Books, By Their Covers: Skulduggery Pleasant

The subject of my seventh illustration in the series 'Books, By Their Covers' is Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy.

This is a current series (the first contemporary book in my illustrations) and one that I've enjoyed for several years since their publish. Derek Landy creates excellent characters and a world for them that allows him to keep coming back with more depth and imagination time and time again.

In this illustration, I've chosen the first book, Skulduggery Pleasant. It serves partly as an introduction to Pleasant himself, who is a skeleton detective with powerful elemental powers. In the early books, we reason that he was brought back from death and trapped in his own skeleton is a mystery - but he introduces the hero character, a girl called Stephanie, to the magical underworld that exists beneath ours.

I wanted to give a dark look, as Pleasant is a dark character. I added in elements to give an antiquated or tarot feel, as he is hundreds of years old. We see him igniting a flame in his hand (his chosen speciality) and also his trusted revolver which he keeps as backup.

If you haven't read any yet, I strongly urge you to. They are an excellent series of adventures.


Books, By Their Covers: The Lord of the Rings

For the sixth book in my series 'Books, By Their Covers' I chose perhaps my favourite book, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. 

Being such an epic story, it could be overwhelming to choose a direction on how to illustrate a cover. How can you sum up the scale of the story? With so many stories, memorable scenes and history, which do you chose to represent its entirety? I notice on the most recent prints of the book, their solution was to be minimal, creating graphics pictograms to represent each book. They are designed extremely well and work perfectly as covers.

However for my interpretation, I chose an actual scene in the book to represent the tale. The climactic moment where we see whether Frodo will destroy the ring is pivotal in the story - everything leads up to it. It was an ideal moment, but it needed to be handled correctly. Firstly, I wanted the figure standing in silhouette to be unclear. Who is it? Is it Sam, Frodo or even Gollum? And is it indeed at the Cracks of Doom, or maybe at another point along the journey, where Frodo is wrestling with the power of the Ring.

And with just the hint of a fire and heat below him, there is no further clue as to where or before what the character stands.


Books, By Their Covers: Through the Looking Glass

For the fifth instalment in my series 'Books, By Their Covers', I focused the illustration on one of my all-time favourites, Through The Looking Glass - And What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll.

I've always favoured it over the original book, as it pushes the dream-like nonsense yet further, as Alice struggles to make sense of the strange occurrences. 

For this piece, I focused on one scene, where Alice first attempts to get through the Looking Glass on the mantlepiece to see what lies beyond. I chose colour to illustrate the stark change that she experiences once she gets through, where common objects come to life and everything makes no sense whatsoever.

I tried to give Alice a victorian clothing style, as well as choosing similar aged furniture and decoration. Im particularly proud of the little Chess Bishop, which once crossed over to Wonderland, turns into an angry living piece.

I kept the title and text very clean and simple, as I find that if you have a very complex or bright and busy illustration, you don't need fancy typography as it will just conflict with the imagery. Keeping it simple makes reading easier and keeps the focus on the illustration, which is telling the story.


Books, By Their Covers: A Christmas Carol

For my fourth illustration in the series Books, By Their Covers, I chose one of my favourite classic stories: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I've loved reading this for a large part of my adult life and its a credit to its author that even in today's world. the story has lost nothing. It still grabs you with its dark, supernatural feel leading to the emotional rebirth of Scrooge and a feel-good ending.

For the illustration, I decided to choose one scene as a subject, where The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come takes Scrooge to an unkempt graveyard to show him one final marker of his misdeeds to turn him back towards kindness.

Rather than make the environment very clearly a graveyard, I chose to keep it interpretational - one thing I always like when viewing a book illustration, particularly the cover, is to not give too much of the plot away. I think you need an interesting picture to entice you to look further, but without giving you the core of the story. In my illustrations, we see a supernatural death-like creature, pointing towards us, with a weak looking man in a nightgown before him. The colour palette is chosen to give you a feeling of coldness, which is a curious contrast with the title of the book. But as the story is 95% dark and negative, I think this works for the story. Having a bright, colourful christmassy subject wouldn't for me correctly portray the plot.

So a very simple composition its used here, to give us a ghostly feel of what may come, but without overlaying too much detail and spoiling the excellent story.


Books, By Their Covers: Doc Savage

For the third in the series of illustrations titled Books, By Their Covers, I chose one book, but it really symbolises an entire series. The Doc Savage series, written by Lester Dent during the 1930s and 40s, tells of the adventures of the man often referred to as the first superhero, Man of Bronze, Doc Savage. In this particular book, Doc and his team travel to Indochina to find a missing explorer, and in the process unravel the mystery of the infamous Thousand-Headed Man! 
In the illustration, I chose to go with a more representational illustration rather than picking an actual scene. A skull is made up of many faces (which isn't far from the pages of the book) and in the centre we see Doc himself in silhouette, holding one of the strange black sticks which play a key part in the adventure. As the region of 'Indochina' actually covered many cultures, I chose to decorate the outer edges with a slightly 'tribal' looking patterning, but without referencing any culture specifically.
If you haven't read any Doc Savage, I urge you to give it go. It's definitely of its period, with the occasional reference or attitude that would seem incorrect in the modern world, but nevertheless, great tales of heroic quests and chilling adventures!


Books, By Their Covers: Charlie

For second poster illustration in my Books, By Their Covers series, I went back to my childhood favourite, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. This is actually a pretty dark book, as were many of Dahl's classics. I wanted this reflected in the illustration, so it has a slight creepiness to it, with the spindly Wonka showing an everlasting gobstopper to the children. The kids themselves are drawn to reflect their personalities, which Dahl created to perfection. And most importantly of all is Charlie himself, standing to one side with Grandpa Joe, watching the rabble of greedy kids in bewilderment.

I wanted to add detail to Charlie to show his poverty, so I thought it apt that his clothes are clearly too small for him, his family not having the money to get him new ones that frequently. Around the title text (which I wanted to have the feeling of a vintage bar of chocolate)  we see gears and cogs pulling a conveyor belt, to reinforce that we are in a factory. I didn't feel the need to show thousands of sweets and candies being manufactured as the focus of the story is always about Charlie's observations of the sickening kids that slowly get taken out of the running during the visit.


Books, By Their Covers: Hitchhikers Guide

This is the first in a series of illustrations called Books, By Their Covers. In the series I'm taking my favourite books and creating posters for each of them.  In the first, I chose The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, as its by far one of my favourite books and series. I chose two characters for the illustration, Arthur Dent (the protagonist) and Marvin, the Paranoid Android. In the scene shown, Arthur is experiencing his first realisation that he is travelling the universe, as he watches the sun set on Magrathea with Marvin. He is explaining to Marvin how awe inspiring it is, and Marvin replies that its rubbish. Marvin's job in the books is very much reminding us that the universe in Adams world is fraught with errors and breakdowns, no matter how hip and froody it appears. 

In the distance we can see the Heart of Gold, the spaceship stolen by Zaphod Beeblebrox that carried the heroes to Magrathea. Tucked in Arthur's pocket (or bag, its not clarified which) we see his copy of The Guide, lent to him by Ford Prefect.

I'll hopefully be doing more in this series over the coming months.