Harry Potter Textbook Covers: An Epic, of Sorts

The Harry Potter textbook covers are live on my website!

Drawings for the 31 covers were created over the month of July 2017, and I have been colouring them since then. Here’s the link to the brief that I set myself at the beginning of the month.

Constraints breed creativity...

The interesting thing about doing a daily challenge like this is that you have to go with your first idea, as you don’t have time for a lot of brainstorming. My Pinterest board of vintage book covers was my reference point throughout the project. I would look through the board until I found a composition or typography style that I could use as a springboard for my own design.

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...but so does freedom

The great thing about this challenge was that there was very little information about the books themselves. This gave me the freedom to interpret the title as I liked, an opportunity not often given to cover designers. That said, I did particularly enjoy designing the covers for Tales of Beedle the Bard, Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them, all of which have published texts associated with them. I wanted to make them very different from the published versions, as well as those created for the films, while also making them look credible within the world of the books.

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Fictional non-fiction

This is one of my first forays into non-fiction cover design. Ironically, the non-fiction is fictional, so had to fit within the visual language of the Harry Potter universe. The way that J.K. Rowling describes objects within the Wizarding World suggests that wizards have appropriated and modified a hodge-podge of muggle artifacts, as well as creating their own from scratch. Having the books take influence from Victorian book design made a lot of sense, as well as allowing me to do a deep-dive into the history of the books of this time. As well as fictional works, I looked at textbooks and non-fiction from the late 19th Century through to the 1940s. Non-fiction covers can be, and often have to be more literal than fictional works. I found that this left me with more time to focus on the typography and illustration.

Drawing from the books...

There were a few times where additional knowledge from the books was very helpful, rather than just going on the title and author alone. The first cover, Hogwarts: A History features the floating candles of the great hall, first described in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The Gilderoy Lockhart covers subtly mock the wizard’s hubris, using excessive amounts of gold, silver and rich colours. The Rita Skeeter biographies, widely known for being more fiction than fact, hold her name in as high esteem as the wizards she is featuring. The biopic of Albus Dumbledore is a tangle of vines, and at the top shows a pair of snakes whispering into the ears of a lion, a reference to the headmaster’s secret past.

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...and interpreting from the titles

My favourite of the set is still Flesh Eating Trees of the World. This is an example where I only had the title to go on. The book has no credited author and the only mention of flesh-eating trees in the books is the reference to this textbook. The design became an exercise in negative space. How could I make the cover look like fairly normal trees at first glance, with a more sinister message lurking underneath? I’m pretty chuffed with how it turned out.

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Click here for the full 31 covers.

And here's a video I made looking through my sketchbook at the original inked covers.

Harry Potter Book Cover Challenge

For the jolly month of July I am doing a Harry Potter themed 31 day challenge. This is based along the lines of Inktober. Each day I will have a different Hogwarts textbook, or text mentioned in the Harry Potter books or films, and I will create a new cover design in ink.  

 

Objectives:

  • To improve my lettering and inking skills.

  • To make daily posts on Instagram and potentially reach more people.

  • To have a set of designs at the end of the month that I can publish in a booklet.

  • To have a set of drawings ready to be made into final designs for my portfolio.

 

Parameters:

  • Drawings must be completed in ink, but can be sketched in pencil first.

  • I am allowed to sketch and plan ahead of time. The finished drawings must be posted to social media daily in July with the hashtag #hpbookcovers.

  • Each drawing will be a lettering piece that will fit into the portrait format of a book cover.

  • The vision is for these to be able to be printed in one or two colours onto a single-colour background, giving the set of drawings a cohesive vintage look.

Inspiration:

  • Drawings are modelled on vintage book covers from the late 19th Century/early 20th Century. Here is the Pinterest board of influential covers.

Q&A

What does your typical day look like for you?

At the moment I get up at around 5am and start by doing some creativity exercises. Then I'll write, maybe a blog post, or the outline for a video. Following these two things I’ll start on whatever the most important task is. After breakfast I’ll check my emails and get ready for the day. If I don’t have to go to my day job I’ll keep working on whatever is most important. I love getting up early because I can get so much accomplished before the rest of the world is awake.

Do you have any particular methods for coming up with concepts?

Yes. I use a method that I call 3x3, which I’m going to film a video on shortly. Each morning I get Goodreads to randomly generate three titles that I’ve read in the past, and I have to come up with three concepts for each. They don’t have to be good ideas, but I find that this is a great way to give that creativity muscle a workout every day. It also means that I have a library of ideas at my disposal whenever I want to do a self-initiated project. 

Where do you look for inspiration?

It depends on the project. If it’s a period piece and that’s what I want to focus on, then I’ll look for typography from that time. That usually starts with a Google search, although sometimes it’s nice to go straight to my bookshelf. For things like colour schemes I’m more likely to look to physical books.

