Design process: report covers

As I was looking through my archives for a particular file today, I came across these old cover designs for an Election Benchmarks report completed back in 2013. As you can see I pursued two main concepts; silhouettes representing ‘work’ and ‘care’ (together they suggested ‘family’), and varying circular shapes, which mainly relied on their cut forms and colour to create interesting relationships.

The client was very keen for something simple and clean to match previous reports, and asked that I submit at least a couple of options to give them a choice of style. The initial string idea (top left) wasn’t working as I’d hoped it would, so the thin lines became positive and negative shapes, which helped to break up the cover into three logical sections. I still like the second design, but it wasn’t the approach that the client favoured. I actually produced quite a few other alternatives using the circular design, but morphed most of the stronger shapes from those ideas into what you see above, maintaining a simplicity that functionally separated the two-part title and logo.

The chosen design (below, shown as back & front covers) is only a minor adjustment of the third design above, featuring an edited title and the alternative logo. There’s a strong grid of connected reference points underpinning this design, which does make it a good choice from my perspective – even if it probably appears as just a few random shapes to most viewers. Such is the life of a designer!


Gone Troppo: Sands of Time

Gone Troppo_Sands of Time
Cover designs for a new track by art-music collective Gone Troppo. This was an interesting design process, due to the songwriter requesting the investigation of an alternative approach that further referenced the ‘sand’ element from the song. My initial thoughts were that without the high contrast of the original blue & yellow design, the overall impression created by the thin linework would be too diluted and therefore not stand out enough at the small scale of an icon, which is where this artwork would mainly be viewed.

As it turned out, the design still works well with a lighter textured background and my concerns were proven incorrect. This is always an interesting part of the design process for me, and something I’ve regularly communicated to clients when changes are discussed. Many requested changes are often very difficult to judge accurately before simply trying them to see the actual impact on the finished design. Experience has shown me that some small adjustments can have a significant negative effect on a design, dramatically changing the flow, appearance or readability in a way that myself and/or the client will not accept. Current digital production methods certainly make it far easier to alter artwork and investigate options, especially compared to when my artwork was mostly hand drawn and assembled – but any changes incur extra time (and usually money) so the designer is responsible for efficiently advising a client and resolving all queries without futile and costly exploration.

My design features various elements from the song itself: a diamond, travel, a broken heart, the universe and a sunrise. The track is available to download at CD Baby.

A pickle of a story!

RCHRD’S GLSSS ND TH WRRNG NGHBRSRCHRD’S GLSSS ND TH WRRNG NGHBRS is an entertaining eBook written by new authors Julie and Luca Harper, mostly about Giant Spider Crabs, Greater Bulldog Bats, Green Iguanas, maths, music, timekeeping and vowels!

I was asked to provide a cover design, including a full series logotype and hand lettering, plus a few mono interior illustrations (three shown below) for the book, which at times proved to be more challenging and time intensive than I had envisaged.

RGNTWN_ShoppeRGNTWN_Boris and EddieRGNTWN_Clearview Village mapThe mono illustrations were completed in Illustrator using the pressure sensitive blob brush, and were created as loosely sketched pieces, capturing some of the energy found in the written style of the book. The main characters themselves proved to be somewhat hard to successfully define and capture accurately, and we went through a number of iterations and revisions before I produced the simple character sketches for protagonists Nigel Le Nez, and Madame La Bouche.

RGNTWN_Nigel Le NezThese hand drawn pencil sketches then became desired final art, with colour added (as seen above) to match the cover formatting. This wasn’t planned, and it introduced a number of design issues to solve, as the two standing characters dramatically altered the spacing and balance of all the cover elements, which required an intensive rethink of the layout to retain a reasonable design structure.

Ultimately the client was happy – which is all that really matters – and the book moved on into the final production stage. It is now available to purchase from Amazon for Kindle, or the Kindle Reader App, and can be downloaded HERE. So, if you know someone who would like to read a fast paced rollicking story for 7-10 year olds, then I can fully recommend the eBook as a highly entertaining reading experience. And, don’t worry, the vowels are supposed to be left out!


Tales of Quahnarren: Trial of the Alvaiser

Trial of the Alvaiser

Those few that have survived an encounter with an Alvaiser claim to have been generously granted a second chance at life, and speak earnestly of the tremendous awe and humility they felt during what is now commonly described as the ‘spirit judgement’ – a personal trial of the soul.

Alvaiser are supernatural woodland spirits, keenly watching all who venture into their forests. They are guardians and protectors of the natural world, seeking without compunction to redress the actions of human weakness and violence. They are primarily found in areas where trauma and death has affected the natural balance of the environment, and therefore take what is necessary to achieve the required equilibrium within their individual location.

