Form and function
This assignment asked me to create three book covers (including the front, back, spine, and flaps – if required for the chosen cover) for three different books; one for a deluxe version of Robinson Crusoe, one for a pocket paperback version of Robinson Crusoe, and one for a survival guide.
My priority was to analyse the brief carefully. I read through several times, highlighting key words, and making notes in my sketchbook. I also had some thoughts about potential materials and bindings.
The next step was to carry out research. I started with Robinson Crusoe, reading through parts of the novel and making notes. I also looked at previous cover designs – I browsed through Pinterest and created a board, but I also sourced different publishers and the versions they had.
From my research about Robinson Crusoe, I identified some common themes and motifs. A lot of the older covers feature a depiction of the main character, usually on the island, looking wild and savage and strong. He is often wielding a weapon of some kind and looks rather stern and grim. The island itself is also a recurring theme, particularly the beaches, the trees, and the sea. I noticed a few covers with a boat or a nautical link – I was surprised this was not more common, because there is a strong theme of travel, exploration, and ships appear in the story often. The discovered footprint also features, as does the parrot companion.
My research for the survival guide involved using my Roget’s Thesaurus to do some word association spider diagrams. I took the title of the guide – ‘Washed ashore: The ultimate guide to surviving on a desert island’ – and picked this apart, looking at links between the words and the kind of atmosphere my cover would need to achieve. There was certainly a key theme of isolation but also perseverance and stamina. There was also a thread of adventure; this made me think of classic field guides that might be taken out on a trip to record one’s experiences.
I looked at some existing survival guide covers – these all used photography and bold, playful text, with an intimidating animal or depiction of an island. These covers also seemed to strike that balance between isolation, perseverance, challenge, and fun.
My instinct was to also look at some ‘field guide’ style book covers – I think I already had the idea of brown paper in my head, with perhaps a soft spine and a way to tie the pages closed. I found a variety of covers, but they all had one thing in common – clear informative titles and detailed illustrations that depicted what would be the focus of the guide (for instance, fungi). I did find some brown covers that had an even more minimal appearance, with some more playful elements too, like stamps, ties, and handwritten text.
After this initial research, I started playing with some of my own ideas, using the themes and motifs as starting points. For the Robinson Crusoe covers, I knew I wanted something more modern, playful, and adventurous for the pocket edition versus something classic for the deluxe edition. I kept looking at the brief – the words used for the deluxe edition include ‘finer’ and ‘luxurious’, and the brief mentions the history of the book itself and the historical nature of the story. I did want the two covers to have a common thread (of course, they should anyway because they present the same story) but I wanted to achieve this luxurious effect with the deluxe. I thought of the collector’s books I looked at during this part of the course and other books I own that are finer items – lots have more expensive binding, seem heavier and more durable, and perhaps use something tactile, like a cloth cover, to make the book more desirable.
In contrast, the paperback brief wanted a pocket-sized book that was functional, lightweight, and easily transportable. The brief also uses the words ‘contemporary’, ‘adventurous’, and ‘modern’. The brief also mentions the theme of ‘survival’, which I thought would be interesting to portray along with adventure. I considered other paperbacks I own and other designs I have seen; I knew I wanted this design to be more playful.
I initially explored general themes from Robinson Crusoe, such as parrots, leaves, ships (and other nautical items), footprints, sand, and the sea. I knew I did not want to depict the character, because this seemed overdone and can also make lots of people feel alienated from the story straight away if they do not identify with a white man washed up on an island. Instead, I wanted to capture the story, the environment, and the events. Throughout this exploration, I noted down covers and designers that influenced my sketches, such as Suzanne Dean’s ‘There there’ cover for the overlapping leaves, and Julia Hasting’s watery text. All the research I have carried out during Part Two definitely inspired me during this process, sometimes without realising.
Below are pages from my sketchbook where I explored ideas for the Robinson Crusoe books.
Focusing on the deluxe edition
My sketchbook shows lots of other ideas I explored, but this details the journey to my favourite idea and the one I went ahead with and created.
