Dear Girls Above Me: My First Book Cover

It seems fitting to mark the start of my fifth (!) year of blogging with a little (big) announcement!

I am consistently amazed at the depth of this mini universe. It's been incredibly rewarding to meet and connect with hobbyists, design aficionados, artisans, and the generally curious since I

started this blog in 2009

. Some of these connections resulted in collaborations, such as the

styling and photography spread I did for

Ladies' Home Journal

on real-life clutter

, the

exhibit featuring a fully-furnished Kaleidoscope house at my local Design Within Reach store

, and interviews, articles, and other coverage in publications around the world. In each of these cases, there was a genuine fascination with the modern twist on miniatures, which made these events and interactions even more gratifying. Without a doubt,

the article on modern miniature design in the

New York Times

 in 2010

definitely helped to spark people's interest in this emerging side of the hobby.

Just over one year ago, I was contacted by

Crown Publishing Group

, part of

Random House

, to design a cover for a book by first-time author

Charlie McDowell


Dear Girls Above Me


McDowell, a comedian and filmmaker (and son of actors

Malcolm McDowell


Mary Steenburgen

) has an incredibly popular

Twitter feed

about the actual "girls" who live in the apartment above him. This is Charlie:

Profile photo from Twitter

He cannot help but listen to their chatter, and he shares very entertaining bits of their conversations, addressing them "Dear GAM" ("Girls Above Me"). A few recent ones:

Dear GAM, “Hey Claire, can I borrow your car so I can pick up my car from the shop?” You might wanna also consider borrowing Claire.
— Charlie McDowell (@charliemcdowell) January 11, 2013
Dear GAM, "Poor Lance Armstrong. It's embarrassing enough that he has erectile dysfunction." Different performance enhancing drugs.
— Charlie McDowell (@charliemcdowell) January 14, 2013
Dear GAM, "I wish I knew a veteran so I could get some of these great deals at Nordstroms." Life. Liberty. Discounted pillow shams.
— Charlie McDowell (@charliemcdowell) November 12, 2012

While I had not heard of McDowell, I became enamored with his posts and was excited by the prospect of doing the cover for his book. My contact at Crown, designer Jessie Bright, provided me with some very rough sketches, a color palette, and some screen shots from my blog that she thought would provide good starting inspiration. The basic concept was a cover that had Charlie sitting on a couch on the bottom half and the

legs only

of the "girls" on the top half. They asked that I keep the setting very minimal, i.e., do not create two whole apartments, and they also wanted me to use dolls so that it looked intentionally artificial. They wanted Charlie to have a retro/hip look and for the "girls" to be very...yes..GIRLIE!

The first step were the dolls. I normally do not use dolls in my scenes, but had some Kaleidoscope House figures, so I started experimenting. I decided to use my Citadel for this job, since it has the open double-height space.

This doll was not quite right (although they liked his legs), so they asked me to research other "modern" dolls. Jasper from "Twilight" was mostly just for fun...and he cannot sit!

I then suggested the Dad that came with the

TOMY Smaller Home and Garden dollhouse


Courtesy of Andy&Shel on Flickr

Crown LOVED this look for Charlie and were not deterred by the fact that his legs did not bend. I thought I had one in my collection, but couldn't find him. I put out word on my

Facebook page

to see if anyone would be willing to loan one in pristine condition, and the lovely

Susan H.

came to the rescue! She kindly loaned him for four months as I experimented with Crown. Thanks again, Susan!!!!

In terms of the setting, I researched some modern lamps and Crown liked

this one from

. The AG Minis topiary was a winner from the beginning. The flooring is

wood grain paper from the Paper Source

, and they asked that the backdrop be green, to make it easier to PhotoShop the final walls at the end. I shot "Charlie" on a few different couches. Here are some shots showing various couch options:

Too stylized

Too big

Too small

Too uncomfortable

Too contemporary

Just right!

We all liked the grey couch best (created by the lovely


), so Crown asked that I do some shots from different angles with a laptop so that we could come up with Charlie's final pose:

Too passive

Too high above

Not quite


With Charlie figured out, I turned my attention to the "girls." I tried a few Kaleidoscope House dolls, but they did not make the cut.

It was a good process to accessorize the space, but Crown decided they wanted it even more minimal. As I was figuring out the furnishings, I suggested using Barbie dolls, since we were going for a truly "girlie" look. I have to admit that I was intimidated by the large scale. I also had to confront the issue of making them stand and pose without stands, since I needed to keep my hands free to photograph. Here's how I did it...

Painter's tape, while crude, did work!

And then I added a third gal, at Crown's request.

The painter's tape approach did work. No Barbies were harmed during the shoot!

I think they worked really well with their lovely little legs! Crown requested that the girls be positioned closer together, and that the middle girl have a more form-fitting skirt. I got some black adhesive felt, which did the trick. I styled the background with one of my favorite vintage Bodo Hennig tables, a Barbie by Jonathan Adler pink lamp, and a cup/saucer and clock by Re-ment. The couch is AG Minis, and the pillow is by


. The bag is Barbie's.

With the girls completed, I submitted the photos to Crown in May and they did their magic with the backdrops. As it turned out, Crown had to amend the TOMY doll's face to comply with legal, so he had a bit of a face lift and shirt makeover. They also used the Kaleidoscope Dad's bent legs! But everything else fit into place. 

Here is the final result...

I am really pleased and excited. The book comes out in June and it's neat to see it on



Cool, right??

This was a great learning experience, and the folks at Crown were a real pleasure to partner with on this project. I'd love the opportunity to do more covers and styling in the future!

Thanks, Crown, and best of luck to Charlie McDowell and his book! I'm definitely getting a copy!!!