Appearing in human form as beautiful semi-transparent goddesses, they float amongst the treetops, glowing majestically in flowing white gowns that separate into ribbons below their waist, where no further human form remains. Their long hair radiates a warm and enveloping heat, and their hands emit a vaporous blue energy that silently flashes with arcane potential.

All who gaze upon the Alvaiser find themselves stupefyingly transfixed and unable to turn away. Reaching down to touch the head of their target, they communicate solely through direct thoughts and images into the mind, prompting powerful sensations of extreme loss, confusion, and submission, and decisively searching the soul to determine a suitable sacrifice for their needs.

Victims of an encounter with an Alvaiser are never seen again – they magically cease to exist and no remains are ever found. Those who pass judgement however, continue on to live with a new appreciation for the world they share, and believe that their personal destiny is favourably altered forevermore.

• • •

A potentially fatal encounter for travellers in my ongoing fantasy project Tales of Quahnarren. The Alvaiser are equally feared and respected, and feature heavily in the folklore and historic fables told across Quahnarren.

This illustration was created in both Painter and Photoshop, and is one of the enjoyable quicker pieces I’ve completed recently using a palette knife style. This image was initially produced in Painter, only in black & white, and then coloured and altered within Photoshop. This technique allows me to firstly concentrate solely on the complete composition, values, and contrast, before progressing on to determine a final colour palette, add/delete/alter any details and textures, and to fully develop the atmosphere I wish the subject and overall image to convey.

Below are a few small sections of the illustration showing the differences between an unfinished early black & white version, and the final coloured piece. The advantage for this particular image of using individual programs for separate stages of production, was the ability to work with a specific brush style within Painter, and then import that base art into Photoshop (a program I have considerably more experience in using), where I could easily add the required highlighting effects onto my existing art.

As part of this personal project I’ve been compiling various notes and descriptions of the people, creatures, historical events, customs, and spiritual beliefs of all those that play a significant role within this fantasy world, and will continue to produce new illustrations of a diverse selection of these elements as I move onwards in the creation of this world.

Tales of Quahnarren: The Dreamer

Tales of Quahnarren: The DreamerThe Dreamer

The Dreamer is the latest addition to my Tales of Quahnarren illustrated short story project.

This character went through an interesting visual development process, during which he transformed from a troublesome outlaw into a civilised musician and entertainer – quite a switch!

As is my normal working process, I saved many stages of completion whilst producing the illustration, which captures the evolution of the image over time. Below I’ve set up four individual versions into one image, which tracks development (top, left to right, then bottom, left to right) and shows the way I like to work on specific areas of importance, before making balancing adjustments or detail improvements across the overall piece.

The Dreamer: development steps

This illustration initially started with a loose sketch drawn directly in Painter with my Wacom tablet, which at the time was little more than just a head shot without any preplanning for a particular background design or treatment. A key element for this particular character was to capture an expression that matched his nature, which partly explains his personal change in destiny. This pose presented a nice faraway look, which helped to solidify the character in my mind and brought forth the idea to place him in an outdoor setting, suggesting his travels through the countryside as a wandering entertainer. As the focus was purely on the main interest area of the face I only needed to suggest organic shapes and continued to blend his form with the background itself.

As can be seen I wasn’t originally working with any colour, and was unsure until almost complete about changing it from a duotone to a colour piece. I regularly import my finished Painter files into Photoshop for final colour, contrast and saturation adjustments, so after completing that stage added some colour overlays to decide if a suitable effect could be achieved without losing the simplicity of the piece that I favoured. Introducing a light brown for the character of Leahslee and supporting that with a blue-green background added a bit more mood and interest, so I was happy to finish with the final version you see as the main image.

The illustration took about 8-9 hours to complete and is a welcome new part of my Quahnarren series.

Tales of Quahnarren: The Silent Tower

The Silent Tower from the Tales of Quahnarren

This digital illustration is a brand new addition to my ongoing fantasy universe ‘Tales of Quahnarren‘. Located in the more populated eastern region of Quahnarren, The Silent Tower is the locally given name to the Tower of Xaanagh – a landmark structure sitting in the fertile Dehanthor Valley.

This illustration, completed in Photoshop CS5, was slowly completed over the last 6-7 months and became quite an extended and laborious project in many unexpected ways. Originally proposed as a more fluid and sketchy landscape image, the illustration quickly became heavily detailed after experimenting with standard brushes to form the foreground grass. As I was happy with this unanticipated level of micro detailing, it now set the direction for all the remaining areas and the creative process took itself off down a different path.

