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.


Film Posters: Boris Barnet’s By the Bluest of Seas and more…

Culture, Film Diary, Update & News

I used to have fun making fake covers for the Criterion Collection years ago, looking over hundreds of posters and trying to re-design them, but when it came to choosing 38 posters to decorate my room, it was the hardest task of choosing, how can one chose among hundreds of favorite films, only 38 posters?

By the Bluest of Seas / Self Design

It took me almost two week to decide upon the 38 posters, and among those 38, there was one film that had no poster to be found for, that was Boris Barnet’s By the Bluest of Seas (1936), one of my top ten favorite film. I shouldn’t say that there no poster for the film, there is a terrible design for its Russian dvd release in low quality. The reason that one can hardly find a poster from a Boris Barnet film is because Barnet is among the forgotten masters of the Soviet cinema, only two of his films have been released on DVD, Outskirts and The Girl with the Hatbox, and rarely any of his film were ever released in the theater as of recent . After a long search and no luck at finding a poster, I decided to make my own design,  copying the criterion cover for Ozu’s Late Spring.

Late Spring / Criterion Collection Design

The reason I had to have a poster of By the Bluest of Seas is because it is film that one never get tired of watching it, I’m simply in love with the film, it almost has a magical power over the viewer in recalling its rich images days, weeks, month, even years after the first encounter with it, that power is  best explored in this short essay by Nicole Brenez (short video below).

A film that is rich in imagery, lyricism, poetry, beauty, conflict and lovable characters  in a triangular love affair is best to have a poster that express all that, so it was no surprise to chose a similar design to that of Late Spring.

Lyricism of The Ocean

The lyricism is the ocean, always in the move, once I tried to count the shots of the Sea in the film, from the opening shot onward, I gave up after counting to 52, that is how much the Sea is present in the film, the sea is the face of the film, and the wave cover the upper half of the poster.

Poem of Love

What is poetry? Word in space. What is cinematic poetry? Image in time. The lower half of the poster is image in time as it is captured from the film.

Poem in Conflict

Between the love of Mariya and Alyosha is not only Yussuf, but also her fiance solider, whom we hear about but never see, she reject both Alyosha and Yussuf for a solider far away on a mission.

Poem of the Sea

Lyricism in everyday life

 The conflict in the film, unattainable love with barriers between the lovers. What is best to describe that, than split the image of Mariya and Alyosha, and in between, the conflicting imagery.

The choices were by directors, rather than choosing their best film, I choice my favorite film, take Francois Truffaut, his best work is no doubt, The 400 Blows, but my favorite film from Truffaut is La chambre verte. Some directors got more than one film, Godard and Ozu each got two. Some didn’t make the list due mostly for not being able to find a higher resolution images of the films that I wanted to print, not to mention that I only had 38 poster to chose from. Almost every single one of them is being fixed some way or another in  Photoshop, some text have been added to few of the posters.

On the Wall. Size of each is 70 cm by 45 cm:

True Heart Susie (D.W. Griffith, 1919)
Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, 1921
The General (Buster Keaton), 1927)
Sunrise (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928)
City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931)

The Man I Killed (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932)
The Only Son (Yasujiro Ozu, 1936)
There Was A Father (Yasujiro Ozu, 1942)
By the Bluest of Seas (Boris Barnet, 1936)
Germany Year Zero (Roberto Rossellini, 1947)
The Bicycle Thief (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)

Good Sam (Leo McCarey, 1948)
The River (Jean Renoir, 1951)
The Big Sky (Howard Hawks, 1952)
The Big Heat (Fritz Lang, 1953)
Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)
Ordet (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1955)

A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson, 1956)
Seven Men from Now (Budd Boetticher, 1956)
Night Of The Demon (Jacques Tourneur, 1957)
Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
L’avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1959)

Nazarin (Luis Bunuel, 1959)
Accatone (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1961)
8 1/2 (Fedrico Fellini, 1963)
Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965)
Kes (Ken Loach, 1969)
Punishment Park (Peter Watkins, 1970)

Fat City (John Huston, 1972)
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Sam Peckinpah, 1974)
Dersu Uzala (Akira Kurosawa, 1974)
La chambre verte (Francois Truffaut, 1978)
Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)
Close-up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990)

The following two: 100 cm by 70 cm:

Pierrot Le Fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965)
Yol (Yilmaz Guney, 1981)

Many lyrical images from from By the Bluest of the Seas couldn’t make the final poster, nor did many of my favorite posters made it to my wall. Below are the images and the poster that were left out: