Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Comparative Analysis on a Theme or, Success!

These are some books I've read lately. I've arranged these books by their cover's order of effectiveness. The Introvert Advantage does not look as professional or welcoming as American Nerd. Lets examine why.

There are 4 (very simplified) things that make a cover successful:
  1. Does it properly display the tone and feeling of the book?
  2. Does it help explain what the book it about?
  3. Can you read it?
  4. Is it attractive?

All need to be answered yes for your book cover to be successful.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Judge this book by it's cover:
Graphic and compelling, this book seems screams "QUIET!" and when you're done getting shouted at to sit still and stop talking, the reason for all the hollering is gently presented to you. This looks like a somber book with depths and a solidness many other books don't have.

What's inside is what's important:
What you see is what you get. Quiet reads like a science paper, full of facts and research and anecdotes to string it all together. It starts with a premise, introverts are totally awesome, and comes at it from all sides, the history of introverts, the culture of the extrovert, how introvert brains are different from extroverts, and how to live your life comfortably as an introvert.

 You have to look really hard to find any problems with this cover. It's gripping and elegant and says just what it needs to say. So I'm about to get really nit picky.

The red is very bright, so it should be highly readable compared the the sedate grey, but it's not. This is because it is almost exactly the same value as the grey, which creates a vibration between the red and the grey. Value is how light or dark a color is. The part of your brain that interprets colors is separate, (as in in a different place, disconnected, calling long distance) from the part of your brain that interprets light and dark. When you look at anything you see two pictures, one is pure color, one is greyscale, and you brain lays them on top of each other. So when something is dark and it's surrounded by light (no matter the colors), it's easy to understand the difference between the object and the background.

The cover in greyscale. You can see that
for half of your brain, it's much harder to read.
On this cover, your brain can easily tell that there are two colors, but it struggles with putting the red or the grey in front of the other and the edges of the word vibrate. Such a technique could be used for a reason. If you want something jarring or disorientating, you might use these color. However, I cannot see the reasoning for wanting vibrating text on a book about introverts.

Was this book cover successful? Lets look at our check points:

  1. Does it properly display the tone and feeling of the book?
    • Yes
  2. Does it help explain what the book it about?
    • As hard as typographical covers go, yeah, it does a beautiful job explaining the book.
  3. Can you read it?
    • Hell yes.
  4. Is it attractive?
    • Yes (minus the slight color choice issues) 

Even Though It's Awesome, Let's Still Fix It!

Always look at your designs in black and white before you send them to print. You may have some value changes to make.

Remember, kids, it's easier to be a critic than an artist. So try hard, make your best work, don't be judgmental of other's work (but learn form their mistakes), and keep an eye out to make sure you're not using the wrong shade of red.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

We Were All in High School Once or, Re-Drawing Old Drawings

Several weeks ago I ran across a blog of a girl redesigning characters she had drawn when she was a little girl. Her project is called The Big Book of Cats, and is very cute and you should go look at it!

Shortly thereafter I was moving boxes around and came upon one that had my much beloved sketch books from middle school and high school. My favorite medium of drawing was anime, as I'm sure many other 14 year old's was as well.

I was sort of stunned that I had held on to these really terrible drawings, and I remembered Michelle's Big Book of Cats and how I had poured over her project for an entire afternoon.

My trek to the past will not be as cohesive nor as large (or have a cute name), but I pulled a couple of drawings out, scanned them, and rediscovered them.

Re-Designed Drawing One, The Mysterious Orb:

I estimate that this drawing was done around the 7th grade.

Look at that sweet shading, the fancy ascot, and that rockin hairdo!
Not to mention thumbs! Had some awesome thumb action going on there.

Click to see bigger!

I blame Welcome to Night Vale for the third eye.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Women Painting (R)evolution or, All of the Parentheses

I am lucky to have designed a catalog for a Women Painting Women art exhibit for a second year in a row! Opening is at Principle Gallery from September 20th to October 18th of this year, and the Opening Reception is at 6:30 pm- 9pm, September 20th.

