Illustrating a Chick Lit Book Cover

Kelly Dern
4 min readFeb 20, 2017


A few months ago, Claire Betita du Guzman approached me to illustrate Miss Makeover (coming out soon!). I was thrilled about the project and jumped right in.

My process usually involves researching, mind mapping, color palette creation, rough sketching, final sketches, illustration, and then the final design.


During the research phase, I’m looking at other illustrations within the same space. In this case, I’m looking at other chick lit book cover designs as well as illustrations that cover similar themes. I want the cover to stand out and be unique, so I’m only using this research to highlight gaps where this illustration could shine. One of the lessons that was drilled into me during graduate school was that it’s not compelling enough to do great work, you have to create something that no one has ever thought of before. I think about this concept each time I approach a challenge.

I also go through the brief or writing sample and look for common themes. The arch of the story, emotions and physical elements are important to highlight.

Mind Map

I start my mind map by reviewing the brief and highlighting common themes or elements that stand out. I’m looking for both tangible visual elements (beach, make-up, flowers) and intangible themes (attraction, vibrant, enthusiasm). These two areas make up the functional layout and then emotional impact of the design. You can’t have one without the other.

Mood Board

I like to share a mood board and color palette with clients before starting on sketches. I sometimes share both the mood board and sketches during the design review so that the client can get a better sense of both the visual design and layout of the illustration.


After I’ve completed these steps, I move on to the sketching phase. I’ll usually sketch out about 6–10 rough ideas and then narrow those concepts down to about 3 designs. Some illustrators will sketch out thumbnails, but I find it’s much easier for me to sketch out a more detailed layout and then refine it before sharing the idea with the client.

Visual Design

After the mood board and sketch approval, I move on to Illustrator to complete the final design. I decided to mock up 2.5 of the sketches, mostly because I enjoy illustrating so much that I like to show as many examples as possible to the client (and if I have time). By this point, I’ve already decided on the color palette, layout and themes of the design, so this stage is the easy part.

Once these illustrations are complete, I print out the designs and mark them up. I find that I notice areas of improvement much faster when I have the actual paper in my hands (maybe I’m just old-school). I go through this process several times before I transfer the edits to Illustrator.

Refining the Color Palette

After selecting a final illustration, we decided that the original palette, while it followed the brief, could be a bit brighter. I brightened the palette and added more shadows for depth.

Selecting the Final Illustration

We decided that the cover needed to pop more, so that there was enough contrast and visual interest to draw the eye. I quickly sketch out some extra floral elements and draw over them. Once complete, I move them around in the design until the layout is balanced.

This version was a bit too bright. I decided to tone down the design and only include the birds of paradise. The final is bright, balanced and has enough pop to add visual interest.



Kelly Dern

Senior Video UX Designer @Google / Advisor / Public Speaker, interested in chronic health tech, occasional illustrator