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Don’t Know What Your Ideal Design Job Is? Perfect.

Charlotte Strick started out “wanting to design jackets for women and ended up designing jackets for books.”

After she gave up her dreams of being a flight attendant at age three, Charlotte Strick knew she wanted a career in fashion design—her mom had been a fashion designer in London, and Strick vividly recalls watching a piece take shape back home. “She could just fearlessly work with fabric, take something that was flat and turn it into a 3D object,” Strick says. “I was just wowed by her.”

At home Strick designed her own fashion magazines and logos for fictive fashion lines. And she did it all using materials supplied by her dad, who owned an artist’s supply business and a small publishing firm—causing the young Strick to brush shoulders with the likes of Hermann Zapf when she was growing up.

After college, she worked as an assistant to a costume designer in Los Angeles, and then came back to her hometown of New York City, where she landed a job at Elie Tahari. That’s where she watched a designer work on the Theory logo.

“I was observing from a distance. I was jealous. I was really envious of her getting to do that work. I think I just had this nagging feeling—I was wearing the wrong shoes,” she says. “Ultimately, [fashion] wasn’t the right fit and I like to joke now that I started wanting to design jackets for women and ended up designing jackets for books.”

Then, while she was contemplating what to do with her life over dinner at a restaurant one evening, her server gave her a fortune cookie at the end of the meal. It read:  Art is your fate. Don’t debate.

Strick went to Parsons, and from there to a job at Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG), where she spent a decade under Susan Mitchell, followed by four years working with Rodrigo Corral.

“I discovered that I absolutely loved reading a story and thinking about what the essence of each book was… What makes each book singular, and recognizing the tone that a particular author brings to a page is really fascinating to me.”

Strick says she was deeply nested at FSG, and there was only one person who could have convinced her to leave: Claire Williams Martinez. The two had met on orientation day at Parsons (“I thank my lucky stars that we’re both at the end of the alphabet,” Strick says), and from virtually their first class together they talked about how one day they would launch a joint firm. And in 2014, Strick&Williams was born.

“I’m really glad I took the chance to give up the fashion designer dream,” she says. “I still love clothes and I still really love fabric and I love patterns. I think all of that works its way into whatever I’m playing around with.”

Here are five covers spanning Strick’s days at FSG to her current work at Strick&Williams.

The Fun Parts, by Sam Lipsyte

Lipsyte’s writing tends to take a particularly dark tone. Stricks cites author Kevin Barry, who perhaps describes it best: “Everyone [in Lipsyte’s work] is damaged, or flailing, or obsessive.” After initial concepts involving a plethora of illustrated creatures and a painting of a boy in a ramshackle, caped-crusader costume, Strick and her team decided the cover probably didn’t need to be illustrated—and that type should be the hero instead.

“I often think of places where I might be when I’m designing in this kind of space. I was thinking of that motel room you rented by yourself and you have just that little bit of light that might be showing through to the outside world… It’s not a sweet and shiny space, but it’s got the color of life in it.”

Strick went to a Village Voice newspaper box, grabbed a copy, and began slicing up the back-page ads into strips, which she collaged onto cardboard. Collectively, they give life to the notion of “the fun parts,” and as the book is a collection of short stories, they also suggest a multitude of paths and tales. Strick experimented with placing the collage under the title, but stuck with blocks of color after seeing how much it impacted legibility.

Can’t and Won’t, by Lydia Davis

Usually, Strick’s brain focuses on images first, but then the bovines came. One of the longest stories in the collection, “The Cows,” is about a pasture the narrator observes every day. Strick  saw them as animals that embody the very notion of “can’t and won’t,” and commissioned an illustrator to bring them to life. Meanwhile, she set about creating grassy letters for them to graze upon.

“It’s the kind of cover that looks easy,” Strick says. “It was not.”

“But ultimately,” she says, “there is something with Lydia’s writing—it kind of rejects imagery. There’s so much imagery in her writing, it doesn’t want to be packaged that way.”

Strick went back to the book and her previous notes—and there, in a passage she had copied down, she found the solution. “I thought, If I were at an old-fashioned typewriter and I was annoyed by these people, whoever they are, who are annoyed with the fact that I am using conjunctions, this is how I would be writing this letter.”

