PAXTON — For a while, Shanna Canarini kept the secret.
The 23-year-old graphic designer, however, was looking for a job — and showing her prospective employer the top-secret masterpiece she created seemed like it might give her a leg up on other candidates.
So, she figured out a way to reveal during the interview process what few others had already seen.
It was a book cover she designed, and not just any book cover. It was a book cover that won her $5,000, part of a contest sponsored by publishing house Simon & Schuster. And it was one that Canarini was particularly proud of, given that it was for a book about her favorite musician, Taylor Swift.
Months earlier, Canarini had won a contest that had tasked “Swifties” — die-hard Swift fans — with helping create the book.
“There’s never been a book about Taylor or her life or anything, and this is like her 10-year anniversary of her first album, so they decided they wanted to do a book and they wanted it to be made by the fans,” Canarini said. “So they had a contest for the author; they had a contest for the title; and then they had a contest for the cover art.”
Canarini said she was notified she had won the cover-art portion of the contest in late May, but she was not permitted by the publisher to disclose the news to anyone until the book would be released.
“I wasn’t allowed to talk about it. I wasn’t allowed to tell anybody I’d won. I wasn’t allowed to show anybody my cover,” Canarini said.
But when Canarini applied for a graphic-design job at Champaign-based Agrible Inc., she thought she would ask if a small exception could be made. Fortunately for Canarini, Simon & Schuster agreed to allow her to use it as part of her portfolio.
“I think it definitely helped,” said Canarini, who graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from the American Academy of Art in Chicago.
Canarini landed the job, giving her just one more thing for which she can credit Swift’s influence on her life.
A match made in Myspace
Canarini, who moved in August to Paxton from her native Lowell, Ind., has been a “Swiftie” since Swift released her first country-music album in 2006.
“I’m not sure what it was about her, but something clicked in my head and I was like, ‘I love this; I love the sound; I love her voice,'” Canarini said. “And I did a lot more research on her on the internet, and I found her on Myspace when that was like the big thing.
“She had a really good online presence with fans, even though nobody knew her yet. In the beginning, I would post things on her Myspace page, and she would post things on mine. Thinking about that now, it’s like ‘Wow! That was something that actually happened.’ I have screencaps of the things she had sent me on my computer, in the archives.
“That’s where it started, and ever since then I just continued to follow her.”
Since attending her first Swift concert in 2009, Canarini has seen her perform 11 more times — in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Indianapolis and several shows in Chicago.
“It was difficult first starting out because I was so young that I couldn’t drive, and my parents are like, ‘You’re not going to a concert by yourself,'” she said. “So my mom went to a lot of them with me when I was young.”
Canarini actually met Swift in person in 2010 — “very briefly,” she said.
“She did a 14-hour meet-and-greet, where she just signed autographs all day for free,” Canarini said.
Canarini also was able to be one of “maybe 50 or 60 people” who were invited to be part of a “small crowd” in one of Swift’s music videos. The video was for the song “Mine,” and it was filmed at a private recording studio in Nashville.
‘You did it! You won!’
When Canarini heard that Simon & Schuster was sponsoring the contests for Swift’s book in fall 2015, she jumped at the chance.
“You were supposed to design something that tells the last 10 years of Taylor’s life,” said Canarini, who had designed book covers before but “nothing this big.”
Canarini said she spent “probably about two weeks, on and off,” planning for and actually designing the book’s cover.
“I just kind of locked myself in my room for about a week,” she said. “I had the albums playing. I was going through the art that was in the booklets for the albums. I was watching music videos, just kind of taking in anything and everything.”
After finding some concepts to use, Canarini “had to ink everything after I drew everything out in pencil,” she said. “I laid it over with tracing paper and inked it all.
“After it was inked, I had to scan it into the computer and digitalize everything. And then it was a matter of composition — playing with the actual composition of the book cover. That took a while.”
The cover that Canarini created looks simple from afar — with the name “TAYLOR SWIFT” in white letters, with a red backdrop — but a closer look reveals much more.
Each letter is created using images and symbols from Swift’s albums, music videos and song lyrics. The images and symbols help describe each “era” of Swift’s career over the past 10 years, Canarini said.
“Every two letters is a different album or era, which is what we call them as Swifties,” Canarini said. “So the ‘T’ and the ‘A’ come from the first album, and so on.”
Late last spring, Canarini received an email from Simon & Schuster informing her she had won the cover art contest.
“I started reading my email and I almost couldn’t finish reading it,” she said. “It was from Simon & Schuster, and I was like, ‘OK, it’s probably just letting me know the contest is over and the winning design has been chosen and it wasn’t mine.’ But I started reading it, and it was like, ‘You’ve won.’
“I was like, ‘Uhhh …’ and I gave it to my fiance (Adam Kyrouac) and was like, ‘Can you please finish reading this because I don’t think I can?’ So he read it and was like, ‘You did it! You won! You need to call them!’ It was very exciting.”
In October 2016, Canarini was invited to a release party at a New York City bookstore. There, she met up with the author of the book — Tyler Conroy, who had won a separate contest to be able to author it. Another contest allowed a Swift fan to choose the book’s title, which ended up being “Taylor Swift: This is Our Song.” The title is a reference to a song (“Our Song”) that appears on Swift’s debut album.
Swift did not show up at the book release party. Canarini has not spoken with her yet, either.
“Unfortunately, we don’t keep in touch anymore,” Canarini said.
Wedding invite on the way
Winning the cover art contest was the proudest moment of Canarini’s graphic design career. But she hopes it doesn’t end up at the top. She said her “big dream” is to someday design album covers and merchandise for Swift.
“It should have a pretty good foot in the door, I feel like,” Canarini said.
In the meantime, Canarini is getting ready for another milestone event. On May 28, she plans to marry Kyrouac, a 2010 Paxton-Buckley-Loda graduate whom she met at Indiana Beach when she was 16.
A bunch of “Swifties” are part of the wedding party, including the author of Swift’s new book.
The only thing that could make the occasion even better is for Swift to make an appearance.
“I’m going to invite her,” Canarini said. “She’s shown up to bridal showers and weddings of fans in the past.”
Will Brumleve is editor of the Ford County Record, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit fordcountyrecord.com.