For this brief I was required to make a binding design for the cover of a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, as if it were to be published by the Folio Society. Their books have striking, graphic imagery on cloth covers that usually use just 2-3 colours in the design. I also had to create two full page, internal illustrations for my chosen stories, and I chose to illustrate the Man with the Twisted Lip & the Musgrave Ritual.
Overall I am very pleased with the outcome of this project. I used a medium I haven’t tried before, scraperboard, then coloured the image digitally in Photoshop. I feel this style captured the atmosphere of Sherlock Holmes stories; Dark, mysterious and intriguing. My internal illustrations have a 5mm white border.
This is my cover with 20mm bleed to allow for the design to wrap round the board and under the end paper. I also allowed 9mm space each side of the spine to allow for the cover hinge.
My front cover can be perceived in different ways, a web of lies, a pin board of ideas, mind mapping to solve the mystery. I felt it captured Holmes in the midst of an investigation when he’s piecing everything together.
The light bulb illustration was an alternative idea I had for the front cover, I loved this scratchy image of Sherlock sat thinking in the armchair, with his eclectic mind above him bouncing around like electricity.
For this illustration I actually opted to take a photo of the artwork with some of the bits of dust left on it (from scraping away the surface), because they just seemed to add to the movement of the image, almost making it appear like a windy day.
These were some of my tester pieces, used to gage what kind of mark making I could achieve with the scraperboard. It took me a while to get the hang of the technique, I drew several spider webs before I was happy!
Extract from the Musgrave Ritual
‘Where was the sun? Over the oak
Where was the shadow? Under the elm’
I wanted Sherlock to be the shadow under the elm, a huge old elm tree towering over him as he studies the chant, follows the directions and tries to solve the mystery. I thought about incorporating the actual text into the image somehow, maybe amongst or diguised as the leaves, but decided against it in the end. It looks more professional without it.
In the story of the Man with the Twisted Lip, I really liked the dramatic image of the coat falling from the window into the thames, but if there’s one thing I learned from this idea, is that it’s really hard to find reference photos of a coat falling through the air! In order to do a good job of the illustration, I practiced drawing coats and tried my best to learn how they might move and float, by using reference photos of people running in long coats or having them blown around in the wind.
Sherlock Holmes is the most famous detective of all, in fact Guinness World Records listed him as the “most portrayed movie character” in history. Because of this, there some actors each of us will immediately associate with the character. Personally I can’t help but think of Benedict Cumberbatch or Robert Downey Jr’s hair, face, posture ())even voice) when I think of Sherlock. I didn’t want this to make obvious impressions on my work, so I avoided portraiture.
This way, I hope the illustration could be timeless.
Graphic Novel Project
A magical, transformative flood takes over Lincoln, and a swan swoops in to save the day. My concept was that the water takes Lincoln back in history, specifically to 1890, transforming the streets of Lincoln, and changing people’s technology and clothes.
There are elements of architecture in Lincoln that have stood the test of time, like the Stonebow for example, but most buildings look drastically different. I also loved the idea of cars being changed into horse and carts and someone holding a smartphone that turns into a huge vintage phone, for a bit of comedy. Why 1890 specifically? I found a large collection of photos from that year!
Researching how the purpose of buildings have changed in Lincoln was fascinating.
For example, Waterstones on the High Street, where my research of graphic novels began, used to be a hotel! Also, the obelisk currently standing in St Marks is a replica of one that used to stand tall on High Bridge (see picture above). After concerns about its weight, it was removed in 1939 and recreated in 1996 at St Mark’s, reusing the pineapple pinnacle, the civic shield and one piece of the dolphins feature.
My initial vignette
After playing around with this vignette in Photoshop, it seemed to have much more impact without the original oval background. Edited to be just the box without the clutter, you focus more on the popcorn spilling out of the page.
A selection of thumbnails
This is the initial digital sketch of my characters. I picked a swan, naturally, because of it’s association with Lincoln and the university, paired with a sweet, naive little girl. My thinking was that the girl can ride on the swans back, be that whilst it’s flying above the flood or sat floating on the water. I was immediately drawn to the idea of using orange, it seemed fitting for the swan’s beak and legs, and a nice bright colour for her raincoat.
The illustrations were done to allow 5mm bleed but images shown are cropped to final size. The medium is watercolour.
It’s All in the Details
My target audience are 4-5 year old children who are still being read to, but may be starting to learn to read themselves. They may follow some of the words on the page, but they are mostly focused on the pictures. I made sure to add little details throughout the pages to retain their attention, and some of the details can hopefully charm and be appreciated by the adult reading – e.g. the childlike drawing on the fridge, the baby picture of Sunny on the wall, or the dragon related book titles on the bookshelf.
On the second double page spread of the map, a detail the adult might smile at is ‘Here be Dragons’. While it’s not said explicitly anywhere on the map, the land pictured is loosely based on Canada and Alaska, of which I used real maps for reference. The phrase ‘Here be Dragons’ was put on old maps to mean unexplored and unknown territories, and I placed his house in a very remote part of Alaska, because if real dragons are able to live peacefully anywhere, it’d be some far away, hard to reach land that humans struggle to explore… at least that’s what you could tell a child that still believes in magic and fantasy.
