The infinite freedom of the blank page has always been a bit of a cage for designer Jenny Volvovski. Growing up taking art classes, this open white space felt too open, too prone-to-messing-up, and Volvovski would inevitably overthink herself into a corner.
But in figure drawing and portrait classes, things were different—she had a set of limitations, a subject, parameters. Volvovski, who is originally from Russia and came to the U.S. in 1991, hails from a family adept at math and programming. In other words: problem solving. In high school she enrolled in a summer program at The Art Institute of Chicago and took a graphic design course, and suddenly everything clicked; it was a blend of her artistic talents and the analytical side that ran in her blood, and it was a revelation.
From there, Volvovski followed a linear path, attending the Rhode Island School of Design, and forming the studio ALSO with classmates Matt Lamothe and Julia Rothman after they graduated. In their work, ALSO covers a broad scope of projects—websites, illustration, animation—but early on Volvovski wanted to design book covers, and that type of work wasn’t coming in.
“I figured I may as well just make them on my own if nobody was going to pay me to do it,” she says. “The book cover represented to me the purest of kind of a graphic design problem and solution.”
So in 2012 she launched From Cover to Cover, in which she set out to design a cover for every single book she reads. Naturally, there were parameters from the get-go: She imposed a palette of green, black, and white in the tradition of Penguin’s vintage viridescent series. (“I figured they all looked really nice together, so I just stole that idea,” she says with a laugh.) For the type, she settled on Futura Bold and Caslon Italic, and allowed for handmade titles and text from her typewriter.
One of the best parts about a self-generated project? “When you set the rules for yourself and then you realize you don’t like them, you can just break them and nobody is going to say anything. So slowly I’ve kind of added things on to the very strict palette that I started with.”
Volvovski is currently up to 99 covers. She’s inconsistent about the rate at which she produces them, sometimes going months without an installment before quickly banging out five in one week. But collectively, they form a mosaic of her reading life, and a brilliant bit of design output for the rest of us.
While she has no plans to stop—“I’m gonna do this for the rest of my life”—she also has no plans for an end goal… like, say, a book of the covers. But if she did do a book of them, does she ever dream about what its cover might look like?
That brings us back to the blank page.
“That’s a nightmare, actually,” she says.
Here are five of Volvovski’s covers from over the years, and her thinking behind them.