January 19, 2022 New Unique Book Cover Designed by UT Graphic Design Student for University Press

winner Lydia McNabb
In fall 2021, Christopher Cote, a lecturer in the School of Design, and his second-year Graphic Design students, were approached by Senior Designer Kelly Gray of The University of Tennessee Press. Gray tasked Cote’s students with redesigning a cover for the book, King of the Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charlie Patton.

The book explores the life of Charlie Patton, an American Delta blues musician who made many contributions to blues music and wrote songs such as “Pony Blues” and It Won’t Be Long” in the early 1900s. It was first published in 1988 by Gayle Dean Wardlow and Stephen Calt.

The book’s second edition, written by Edward Komara, needed a new cover, and as part of the project, one student’s design would be chosen for the honor. 

Throughout the semester, Cote’s students participated in extensive research about Patton that served as the creative elements for each unique design proposal for the new book cover. In their designs, some students put Patton, himself, on the newly designed cover, while others experimented with symbols that represent him, such as regional foliage, the Mississippi River, or the staggered 0’s in some of Patton’s sheet music.

Once students had finalized their designs, they presented them to Gray, as well as Editorial Assistant Jon Boggs and Production Coordinator Stephanie Thompson. After much deliberation, the University of Tennessee Press team chose the cover designed by Lydia McNabb.

lydia mcnabb book cover
McNabb’s winning cover features a light blue background, a guitar made up of many smaller representative pieces of Patton’s life and his career and modern art-styled hands playing the guitar. 

“The concept of this design is a play on the form of a guitar as a collage of the images that represent The Life and Music of Charlie Patton,” said McNabb. “I really wanted the distinct way Patton played his guitar to be conveyed, so I added the hands to make the concept even more personal to the kind of musician Patton was. The guitar shows the more antique look of the book while the hands add a more modern element to showcase the newness of the second edition.”

“While a final decision was difficult, we chose Lydia’s design not only for its thoughtful depiction of the era and genre of the study, but also the attention to detail in the illustrated hands, which we think will be a wonderful wink-wink-nudge-nudge for readers familiar with Patton’s peculiar playing style,” said Gray.

All designs from the studio are on display on the 3rd floor of the Art and Architecture building. 

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