Painting by Alia El-Bermani
Art catalogs are some of my favorite things to design. I draw inspiration from the title of the show and from the work itself, and try to not get in the way of that art!

Painting by Sadi Valeri

This exhibitions title had parentheses and I was looking for a theme. So that meant: 

Paintings by Katherine Fraser and Jennifer Balkan

Art books and catalogs are fussier than novels. Setting a novel, for example, if you change the size of the type or the spacing, it might run you a higher page count, and that's okay. Often with a art book you have certain things that have to go on this page, no more and no less. It's more like a puzzle. You have the pieces and you have to move them around until they fit.

Paintings by Mia Bergeron

(Don't tell anyone but those parentheses were obnoxious! I was constantly tweaking them in size and color. Ugh. Art is pain. And I have no one to blame but myself.)

Paintings by Teresa Oaxaca and Katie O'Hagan

"Women Painting Women is a blog that was started in 2008 by artists Sadie JerniganValeri, Alia El-Bermani, and Diane Feissel to highlight underrepresented female artists working in the figurative tradition with this theme. The blog took on new life in 2010, when the Robert Lange Studio in Charleston, SC hosted a juried exhibition—appropriately titled, 'Women Painting Women.'"

Paintings by Catherine Prescott

This is the third exhibition with the title Women Painting Women (that I know of!) and this fall it will be joined with lots of other galleries simultaneously hosting Women Painting Women shows. Read about the history and the future of Women Painting Women from their site.

Painting by Alexandra Tyng

You can buy the catalog from HP Magcloud.

Read about last year's Catalog.

See another catalog I've designed.

Oh and check out this action video of the artists' work:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Jekyll and Hyde or, The Epic Battle of Left and Right Brain

This is the story of a cover illustration commissioned for a werewolf horror novel called Trail in Blood by David Anderson, published by Post Mortem Press. The main objectives for the illustration was a Jekyll and Hyde feeling without being really cheesy. While thumbnailing for this project I was super aware of the line between drama and melodrama, and I think it’s harder line to define than a lot of people think, and that’s because it’s different for everyone. Most people love the new Christopher Nolan Batman movies because they’re gritty and dramatic, but I have a really hard time watching them without giggling. His voice when he’s Batman cracks me up. In retrospect I probably should have waited to watch it on DVD in my room, and not in a packed theatre bothering the people around me. 

I wanted to make sure that my cover couldn’t be interpreted as silly.

I know they're horrible, you don't have to rub it in.

As you can see my thumbnails are super ugly and really have nothing to do with drawing at all. They’re more like ideas and concepts, and sometimes I make a list instead because it’s quicker.

Next comes reference: I used my super manly fiance, Sir William. After I took his picture and had released him from bondage, I wasn’t really happy with the expression, and rather than torture him some more, I took some of myself. I still used him for posture and male facial structure.

Sir William's very good good at looking vaguely menacing, and still managing to look dashing.
While this would make him an excellent Edward, we were looking for something actually threatening.

The pictures I took to get the right one are a perfect illustration of my point. Though I was trying to be super angry and dramatic, most of these expressions are hilarious.

As you can see there’s a big jump after all the plotting and reference gathering. Unfortunately, I didn’t save my inprogress stuff, but if you want to see what it generally looks like go here (make sure you come back, you don't want to miss anything really interesting!).

I had two color palettes, and the client chose blue and asked me to make the slash more like multiple claws ripping fabric. And he was absolutely right!

This is where my right brain and left brain had a fight.

My left brain insisted that it *made sense* for us to able to see the other ear. It’s a more dramatic silhouette of the wolf, and gives a viewer a landmark to make sense of the illustration. However, the location of the slash creates a tangent to the character’s head.

Quick run down: Tangents are when two things are touching exactly on the edge or very nearly touching. See the below image. On the left, the eye is drawn to where the circle touches the line, and it can distract from what you actually want the viewer to look at. On the right, there is nothing to distract you from my poor circle drawing skills, and the overlap feels natural.

