Design Process: Keep Your Eyes Open!


As a designer, one of my favorite things to read on design sites are pieces describing the process of designing book cover or poster. But I keep forgetting to put together blog posts showing my own.

Right now I’m in the middle of designing a series of books by Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., on the topic of happiness. I was told to make the books look a little similar, but not too similar. The first one was Finding True Happiness, which came out this spring.

I don’t seem to have my prep sketches for this one. My initial idea was the bluebird of happiness, but after an initial start in Photoshop I realized it looked like I was designing a book about twitter. I went back to the drawing board and then came across this image of the Madonna and Child by Marianne Stokes:


The way the thorns curved around is a very strong graphical element. Searching for other images of thorns, I found some of Arthur Rackham’s silhouette illustrations for Sleeping Beauty:


Now I was getting somewhere. I decided to make the bird yellow. It would now be a variation on the goldfinch, a symbol of Christ and his Passion common in medieval art. Since the goldfinch lives upon the seeds of thorny plants, it provides a foreshadowing of the crowning with thorns.

I drew the image in Illustrator and brought each layer into Photoshop to add color and texture. I added in the rays of light shining downwards and used a limited color palette to echo early 20th century design.


For the second book in the series, The Soul’s Upward Yearning, I sketched out a few ideas depicting the bird flying upward out of the thorns. But it was too similar to the first one. Then I remembered a photo I had taken a few weeks back. I occasionally walk over to the local used book store, where I will pick up some books for reading on the train to work. This time I had come across a visually arresting first edition of the Jungle Book and had snapped a picture in case the design might inspire something. It was just what was needed:


I still needed some element to replace the bird. I settled on a flower, since plants are drawn upwards toward light. Using the Jungle Book as visual reference, I sketched out a ballpoint rough and showed it to the art director. It was given a thumbs-up, and I started drawing the layers in Illustrator, then used the same process I had done with the previous cover to add color.


Here’s the finished illustration:


And the finished cover:


I still have two more books to go in the series. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for more inspiration.

One thought on “Design Process: Keep Your Eyes Open!

  1. Hi John,

    Just finally exploring your website. Lovely thinking to see here! I especially have enjoyed reading about the process of how these book covers are evolving. So nice to see creativity at work…on the train and elsewhere!

    Kate AKA Bess Cellars

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