Exercise 1

Influential books

The brief for this task required me to consider books that are important to me and link these to more globally important books. From this, I needed to compile two lists.

To begin with, I thought back to the books I read as a child right up to the books I have enjoyed more recently. I started by writing a list and splitting this up into stages of my life, noting down when I discovered the books. Next, I began to search for links with more globally important books; not all the books I had written down on my initial list could be easily linked. Many of the linked books were influential, of a similar style or structure, writing friends, or touched on overlapping themes. Eventually, I narrowed down my lists in note form. I also began to consider how I could present these lists.

I came up with the idea of using a concertina sketchbook, to show a journey through my life of books, and their linked book alongside. I planned out how the books would fit onto the pages. As I had been noting down my ideas, I had used two different coloured pens – this became a clear way to distinguish the two lists in the final sketchbook.

The final sketchbook uses my own photographs of copies of some of the books, text, and my own accompanying illustrations to show a journey through the books that are important to me. Each of these is displayed alongside a book that links in some way. I used blue annotations for my books and orange/red annotations for the linked books.

I found this a thoroughly enjoyable task. My obsession with books and reading has been with me since childhood; I still appreciate the feel and smell of a physical book along with the satisfaction of moving the pages and seeing the images and text in front of me. To create a sketchbook dedicated to these most special and influential books felt purposeful and important. The concertina style is something I have not explored before, but I think it works well to illustrate a continuum. I also like how it can stand up and be displayed; it looks inviting.

By exploring influential books, I have realised that I tend to value a book for the way the story connects with the reader, whether this be through an interesting character, an unusual plot, or engaging illustrations. My choices were extremely varied, but I think this speaks to the very definition of what a book can be. I mention typography, illustrations, language, themes, and events; the task has highlighted the many aspects or ingredients that can be combined to create an exciting and engaging book. I am looking forward to seeing how my book inspirations influence the next stages of the course.

Returning to Exercise 1: Influential books

My tutor recommended I look back at these books and analyse the physicality of them, focusing on the visual relationship of the cover design to the narrative, the illustration or photography style, the typographic style, content, layout, and finishes (such as embossing, foiling, cut outs, flaps, and dust jackets). This will be useful linking to my work in Part 2, as I am focusing more on the form and function of books. I decided to choose a few out of my rather extensive list to explore in more depth.

Wolf Brother – Michelle Paver (and the rest of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness)

These books have a wonderful texture to the covers and showcase some embossing and debossing, creating raised and recessed relief images in the paper. The title and author text are raised and there are parts of the cover image (such as the ripple-like circles on Wolf Brother) that are recessed. I think this links to the content – the story is set in the Stone Age, so these raised and recessed images are reminiscent of carvings or handmade objects. The typography also reflects this content; the letters look as if they have been scratched into the page. Each book has a dominant colour for the cover, usually, again, linking to the location or main theme of the story. I like the way each cover is not just one block colour; there is texture and a gradient of colour. Focusing on Wolf Brother, the main illustration looks like a torch has been shone over it, which makes me feel like this ancient tale has been discovered by an explorer and brought into the modern world. The illustrations themselves (created by Geoff Taylor) are based on a cave painting style, with skinny stick-like figures of people and animals, sometimes with weapons or tools. The figures are usually pale or white, against that brighter, colourful background, just like they are drawn on with chalk or paste. The whole cover design fits exactly with the content and style of the story.

Twilight – Stephenie Meyer (and the rest of the Twilight Saga)

Each cover in this saga keeps to the colour scheme of black and white and red. This, along with being exceptionally striking on a bookshelf (red being a dominant, eye-catching colour), links with the content of the story. It could be argued the vampire characters link to darkness, as some see themselves as monsters and can remain unknown in the dark, whereas in the light their true nature is revealed. There are lots of themes of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and how life is not that simple – there are grey areas – so the stark black and white is a good representation of this. The red could of course symbolise blood and humanity, but also love, lust, and all those strong, passionate emotions; these are explored in the saga. Each image is symbolic of the story. Concentrating on the first book, the hands holding the apple can link to Adam and Eve being tempted in the garden of Eden by something forbidden, or Snow White eating the poisoned apple; both Bella and Edward are ‘tempted’ by each other, even though they are not supposed to be together. The title text is shiny (potentially mimicking vampires’ skin in the sunlight?) and a cold blue, fitting with the cold theme of the cover (again, linking to the cold, icy skin of vampires). The typeface looks classic and a bit twirly (not a technical term I am sure!) It looks like it could be used in a classic novel, which is exactly what inspired the author. The name of the author is smaller, thinner, in a sans-serif font and is spread out along the bottom of the cover.  

