How graphic designer Bri Bruce brings beauty to books
by Timothy Pike
“I’m a shameless bibliophile,” says graphic designer, film producer, and Pushcart Prize–nominated author Bri Bruce, who around here is best known for being the designer of Books & Buzz Magazine‘s virtual cover every month.
“Bookstores, libraries, book cover art, even the smell of old books,” she says. “I love it. My dream is to one day have a library room in my house with floor-to-ceiling shelves and a library ladder.”
But Bri didn’t always feel that way about books.
“Ironically, I had trouble reading as a kid,” she says. “I remember I nearly failed my English class in middle school. My reading comprehension just wasn’t there, and I couldn’t write a five-paragraph essay to save my life.”
Then one day, she says, it just clicked—and suddenly it seemed all she wanted to do was be around books. “I spent long hours in the library with my nose in a book or getting lost in the stacks,” she says. “I went on to earn my bachelor’s degree in post-modern American literature and creative writing. Go figure!”
Bri is telling me all of this from her home in Aptos, California, about an hour south of San Francisco. “I was born and raised just to the north, in the beachside city of Santa Cruz,” she says, “as were five generations before me. Needless to say, I never ventured far. My roots are here. It’s the place that most inspires me.”
It’s hard to know if growing up in such an inspiring place contributed to her artistic mind and eye for beauty, but it probably didn’t hurt. What is certain is that Bri has always been drawn to the visually appealing.
“I’ve always been artistic in some way, dabbling in photography and painting from an early age,” she says. “I loved magazines just for the ads and the pictures and how it was all put together. I’d cover my bedroom walls in collages. Graphic design came naturally, and seemed to me a way to combine both visual arts and typography in today’s digital world.”
“I have an unending admiration for the beauty of books,” Bri says, “and ultimately this is what has led me to specialize in book design.”
It didn’t take long for Bri to realize that she could combine her love of stories and literature with her love for design.
“When I discovered that I could be a part of that world of book aesthetics,” she says, “that’s when I really discovered that graphic design was my calling. I have an unending admiration for the beauty of books, and ultimately this is what has led me to specialize in book design.”
By offering just a handful of design services, Bri has found she can put more energy into each one. “I take pride in specializing in book cover and interior design/layout,” she says. “This laser focus ensures I am bringing my A-game to each and every project. In addition, I also help with e-book conversion, book marketing—tip sheets, ads, media packages, etc.—print processes, and general publishing consultation.”
Doing what she loves while helping others achieve their own goals has brought Bri a thriving business. “I have a true passion for design,” she says, “and for the last decade I’ve had the opportunity to work with entrepreneurs, award-winning and best-selling authors, academics, non-profits, and businesses small and large across a variety of industries.”
As varied as her client list has been, one thing remains constant after all these years: Bri still loves digging into the minutiae of each project. “There are so many small nuances that go into designing a book that one normally wouldn’t think about. Each has an impact, on a psychological level, and affects your reading of the book, from colors to empty space to typography. It’s probably these small details that I love the most.”
Yet for all her natural ability, Bri never stops learning. “I’ve had a lot of on-the-job training and over a decade of experience,” she says, “and have also taken online courses just to stay up to date. Working daily with graphic design keeps my skills fresh and challenged, and I’m always striving to learn the new trends and continue to grow.”
“There are so many small nuances that go into designing a book,” Bri says. “Each has an impact and affects your reading of the book, from colors to empty space to typography.”
As Bri stays absorbed in her work, every day brings new opportunities. “I live and breathe it,” she tells me. “It’s hard for me to say no to any project—and it’s very rare that I do.”
Bri enjoys working with all genres, but admits that one genre rises above all others in her mind—mainly because it gives her so much creative wiggle room with her designs. “I have a soft spot for poetry,” she says. “I just love the versatility in structure that poetry books have, a kind of ‘anything goes’ and breaking away from convention. Plus, it seems like poetry book covers are always really unique.”
This might be because she’s a poet herself—a fact that surprises a lot of people, according to Bri. “Not many people know that about me,” she says. “So often I am on the service provider end and I don’t do enough promoting of my personal work.”
But considering all of her success as an author, Bri’s work may just speak for itself. “I’m a Pushcart Prize nominee and award-winning author of three books: The Weight of Snow, 28 Days of Solitude and The Starling’s Song,” she says. “My debut collection, The Weight of Snow, was a finalist in the 2014 International Book Awards and the USA Best Book Awards in the poetry category, and an honorable mention in the 2014 San Francisco Book Festival. The Starling’s Song was selected as Honorable Mention in the 2017 Pacific Rim Book Festival in the poetry category.”
Between her freelance work, her own writing, and her duties as a marketing director in the renewable energy industry—among other projects—life is a constant hustle for Bri. “I’ve been called a workaholic before,” she admits, “but to me it’s not exactly work in the traditional sense. I have such a passion for what I do, and continually being in this frenzy of creativity is very fulfilling—even when it means working nights and weekends and nearly every day of the week.”
Just don’t barge in on her when she’s concentrating. “I have a habit of going into a sort of trance,” Bri says, “and when I get pulled out of it by an interruption, it is difficult to get back into it, so that can be frustrating. I’m the type that needs a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on my office door when I am in the zone—which doesn’t happen all the time.”
It may be happening more often since her state’s pandemic-related lockdown started, though, because Bri has been able to give even more of her undivided attention to her projects. “These last months in shelter-in-place have actually been very productive,” she says, “and have not only allowed me to hunker down at home and focus more on my work, but has also allowed me to express myself, and taken my mind off of the gloom of the volatile, violent state the world is currently in.”
Fortunately, before all of the turmoil caused by recent events, Bri and her family were able to travel and get in touch with their cross-cultural roots—and make a movie about it. “I took a recent hiatus these last few years from my own writing to produce a nature/adventure documentary film about Baja California, Mexico, called The Devil’s Road,” she says. “The film centers around our family’s discovery of our roots in Baja. It’s very much a family affair, in that it’s the brainchild of my father and brother.”
“It’s an exciting mix of adventure, history, and culture,” she says about the film. “All set to some awesome vintage rock ‘n’ roll tunes.”
Also awesome is the recognition the documentary has garnered. “The film has been honored as an Official Selection at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, the Baja California International Film Festival, and the Big Bear Film Summit,” Bri says. “I recommend taking a look!”
While Bri remains available to help make your next book beautiful, she’s got plenty of her own goals for the coming months and years. “I am currently working on my next collection of poetry,” she says, “slated to be out at the end of the year. I’ve really enjoyed working on it and am excited to share it.”
And of course, Bri plans to keep working hard to bring beauty to as many books as she can—to the great benefit of authors and their readers. “I want to continue to hone my craft in the book design world,” she says, “meet new authors, and help them share their work with the world.”
Want to work with Bri on your next book cover? Get in touch with her through the ChapterBuzz Service Directory, where she generously offers a discount for ChapterBuzz members. Connect with Bri through Twitter and her Instagram feeds, both business and personal. And be sure to check out the documentary she helped produce, The Devil’s Road!
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