I found that I really liked the colourful parrot as a symbol of the island and the adventure Robinson found himself on. The colours were tropical, eye-catching, while also being mostly red and so giving a sense of urgency and potentially danger. I tried a few parrot poses – some ended up informing other cover ideas – but loved the idea of the close-up parrot staring straight at the viewer. I had also been playing around with nautical symbols, such as anchors and wheels, and stumbled on the idea of having a symbol in the place of the parrot’s pupil, further supporting the idea of travel and exploration. I ended up choosing the anchor, because this also has a cross in its structure, a subtle reference to the religious themes in the novel.
One of the books I own has a plastic cover over a clothbound book. It is heavyweight and definitely a collector’s book, so I had been thinking about it while carrying out my research as a possible inspiration for this deluxe edition. My leaf drawings had led me to another idea; framing the parrot or slightly hiding the parrot behind leaves, to give a feeling of suspense and discovery. I wondered if this could be achieved by using a plastic cover (containing the leaf pattern) over a clothbound hardback book (containing the parrot illustration).
I played around with a few ideas for front, back, spine and flap designs. The leaf cover really appealed to me for a few reasons. Firstly, it would look effective and catch someone’s eye in a bookshop. It would mix a detailed illustration with textured, bold leaf prints and use bright colours. Secondly, the plastic would protect the clothbound cover (especially as I was thinking about using white as the background colour for the clothbound part) and so would appeal to anyone who treasures books. Third, it matches the spirit of the story in its design. Having the parrot slightly hidden from view speaks to the spirit of adventure and discovery that runs through the story and links to the historical nature of the story. The character was a pioneer.
Focusing on the paperback edition
My sketchbook shows lots of other ideas I explored, but this details the journey to my favourite idea and the one I went ahead with and created.
Again, I had lots of ideas and went through lots of thumbnail sketches trying out different designs. I knew I wanted this design to be more modern and playful, to portray that sense of adventure. The brief also specified the word ‘survival’, so I experimented with ways of incorporating this. I became quite keen on the idea of the parrot and leaves for the deluxe edition, so I wondered if these elements could be used in a different way for the paperback, to keep a link between the two versions but also ensure they had their own distinct style. (I should also note I tried lots of other ideas too, so I was not going with the first option. I had an idea for waves washing up onto a sandy beach, using the footprint motif, but I wondered if this would be useful for my survival guide ‘Washed Ashore’.)
I tried various parrot poses, moving to the whole parrot, rather than close-up. I wondered if a silhouette could work, as this would allow the leaf pattern to really stand out and would give a sense of mystery to the cover too. This led me to try inversing this, to have the leaf pattern make up the parrot silhouette shape, with a blank (at this point) background. I loved this! It was brighter, more inviting, and I liked the idea that the parrot contained the spirit of the island, the wilderness, and the adventures. The overlapping prints were inspired by Alan Kitching’s work.
At this point, I wondered how I could add that feeling of desperation and survival to a fun, playful cover, so I started exploring texts. I went back to my research to look at other texts that had been used, but lots were very simple, classic. I did a quick search for ‘tropical’ typefaces, drawing out some of my designs. Then I wondered if I could use a scratchy text, like the notches the character carves, to indicate this feeling of survival. I made it a bit chunkier and more rounded, to keep it playful, but it certainly portrayed a sense of perseverance and perhaps a little desperation too.
My ideas for the spine and back cover took a while to come together. At first, I wondered if I could include the anchor motif again, but this seemed too contrived. Then I tried extending the tree branch, which worked quite well. I did not want another white background, so I tried out some other ideas. The sandy background seemed to work well, because it added another peek into the island without taking the attention away from the parrot silhouette. Also, I thought the scratchy text married nicely with this, because it could have been carved into the sand.
At this point, I did go back and try some other ideas, such as a parrot perched on an anchor, and the black silhouette too, but this just confirmed that I preferred the leaf parrot silhouette. It matched the brief more accurately and I thought the leaf silhouette felt contemporary and quite clever – I really wanted to try it!