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

I own another Wordsworth classic from this set (Wuthering Heights) and both have a black background and the same white serif text for the title and author. All the text is positioned at the top of the cover, centrally, with the illustration dominating the rest of the page. The almost photographic image of the 1920s flapper girl against an art deco black and gold wall sets the scene perfectly for this story. The dressed-up character could be heading to a party (a big theme in the book) and everything looks luxurious and decadent. I like the way the character’s head and cigarette holder break the thin white border and sit in the forefront. It gives the impression of being drawn into the scene, like we could step inside the image and step out again. The white text and border jump out the most against the black. The overall darkness reflects the nature of the story too.

Girl, Woman, Other – Bernadine Evaristo

The colour on this cover is striking. The background is an inviting mustard/orange colour and the woman is a black silhouette wearing a patterned pink, red, light blue and dark blue head scarf. I think the colours might be there to suggest the diversity explored in the characters in the story; people from all backgrounds with such varied stories are interwoven (I suppose, like the scarf). The story is also a celebration of modern Britain, which certainly comes across in the vibrancy of the patterns and colours. The silhouette could have been used to suggest the unknown – the reader has not yet found out about the characters, so we cannot define them on the cover. Taking a more cynical view, it could be that we do not truly know a person from a glance, so their identity has been reduced to a silhouette wearing an expressive headscarf (maybe some see the headscarf first before the person?) It could also be that this person is undefined, as the title suggests, ‘girl, woman, other’. The text is all sans-serif, with the author’s name being the most dominant, and the title being a little smaller, moving down the page. I think this could also be referring to the initial judgments we make; some people can make snap judgments based on someone’s name, so the author has played on this by having her name be the dominant text. Really, we cannot know a person until we truly understand their story and that is what this book explores. The accolades the book has achieved are stated along the top and bottom of the cover. I like the simplicity of the reviews – just one word has been chosen from each review.

Harry Potter – J. K. Rowling

I have quite a recent set of the Harry Potter books with newly designed covers (but there have been so many!) The covers I have were designed by Clare Melinsky and were for the Bloomsbury Signature Editions, whereas the first cover was designed by Thomas Taylor. Just comparing these two covers, the first cover was predominantly a purple-red colour, with lots of darker purples in the background. There are highlights of mustard gold, for the text and some stars. I think these are intended to be the colours of Gryffindor (Harry’s house) and also have a magical feel (purple has often been associated with magic). In contrast, my cover is white (it has a ripped page effect at the edges, like it has been discovered in an old treasure chest) with mostly blue and gold colours used for the text and illustrations. I think the gold makes sense (this can also have a magical effect) and each book in my collection has a dominant cover. Perhaps the deep blue has been used to represent magic, darkness, and night-time (when a lot of the action takes place).

The first cover has a softness to it, with an expressive drawing of Harry looking astonished at the Hogwarts Express on Platform 9 ¾. As this was the first cover, the story and target audience needed to be clear – this looks like a children’s book illustration and looks like an adventure story. Now that practically everyone knows about Harry Potter, there is more room for creativity (a lot of fans will deliberately buy every version that is created). My copy has a more geometric, jagged illustration style with blocky shapes showing a scene from towards the end of the book. I think most people could deduce that the person on the horse must be Harry (as his name appears on the cover) and there is an adventure and magical element to the story (the sight of a giant chess piece wielding a sword reveals this), but it is much more mysterious. However, like the first image, it makes you want to pick up the book and find out what happens.

The text on the first cover is in uppercase for ‘Harry Potter’ and a serif typeface. The gold stands out against the burgundy and it is clear that the name is important, more than the detail of the ‘philosopher’s stone’. The text is separated from the illustration with a green line – the illustration is immersive and filled with details, so it makes sense to block off the text to make it stand out against the plain burgundy. On my cover, the designer has used a handwritten style for ‘Harry Potter’ in gold (and this is embossed) with a gold lightning bold shape underlining it. The ‘philosopher’s stone’ part has more of a presence on this cover than the first, which balances nicely with the illustration.


Returning to these covers and looking at them more closely has thrown up some interesting ideas. I think I am drawn to covers that have an image on the cover, mostly illustrated rather than photographed, and this is the dominant feature. I also like the finishes such as embossing, debossing, and any shine or other textural elements to the finished covers. These all contribute to the impact of the physicality of the books, but also often reflect the content of the stories.

All my own photographs, apart from Harry Potter first cover, found at: https://harrypotter.fandom.com/wiki/Cover_art?file=Harry01english.jpg Accessed 28/10/20

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