of the issue—Surface Decoration and Glazing; is very different from PMI’s most recent covers (see the 2019 covers to date to the right); and we believe is intriguing enough to invite readers in to find out what Joyce, an emerging ceramic artist, is making, and why, as well as what they can learn from her process. Happy reading!

– Holly Goring, Editor

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