Focusing on the survival guide
This was definitely the most challenging cover for me – perhaps because I did not have an actual book to read and understand. I used my research to start experimenting with some different motifs I had identified and also played with an idea I had come up with earlier in my paperback ideas – the waves washing up on the shore.
After a while, I started thinking about creating little stamps (like Ruth Martin) that represented different aspects of survival and using these on a cover design. In my sketchbook, I tried creating icons for fire, a tool or weapon of some kind, water, and shelter. I also drew inspiration from the field guides I had researched, using bold, clear type and a fairly minimal approach to the designs.
These icons seemed okay, but they did not excite me. I also did not think they immediately portrayed the idea of being washed ashore and stranded on a desert island. To solve this, I started playing with a simplified desert island illustration and introducing this into my designs. I went through several thumbnails like this, altering colours and layouts, but the design did not seem right to me. After showing others, everyone agreed it seemed overcomplicated, so I decided to just focus on the desert island.
While experimenting with this, I tried the watery text, inspired by Julia Hasting, and found that this added much more fun and excitement into the design. I played around with layout and discovered that having the watery text underneath the island motif made it look like the text was washing up on the shore, linking directly to the title of the book. To balance the design, I ensured the other type would be clean sans-serif so it was very clear to read.
After some more experiments, I found that having the text be the only colourful element looked even better. A black island print would look foreboding, lonely, and therefore achieve the isolated atmosphere I wanted. I also made it a little smaller, so it was more central. I did try distancing the text from the island to make it look literally “alone” but then I missed the text washing up on the shore, so I decided to keep them closer together. This central design was inspired by covers such as Kelly Blair’s ‘Drunk’, with one illustration and text all kept to the middle of the page. It looks balanced and orderly.
Creating the elements of the covers
I am most comfortable using hands-on methods, so I knew I wanted to create my own illustrations using various materials by hand, then layout the designs and play with text etc. using DTP software. (This part was daunting as I had barely used DTP software before!)
Before beginning this process, I decided on measurements for my books, using two of my own books as a guide. I used my clothbound ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ to help with my clothbound deluxe edition of Robinson Crusoe, and a paperback edition of ‘Holes’ to help with the other two designs. I kept note of the measurements and scaled up any physical illustrations or other elements by 1.5. I was restricted by the size of my scanner, but a 1.5 scale gave me lots of detail and good quality final designs. This measurement process was also important as I needed to consider extra millimetres for any clothbound cover to fold over hardboard and around the spine. I kept referring to my physical examples and added extra millimetres where necessary.
First, I knew I wanted to do some more printing and it would work perfectly with my designs. I have had the opportunity to explore some artists who use printing and play with different methods during Part Two, so it felt appropriate to draw on these experiments for Assignment 2.
I created several leaf stamps using lino-cutting and a desert island design also using lino. I then tried these out with acrylic paints and printing ink. For the desert island design (for the survival guide) I knew I wanted this to be black, and the printing ink worked best to give coverage and a full colour. I did a few prints to use.
For the leaves, I mixed acrylic paints to create different shades of green. I created single prints, a big page of overlapping leaves (for the parrot silhouette), and the frames of leaves for the covers, spine, and flaps of my plastic cover for the deluxe edition. This process took the longest, because I wanted the placement of the leaves to be perfect (however, I also knew I could add individual leaf prints to the frame print digitally if needed).
The sandy background for the paperback version of Robinson Crusoe was created by using a sponge and acrylic paints to build that texture. I did try watercolours but this was too subtle and not the correct texture.
The parrot was painted using acrylic paints. I did consider other paints, but watercolour would not give the vibrancy I wanted, and oils would not dry in time. Acrylics gave me bright, eye-catching colours (essential to capture the parrot’s feathers) and layers dried quickly, so I could build up some detail.
Before I started painting, I went back to my sketchbook and some reference images to play with colour combinations. I settled on the mostly red parrot, with colourful feather moving down the wing. The red contrasted with the green leaves, ensuring it would stand out, and I liked the slight rainbow effect – it creates a sense of adventure and exploration.
They eye was added afterwards with ink.
