Word Play with Teresa Monachino

Guest blog by Scribbly Roo, a freelance Illustrator and Graphic Designer working from her home studio in Norfolk, UK, where she writes and illustrates her own graphic novels and children’s picture books.

Monachino is an internationally recognised, award winning graphic designer. Her work spans many talents, from digital media to publishing, book design to branding and more. She’s written and designed multiple publications, displaying her fantastic sense of humour as well as her vast understanding of the English language- particularly its quirks!

Initially, I was just going to talk about a few examples of Monachino’s book cover designs and how they have inspired me personally. However, looking back through the plethora of her work I think its worth talking more about her publications and how she uses design to play with words. While this might not initially link totally with book design, bear with me and you’ll begin to understand how work such as Teresa’s can influence your cover designs (and possibly even your writing).

Monachino’s knowledge of the English language, along with her flare for typesetting has influenced her work for a long time. In April 2012 she gave a TEDMED talk about the flaws in communication throughout the healthcare system, discussing how vagueness, stigma, double meanings and lack of continuity in our use of words and language has caused a communication breakdown when it comes to health. Using her ‘Sicktionary’ A to Z, she lists various ambiguous words and phrases that we all commonly use, despite how contradictory their meanings can be. For example, Monachino points out ‘impregnable’ means both ‘impossible to enter by force’ but also ‘to permeate thoroughly.’

Spread1WordsFailMeWords Fail Me Cover




Similarly, in her limited edition book ‘Around the World with the Bodoni Family’, Monachino takes us on an amusing journey from A to Z of places, using handprinted Bodoni type to create simple images associated with each place. For example, the letter A is used in different sizes to become a mountain range, representing the Alps, while an italic I is used to represent the leaning tower of Pisa in Italy. Again, these designs are satisfyingly witty and their bold simplicity makes for a really effective design. The fact that only forty copies were printed using old-fashioned letterpress makes the publication all the more desirable.





Now let’s take a look at how this approach to design comes across in Monachino’s covers. As a lecturer at my University, she discussed her methods and thinking often. Her focus and attention to detail was infectious. Her designs are immaculately executed and hearing her talk about them really brought them to life for me.

One of her most effective book cover designs was for Monty Don’s ‘Extraordinary Gardens of the World,’ which went on to win a prestigious D&AD award in 2010. With so much in the way of content, it would have been tempting to hide from the challenge by putting a photograph of the Don himself on the cover design, but Monachino was more ambitious, creating a stylish graphic pattern instead that was inspired by Japanese Zen gardening. Immediately the bold cover stood out from the rest on the shelves in the Gardening section of her local book shop! Then, adding just a touch of luxury, Monachino had her design flocked, so the dark green we see on screen is actually a soft velvet texture, reminiscent of fresh cut lawns which creates a direct link between the design and the content of the book.


If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ll know that Monachino’s lectures were a real insight into how her job works and the processes she goes through to create an effective and successful overall design. She gave great tips on identifying five main features of a book you are asked to create a cover for, then showed how she combines them- a task often made more difficult by restrictions with copyright laws- and then checks the over all success of a design by placing it actually in a bookstore in the relevant genre, to judge whether it stands out or blends in too much. These tips are really beneficial and definitely worth remembering. Clearly she uses these methods to great advantage in the design world and her publications will continue to wow book worms and designers alike.

Next time: What is the thinking behind the cover designs of one of the most well known publishing houses in the world? In my next blog, I’ll be introducing you to David Pearson, designer and archive enthusiast at Penguin Books. 

Georgina Parfitt


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