She explored a medley of typewriter faces until she found one with just the right personality—a bit fun, with dropped ‘y’s that evoke a sense of friendliness, and which she sees as incongruous to the technology. As for that green—perhaps it was a bit of a nod to the grass and those cows that had been put out to pasture.

“It’s the kind of cover that looks easy,” Strick says. “It was not.”

A Loving, Faithful Animal, by Josephine Rowe;

When Strick and Claire Williams Martinez take on a cover project at Strick&Williams, they each read the manuscript so they can have a conversation about it. (Though “it’s not exactly a book club,” Strick says. “We’re not sitting around with glasses of wine and cupcakes.”) They jot down passages from the text that are visual and that resonate, and they often prove to select the same ones.

While reading Rowe’s book, Strick was taken by the notion of hands—how often they arose in conjunction with characters’ emotions. One character was “clever with his hands,” another had “a stiffness to his hands;” there was “anything to keep her hands busy,” and people generally talking with their hands. Strick did a word search, and discovered some 50 or so instances of hands in the relatively short book.

“Every family member in this family tale could be expressed through their hands and their gestures,” Strick says. “You want to suggest the human experience always, and so this was a fresh way to do that.”

Williams Martinez loved the concept. They used illustrations by Matt Buck, a tattoo artist with a rich sense of detail and emotion in his work. As for the broken bleed of the words “A Novel,” Strick says that because A Loving, Faithful Animal is a story about a family, “You’re dealing with generations and the baggage that comes with that. Each story bleeds into another, and it’s continuous.”

Sea Monsters, by Chloe Aridjis

The protagonist of Sea Monsters is a 17-year-old girl in Mexico City—as Strick describes, “she’s a good kid, but she ends up falling for a less good kid, and following him to track down this traveling troupe of Ukrainian dwarfs who disappear. So, it’s totally random, and dark, and bizarre, and right up my alley.”

I didn’t pursue fine art as my career, but I do sometimes like to pretend that I’m a fine artist.

The pair makes their way to the beach town of Zipolite in Oaxaca. Strick was taken by a particular passage in the book: “Others said Zipolite meant ‘Lugar de Caracoles,’ place of seashells, an attractive thought since spirals are such neat arrangements of space and time, and what are beaches if not a conversation between the elements, a constant movement inward and outward. My favorite explanation, which only one person put forward, was that Zipolite was a corruption of the word zopilote [buzzard], and that every night a black vulture would envelop the beach in its dark wings and feed on whatever the waves tossed up. It’s easier to reconcile yourself with sunny places if you can imagine their nocturnal counterpart.”

Strick seized on the imagery in the passage, and eventually turned to her paints. She pondered what the silhouette of a nautilus shell might look like on a darkened beach. She visualized two shells in conversation, a veritable yin and yang.

“I obviously didn’t pursue fine art as my career, but I do sometimes like to pretend that I’m a fine artist. Like I said, I often think in visuals first, so this is another unfortunate example where I had the idea first, but then had to go through several rounds before I came back to it. Why I torture myself like that, I don’t know.”

The Paris Review No. 209 (Summer 2014)

In 2010, a remarkable thing happened: In addition to her day job at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Strick became the art editor and designer of legendary literary magazine The Paris Review. She had previously worked with then editor-in-chief Lorin Stein at FSG, and when he moved to The Paris Review, he hired Strick to redesign the magazine. Strick retains the role to this day, and of the many, many covers she has presided over, she cites issue 209 as one of her favorites.

At that time, the artist Raymond Pettibon had an office in the same building as The Paris Review. The magazine decided to publish a portfolio of canine drawings he had created, and Pettibon’s Brussels Griffon Boo (who was known to wander into The Paris Review offices) made it to the cover, alongside his character-laden caption.

“We don’t often include text in the artwork because it sort of fights with the contributor lines and the masthead, but this one was just so hilarious that we included it,” Strick says. “And that little pink tongue—I just love everything.”

Pettibon did the rest of the type for the cover, and Strick puzzled it all together. The colors, the pushpin marks, the droplet of ink—“It has such a pleasing quality in so many ways,” she says. “There are lots of other covers I love, but this one holds a special place in my heart.”

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