How do you know when a design is finished?

You don’t exactly. You can always push a design further, but there's a time when that ceases to be helpful. I try to work on a design in concentrated periods of work. If I let it sit around for too long it becomes stale and I can’t look at it objectively - that’s where I really struggle to know when it’s done or not. Speed is the best way I’ve found to combat this. 

What is the single most valuable thing that you do in your design work?

Recently, the creativity exercises. It often pushes me out of my comfort zone, but there isn’t that pressure to make anything great. I just have to come up with three concepts. They don't have to be good ones. 

Have you got any exciting projects coming up?

Yes! I’m working on some typographic covers for Sarah Waters’ novels. It’s been a few years since they were updated and I thought it would be a fun challenge to help me practice my hand lettering. I’m also going to be doing some Harry Potter related designs, which is always fun. In the month of July I’ll be doing 31 days of Harry Potter hand lettering, based on the titles of books in the Wizarding World. I’m also planning a series of covers for the Harry Potter books themselves, which I’m Siriusly excited about!

What ratio of your work is analogue to digital?

Probably about 90% of what I do is analogue. I like sketching, but don't enjoy doing it on a computer. For a final design it’s probably more like 60% analogue to 40% digital, but if we include all of the doodles, sketches and scribbles, then the vast majority of my work is done on paper.

What design resources do you use on a regular basis?

My everyday tools are a sketchbook and pencil. I like to use a mechanical pencil, and I carry these two things with me everywhere. The social media platform I use the most, aside from YouTube is Instagram. I’m working up to posting on there daily again. In July I want to be posting my Harry Potter designs each day. For inspiration I use Pinterest to keep track of visuals that I want to be able to reference again. I also read Spine Magazine, which is an online and print magazine about book design. The interviews are especially fascinating, as I’m always interested in the processes of other designers.

Do you have a favourite project that you’ve worked on?

It’s always the one that I’ve just finished, or the one I’m working on. I have a tendency to look back on my work, even from a few months ago and say ‘I could do that better now.’ It’s good because it means that I’m always growing, but it’s very frustrating too. Sometimes I have to restrain myself from going back and changing old designs, because I think it’s important to see that development over time. As I do better work I can always replace the old designs in my portfolio.  

You use a variety of different mediums in your work. Is there one that you most enjoy?

What I most enjoy is mixing it up. If I just worked in watercolour, for instance, I think I’d get bored of it pretty quickly. One of the great joys of book design is that you can work in so many different mediums. I’d definitely go stir crazy if I could only work digitally. The tactile and potentially messy side of things, the process of figuring out how to photograph something in the most effective way, or how to use unlikely found objects to create a typeface - to me that’s the true joy of creativity.

What do you think makes a great book cover?

It always comes back to an element of surprise. I can’t say that I always achieve this in my own work, but it’s something I strive for. Whether it’s something hidden on the cover that isn’t apparent immediately, or something truly surprising in the design at face value. I think that it’s our job as designers - to challenge, or delight the viewer, and sometimes both.

Making The Signature of All Things

I listened to the audiobook of The Signature of All Things during my first trip to Kew Gardens last year and was completely swept away in the historical world that Gilbert created. I wanted to make a cover that represented the beauty and strangeness of this novel, while also conveying the core theme of connection. The title, Signature of All Things comes from an theory developed in the 1500s of all natural things being marked by God with clues as to their purpose to humans, implying an interconnectedness of all living things. This is what I wanted to capture in the typography that I used. 

To begin with I sketched out the words, experimenting with different ways they could connect. I looked at creating swirling flower patterns that looped into the type. I liked this, but it looked a little too quaint and manicured, and the aspects of nature that Alma, the protagonist, explores are wild and mysterious.

The island of Tahiti is a key component to the novel, so I looked for plants that were native to that place. I discovered that the Strongylodon Macrobotrys vine is native to Tahiti, and it was a plant that I had seen on my trip to Kew. I decided to incorporate this, as well as some other vines, into my design. The Strongylodon Macrobotrys' vibrant blue-green would also be the base of my colour palette.

I drew what would become part of the final design on tracing paper, allowing me to isolate the different layers ready to import into Illustrator.

This was coming together, but was still looking a bit flat when I put it into Illustrator. I tried a few different colour combinations, but they needed more depth.

I took the design from Illustrator and transposed it into Photoshop, deciding to try some digital painting to create more depth. This worked really well. 

The first iteration was a bit light, so I added more contrast, along with some patches of complementary red and orange to bring out the greens and blues.

Finally, I added a coloured foil effect on the text for an added touch of luxury.

Making The Lie Tree Cover

Costa Prize winning Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree was one of my favourite reads of 2016. As I was listening to the audiobook for the second time (it really is that good) I was struck by the image of Faith’s paper theatre. I was inspired, and set about building one of my own.

