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Helen Capewell
OCA Learning Log
Student Number: 522802
Degree: Illustration
Current Level: 2

A Children's Book Cover

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

I began this course with taking a trip to my local bookshop. I do this often to check out the kids books, but this time I had reason! I was pleasantly surprised with the variety of books that were available based on Animals from around the World. I was also pleased to see the nicely illustrated covers! I did expect to see some out of date styles, but even these books seem to have taken to trends.

Natasha Durley (bright yellow cover below) was definitely my favourite from the shelf. It really stood apart from the rest. It's colour and illustrative style is really nice. I applaud her for making such an amazing book of content! I liked the theme of each page (below or examples) "Fantastic Fur" and "Lovely Long Necks" are just 2 pages of fine works. The colours, the layout, and the fun link she has successfully created with animals from around the world is just perfect.

Wild Lives, Illustrated by Sarah Walsh is another great cover. It is eye catching with is metallic features and contrasting colours! I also like the composition in this one, which shared similarities to one of my initial concepts. I wondered if I could use a metallic colour in my book design?

I came across the below books in the same shop. Really loved how Robert was able to create a series of books to cover all species that swim, fly and walk around the world. These covers did inspire some concepts but none that I progressed. I wanted to see what else Robert had created, so I took to google and I'm very excited of this discovery! His work is amazing. From the design to the colour. The below image was the perfect reference for an idea I had in mind.

Another artist I discovered online was Xoána Herrera (check name). I thought her work was incredible. They are so complex with the shapes and layers. I find it amazing how she has been able to build these environments. It does not look easy to achieve! What I love most is at first it is difficult to process, you have to really concentrate to see the magic she has created. You could stare at them for ages and you'll keep discovering something new in there. Beautiful style, and maybe something that would make for a really interesting book cover.

I feel like it's also a slightly mature style, which could be good for the target audience. Not quite young but not yet teenager. 7-11 covers quite a big age difference with maturity. This might be a good balance for that.

I started straight away with my initial ideas. I was able to think of 5 main ideas. Within those I could see them working in different ways depending on how I wanted to portray the animals.

Some ideas I think would have needed a lot more time to develop, which in this case was running out. I imagined that the animals in one design, could be playing a sport. Representing their countries, perhaps in an Olympic theme. The animals all have their different strengths which could really work in an Olympic sport. Snow sport, Water sport and finally track and field sport. This idea did need time, so as great as I thought this would be, I didn't progress this concept.

The first cover I progressed was the idea of a boy reading the book in his living room with his dog. The animals he was learning about would be all gathered around him listening in. It may have been a bit young for the audience, but I really liked the idea and wanted to explore it further.

Before deciding on the living room environment. I thought it would be good to experiment with a couple of different options. At first, I set the boy and dog side by side on the floor being totally engrossed in the book and the images of animals. Curiosity levels at sky high with each page he would turn. His dog was also loving the excitement! The idea was to have the animals in a bit of a cloud above them, sort of flowing out of the book, similar to Sarah Walsh cover for Wild Lives.

Below this idea I sketched out what would show the boy and his dog being transported to the world inside his book. All animals would be in their natural habitat, going about their normal behaviours. This would represent the feeling that you would get when you enjoy a book so much you feel as though you have been teleported. I really liked this idea but wasn't sure if it would suit the brief?

I added an extra page in between which wasn't the best of layouts to show the development stages. I think I will have to rework this so it is better to follow. Meanwhile, Below on the right is the second set of developed ideas. The below sketch was another interpretation of the teleported idea but this time I tried to explore a different perspective which meant the boy and dog would be up out of the sofa and being amazed at the enormous scene before them. It would have jungle, mountains, ice/snow, and water. Kind of putting all environments into one space. This felt a bit more dynamic in terms of layout. But I still wasn't convinced that it would be right for this brief - not that I think the final idea was particular right either!

After refining the first idea of the boy and dog on the sofa in the living room, I went over to Photoshop and redrew the piece. At this stage I wasn't entirely sure on how I wanted to colour it, so I began with a shaded mockup to give the impression the animals were lurking unnoticed in the background.

Once I had the outline, I moved over to Illustrator where I was able to quickly block out some colour options. Below are the results.

Red and Blue seemed very dark and not very appropriate for this book.

I like the idea of using contrasting colours. Orange and the sky blue was a great place to start, and then a forest green outline to really hurt the eyes. The small blue text is difficult to read, I'm not sure how well this work in a real printed cover.

Pastel colours could be interesting. The text appears to be black but it's actually a dark purple. I'm not against this colour combination. but it does seem a bit boring!