Two of my covers I felt would benefit from handwritten text. A recent book purchase of mine was ‘Hand Job’ by Michael Perry, and looking through this inspired me to try creating my own titles for two of the covers. I also was not fully confident trying to create them from scratch digitally.
The watery Julia Hasting-inspired text for the survival guide was created using felt tip pens to give the bright colours. I had done lots of practise in my sketchbook and trialled a few colour combinations and orders before creating my final title.
The scratchy Robinson Crusoe title for the paperback included a boat’s wheel for the ‘O’ in ‘Crusoe’, which I decided would be a nice way to reference the nautical theme and add to the sense of adventure. I used an ink fine liner to draw the letters.
Once the overlapping leaf print had dried, I drew out my parrot design for the front, spine, and back cover the of paperback Robinson Crusoe, and cut this out. This was glued straight onto the sandy background, ready to be scanned in and edited digitally.
Creating the digital designs
I allowed myself plenty of time for this part to get to grips with Affinity Publisher and I kept screenshots of my process, so with each cover, the process became a little quicker. I actually found that, although I was intimidated by this part of the task, I really enjoyed learning new skills and was quite pleased with the results. It is a relief to know that I have the basics and can keep building on these now.
First, for each design, I scanned in my physical elements using ‘.tiff’ format, so they would be high quality scans and capture as much of the detail as possible. I was pleasantly surprised by how much detail could be seen – the vein-like marks on the leaf prints were visible and the texture of the paint looked fantastic.
I started by setting the size of my publication – I created one document for the plastic cover and one for the clothbound part. The plastic cover could be made transparent on the document, which proved very useful. For this, I placed my leaf prints in their places; I chose to flip the scans of the front cover and flap horizontally for the back cover and flap to create symmetry. I had used Affinity Photo to ‘erase white paper’ and clean up any splotches of paint that were not needed. The design looked so textured, bold, and colourful; I was really pleased with this result!
For the clothbound cover, I added 3mm to the top, bottom, and both sides, because I knew this needed to fold over the hardboard. This did not have flaps – the plastic flaps would cover the hardboard. I also ensured this cover was not transparent! I removed the background from the parrot painting and cleaned up any marks so it could be placed on the cover.
To help me with placement, I added the plastic cover as a layer. It was important to have the parrot be seen through the leaves and for the position of the parrot to look good both with and without the leaves. While I experimented with placement and sizing, I took screenshots so I could compare. I ended up deciding on keeping the head fairly central in the frame, but not completely central, otherwise there would be too much space at the top of the page.
Before adding any text, I added column guides to help me with positioning. I used 13 columns (6 for the front and back and one on the spine) and 3 rows. Then it was time to try different typefaces, sizes, and positions.
I had already tried putting the text in the bottom right corner, which still worked best. This was where the most space was and also the parrot faces the text, with the beak kind of pointing in that direction. Then I tried a few different typefaces. I did try a more playful, wild west-style typeface, but it did not fit with the classic, luxurious feel. I settled with Goudy Old Style, with the title in uppercase lettering. I played around with the sizing and the position. I found that creating a block of text, with the author, Robinson, and Crusoe all being approximately the same length, made the page seem orderly and made the text seem contained. It reminded me of Coralie Bickford-Smith’s clothbound covers and her boxed off titles.
I made the author’s name a little smaller and also tried italics, which I thought looked elegant and classy. The cover seems refined and definitely gives the feel of something more luxurious. I also think the text choices reflect the history of the book, with a serif font and black text on a white background.
I then used the same text on the spine, but kept ‘Robinson’ and ‘Crusoe’ the same size, with the author’s name smaller and in italics. It is important to note that the title and author on the cover is not visible under the plastic cover, so the spine needed to be clear and visible. I kept the spine relatively free of leaves, with just a few at each end, with the text being the focus. I felt that the visual impact of the front cover would be engaging and eye-catching enough on its own, while the spine lets the reader know what the book is.
For the back cover, I wanted the same ‘framed’ effect, so I created a circular text frame for the blurb. I played with this a little, settling on more of an oval to fit the leaves more. The other delightful thing about creating this round block of text is that it resembles a sunset being reflected in the ocean – this also adds to the tropical island theme.