To visually document my techniques and approach to image creation, I’ve saved versions of my progress throughout the completion of this illustration. These files were combined into a short video, recording the evolution from the original idea through to the final finished illustration. Here you can watch the early basic forms of my initial layout gradually change into fully detailed areas of colour and interest:

Shaded Path, Nuriootpa

My adventure with oil pastels continues: this piece is my second large format oil pastel ‘painting’, and the first true landscape illustration that I’ve ever attempted. ‘Shaded Path, Nuriootpa’ is based on multiple photos taken around Nuriootpa, a town surrounded by vineyards and rolling hills, located in South Australia’s famous Barossa Valley.

The creative process

For this image I decided to record the creation process, by taking photos at significant points or after reasonable progress had been made. Tracking the evolution of an idea like this became an interesting process by itself, as it was now possible to go back and view previous incarnations and watch my ideas come to life as I made decisions and settled on style and detail across the image.

Step 1 shows the base sketch and initial colour blocking – my key focus here was to develop the concept to the point where I could see the balance of trees, sky and foreground and decide if I was happy with the overall direction as a complete image. My white areas on the trees indicate patches of bright light and this helped me to plan the application of colour with the pastels, a media that require a bit of careful thinking, otherwise it can be difficult to build light into dark – unlike my reverse process for digital creations. I was still to decide exactly what effect I wanted for the path surface and was also intending to place a few extra posts along the tree lines.

In Step 2 I began to work up detail in what I believed were the important parts of the image: the area around the end of the path, the hill line behind the vines and the front right tree trunk. I was now focusing on the texturing of the trunks – beginning to build up layered detail and discovering how to generate differing varieties, as was desired for the right side trees especially. Further work continued on the rear trees and I also began to detail the grasses that would eventually fill both sides – I was undecided on what I would fill the smaller area along the right edge with until after I had completed the small grass section shown here.

I was really happy with the progress of the elements at the back of the image, as shown in Step 3. By now I had added streaky clouds to the sky and had created a slight glow effect with my cloud forms rising off the hilltops, which added some contrast and a nice sense of depth. The remainder of the trees and grasses had been coloured and I was beginning to sort out my thoughts regarding the path and shadow construction.

Step 4 was all about the shadows. By now I had decided that the path would be a natural surface, featuring short to medium length grass around the outer area and worn grass with soil showing through the middle track. Again, I planned out the light and dark patterns as basic forms and proceeded to gradually build up these areas, using a wide range of colours to ensure that there was plenty of life within the shadows.

Step 5 shows the completed tree shadows and the final path shape. I was continually adjusting various small parts and details, particularly the brightly highlighted grass areas near the tree lines and I was also blurring some of the branch shadows that required little defined form. At this point I could finally see the overall image coming together and was pleased that my original thoughts regarding both the composition and the colour palette were bearing pleasing results.

The major element added for Step 6 was the tree canopies. Most of the forms for the small tree branches and leaves were no more than suggested shapes and I was a bit surprised to find that this part of the image was comparatively quite quick to finish – unlike the tree trunks or the foreground path, which were many, many hours of detailed work to complete. I continued to adjust some of the trunks, with a lot of attention on the shadowed trunk (third from the right) which I had basically left unfinished from early on as I wasn’t really sure on how to execute the final surface texture and look that this tree required.

Shaded Path, Nuriootpa

I finished off with minor adjustments and additions across the entire image and corrected a few mistakes that I felt required some attention. Estimated time for completion would be around 35 hours, which is longer than I would wish, but as part of a learning process isn’t too bad for this type of image. The final result captures the mood and quality of light I was wishing to reproduce and has given me some genuine confidence to tackle further projects with the oil pastels.

My pastel coloured adventure

I’ve always enjoyed drawing with charcoal and chalk, and appreciated the abstract nature that many of the created marks seemed to express. Compared to other similar types of projects, that I would complete with pencil or ink, charcoal offered an extra layer or unpredictability and some fantastic results would appear, completely unplanned on numerous occasions. The unavoidable negative impact from working with charcoal or chalk is that they can be very messy mediums, and not something highly advisable for my current work space. Nice carpet and many small and dusty particles aren’t really the best of friends!

