Tag Archive: book illustration

Books That Should Have Been Illustrated: Part 1


This week, Scribbly Roo, our resident illustrator and design guru, and I have teamed up to bring you a curious list. We’ve been thinking about the lucky kinds of books that are bestowed with illustrations, and how vital those pictures often become, often so connected to the texts themselves in readers’ imaginations. Think of the famous illustrated edition of Alice in Wonderland or the definitive scratchy sketches that first brought Ted Hughes’ Crow to life.


But there are many books that have always remained text-only, tantalizingly imageless. Now we think about it, there are so many possibilities that illustration could bring to our beloved classics, literary fiction that’s stuck to the page with the importance of its subject matter or gravity of its language, genres that have never traditionally been graced with pictures, like crime or history but could be so enlivened by an extra visual dimension.

Even as the future of print publishing changes and warps so that we can’t quite predict it, the market’s demand for beautifully bound books seems to be on the rise. Imprints are forming within well known publishers to publish special, extra aesthetically pleasing volumes, gift editions, limited editions, fancy papers and recycled covers, intricate bindings and illustrations – readers more than ever want to invest in a physical object to own, as the very idea of owning books is sort of slipping out of our hands.

So here are my picks, books I think deserve a good bit of illustration and why:

Donna Tartt by Beowulf Sheehan

Donna Tartt by Beowulf Sheehan

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I think The Goldfinch would make a fascinating illustrated book because its effect depends on its ability to surround the reader in a complex, realistic world, and the reader’s ability to attach and relate to the central characters – to illustrate this epic tale would be ambitious but would certainly offer us another level of engagement with the story and make its settings even richer.

The Goldfinch was a blockbuster hit last year, despite its door stopper size and intimidating scope. With its publication, the author, the enigmatic, one-book-every-ten-years author Donna Tartt, became even more of a household name, and introduced herself charismatically to another generation. The book itself also has a charismatic, enigmatic presence. With a hearty dose of traditional style in its epic, bildungsroman structure, plus a contemporary confidence in breaking the mold of what a modern novel “should” be, plus a nostalgic sensibility too, its settings and characters bringing a Victorian, antique air to contemporary New York, The Goldfinch’s illustrations could bring the whole novel together in a cool way.


As a glad literary descendent of Dickens, Donna Tartt’s work shares a decorative, flourishing quality in its long elegant sentences and, like many of Dickens’ stories, seems a perfect home for charicatures and adornments.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

Miranda July’s first novel takes elements and inspiration from her work in other media, her visual art, her installations, videos, interviews, all of July’s aliases seem to combine in her written voice so that you can almost hear it aloud, almost view it on the page as a painting or a sculpture rather than just text in a paperback. I’d love to see how July would populate the world of The First Bad Man with pictures.


Illustrations of July’s characters could be so whimsical and beautiful. The obsessive rituals of protagonist Cheryl Glickman’s life could wallpaper their way through the novel in a sort of visual tirade, adding to the oppressive but deeply comic effect the prose already has on the reader.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel


Station Eleven made waves in the literary fiction world recently by bringing a new kind of dystopia into readers’ hands, pushing the genre out of the box of the YA label and into the open ground of “literary fiction,” and “contemporary fiction.” The world of the story, from recognisable New York to a new barren land where new-sprung civilisations haunt old relics and ruins of a destroyed environment, is so ripe for illustration.

The novel made me think a lot, but if there’s one thing that niggled me about it throughout it was a lack of visual clarity, which seemed to run contrary to the main character’s love of comic strips and sketching. The landscapes and textures of the book are often sweeping and vague. Kirsten’s secret world is made of these sketches, and they’re so vital to the surface of the prose that I kept wondering why there wasn’t more of a visual element to the volume itself, perhaps the whole thing could be presented in the form of a sketchbook or artifact.


The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein 

The Making of Americans was written by Gertrude Stein over a long period, between 1903 and 1911 reportedly, but wasn’t published in full until 1925, in a special limited edition batch. In fact the birth of this novel sounds much like an etching or a print; “the original” has such a mystique to it and even though the themes of the book are so big and universal, it also seems to resist mass production. Like many other works of modernism at the time, The Making of Americans was pushed and coaxed into being by a network of friends rather than a single publisher – it took a village to raise it, and so perhaps it has managed to retain that special handcraftedness that lends it to pictures.


The prose has Stein’s tell-tale repetition and abstraction but over the length of the novel there is a sense of development, of a collage of layers, generation laid over generation as detail begets detail, creating a dense texture that goes far beyond the abstract, into personal history. Stein’s strange mastery of the specific and the abstract together is wonderful food for illustration, I think. What would an artist make of these blank, full lines? What images could come to represent “The Americans,” these two quintessential families that are bound tenuously together by marriage?