When I tried this under the leaves, I noticed that a small part of the title on the front page was still visible, so I cut one of my single leaf prints from its background and placed this on the plastic cover design. Once I had updated this design, I updated the clothbound document, and the title was covered!
Finally, to give an idea of how the plastic cover would sit on the clothbound, I added a shadow effect on the leaves. It really brought the design to life! I was pleased with the overall impact of the cover and felt like, on a shelf, this would stand out.
For this paperback version, I based my measurements on ‘Holes’, and just added a few millimetres to account for the paper folding at each edge of the spine. I created the document and placed my scanned images. I was pleased with the texture of the sand and the leaf prints – both seemed bright and inviting.
I made a slight adjustment to the text on the spine. The word ‘Robinson’ was a little more squashed than ‘Crusoe’ (not deliberately!) and so I made a copy of just this word and stretched it a little. The words on the cover were deliberately different sizes, which I felt worked well in the space.
Next, I played with typefaces for ‘Daniel Defoe’. I spent a long time trying different typefaces, going between more playful, bold, quirky styles and more simple, classic styles. I settled on Gloucester MT Extra Condensed, but I knew the letters looked too squashed. I found out how to change the tracking and played with this. It seemed better to give this part more space because the title in the handwritten text is quite squashed in its style, so it needed a contrast to balance the page. I then added the author’s name on the spine on the other side of the branch.
For the blurb, my initial idea was to have text between all the branches (there could be quotes or reviews between the top branches and a summary underneath). When I tried this, I initially just used boxes. This made the text look too placed and not really in keeping with the design. Using the pen tool, I created shapes that fit exactly around the branches and made these into text frames. I made sure they were not getting too close to the branches or the edge of the page, but they certainly seemed to fit more naturally with the design, which is what I had intended.
I had decided the survival guide would be paperback – to make it easily transportable, like a real guide you might carry with you – and I liked the brown paper look. It seemed rustic and earthy and appropriate for the survival guide style. I kept to the same dimensions as the paperback Robinson Crusoe, but I made the spine thinner, imagining this might not be as thick.
First, I cleaned up the desert island print on Affinity Photo; although I loved the marks left by the edge of the stamp, it did not fit with the clean, minimal design I had in mind. I then placed my scanned pages/backgrounds into the document. To help me when placing text, I used a column guide once again.
My handwritten text needed a little adjusting, so I worked out how to use the mesh warp tool. It allowed me to pull parts of the text and create the effect I wanted. I used horizontal lines to help me keep everything at the same height (while, of course, the letters are all quite misshapen within this). I then placed this text on my document and positioned it centrally underneath the island. I also placed the text on the spine, making the decision to pull the text wider, otherwise it would be very difficult to read. I was pleased with the impact of the handwritten text – it is certainly an eye-catching element on the cover and helps define the content.
I then tried several typefaces, focusing on sans-serif to give a clean, clear, modern look. I decided to go with Tw Cen MT Condensed (extra bold for the author’s name) which seemed technical and informative to me, fitting the guide genre. I played around with the positioning too, particularly for the author’s name as it seemed separate from the rest of the cover. I found that it worked best above the tree, centrally aligned, so that there was balance and symmetry. I also tried a few layouts on the spine, but decided it would look most balanced if I kept the order of the text the same – author, title, then subtitle left to right. This also meant the colourful, interesting handwritten title was central, making that the most eye-catching part.
I went back to my sketchbook at this point to think about the back cover. I knew this had to be consistent in style – minimal, informative, and clear. I wondered about using my leaf prints as dividers or containers of the blurb. To start with, I tried digitally making one of my individual leaf prints black, but it did not have the same textured effect, so instead, I cut part of the desert island tree and tried using this. It really helped to tie the whole design together – I ensured it was flipped and altered in size, just to make it different enough to maintain interest.
Finally, I tried justifying the text on the blurb, which also worked well. It meant there was the same ‘block’ or ‘contained’ feel on both the back and front cover.
