One of the benefits of working on projects with others (research, design, collaboration, etc.) is that you always learn something new.

Take quilting, for example. I was asked to create a quilt square using an image of Darius Milhaud and one of his dancers for a commemorative quilt gift in honor of a lovely lady celebrating her 90th birthday (I can’t tell you who… it’s still a surprise!). Who is Darius Milhaud?

Before retiring from archives and special collections, I worked with a body of materials in the Darius Milhaud Society Collection at Cleveland State University. The Society, based in Cleveland, sought to promote the work of Darius Milhaud, a member of Les Six (also known as The Group of Six) and one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century.

The rise of Nazi Germany and invasion of France forced Darius Milhaud and his wife to emigrate to the United States in 1940. Because of his Jewish background, Milhaud could not return to his native country until after the war concluded. He secured a teaching post at Mills College in Oakland, California, where he composed and collaborated with other composers during the war years.

From 1947 to 1971, he taught alternate years at Mills and the Paris Conservatoire, until poor health compelled him to retire. He died in Geneva at the age of 81, and he was buried in the Saint-Pierre Cemetery in Aix-en-Provence.

During his tenure at Mills College, Darius Milhaud became acquainted with one of his students, Katharine Warne. Warne studied composition with Milhaud during her undergraduate career at Mills College and completed compositions, sketches, and homework during her time as a student with him. Upon graduating from Mills College in 1945, Katharine Warne maintained contact with Darius and Madeleine Milhaud (Darius’ wife), often attending Milhaud’s birthday celebrations at Mills College. It was through Warne’s efforts that the Darius Milhaud Society was created.

The quilt square will become part of a memory quilt for one of Milhaud’s dancers, who later became an associate professor (emeritus) of sociology and women’s studies at Cleveland State University.



Here’s a little Sunday morning, behind the scenes graphic insight for you. For me, the best graphic jobs involve working with historic photos.  I learned to love the intricate detail in emulsion layers that only a chemical bath can produce. The processing is what makes analog photography so rich looking, and enhances details you’ll find lacking in digital photography. If you scan an old photograph at super high DPI, go scrounge up a magnifying glass and then compare the digital scan with the original print. You’ll be able to tell immediately which is which.

One of my clients wanted a book cover based on a historic photograph of a street scene. After doing some research sourcing the right photograph, sent a few candidates to the client for selection. I started to work on my layers with the chosen photograph, a 1930 street scene of the Feast of the Assumption in Little Italy on Mayfield Road.

Cleveland Press Collection

A beautiful street scene, but foreground clutter and other elements need edited to make room for book cover graphics. There are banner elements and iron work that I can reuse in more layers to develop a composite image. A draft of elements for the feature graphic is below, with many more steps to go to clean up the assembled graphic elements to go.

Draft of work in progress…

Once the client approves the direction of a graphic like this, I’ll move on with adding author, sizing, and developing the complete layout for front, back and spine. The final cover can’t be completed until the book text has been laid out and the total number of pages has been determined. It is the number of pages that dictates how wide the spine, and therefore, the complete cover will be.



Burning River Design is a Northeast Ohio creative company with support and consulting services in photography, design, publishing, research, curation and archives.

  • Photography (asset documentation, catalog and museum)
  • Graphic design (refreshing, restoring, and recreating images)
  • Publishing projects, including layouts for book interiors, covers, and illustrations. Read more about why you should hire a book designer…
  • Research of all kinds, such as genealogy assistance, company histories, photographs sourcing, and library crawling of all kinds. When we do the research for you on specialized topics, you can focus on your overall project.
  • Primary asset archival treatment, digital asset management, archives organization. We have over 15 year experience in archive management, digitization, and other special collections needs.

Lynn Bycko, the company founder, is a historian, curator, archivist, photographer, author, speaker and instructor with over 20 years experience.


As businesses and organizations continue to migrate analog imagery to digital, sometimes they realize the only copy of an important graphic is painted on a wall, embroidered on a shirt, or part of a piece of stationary. It’s time to freshen those images up!

An example of recreating, rebooting and refreshing came with a graphics project from a cathedral, to render a bishop’s coat of arms with a new background. This new version is intended for printing on canvas banners.We’d love the opportunity to help with your project. Contact us for a quote!




When a book designer takes on a client, there are certain expectations regarding research. The cover images and typography selections need to correspond to the subject of the book. As a book designer, my best client is a true crime author, which means I need to perform some interesting searches for graphics source material. A friend once asked what was new and interesting. When I told him I was searching for corpses and good looking dead bodies,  he asked if he should be worried. I chucked and explained I was recreating a murder scene for a book cover.

Sometimes designing book covers results in curious Google searches for reference images (and I’d like to say “hello!” to my personal NSA observer as I type). True crime genre art involves gore! Blood! Corpses!  Finding good looking deceased samples is difficult.  Most accident victims are deformed in some sort of way, or the angle of perspective is wrong.  Occasionally I find a treasure trove, such as a small collection of early  20th century forensic photography shot in New South Wales, Australia. 

Once I find a decent corpse photograph, I decide what I like best about the image subject: good body parts to use in a collage, the lighting, position in repose…  there are many good uses for one photograph.  A good photograph can be revisited for different projects, so when researching photographs, keeping notes about where the photo was archived, what website exhibited it, copyright permissions, etc. is essential.

I consider myself lucky that some of my commissioned cover art came at the request of a friend and organized crime historian, since the subject matter is challenging to illustrate in a tasteful manner.  Having said that, I’m open to working with romance novelists when I can search for handsome bodies instead of dead ones. But if you’re interested in reading about murder in Prohibition-era Cleveland, check out The Sly-Fanner Murders, by Allan R. May.




If you’re short on time or cash to up your photography game, improve your design skills, or get motivated, you should check out what Creative Live has to offer. 

I only write about services that I find invaluable, so this post contains affiliate links.

If you’re a regular punch clock Joe or Jane, AND a creative, sometimes it’s difficult to find training, inspiration or advice during hours that you have available. I found trying to improve my skills by attending workshops while working at my local university library and freelancing photography impossible, because classes were offered during my work hours.  Eventually I found a solution and it didn’t cost me a dime.

The folks over at are busy putting together some of the best online classes out there, and you can stream them for free. How does this work? Creative Live broadcasts over 1,500 curated classes by experts on five channels:  photo/video, art/design, music/audio, craft/maker, money/life. You can, of course, pay to see the class, which allows you to archive it and watch it again at any time. However, to see the broadcast for free, you need to view on a specific day and time to catch the streaming.

On Air Today is the daily showcase for what topics are being covered, and upcoming classes. I appreciate how Creative Live always has entire classes ‘on air’ on all 5 creative channels 24 hours a day. No matter what time of day, there is always something interesting to watch, podcasts to download, article to read — plenty of brain food for creatives! It’s easy to get started — just sign up (it’s free) and click the RSVP next to the classes you want to watch.