Design Lessons from Book Covers: Silhouettes

Because I’m a huge design nerd, I’m always looking at book covers, picking them apart, and trying to learn from their creators. Belatedly, I realized my inner dialogue might be entertaining, so today I’m sharing.

Design Lessons from Book Covers: Silhouettes

This time around, I’ll be highlighting book covers that feature silhouettes.

Book covers for Tumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley, The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, Siren Sisters by Dana Langer, and The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly by Rebecca K.S. AnsariCover artwork by Hari & Deepti

Harnessing the magic of light, these papercraft artists create eye-catching book covers with layers upon layers of transparent paper. Attention to detail is given to each sheet, which gives the designs their dimension.

What can we learn?

  • You can use all kinds of materials and techniques to create book covers! Think about how you can put your artistic skills to use in unexpected ways.
  • Even when working with monochromatic silhouettes, it’s worth considering how light, color, and texture might come into play.
  • Picking fonts and placing text in a way that suits the artwork is just as important as the quality of what’s beneath. Give each element equal attention and care for a seamless final design.

 

Book covers for The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna, and Grimms' Fairy Tales by Jacob & Wilhelm GrimmCover artwork by Daniela Terrazzini

By blending highly-detailed silhouettes and thoughtfully themed patterns, this illustrator is able to create charming new designs that conjure up a sense of nostalgia, perfect for recovering old favorites and giving a sense of history to new-breaking titles.

What can we learn?

  • Taking props from the stories and using them on the cover is a smart way to make a simple cover personal.
  • Silhouettes of people need to be dynamic and accurate. Pay attention to things like pose and anatomy, textures like hair and cloth, and incorporating color to further define shapes–even when attempting more simplified or stylized shapes.
  • Take a page from illustrators and pull out a pencil when working up your designs. Doodling a few thumbnails will allow you to weed out bad ideas early on and better visualize the final product as you go forward.

 

Book covers for The Memory of Forgotten Things by Kat Zhang, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Thief and the Beanstalk by P. W. Catanese, and Why Read Moby Dick? by Nathaniel PhilbrickCovers designed by Jim Tierney

With great success, this illustrator and graphic designer not only replicates the charm of oldschool book covers, but adapts the style to create undeniably modern covers, too.

What can we learn?

  • Study art trends from the era you want to evoke. By integrating old inspiration into brand new designs, you can suggest vintage without needing to make your cover look like an actual antique.
  • Silhouettes can be appropriate for a variety of genres and styles. Experiment with new colors, fonts, and textures to see how easy it is to go from horror to romantic poems, sci-fi adventures to traditional folklore, and anything in between.
  • Perhaps you’ve noticed by now, but silhouettes are usually pretty small on book covers. Use your extra space wisely to incorporate the title, textures, suggest a setting, add details, or leave your design some breathing room.

 

Covers from the Serafina book series by Robert BeattyCover artwork by Alexander Jansson

Other-worldly digital artwork paints a backdrop for the whimsical silhouettes on the Serafina series covers. By picking an artist whose style matches the mysterious vibe of the books, this series is sure to appeal to the right readers.

What can we learn?

  • Combining flat silhouettes with photography, illustration, and texture can be tricky to get just right, but successful results can make for an unforgettable cover.
  • Matching the mood of the cover to the writing style within is an essential part of good cover design. Remember, the goal is to get people interested in reading the book!
  • Pay attention to how books in a series will look next to each other. Ideally, the covers for each individual book should be complimentary, but not so similar that you can’t tell them apart at a glance.

 

Book covers for Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr, Finding Serendipity by Angelica Banks, The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, and Where the Wods Grow Wild by Nate Philbrick(1-2) Designed by Design By Committee, (3) Cover artwork by Beth White, (4) Cover design by Nate Philbrick

Creating scenes with nothing but silhouettes takes an artistic eye and some creative license, but these beautifully crafted covers are almost more eye-catching than a traditionally illustrated book cover.

What can we learn?

  • In some cases, more can be even better than minimal when it comes to adding textures, colors, and details to your design. Don’t be afraid to test the limit, silhouettes hold up extremely well.
  • Silhouettes don’t necessarily need to be photorealistic to work. Stylized characters or whimsical additions are a fantastic way to set your cover apart from the competition.
  • Papercraft artists and shadow specialists aren’t hard to find. If you’re not confident in your own silhouette skills, do a little research and find someone who can turn your vision into reality. A little collaboration between an artist and a cover designer can only lead to beautiful things.

 

By pushing your creativity, using online resources, or relying on a little professional help, the possibilities are enough to fill a bookshelf!

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