What conceptual designer and illustrator Eric Labacz loves about his work is the opportunity to tell stories through design.
“There is something very exciting about creating an image that serves as a doorway into the worlds presented by books,” he says. “I am not just talking about fiction either, non-fiction does it as well.”
Labacz will speak at the sixth annual Winter Writers’ Weekend, where he will share his experience in creating book covers designed to convey the author’s message and sell the book.
Designed for both new and published authors, the weekend workshops focus on writing and marketing your book. Sponsored by Open Door Publications, the event takes place Friday through Sunday, March 2 through 4, at the Nassau Inn, Princeton. Tickets are $200. Visit www.winterwritersweekend.com. For details on overnight stays, call 609-553-9800 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other workshops include Nora Phoenix on making book reviews a win-win; Lisa B. Snyder on making simple websites for authors; Melissa Macfie on running a successful e-book campaign; Brandi Megan Granett on the editor/author relationship; Karen Hodges Miller on stopping writers block and self-publishing; and Noelle Starry on authentic marketing.
Labacz’s workshop will walk writers through the elements that the author and designer should consider when creating your book cover. “Cover design is a complicated balance of imagery, typography, color, and information, arranged in a way to express a specific idea to a specific audience. At first glance a cover needs to communicate many things to a reader,” Labacz says.
When Labacz is asked to design a book cover or graphic, he starts by listening. His first conversation with the author or publisher is about the book’s purpose, the title, genre, the writer and audience, the marketing approach, and printing details.
Once the basics are covered, he seeks to understand the book on a personal level by asking the authors several questions: What does the book mean to them? Why were they inspired to write it? Have they grown and learned from the experience that motivated the book? What is it that they want to communicate most of all to their readers? What is their favorite aspect of the main character or the story?
“These and more are the insights that are going to help me to identify a feeling for the cover,” Labacz says. “This process is very different for each client and book as I have worked with both fiction and non-fiction clients.” Once he speaks with the authors, they send him chapters to read, existing covers they like, photos, and other information designed to further inspire his design process.
Once he has established a strong feel for the project, he begins the process of looking for images, fonts, textures, and effects, and then begins working on layouts and concepts. The end result is a book cover that expresses the author’s intention and speaks to the audience.
Labacz’s approach to the design process includes a knowledge of how we process and store images we perceive.
“We are constantly learning and picking up information, and our brains do that on a very large scale through seeing the world around us,” he says. “Depending on our age, our brains have had years to compile a detailed, multi-dimensional library of visuals, colors and symbols, and to define their meanings and create emotional and intellectual associations [related] to them.
“Words may introduce us to new worlds and stories, but those worlds are founded on our collected visual experiences,” he says. “Somewhere out there exists a symbolic representation of these worlds and information, and it’s my job to venture out into archetypal realms, find it, and bring it back into ours.”
Based on his 20 years of experience, Labacz says he has cultivated an understanding of the process and continues to learn and grow with each cover he designs.
Labacz has been a student of art most of his life. His parents encouraged his artistic ability as a child, and he started taking lessons at age 11 with artist Alice Seufert at her and her husband’s studio in Langhorne.
Before taking formal lessons, he learned from his father, who worked in the field of electronics and technical writing but also pursued an avocation in art, painting from his home studio. He sold several paintings, received commissions, and was a member of Levittown Artists Association.
“I used to sit with him and watch him paint, and I have fond memories of him teaching me,” Labacz says. His mother was the family homemaker and also worked in the retail business and at his grade school lunchroom.
A graduate of Tyler School of Art at Temple University, Labacz held creative positions at design and communication companies in New Jersey and Pennsylvania before founding Eric Labacz Design in Newtown, Pennsylvania, in 2001. In addition to book covers, Labacz works with businesses and organizations on a variety of design projects including brochures, logos, websites, packaging, mailers, and more.
He has worked with pharmaceutical, food, branding, toy, and entertainment industries, and the knowledge he has gained allows him to work with authors in multiple genres within the areas of fiction and nonfiction.
In addition to his interest in graphic design, Labacz loves music. He performs with the band Waking Whales, and also performs in various musical projects. His instruments include guitar and Native American flute, both of which he learned to play while teaching native American culture to middle school students at a nature center.
Labacz says the creative process can be compared to the spirit journeys of Native American shamans or to the quests of ancient Greek adventurers.” I grew up reading books by Edith Hamilton on Greek mythology and loved to look at the pictures that accompanied these stories. They always served to make the stories more real for me,” he says, adding that creating pictures for his clients has the effect of making their stories appear more real to the readers. “It’s my favorite part of what I do,” he says.