On Design: Book Covers

Art and Literature, Update & News

01 Childhood, Boyhood and Youth

“Beauty: the adjustment of all parts proportionately so that one cannot add or subtract or change without impairing the harmony of the whole.”

On Painting” by Leon Battista Alberti

Two years ago, I decided to design my own personal covers for my book collection of Classic Russian Literature, within a month, on my spare time, I managed to design covers for all the collected works of Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, Nikolai Gogol and Alexander Pushkin. A few weeks ago, when a friend visited my room, I was asked to write an article for a local magazine on the nature of design and my interpretation it, below are some extract from that article:

When setting out to design, two things are important to consider as the layout map for the whole design: Space and Objects (if you are designing a visual multimedia, the third thing to consider is: Time). One might simply consider the whole creation of Universe as a balanced act of Space, Objects and Time, without being philosophical, same thing apply to  designing a book cover or a space rocket. A harmonic combination of space and objects is all that is need to create a style, but one’s placement of objects within the space might take multiple experiment in order to create a perfect geometrical harmony, there are few rules to follow; from golden rule ratio to Fibonacci Numbers, to choosing a simple geometric shape.

Fibonacci Numbers

Fibonacci Numbers

For my style, I copied from the best; since I started collecting books, one of my hobbies was to collect Penguin Books;  it was for the simple reason for their beautiful cover design, crossing from one book into another. I copied the same style for each author’s book; there were a total of 25 Volume of Tolstoy’s work and a total of 17 from Turgenev, and only a unified design in the form of a series, with repetition of the same theme and style had a chance of creating a unified volume of works for each authors.

Penguin Books Design

Penguin Books Design

Unless you are master painter or a have a perfect eye for mathematical calculation and colors, then avoid using simple tools to design; it is recommend to use software when setting out to design, for Book and DVD covers, I would recommend you familiarize yourself with software such as; Adobe Illustrators, InDesign and Photoshop,  because one way or another, you will end up needing all three in combination for your work. Still; when you first create your layout, a paper, pencil and a ruler is all that you need. It is in the layout process that you map out the objects of your design in perfect harmony with the space that is provided for you.

In my case; I designed a cover for A4 papers, depending on your taste or your clients, you may have a different space to  work with. One layout is all that is required for creating a series, once you decide on the layout of the space, colors, fonts, and theme, you could easily save it as a template and repeat the same process over and over again, until you get bored with it, but in order not to get bored and the process of becoming repetitious; try making subtle changes; such as chanting the color of fonts, but try not to stretch each elements, making it independent form the series.

"Ukrainian Girl Tending Geese" (1892) by Nikolai Kornilievich Bodarevsky

“Ukrainian Girl Tending Geese” (1892) by Nikolai Kornilievich Bodarevsky


18 Father Sergius, The Wisdom of Children and other Stories

I used 18th and 19th century Russian Realism painting as  a unified theme for all my cover design, each painting were carefully chosen to reflect the time of the book and the painting, but most important; the theme of the cover and the book were one in nature, the saying might go; “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, but the truth is; many do judge a book by its cover, so any image, illustration, painting and text you use must; one way or another, reflect the content of the book.


To Each a Season

Art and Literature, Recommended Reading

Four Seasons

As the Seasons change, so does my taste in reading, a taste that I developed from the early days of my boyhood, as I would lock myself in Winter to read and in Summer to be outdoor, observe. Nowadays when it comes to reading, I take on non-fiction works on Spring and Summer, and reading fictions on Autumn and Winter. Same is true when it comes to Film, I could only watch a Bergman, a Tarr, or a Tarkovksy film in Winter, the opposite is true for Ray, Hawks, Wilder and Peckinpah, they are for Summer viewing. As for Music, Spring and Summer are for Jazz, Techno and Rock, Autumn and Winter for the Classical music.

Spring by by Alexey Savrasov (1870s)

So, it is with this mood that I decided to take a shot at reading Classic Russian Literature this Autumn and Winter, the goal is (thanks to my e-book reader) to read and re-read the complete works of Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Anton Chekhov, Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, and Ivan Turgenev. Putting aside their major novels (which I have read more than once), I have concluded that if I could read 150 page/per day (my e-book reader page, that is!), dedicate two hours of reading time a day, I could finish them off within a span of four month and a half. The reading is done chronologically, from the first to the last work of the author.

A Winter Road by Alexei Savrasov (1870s)

As I re-read these work; I could recall  images, emotion and even sound of the times that I once read the works. Take the short paragraph below from Tolstoy’s Boyhood, I read the work on a rainy winter day in Dalton, Georgia. I was so obsessed with Tolstoy’s description of his boyhood (for it seemed so familiar with that of mine), that I could not help, but re-reading that short paragraph more than a dozen times, and I kept saying to myself, “I could have written that.”

Summer Landscape with Windmills by Aleksey Savrasov (1859)

For you see, in my boyhood, , I too felt that; “Death awaited me at any hour and at any minute, and wondering how it was people had not seen this before me, I decided that man cannot be happy otherwise than by enjoying the present and not caring for the future“, but  I did not go and spend all my saving on “honey cakes”, rather, I spend them on a chewing gum that I was very fond of, for beside the gum, you would get a playing card of a Football player, each numbered to complete a set of collection. I spent all my money on the chewing gums; chewing them under the shadow of a tree one windy summer afternoon,  sitting there, matching the card’s number one after another, care free of the world, living the moment. Thinking of it now, I could still taste that chewing gums, they were the best I ever  had, and so many of them. As for the cards, I still have them, they are collector’s item now, a complete set of them, whenever I look at them, I remember that  summer afternoon, so care free, then.