Scribbly Roo will be carrying on the list shortly with her top books she’d love to see illustrated and why. Till then, tell us what books you’d love to see illustrated! Or if you’ve illustrated your own books, we’d love to hear about the process, too. Join the conversation on Twitter, below or on our Forums page.

Judge a Book by its Cover: 3 Golden Rules for Designing a Book Cover

 Guest blog by Scribbly Roo, a freelance Illustrator and Graphic Designer working from her home studio in Norfolk, UK, where she writes and illustrates her own graphic novels and children’s picture books.

Part Two: Stand out!

In my previous post I talked about trends in book cover design and how you can use them to your advantage. This week, however, it’s time to think outside the box!

Fitting in with a genre’s design trends works well when the book is displayed in an A – Z format, common both online and in bookstores. But it’s just as common for books to be categorised into genres. This is when you need your cover design to really stand out and grab people’s attention. So what’s the best way to do this?

During my time at University, one of my favourite lecturers and talented book designer, Teresa Monachino, divulged a simple but fantastic trick to ensure your design stands out on the shelf. I’ve used it ever since…

First, pay a visit to your favourite book stores- especially the ones that you think the book you’re designing for might appear in when it’s printed. Photograph some of the shelves where your book would be found (you may need to check with the store manager that this is ok first). Make sure you get at least one wide shot of the shelves and one that is slightly closer. If there are also books displayed on tables, get a shot of these too.


While you’re in the store, have a look to see if any particular cover designs stand out to you. Ask yourself why they are catching your eye. How might you use this as inspiration in your own designs? Equally, think about the books that don’t stand out so much. What is making them blend in? Back home, you can review the photos you’ve taken and go over these conclusions.
To give you an example, while I was hovering in the ‘Sci-Fi and Fantasy’ section of my local bookstore, I realised a lot of the cover designs were very dark. The result was that they all blended together in some areas, especially as the shelves they were sat on also happened to be dark. I noticed the books that stood out the most to me were the ones that used one bright, bold colour. A shocking-red copy of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was practically jumping off the shelf compared to its neighbours.


I found the books with one strong graphic symbol or image on the cover (like the April 2005 edition of ‘Stormbreaker’ by Anthony Horowitz) stood out a lot more than the ones with photographic images due to the simplistic nature of the design, which felt a lot less demanding on the eye when confronted with so many competing covers.

You can see immediately how this is useful when making design decisions about your own book cover. During this particular venture, I was designing a cover for ‘Arcana’, a comedic sci-fi by Joshua Fenner. My initial design was complicated, involved a dark moody background and a complicated highly detailed image. After my visit to the bookstore, I realised my design needed a complete re-vamp. I changed the image to a much simpler, more graphic illustration, and I changed the background to bright blue. The transformation was dramatic, but definitely worth it.


Finally, when you’re in the process of creating your own design, use the photos you’ve taken to superimpose your cover onto the shelves. Teresa goes one step further, taking a physical print of her cover designs into local stores in Bath and wrapping them around other books on the shelf. Arguably, the Photoshop version is quicker but I love her boldness! Either way, the result is you can tell if your design is working. By doing this with my own designs, I can instantly see that my initial ‘black and complicated’ design doesn’t work nearly as well as my ‘bright and simple’ one. In this way, you can also check your design doesn’t stray too far from the genre trends, therefore alienating itself from its neighbours. I think my final design for ‘Arcana’ fits in nicely with the surrounding designs, but is also satisfyingly eye catching. The bright blue really jumps out at you from the dark shelves while the illustration style is far more on trend than my initial coloured drawings.


To find out more about Teresa Monachino, look out for my blog about her work and experiences, which will be posted here after the third instalment of my 3 Golden Rules!


Next time:

2 Golden Rules down, one to go. In my next blog, I’ll be talking about how to best utilise a book’s content in order to create a great cover design that reflects the story without giving anything away.

Judge a book by its cover: 3 Golden Rules for Designing an Eye Catching Book Cover

Guest blog by Scribbly Roo, a freelance Illustrator and Graphic Designer working from her home studio in Norfolk, UK, where she writes and illustrates her own graphic novels and children’s picture books.

Part One: Genres and Trends

As much as any writer would hate to admit it, we all judge books by their covers. It’s unavoidable. Whether browsing online or in a bookstore, the first thing any potential reader sees is the cover of the book. Before scanning a blurb or noting a title, a successful cover design will grab you by the collar and pull you in. So your cover has a lot of work to do in a short space of time. It needs to imply which genre it belongs to, but stand out enough to entice people to pick it up. It has to reflect something of its content without giving anything away. And on top of that, it has to present the basic information of the book, ie its title, author, blurb and any review quotes, in a clear, concise and memorable manner, without coming across as cluttered.

So where do you start?! These three simple rules by no means cover everything, but they’re vital to remember if you want to create an eye catching design for a book cover.