Another thing to note is details can be talking points, e.g. on the first double page spread the parent could ask ‘Can you find the spider?’, or could point to the Orca on the map (probably known to the child as a Killer Whale) and ask them if they knew what it was called, or could point to the ship and ask the child if they thought there might be pirates aboard! This double page spread allows you to look at the map with Sunny, and speculate where he might go on his adventure.
Selection of Fonts
I chose three fonts which are all free for commercial use.
The title font is Edo – chosen for the free-form painted look, the main text is Quicksand – chosen for the simple letter forms and rounded shape.
The map font is Kingthings Calligraphica – chosen for the styling of an aged map, but the simple letter forms are still easy to read.
Key points of research
Typography for Children
New readers have to learn to follow words from left to right and “jump” their eyes from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. To make this easier, set the text large (14 to 24 point depending on the typeface and age of the reader) and with very generous leading (4 to 6 points).
Keep line lengths short, and don’t put too much text on a page. Dense blocks of type can be very intimidating to young readers. Avoid all cap settings, which are difficult for readers of any age!
Make sure there is ample contrast between the type and the background. This is especially true when setting light type against a dark background, as is common in heavily illustrated children’s books. When setting more than one paragraph on a page, consider using line-spaces instead of indents to separate paragraphs. This gives the text and the reader a visual break.
Typography for Early Readers
There are certain letter forms which are recommended for beginner readers. For example:
Make sure the typeface you use has the correct letter forms to make it easier to read. Sans serif fonts are more appropriate for children as they are closer to the way we learn to write therefore are easier to recognise the letters. Serif fonts are used in long blocks of text like novels and newspapers as they are designed to aid the flow of your eyes reading from left to right. Children’s books have a limited amount of text and are not designed to be read a high-speed therefore a serif font is not appropriate.
Client Visuals & Visual Research
After watching the TV show Timber Kings centered around Pioneer Log Cabins, and seeing how they used huge chunks of Cedar wood to create spectacular homes in British Columbia, I was inspired to use these for my dragons’ house setting, because they seemed just like the type of homes a huge impressive beast would live in!
My story in a sentence –
A little clumsy dragon goes on an adventure and has a clumsy episode, but finds a resolution and can go home to his parents feeling proud that he’s been useful.
I felt this idea had scope, and I’d love to make a series of these books, and with each story comes a different clumsy episode on the front cover, a different location for the adventure (see the map), new characters and a new kind of mishap each time.
Inspired by my cat, Woody, who tilts his head at you just like this when you have cheese.
My character is called ‘Sunny’, because he is a Sunset Dragon, which inspires his colouring. As an idea for the end of my book, I planned that after resolving the ordeal, he sits down and looks out to a beautiful sunset, watches the sun go down and can say… ‘That wasn’t such a bad day after all.’
To help me imagine the character from all angles, and as a device to help me draw the animation, I created a model of my character. I used polymer clay, as you can merge cooked pieces of clay with uncooked pieces, which was useful for details such as the ears, spines and wings. I also used painted glass beads for the eyes to give a sense of realism.
Upon receiving this brief on creating a children’s picture book, I decided to write my own story. I loved the idea of having a dragon as my main character (I do love Toothless from How to Train your Dragon! Plus, who doesn’t love dragons?) but not the typically elegant, majestic dragon you might imagine from fantasy, but a young, clumsy, adorable dragon that gets himself in a pickle.
What if you could see thoughts?
This is my final piece! It was my first time colouring digitally and I didn’t give myself as much time as it needed! I generally stuck to the colour palette above and tried to get a balance between each of the mirrored images.
The idea is that the illustration can work either way up, like a playing card, so below I have the same image flipped upside down. On one hand, there’s the ‘bad’ farmer, illegally growing marijuana, while in his reflections he dreams of being a real farmer in the rolling hills with a tractor and a sheepdog. On the other hand is the stereotypical good farmer, doing his regular duties but wishing he could have a criminal adventure.
This is my second client visual (above).
In response to feedback on legibility, the concept of the ‘farmer’ job role did not come across so clearly in the thumbnail below. So I developed the ‘good farmer’ and ‘bad farmer’ idea.
I was determined to get the perspective of the greenhouse right, but I struggled to find a composition that was pleasing, and my characters’ poses were very static. That’s when I decided to switch it up from landscape, to portrait. I exaggerated the characters feet and had them more effectively holding tools they both would use in their job roles.
I originally had the idea of a marijuana farmer feeling disappointed, as his dream was to be a brave and respectful police officer, but now he’s involved in breaking the law. I showed this fantasy in puddle reflections, which were trickling down the drain, just like his dream.
This was an alternative client visual, with my young ‘ant farmer’ and being able to see their imagination. I wanted to think outside the box of the first image someone would conjure of ‘farmer’, however I think this wasn’t as appropriate for this brief. That being said, I love this idea of the ant workers and definitely plan to develop it and finish it in my own time!
In this brief we were each given an individual occupation, and I received ‘Farmer’.
This is what I initally thought of; Rearing animals, leaning against a fence in his overalls, collared shirt and beard, sheepdog gazing eagerly at him.