In publishing, a book's cover can make or break its success. The cover is often the public's first conversation with the book so it needs to start off with the right impression. The most difficult aspect of any book design is simply being noticed. Book covers today have to work even harder to stand out amongst crowded shelves, and to look arresting at short distances or shrunken down to thumbnail size on sites like Amazon.com.
In this tutorial, I will show you the steps I used to redesign one of my favorite childhood stories, Watership Down by Richard Adams. In this illustration, I used vector art to contrast with a soft portrait of the book's two main characters — Hazel and Bigwig. Sometimes, just adding a modern twist to a traditional painting technique can give an updated look to a classic story.
Wacom® Pen Tablet
In successfully redesigning a book cover, it helps to understand current trends. Although it certainly has nostalgic appeal, the original book design may not be bold enough for today's crowded bookshelf. I decided that I wanted to retain the nostalgia of the original tale while making it look more sophisticated (see Figure 1).
I first made a sketch by using pencil and paper, and then scanned it. Despite the book's talking rabbits, Watership Down is quite a dark tale with many of its characters as ruthless as the humans that the rabbits fear. I needed elements to communicate this subconscious underworld so I chose to surround two of the main characters, Hazel and Bigwig, with thorny branches. This twisted frame of branches reminded me of the dark undergoing in the rabbit's warren (see Figure 2).
Nature is an important theme in Watership Down, so I wanted the background color and pencil lines to have an earthy feel. In Painter, I put the sketch on its own layer and set its Composite Method to Multiply.
Next, I used the Paint Bucket tool to fill the background with a light, yellowish brown. I created a new layer above the sketch layer and filled it with a darker brown color. I set this new layer's Composite Method to Colorize. This will make my lines look more like brown Conté crayon (see Figure 3). Lastly, I dropped the Colorize layer and the sketch layer down to the canvas.
I created a new layer and selected the New Simple Water brush from the Digital Watercolor brush category. On the property bar, I changed the Opacity to 10%, Grain to 100%, Diffusion to 20, and Wet Fringe to 0 (see Figure 5). This creates a very soft tinting of color with some slight texture.
Remember that with any brush that has a Grain option, your chosen paper will determine the shape of the texture. I wanted my brush to pick up a very fine pebbled tooth, so I chose the Sandy Pastel Paper from the Paper Selector (see Figures 4 and 4b). To display the Papers panel, click Window > Paper Panels > Papers.
To pick up even more texture, I next chose the Sponge brush from the Sponges brush category. On the property bar, I changed the Opacity to 20% and the Grain to 20%. I then created a new layer above the Base Color layer and painted in the mottled sponge texture. Lastly, I lowered the Opacity of this layer to reduce the amount of texture (see Figure 7).
Next, I painted in the rabbits with soft gray tones by using the New Simple Water Brush that was used previously. I made sure to work from the outside in, keeping the edges darker. This creates more of a rounded feeling in the bodies that echoes my circular composition (see Figure 8).
Using the Pen tool on a new layer, I created a thorny branch in black (see Figure 9). If I needed to adjust the branch, I used the Shape Selection tool to adjust the points.
On my branch layer, I made a selection around the branch with the Rectangular Selection tool. I made sure to get enough space at the top and bottom. This step is important if you want to avoid feathering the black portion of your masked pattern. I then clicked the Capture Pattern button in the Pattern Libraries panel. To display the panel, click Window > Media Library Panel > Patterns (see Figure 10).
In the Capture Pattern dialog box, I named the brush Briar Branch 1, and set the Horizontal Shift, Rectangular Tile, and Vertical Shift to 0. I then repeated steps 7 & 8 five times to create five different Briar Branch brush patterns.
On a new layer, I drew a rough black frame around my painting. I selected the Pattern Pen Masked brush from the Patterns brush category. From the Pattern Library, I selected one of my new Briar Branch patterns, and used my paint brush to paint in a swirling motion (see Figure 11).
I then painted with each of the different Briar Branch patterns around the circle (see Figure 12).
Next, I switched to the Real Round brush from the Oils brush category. On the property bar, I set the Opacity to 20%, the Feature to 3.5, the Resaturation to 100%, and the Bleed to 100%. This creates a brush that is perfect for rendering hair. It paints with wet bristly strokes that blend with the underlying paint (see Figure 13).
Next, I further built up my paint by increasing the Impasto Effects (click Window > Brush Control Panel > Impasto). On the Impasto panel, I selected Color and Depth from the Draw to list box (see Figure 14 - A). Then, I chose Pressure from the Expression list box (see Figure 14 - C). With the Depth Slider (see Figure 14 - B), I started with around 2% and slowly built up to 10% making sure to add heavier paint to the lighter areas so that they appear more three-dimensional.
Next, I wanted some light cross hatching on the background and the rabbit's edges to give it a bit more texture. From the Brush Selector, I chose the Pencil brush category, and then the Grainy Variable Pencil. I could start cross hatching manually, but there is a faster way to create this texture. First, I created a small pattern of cross hatches on a white background (see Figure 16).
With the Rectangular Selection tool, I made a selection around the cross hatch pattern without selecting any white edges. In the Pattern Library panel (Window > Media Library Panels > Patterns), I clicked the Capture Pattern button, and named it Cross Hatch. Then, I changed the Horizontal Shift and Vertical Shift to 50% and clicked OK (see Figure 17).
From the Brush Selector, I chose the Pattern Pens brush category and the Pattern Chalk brush. On the Dab Profile panel (Window > Brush Control Panels > Dab Profile), I changed the Dab Type to the Dull Profile dab so that my new brush would create a softer mark (see Figure 18 and Figure 19).
Next, I increased the warmth of the colors by clicking Effects > Tonal Control > Adjust Colors. I used the Hue Shift slider to select a warmer tone. With the Saturation slider, I increased the amount to 65% (see Figure 20).
Lastly, I re-evaluated my characters and changed the face of Hazel (left-hand rabbit) to be a tad friendlier looking. I also had forgotten Big Wig's signature tuft of hair. So I increased the Feature setting of the Real Round brush to 6, and painted in some hair on the top of his head (see Figure 21).
Finally, I added in the text that best matched with the book cover's mood. I chose an elegant font to match the swirling vines, but kept the author's name in a modern font to give it an updated look (see Figure 22).