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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Anatomy of a Winning Cover

I wore out my family with the mallet. In the May/June 2016 Evansville Living issue I wrote a feature story about the Lincoln Mallet. I had learned earlier in the year that a Spencer County family had among their family heirlooms — hidden in the attic and later displayed on the mantel — a mallet bearing the initials A.L.  The railsplitter himself had left it for a neighbor when he moved to Illinois in 1830.

Effusive accurately describes my excitement about the mallet and the story. I worked with the mallet’s owners and family in retracing its pedigree for our readers. And, I announced, the mallet was going on the cover. Never mind it was under glass (as it is today) at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis.

Last month, Creative Director Heather Gray, Managing Editor Trista Lutgring, and Todd and I drove to Indianapolis for the Indiana Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists annual awards. We left with the first place award for Magazine Cover Design for the Lincoln Mallet cover.

Like everything we do at the magazine, the creation of the cover was collaborative. Here is its evolution:


This is where we began.


We tried a green background, but it wasn’t quite what we were looking for.


Then, I took a close look at a magazine on my bedside table. What about a white cover with a white nameplate?  The mallet would take up a similar space as the subject did in this example. It was worth a try and I was out of ideas. How could the Wine Enthusiast cover inspiration translate to our cover?

That’s when I knew to leave Heather alone, and let her do her magic. I was confident the white cover could work, but I had no idea the treatment Heather would devise. Heather emerged with the final cover (right) featuring hand drawn script and renderings. Ta-da! Wow!

It attracted a lot of attention. Our readers expressed interest and surprise. And the judges for the SPJ awards must have agreed!

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