In my image, we know that the edge of his head should be right on the edge of the slash, but because we can’t see it it’s an implied tangent, is distracting, and might even look wrong to some people. However, my left brain was very adamant that this was right.

I was persuaded by my right brain (and my very talented and beautiful mother) that it would have to move. I couldn’t just move the ear over, because then it would be in the wrong place compared to the wolf’s head, so I had to show the boring arch of the wolf's head. My left brain is still upset by this development, but there’s no denying that it’s much more natural and the tension is (hopefully) from the dramatic image and not from the disturbing thought of, “Where’s the rest of his head?”

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Comparative Analysis on a Theme or, Book Covers, Book Covers, Book Covers! (part 2)

These are some books I've read lately. I've arranged these books by their cover's order of effectiveness. The Introvert Advantage does not look as professional or welcoming as American Nerd. Lets examine why.

There are 4 (very simplified) things that make a cover successful:

  1. Does it properly display the tone and feeling of the book?
  2. Does it help explain what the book it about?
  3. Can you read it?
  4. Is it attractive?
All need to be answered yes for your book cover to be successful.

Confessions of an Introvert: The Shy Girl's Guide to Career, Networking, and Getting the Most Out of Life by Meghan Wier

Judge This Book By It's Cover: 
The women holds a sign in front of her face. She's shy, but she's also displaying her large, bold message. She's an introvert, but she's still putting herself out there in a way that is more comfortable for her. This cover is cute, has nice colors, and seems very readable.

What's Inside is What's Important:
Yes. Those first impressions are totally correct in all ways. Well done person who designed this cover (who is not credited in the book as far as I can find).

Other Problems:
This book still has other problems. Like our last book, I believe the type is too large, and crowded towards the edge of the sign. It makes it very readable when it's reduced, but when you've got the book in your hands, it's a little eye melting. The too large type continues on the inside looking like it's screaming at us at somewhere around a 14 point font. (I almost always set my books at 10.5 if that tells you anything). This tells me that the books was designed to be an ebook, and the print version is an afterthought. The cover looks nice online, and as a thumbnail, but not as nice in print. You've got to think about both aspects when designing for both. One shouldn't get less concern than the other. If all else fails, design it twice.

Secondly, the blue type and her shirt are ALMOST the same color. If colors are close enough, they look good. These are just far different enough to draw attention to the fact that they don't match. I would have chosen a type color exactly the same as her shirt, or a contrasting color.

Third. That typeface. It looks like it came free on a Mac (good rule of thumb: If it came free on your computer and it's not Helvetica, try not to use it for a title). It's goofy looking, and belongs on a church bulletin. They were going for friendly and overshot to unprofessional. I didn't let it bother me when I thought it was a self published book (self publisher's can't always afford typefaces, and are often not really graphic designers) and because the concept was cute. When I got it, however, I realized it's from a publishing company, though not a large one, and they have no excuse for making poor design choices, especially the interior type. Seriously. It was hard to read the type was so big.

Was this book cover successful? Lets look at our check points:
  1. Does it properly display the tone and feeling of the book?
    • Totally
  2. Does it help explain what the book it about?
    • 100%
  3. Can you read it?
    • Yes.
  4. Is it attractive?
    • I give it a 75% on attractiveness. It's almost there!
Overall Score: Successful, but but not exceptional.

Let's Fix it!

Again, this was about 30 minutes in Photoshop. When I'm designing a book cover I usually spend a half a day combing through my fonts and Font Squirrel and thinking about what kind of type I'd like, and I picking a bunch that I think might work. The next day (with a fresh eye) I start weeding them down in context of the design/illustration/photograph that's going to be on the cover.

Type is JUST as important as the design/illustration/photograph, and deserves as much consideration and work as the rest of it.

Did you miss part 1
See part 3

Learn more about cover design in an article I'm writing in this book!