Once I was happy with my designs, I exported them as high-quality digital PDFs and got some free mock-ups to try. I had never done this before, so it was a bit fiddly, but I think the final results look fairly clean and in perspective. I used Affinity Photo and mostly the resizing and mesh warp tools to achieve these results. My clothbound deluxe edition of Robinson Crusoe required a clothbound mock-up, and I created one with the plastic cover and one without. It does not quite have the plastic effect, but I hoped the shadow would help.
Robinson Crusoe (deluxe edition)
I used a mock-up that was 7.5×9 inches in scale, which worked with my measurements. The clothbound cover gives a luxurious feel while the plastic cover adds another dimension and protects the collector’s book. I would choose a thicker, uncoated paper for this version (I had a look back through my paper sample sketchbook from the ‘Paper and bookbinding’ research task and decided 100gsm would give a feel of quality. I wondered if using a parchment paper could add to the tactile experience of reading a book – particularly for this deluxe addition, to give a feel of authenticity to reading an explorer’s story). The pages would be bound using a fabric, then the end papers attached to the hardboard covers (I looked at my better quality books and would aim to replicate this for the deluxe version – like Walt Disney and Alice’s Adventures). The idea behind this design was to make it seem luxurious, so all my design and construction choices would reflect this.
Robinson Crusoe (pocket edition)
For both the pocket edition of Robinson Crusoe and the survival guide, I used a B format 5×8 inch mock-up which matched the scale of my design. This book would be paperback, bound by the pages being glued to the spine, to keep it lightweight and easy to produce in large quantities. This makes it cheaper, therefore more accessible to more people, and easier to transport. The paper choice would also be informed by the brief – I would choose an uncoated paper, 80gsm, to keep it lightweight. I wondered if the leaves that make up the parrot could be a slightly different texture, just to add some interest to the feel of the book – perhaps they could be gloss-coated (or the rest of the cover could be glossy and the leaves could remain uncoated). I also wondered if the title text could be debossed, like it had been carved into the cover. This might add interest and persuade a reader to buy the book for the physical experience of holding and feeling the book.
Again, I used a 5×8 inch mock-up which matched the scale of my design for the survival guide. I used a brown kraft paper to print onto, which has a pleasing, rough texture (matching the theme of survival and wilderness quite nicely). This would still be paperback and bound using glue to attached the pages. Again, I think I would choose 80gsm uncoated paper to keep the guide lightweight and easily transportable. The ‘Washed Ashore’ title could be glossy, giving it a watery, slightly reflective quality against the rough, duller background and images.
Overall, I am proud of my final designs. It was challenging to use software I had barely used before but I am pleased I dedicated the time to producing covers that look fairly professional. I think there is lots of room to improve my grasp of desktop publishing software in the future, but this is a good starting point. I have thoroughly enjoyed pushing my skills and learning new things during this assignment.
Most of all, I tried to focus on the brief and the keywords. I believe my designs have mostly catered to these requirements; the deluxe edition is luxurious, classic, and references the history of the story and the book itself; the paperback is more contemporary in design but links to the deluxe; and the survival guide portrays the content in a simple way, using an informative, practical design. I also was very conscious of the research I had carried out during Part 2 and was keen to draw on this. My choice of methods (such as printing), my arrangement of elements on the page, and my text choices were all informed by this research, and I tried to note this as I was developing ideas and carrying out further research.
In terms of what worked and what did not, I think my research and ideas generation was incredibly important and I knew this as I was working. I spent lots of time reading the story, reading about the story, researching the genres of the books, and looking at previous covers. This informed my ideas generation heavily. I think I also liked mixing my practical, hands-on art approaches with the digital process – this is still relatively new to me so it was satisfying to see it all come together.
I think I could have created more of my initial cover designs as digital designs, but I relied more on drawing the designs as thumbnail sketches and evaluating them this way, adapting my ideas in my sketchbook. I would like to try utilising DTP software earlier in the process to see if this sparks other ideas and see if this can work nicely alongside my sketchbook ideas generation process. I am however pleased that I went back to my sketchbook to play with ideas for the survival guide’s blurb before returning to digital. I think going between the two is something I should work on more.