So, I wanted something that would provide me with a similar feel of adventure, but not be as harmful to the indoors environment. I’d considered oil pastels many times before, but never actually purchased any to try for myself. Now was the time. I knew that I wanted to start with an impressionist, broken colour style (optical mixing) and see exactly how they worked, especially in comparison to the chalky variety, that offer enhanced mixing and shading capabilities. I had a few basic sketches and small ideas that were good to go for an introductory experiment, so chose this duck-like form to start things off:

I was immediately enjoying the softness and overall sensation of using the oil pastels with this particular technique of copious small strokes, and was keen to tackle something with a bit more complexity and requirement for increased precision. This is only an A5 piece and I was intrigued about how much detail was possible at a small scale with these pastels. Overlaying the colours would only yield certain results, so some planning was necessary and it seemed unlikely that true definition would be easily achievable.

As a keen motor racing fan, I turned to my bookshelf to locate an interesting subject. A classic shape with just enough small detail was what I was seeking and I didn’t hesitate to try the following angle of the classic 1972 Tyrrell-Ford with Jackie Stewart at the wheel.

This was a larger piece (although still smaller than A4) and was a much bigger challenge. As I’d expected the small details could only be suggested and if I was to produce any further illustrations requiring such precision, then I’d have to work at a much larger scale to balance the natural tendencies of the medium. I’m happy with the finished result and found it a small challenge to suggest detail and achieve colour depth and transition, whilst working within a limited available range.

I’d quickly learned some very valuable lessons and gained some solid knowledge about how to tackle illustrative ideas using the techniques I favoured. Time now to move on and produce a portrait for a project needing something with a bit of individuality and colourful life:

Say hello to Billie-Rose – the subject of a pop ballad in this the CD cover image. Capturing the accurate likeness of a real person isn’t always the easiest and with a fairly loose and free style the task becomes slightly more difficult. To bring forth the youthful energy and charm that Billie-Rose has I’ve used a wide range of colours across the face and mainly worked with very short strokes and marks to create the facial forms. This piece was actually a bit smaller than the Stewart Ford above, but the lack of required small detail meant that artwork scale wasn’t a major issue.

The oil pastels have such a wonderful texture that they really add great depth to an illustration and add something particularly ‘artistic’ without a serious amount of extra effort. There’s still plenty of further pastel types and techniques waiting for me and of course, I’ve already moved on to newer work at a larger scale – likely to be the subject of a new update here, sometime down the track.

Forgotten Chornobyl?

The old people had been talking with great anxiety.

Black storks had been seen not far from the village.

Black storks – a bad omen.

At 1:23am on April 26 1986, reactor number four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine suffered a catastrophic explosion and resulting fires. a radioactive plume was carried across large parts of western Soviet Union and Europe. The most severely contaminated areas were Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

The nearby city of Pripyat was quietly evacuated on April 27, with the authorities not informing residents of the scale of the disaster, nor the likely health risks from radiation exposure and contamination. Pripyat is now an abandoned city within the 30km exclusion zone around the reactor site, known as ‘The Zone of Alienation’. Many personal belongings still remain scattered around the streets, parks and buildings, as residents were told it would only be a temporary move.

The true cost of the disaster is hard to quantify. 47 people died – mostly plant workers and the firemen who came to their aid, and over 350,000 people have been relocated. A possible 1 million people are likely to have been exposed to radiation and it is estimated by the World Health Organization that 4,000 deaths may ultimately be attributed to the disaster.

• • •

At the 2004 Adelaide Fringe, Conscious Theatre presented the multimedia music play Chornobyl Story – written by Adelaide musician Ray Rains.

The play delivers its story by focussing on one family – the Banduras. Their ‘babusia’ – or grandmother – Svitlana, recalls the incident and acts as narrator as the play unfolds the tragedy of a way of life that had existed for centuries only to be destroyed over night by the invisible enemy of radiation. Svitlana fights government secrecy about the incident in an attempt to honour the memory of the heroes, including some of her family members, who saved the world that terrible day.

Following this in 2008 was the release of the 3-track CD Children of Chornobyl by Gone Troppo, featuring music from the play:

These two projects were great opportunities for me to be involved in something beyond just another print design or marketing strategy. As seen above, the CD booklet is a three panel fold out, with an additional inlay for the back of the jewel case. My intention with the artwork was to illustrate the decay, destruction and confusion at the plant, and also the hopelessness and despair of the people who were affected and quickly excluded from their homes.

A timeline of key events runs across the outer panels, ending in clear space on the front cover with the final and fatal explosion time highlighted in red. The design features various texture overlays, distressed type, hand drawn scribbles and scattered graphical elements.

The colours were chosen to reflect the nature of the events and also technically allowed the use of overprint text, which expanded the story surrounding the disaster.