I researched paper theatres of the Victorian era, which is a fascinating Google image search, and drew from a number of different designs to create this hybrid. For pattern inspiration I used this Thames and Hudson book about poison and wallpaper in Victorian England. This provided a plethora of different ideas for both colour and style.

The illustrations were done on a white craft card with Copic Markers, and the linework with black fineliner. I cut out each element and put them together into a 3D structure, which I then photographed. A couple of final tweaks were made in Photoshop and voila!

The paper theatre itself isn’t fully functional, as the elements are stationary, but I am intrigued by this medium, and keen to do more explorations within it.

Katherine Mansfield Book Cover: Behind the Scenes

Katherine Mansfield is one of my very favourite authors, so I was upset to find that there were so few beautiful editions of her works. Many look like textbooks or simply have paintings from the time that she wrote. Most of these are very typically feminine and old fashioned and don’t capture the vitality of her stories. So I decided to create my own cover for a modern Mansfield, one that would appeal to a wider and more modern audience.

I started by finding an edition of her New Zealand stories, one that had a dust jacket that was less than inspiring. I chose her New Zealand stories because I wanted to do a botanical design that represented her antipodean roots.

My initial sketches were of various New Zealand plants, especially ones that I knew were mentioned in her stories such as kowhai, manuka and an aloe. I also sketches out some different typographic configurations. My ink drawing expanded the thumbnails and I worked in the botanical elements around the type.

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In Adobe Illustrator I added in extra flowers to fit the dimensions of the dust jacket and ensure that the graphics flowed seamlessly through the front, spine and back cover.

Choosing colours was also a challenge. The flowers were dictated by nature, as I wanted to remain true to the actual colours. The background colour was the most difficult to determine and I went through countless iterations of greens, greys and blues. In the end the simple black background was the most effective in making the feature colours and title stand out.

The main problem with the black background was the black of the tui birds. They didn't stand out very well, but I wanted to keep them true to their actual colour. My idea for getting around this was to apply a spot uv coating to the birds so that they would show up in the light.

To make the dust jacket I printed out the design from my home printer onto watercolour paper. Luckily the hardback was small enough that it would fit onto an A4 sheet. I then used the plastic that was covering the original jacket to protect the new one, as the ink can smudge with use.

The full bleed image that I printed.

The full bleed image that I printed.

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The photographs of this jacket were what I posted on my website, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter. Several months after posting this I got an email from HarperCollins in the US.

HarperCollins wanted to license my cover for use on their new edition of The Garden Party and other stories. I made some changes to the design, namely the change in title, typography for which was provided by Allison, the art director. I also rearranged some of the flowers to accommodate the new type and made the birds blue so that they would show up against the black.

And here's the finished result! You can be sure that I will be sharing pictures of the paperback when it is published.

 

Brideshead Revisited Book Cover

Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited was one of those books that I read back in high school and made a big impression on me. It has since become one of my favourites, but I never owned a copy, in part because I couldn't find a cover that I liked. In the end I bought a second-hand edition and created my own design to cover it.

This book evokes such a lavish setting and I wanted to make an illustrated cover to reflect the time period. I experimented with a few ideas, but the framed silhoutettes were what made the most sense to me.

All of the imagery used was custom made, apart from the author's name. For the title I experiemented with various styles of lettering, tracing and retracing until I was happy with the letter forms. Then I photographed it and imported it into Illustrator by tracing it with the pen tool. I then played around with the weight of the lines. The wallpaper was created using the same process.

In general I don't like to the see faces of characters illustrated on books, but I do like the use of profiles because they obscure the features and allow the reader to use their imagination.

For Sebastian's profile I used the pen tool to trace and modify a photograph. For Julia I made a copy of Sebastian's image which I reflected and tweaked to make more feminine. In the book the two are described as being very similar, so I wanted to honor that description.

Having the siblings illustrated in frames is supposed to reflect the way that our narrator Charles Ryder puts the two of them on a pedestal. He's always on the outside looking in and is never quite at their level, just like the reader.

The inclusion of Sebastian's teddy bear, Aloysius, adds a touch of humour and makes it less generic, preventing this from being confused with any other novel of the period.

The colours I chose are typical of interiors of the time. They are also perhaps more masculine, which contrasts with the more typically feminine lettering. I didn't want the cover to be gendered because it is a classic with universal appeal.

Chalkboard Bookselling

One of my favourite jobs while working at Page & Blackmore Booksellers was updating the chalkboard outside the shop. It's an interesting medium because it is so temporary. Of course this means it has its hazards. One day I went into work only to discover that one of my boards had been speedily re-chalked by a colleague because a child had come along and smeared their hands across the blackboard. After that I resolved to start recording what I created, which resulted in this mini portfolio.