Autumn Landscape with a Swampy River in the Moonlight by Aleksey Savrasov (1871)

Boyhood by Leo Tolstoy: Ch. XIX


People will hardly believe what the favorite and most constant subjects of my thoughts were during the period of my boyhood, — for they were incompatible with my age and station. But, according to my opinion, the in-compatibility between a man’s position and his moral activity is the safest token of truth.

In the course of the year, during which I led a solitary, concentrated moral life, all abstract thoughts of man’s destiny, of the future life, of the immortality of the soul presented themselves to my mind, and my weak childish reason tried with all the fever inexperience to elucidate those questions, whose proposition marks the highest degree the human min d can reach, but the solution of which is not given to it.

It seems to me that the human mind in its evolution passes in every separate individual over the same path on which it evolves during whole generations ; that the ideas which have served for the basis of distinct philosophical theories form inseparable parts of mind; and that every man has more or less clearly been conscious of them long before he knew of the existence of philosophical theories.

These ideas presented themselves to my mind with such clearness and precision that I even tried to apply them to life, imagining that I was the first who had discovered such great and useful truths.

At one time it occurred to me that happiness did not depend on external causes, but on our relation to them; that a man who is accustomed to bear suffering could not be unhappy. To accustom myself to endurance, I would hold for five minutes at a time the dictionaries of Tatishchev in my outstretched hands, though that caused me unspeakable pain, or I would go into the lumber-room and strike my bare back so painfully with a rope that the tears would involuntarily appear in my eyes.

At another time, I happened to think that death awaited me at any hour and at any minute, and wondering how it was people had not seen this before me, I decided that man cannot be happy otherwise than by enjoying the present and not caring for the future. Under the influence of this thought, I abandoned my lessons for two or three days, and did nothing but lie on my bed and enjoy myself reading some novel and eating honey cakes which I bought with my last money.

At another time, as I was standing at the blackboard and drawing various figures upon it with a piece of chalk, I was suddenly struck by the idea: Why is symmetry pleasant to the eye ? What is symmetry ? It is an implanted feeling, I answered myself. What is it based upon ? Is symmetry to be found in everything in life ? Not at all. Here is life, — and I drew an oval figure on the board. After life the soul passes into eternity; here is eternity, — and I drew, on one side of the figure, a line to the very edge of the board. Why is there no such line on the other side of the figure ? Equally, what kind of an eternity is that which is only on one side ? We have no doubt existed before this life, although we have lost the recollection of it.

This consideration, which then appeared extremely novel and clear to me, but the connection of which I can barely make out now, gave me extreme pleasure, and I took a sheet of paper and intended to put my idea down in writing; but such a mass of ideas suddenly burst upon me that I was compelled to get up and walk about the room. As I walked up to the window, my attention was drawn to the horse which a driver was hitching to a water-cart, and all my thoughts centered on the solution of the question, into what animal or man the soul of that horse would pass after her death. Just then Volodya crossed the room and, seeing that I was deep in thought, smiled. This smile was enough to make me understand that all I had been thinking about was the merest bosh.

I have told this memorable incident only to give the reader an idea what my reasoning were like.

By none of these philosophical considerations was I so carried away as by skepticism, which at one time led me to a condition bordering on insanity. I imagined that nothing existed in the whole world outside of me, that objects were no objects, but only images which appeared whenever I turned my attention to them, and that these images would immediately disappear when I no longer thought of them. In short, I held the conviction with Schelhng that objects do not exist, but only my relation to them. There were moments when, under the influence of this fixed idea, I reached such a degree of absurdity that I sometimes suddenly turned in the opposite direction, hoping to take nothingness by surprise, where I was not.

What a miserable, insignificant mainspring of moral activities the human mind is!

My feeble reason could not penetrate the impenetrable, and in the labor which transcended its power, I lost, one after another, those convictions which, for the happiness of my life, I ought never to have presumed to touch.

From all that heavy moral labor I carried away nothing but agility of mind, which weakened my will-power, and a habit of constant moral analysis, which destroyed the freshness of my feeling and the clearness of my understanding.

Abstract ideas are formed in consequence of a man’s ability to grasp, consciously, the condition of his soul at a certain moment, and to transfer it to his memory. My inclination for abstract reasoning so unnaturally developed my consciousness that frequently, when I began to think of the simplest thing, I fell into the inextricable circle of the analysis of my thoughts, and I no longer thought of the question which occupied my attention, but I thought of the fact that I thought. If I asked myself: Of what am I thinking ? I answered: I am thinking of thinking. And what am I thinking of now ? I am thinking of thinking that I am thinking, and so on. Keason was lost in empty speculation.

However, the philosophical discoveries which I made flattered my vanity very much: I frequently imagined myself a great man who was discovering new truths for the good of mankind, and I looked upon all other mortals with a proud consciousness of my dignity. But, strange to say, whenever I came in contact with these mortals, I grew timid, and the higher I placed myself in my own opinion, the less I was able to express the consciousness of my own dignity before others, and could not even get accustomed to not being ashamed of every simplest word and motion of mine.