Join Nigel French for an in-depth discussion in this video Illustrating concepts with abstract shapes and transparency, part of Designing a Book Cover.
Let's recap where we are so far. I'm using four different approaches to creating hypothetical book cover designs for George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, Animal Farm and 1984. These three should work as a set, so they need to be stylistically similar in their approach. We've looked at creating covers using what I've been referring to as the big book look. We've looked at some typographic solutions, and now we're going to look at the third approach, abstract solutions.
Let's begin by looking at some book covers that have been designed using simple abstract shapes. We can see that technically, this is going to be very straightforward, conceptually it's a lot more difficult. Historically, there is a strong precedence for designing with abstract, simple abstract shapes in this way. If we look at the work of El Lissitzky, he is famous for designing a children's book called About 2 Squares, which uses just that just two squares to illustrate a morality tale.
He is also very famous for this work on the right, which is called Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge, again using simple abstracted shapes. So before we start with our own abstract book cover designs, a quick history lesson. Homage to Catalonia is George Orwell's account of his going to fight for the democratically elected Spanish government in the Spanish Civil War against the nationalist forces led by General Franco. End history lesson. You might want to go to Wikipedia or other online sources or in detail, local public library and maybe read a bit more about this.
Without that grounding, this becomes just a black polygon and three red circles. But when we have that as our reference point, we can say well, the red circles represent the Spanish militias trying to defend the Spanish Government. The encroaching black shape are the advancing fascist forces, the red, a politically significant color, the yellow, the other color of the Catalan flag. We can back this up. In terms of how we do this, it's simplicity itself.
It's just drawing rectangles, circles, applying colors, applying rotation, and in some cases applying transparency as in this second example, where I have a rotated gray rectangle set to a transparency mode of multiply and then duplicated on top of itself. And if I were trying to sell this idea, I'd say well, this represents the advancing tide of fascism.
Now remember, this is pre-second World War so historically very, very significant. Look at that technique here. I'm going to turn off my mask layer, and we can see that this now goes over both front and back cover and spine. I'm going to zoom out, Command+Minus. When working with these shapes, we can use a bit more pasteboard perhaps. So I'm going to come to Preferences and to Guides & Pasteboard and I'm going to increase the size of my vertical margins.
So that's going to give me a lot more space to move into. And if I turn on my guides by pressing W, you can see that these shapes actually extend way over into the pasteboard. So I'm going to delete all of those and we will start this one again. Just draw yourself a rectangle, apply a color to it, apply a blending mode, using the Rotate tool let's spin it around, position it like so, make sure that it's big enough to extend off the bounds of the front and back cover if indeed that's what we want, and then I'm going to hold down my Alt key and my Shift key to constrain the movement of that and position it like so.
Now that I've got one duplicate, I'll come to the Object menu and choose Transform Again, Transform Again, to get additional duplicates and I can keep doing that until we reach the edge of the page. With each successive duplicate, we're increasing the depth of that black color as each rectangle multiplies upon itself. Let's now look at another example. Conceptually much the same. This time using three triangles overlapping and their blend mode set to Multiply.
To create a triangle, just draw yourself a shape and this is one way to create a triangle, Object > Convert Shape > Triangle, and then you can rotate them, you can spin them around using the Rotate tool, and you can apply effects using the Effects panel. So taking these techniques and beginning I recommend with pencil and paper, you can come up with some rough sketches and an infinite number of abstract solutions that are technically very easy to execute but conceptually strong.
Here we have a very abstracted red flag, red and black, significant colors to the book and on a nice diagonal, the white representing the flagpole. Now the second of our series of books representing an integral concept to Animal Farm, "four legs good, two legs bad". And here, we have 1984. I'm just going to turn my masking layer back on. The hero of the book, Winston Smith, surrounded by the authoritarian state, unable to escape.
He is orange. He several times in the book evokes the nursery rhyme "Oranges and Lemons". So when you have to choose a color, try and reference it to something in the book so that there is some sort of conceptual grounding for it. Here being oppressed, beaten down by the black rectangle, he's surrounded by a series of black rectangles. And you can go on and on and on and quickly generate lots of ideas like this that are graphically very impactful and conceptually very strong.
- Researching the design and brainstorming ideas
- Setting up a document in InDesign or Illustrator
- Choosing typefaces, colors, shapes, and imagery
- Hand-drawing type and using different type treatments
- Creating illustrations from scratch
- Using and adapting photographs for illustration
- Preparing the book covers for printing