Most are based on existing book covers, but the final two are my own original designs.

This final one is my favourite, mostly because I had more creative freedom, not having to work from an existing book cover.

Goodbye to Berlin Book Cover: Behind the Scenes

I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.

- Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin

This is the most famous quote from Isherwood's 1939 novel Goodbye to Berlin. It is also the central theme of the text, which is a series of observations of 1930s Berlin. 

It was the sense of reflection and recording that I wanted to capture in this book cover. I imagined Isherwood sitting outside a cafe in the German capital, drinking a hot beverage and observing and writing about the world around him. This led me to the image of the cup and saucer. The shape of the cup looks like a camera lens, especially with the reflection reversing the image like a camera does.

Capturing a reflection of 1930s Berlin in a teacup was no easy feat. I wanted the design to look as realistic as possible, so decided that it would be better to make it as 'real' I could, creating the image in-camera rather than with Photoshop.

I printed a high-contrast image of the Brandenburg Gate and tried reflecting it into the teacup. This was unsuccessful to begin with because the subject was too dark. I then tried sticking the photo to a window with the sunlight behind to create a sort of light-box. This created enough brightness for the image to show up in the reflection.

The images were shot in RAW, which allowed me more freedom when it came to editing. I used the manual settings and overexposed the subject to get a very white, bright image with enough contrast in the reflection.

After a first attempt I found that it was much easier to cut out the cup in Photoshop if I put it against a dark background. A navy blue scarf held up with some weights allowed me to do this.

I experimented with a number of different compositions. In my initial sketches I considered including a notebook and pen, but when transferred into Photoshop the image became too fussy.

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I also tried inverting the colours to make a negative image. I really like this result, as I think it makes for a very striking image, but while this went well with the concept of photography, it made the reflection too abstract and the symbolism of the teacup was lost.

In the end the simplest image was the best, with the teacup off-centre.

This is the final result, and I was very pleased with how it turned out. It goes to show that you don't need a lot of fancy photography gear to make an interesting and unique image.

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Under The Radar Books Banner Case Study

Under the Radar Books is a new Etsy shop created by Brittany Johnson. She wanted to create an online equivalent of the bookish lucky-dip, or 'blind date with a book.' Brittany has a YouTube channel and a group of loyal subscribers who trust her opinion when it comes to literature. Under the Radar Books takes that to the next level, offering a mystery book in a number of categories, including 'Brittany's Choice.' Her existing brand has a vintage aesthetic that is accessible to her contemporary audience.

Objectives

To begin with I looked at what Brittany had built so far. There was already a set of imagery going on within her packaging, so I wanted to build on that. My style usually incorporates lettering and illustration, and I asked if she wanted just lettering, just illustration, or a combination of the two. She told me that she wanted a combination and that she wanted typewritten or printed lettering and neutral colours, both of which fit within the existing brand. The banner also needed to have a version that would work on YouTube and across multiple devices.

Research

I started researching different printed and script fonts, but quickly narrowed it down to the typewritten options. I ended up looking at some beautiful examples of typewritten pages from the 1940s. I wanted to capture the sense of uniformity, but also of irregularity that occurs in typewriting, depending on how hard the keys are pressed, the quality of the paper and any quirks of the typewriter itself, for instance, sometimes certain keys are out of line. 

Sketching

When sketching out the letter forms I attempted to draw the T slightly higher than the baseline of the text, but I decided that it looked odd, as there was only one T in the phrase. After image-tracing the sketch in Illustrator I put the T back in line and moved the three Rs out of line, so as to create the sense of both uniformity and irregularity. I also tried out some different lettering styles, but the typewritten solution was the one that fitted best with Brittany's objectives.

Making it Digital

The next part was the book illustration. I wanted to keep this quite simple and in black and white. The sketches are simply black ink, with different weights of fineliner. I always increase the contrast of image in Photoshop before importing it into Illustrator for an image trace. The image trace tool often requires some refining, but if the imported image has a high-contrast it can sometimes work as it is. 

Putting it All Together

I found some free paper textures online that had that vintage parchment look to them. The one that I went with has a nice colour saturation, but is still light enough for the black to really stand out.

I first created the Etsy version of the banner, which needed to be 760x100 pixels. In this version the text is all on one line and only the edges of the books are visible. I also added the white highlights on the pages to create some extra depth.

The YouTube version was more complicated, as it had to work across a variety of devices and platforms, from a full-screen television to the smallest mobile device. This meant that the important information had to go in the middle section of the banner. I moved the text onto two lines and made the books larger. The text will always be visible, regardless of the device being used. The books will be visible on larger devices.

The final images are versatile, and timeless. The style is vintage-inspired, but still clean looking and bold enough to be recognisable across platforms.

To see the final design in context take a look at Brittany's YouTube channel and her Etsy Shop.