I then settled on bright yellow and red. for the third colour I stuck with white to keep it clean and balanced, it also helped to make the animals visually stand out against the yellow without it being disturbing.

Closer look at the final visual:

I had fun with the text and making the book seem like an adventure story. "Animals From Around The World... Are Sitting In My Living Room!" Gave it a children's story book feel, however I realise this may have made the book seem to target a younger audience. I like the twist nonetheless.

After this I wanted to do a few drawings from animal and plant references. I didn't do as many as I initially planned as I jumped to the next stage of ideas. I could go back and add some more.

The next visual comes from a nice selection of inspiration. Initially I had sketched the idea of working within a confined space such as circles. It made sense considering it would represent the "world" which is what the book would be about.

(photo) - stick images down into a moodboard.

I wanted to maybe consider involving some different animals that I hadn't included in the previous piece. I also wanted to try include water animals, a dolphin being as experimental as I went. I settled on this coloured piece. I limited the animals to 4 and considered a colour palette that felt trendy and pleasing to the eye.

I then tried to clean it up and add text. This isn't my best work. It's a rushed attempt which I hate! it has made the idea seem very dated and horrible. In an effort to improve the situation, I decided to add a green border around the front which would continue round to the back.

NOPE! I had to change the text! It was just embarrassing to hand the above image in. I'm not completely sold on the image either, but I tried to make do - it is just a visual after-all. I made the border slightly thicker and shifted the artwork up. It left better space below for text. This version felt a little more modern which is what I was hoping for!

The third illustration was completely digital. From the sketch to the final piece. To begin I drew the concept in Photoshop. I left an oval shape in the centre for space to include the title, a pretty dull placement to begin.

After moving animals around and filling spaces with greenery, I move the sketch over to Illustrator where I would trace the outline using the brush. One thing I like about using the brush on Illustrator is the automatic smoothing it would do. Really cleans up the lines which is sometimes useful. The negative side to Illustrator is how I often lack patience for creating shapes etc. when starting with a white page. It really takes a build up for me to get moving on a vector illustrator! My process usually to use the trace tool of a drawing I would make a large as possible in Photoshop to save the painful labour of tracing manually. I like to go in and the detail once this initial stage is done. Shadows and clean lines are satisfying!

Sadly, this is a loose illustration which doesn't have much detail in terms of shading.

Getting over white paper block, I managed to get the lines down! It needed tweaking with putting the correct lines in the background or foreground, and some edges needed closing neatly. Once that had been sorted it was easier to colour.


I felt like time was a bit short for this exercise. Although I spent quite a bit of time on the prep, creating 3 different visuals felt a bit pressing. I don't feel they were my strongest, but I'm pleased with the variety I was able to deliver, albeit a bit messy and unpolished.

This unit encourages you to play with style. Try what you wouldn't normally try. I really wanted to show this throughout my sketchbook, and hopefully this exercise is a good example of experimenting.



It is clear to me that I still have work to do around the area of children's books. An area I thought I understood, having had an interest in as I collected picture books for my records. It turns out, I'm still not getting to grips with the age groups, and what style is best suited for which age. Well, I have some understanding of the age groups, but my personal ability to draw for different age groups I feel is sometimes lost. After receiving feedback from my tutor, it was advised to go further with my research. I love cartoons, I love drawing cartoons, I love watching cartoons, I love flipping through picture books and admiring the cartoons that fill the pages but now, as an adult, I enjoy them for different reasons. I value the work, I admire the craftsmanship and I adore story.

Obviously, age should be the biggest question I ask when watching or flipping through books. Why is it done in this way? Who are they aiming it for? Are they looking to engage parents as well as children? Does this change the way they illustrate the works? I think there is such a broad range of illustrated books for children now, that cover a huge variety in styles. Simple images sit beside complex stories, or vice versa.

I took the advice of my tutor, and went further with my research.


Ok, age groups and behaviours. At what stages are children beginning to learn from more complex situations?

I found the exercise in part five to be useful for understanding this better. It was in this exercise where I discovered a website called "Common Sense Media". The website allows you to search for titles either in film or in book. It is sadly better for the tv and film information so didn't become all that useful regarding books about animals, however even through seeing the age groups for particular tv and film titles, gave me a little insight on the type of illustrations used for each target.

I came across an article that was rather helpful on word and page count that is typically found as the industry norm for each age.

One thing I also felt I wanted to better understand was the typography used in children books. Is there an educational benefit for the type used within books? Should the title be also considered when deciding a type face? Or is it just the body text that can effect the educational aspect for reading as a child? I found an article that I felt really helped bring these questions to a conclusion.