Golden Rule #1: Identify Trends in the Genre

Each book genre has its own specific design trends. Identifying these trends can be useful when it comes to creating your own effective designs. Readers know what genres they prefer, and a book cover that implies which genre it belongs in goes a long way to getting someone to pick it up.

Here are a few examples:

Think of a book cover with the title in a handwriting­style typeface, bright feminine colours like purple, pink or light blue, and a very stylised, sometimes humorous illustration that would look at home in a fashion magazine. Now name the genre. If you guessed chick lit, you’re on the right page! Designs for these books reflect the light-­hearted nature of the content, hinting at romance and humour, nothing too offensive.


When you compare the above genre to one like ‘Fantasy’, it becomes clear how the design of a book cover can point a reader in the right direction when locating their preferred book themes.


Immediately you can see this genre is much more masculine. The colours are dark and the images are more often photographic. The hard lines of capital letters creates a sense of seriousness, while the typefaces are mostly serif fonts as they look more classical or historical, implying the book is set in perhaps a medieval world or one not as modern as our own. Imagery of weapons infers not only the time and place these books are set in, but also they promise conflict and war.


The ‘Crime and Mystery’ genre is also a good example when looking for design trends. The next book you pick up that features an image with strong perspective and a vanishing point in the middle distance, I bet you it’ll be categorized under Crime and Mystery. The use of a vanishing point, mist, or strange color filters over photographic images all adds to the sense of uncertainty and mystery, perfectly suited to this genre. Landscape shots create the idea of vast space and isolation, vulnerability. As with ‘Fantasy’ the use of uppercase letters infers a serious tone. Certainly, a handwriting-­style typeface would feel pretty out of place here!

Clearly there are design trends in every genre and subgenre you can name. To find out what they are, all you need do is compare cover designs from the same categories and find the similarities.

What is the use of these trends?
The idea is that you can look at a book cover and, without so much as glimpsing the blurb, tell what genre that book belongs in. Essentially, you’re taking the effort out of it for any potential reader, meaning they can quickly identify the kinds of books they know they like.

So create elements in your design that hint at what genre the book lies in. This doesn’t mean to say you have to obey all of the trends­ that could be disasterous! Imagine a book that is so generic to its genre that it is deemed completely invisible! But for a commercially successful design it can be worth giving a nod to at least one or two trends to comfort the potential reader and drawn them in.

Next time:
So I’ve talked about genres and joining in with trends. In my next blog I’ll be discussing how to make your design stand out from the crowd without alienating your audience. See you then!

What Makes a Good Book Festival?


I get so excited when I see the words “First Annual” or “Inaugural” before anything, but a book festival? That’s a special kind of new thing. How does one design a new book festival? Where to begin?

The University of Greenwich has stepped up to the plate and this year from May 22nd to 24th will host its first festival, The Greenwich Book Festival 2015. The program rivals that of a well-established festival, with big names and big books making appearances as well as a connection to communities around Greenwich with a special children’s program running alongside the main one and a showcase of Greenwich University students’ work.

With tons of variety, from bestselling debut authors like Jessie Burton to prolific others like Louise Welsh, children’s, adult and young adult, as well as spoken word performances filling the three day program, the new Greenwich festival is keeping its audience open and mainstream. What makes it original is its location and community. The university campus, Greenwich’s green and grand landscape, will add an academic, youthful, and enterprising atmosphere is my guess.

Every festival needs some takeaway value too. Book talks by famous authors and signed books to take home are all well and good, a new festival needs to offer some creative spurring to the would-be author, some professional interest for the published author, and a generous helping of inspiration for everybody. For Greenwich, these takeaways come in the form of creative writing workshops, and an after-school club for the children’s program, including creating a picture book with illustrator David Lucas and interactive storytelling with spoken word artist Steven Camden. There’s so much for kids that Greenwich could be the finest children’s book festival in the country in no time.

How would you design a festival? Whose voices would characterize it? And how best to set it apart from the rest? Who would you choose to kick off your festival; maybe a poet like Kate Tempest? Would you have an MC compering the whole affair, maybe a charismatic storyteller like Ali Smith?

The test of the festival will be in the action that happens between the programmed events though. No matter how prestigious the line-up or how mundane, a festival is made by how the community interacts with it, the personal connections its attendees make, the random anecdotes created in discussion panels and lunch breaks. Whether the Greenwich community will come together to form something with atmosphere and creative energy, time will tell, but I’ll be excited to play a part and attend next month. Tickets will go on sale soon!

Image: “United Kingdom – England – London – Greenwich – Old Royal Naval College” by www.CGPGrey.com. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:United_Kingdom_-_England_-_London_-_Greenwich_-_Old_Royal_Naval_College.jpg#/media/File:United_Kingdom_-_England_-_London_-_Greenwich_-_Old_Royal_Naval_College.jpg