[article link + quote]

When I looked back on the 3 covers I had created, I definitely felt I needed to clean a few areas up. The idea behind this part of The Key Steps in Illustration was how to marry text with image. Was I successful in the above concepts? Given that these are purely conceptual designs, I still feel a disconnect between the text and the images. How could I improve this? Was it the layout, or the choice in fonts?

I started with book concept two. My tutor's feedback suggested this to be the favoured piece with the supportive sketches that helped came to this piece. I too loved the concept of the flatness to this style and the angular direction it took. Confining the piece to a circular shape did come with its pro's and con's for when formatting the cover design. I felt it was challenging to then incorporate the title of the book, and also what style of font would better suit the shape of the illustration. It was suggested to perhaps photograph the final illustration so to not lose the details in the texture of the painting. Instead I decided to use the powers of Photoshop to edit the piece, and to perhaps experiment with different colours and to include a background.

[photo of experiment with sketchbook picture on different backgrounds and in different colours]

I landed on a vibrant navy colour for the background, which really helped the illustration stand off the page. Having it a flat colour meant it was easy to move the illustration around the cover, which definitely helped to visualise how the title could sit.

Once I had decided the colour scheme, I wanted to improve the actual illustration. Going back to the tip from my tutor, which I understood as keeping the texture from the original hand drawn piece, I wanted to recreate this digitally. Using a technique I later explored in Part 5, I hoped to bring a bit of character in the illustration.

Finding a nice book mock-up template, I wanted to create an almost finished design to get a new perspective on the concept. Extending the illustration down allowed me to comfortably sit a title within the drawing. Using [font name] as my base, I wanted to make the text playful within the illustration and so decided to add a warp effect, using the "make with warp" action under "envelope distort" on Illustrator. Going with the flag effect, I then pushed the warp a little further so it would give the impression of stretching around the world, or as if it was moving. I felt it would give a playful effect that would give emphasis on the words and how you might pronounce them when reading it off the cover. Once I was happy with the layout of the type, I traced the work in the same style of the illustration. Just a little detail I thought would help bring the whole cover together.

As much I felt this was a huge step forward in developing the concept, I had to think about the audience that may read this book. Why? Well, as you can see from this mock-up, the format of this book is like an A5 novel. Is this really suitable for such a book? I wanted to get a realistic impression of how this concept would work given the correct format. This illustration of course best suits being portrait, but what if I wanted this to be on a larger square shape book, which in my opinion was more appropriate for the context of this book. It would also rival the other books that share the same theme.

I found another perfect book mock-up which now felt like a more accurate representation of what the final book would be. I'm now working with a bigger canvas here, and having to adjust the illustration to fit came with its challenges. Reverting back to the original round shape felt more comfortable, however I then found myself back at the beginning with marrying the text with the illustration. I also wasn't really sure what would complete the design on the back page. The title became overpowering, which in one hand I didn't think was a bad idea, but in the other felt it wasn't strong enough to dominate the cover. What I did learn from this layout is how I actually liked the illustration being this small, and instead saw potential in this being on the back with the blurb. This lead me to return to my sketchbook and rethink this concept.

[sketchbook images]

Liking where I was going with this progression, I took the sketch into Photoshop. I wanted to combine my researched artists within this piece. I loved the layers that Xoána Herrera would use in her work, I like how at first it appeared abstract and almost impressionistic with the beings that are hidden within the vegetation. I love the 2 dimensional profile of the animals by Natasha Durley and how they fill the pages in a very satisfying grid like format where the shape of animals are well placed to fill spaces. I like the use of direction by Robert Hunter, where all animals follow the same direction as if all running in a herd. They all felt to have some similarities within their works but yet all unique. I wanted to continue the design above, but make an illustration that considered all 3 artists, and still felt unique.

Alone, I wasn't sure if this would work. I love the colours, which to me felt the strongest. With them being super bright a contrasting, I thought this might better appeal to children. I'm pleased with the aesthetics of the piece and I do feel as though I stayed true to me goal, which was an abstract illustration that considered the 3 artists. But now seeing it complete, did this meet the original brief and the target audience?

Here is the final mock-up which combines the original and the new to complete the entire book design. The illustration looks eye-catching and interesting, but I'm not sure if it is successful.

I definitely wanted the title to blend in with the illustration, and to also consider the educational aspect as previously discussed. But I some how feel as though this new style perhaps blends in too much, and is almost lost. That said, I do enjoy looking at the complete piece, and I did want to explore ways of making the text part of the illustration without being scared to cover some of the title with animals. This I feel was successful. The hand written part "From Around The" I kept as "infant characters" which is said to be appropriate for beginner readers. Although this is for an older audience of 7-11 I still felt this could be an important feature for an educational book.



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