P4 — Process Documentation
When I originally started researching the minor in Design at CMU, I was nervous. I was fascinated by design, and I desperately wanted to start learning its fundamentals. But I was not a designer by trade — I was an artist, and I felt far more comfortable with a pencil and paper than I did with a computer mouse and Illustrator. Design seemed like a big time jump, and preparing a design portfolio for the minor application was terrifying.
Thankfully, I was accepted into the program, and this semester, I’ve had the opportunity to learn so much through CDF and other related design courses. I’ve begun exploring the world of design, learning how to implement design techniques, and understanding how to think like a designer. But throughout this all, I’ve hoped for an opportunity to apply my background in art to my design work. Although I’ve loved the projects we’ve done in CDF so far, as they’ve all pushed me to be a better designer, I’ve also wanted a chance to return to my roots and do some good, old-fashioned drawing. And then, P4 came about.
Finally! After 3 thought-provoking, more design-oriented projects, I finally got my opportunity to draw. I actually didn’t even realize that drawing would be an option at first, until Suzanne showed us the example book series with Life of Pi and Moby Dick. But I loved the illustrations that individual used for their series, and I was inspired to create my own as well. Here’s how the process went down!
Ever since I was younger, I’ve always loved the color yellow. It’s such a rich, warm color, and it always reminds me of the California sun and happy days. Naturally, this led me to really enjoy the color scheme of purple and yellow. It’s my favorite set of complementary colors because I feel like purple is such a powerful, deep tone that contrasts the yellow splendidly. When the hues are just right, the contrast feels like a dark, night sky with yellow, sparkling stars in the foreground. Thus, when we first got the P4 assignment after learning color theory, I knew that I wanted my project to involve these two colors.
When I think of themes involving the colors purple and gold, I immediately think of rags-to-riches stories and finding treasure. So while brainstorming books that included these themes, a few popped to mind:
- The Great Gatsby
- Beauty and the Beast
- La La Land
After taking into consideration the color schemes I wanted as well as potential cover illustrations, I ended up choosing Aladdin, The Great Gatsby, and Beauty and the Beast. What tied these books together was the idea of finding treasure; I noted that interestingly enough, in each of the movies, the main female protagonist was the “treasure” that the main male counterpart strove for. Two of these were Disney films, so I wanted to find a way to put my own artistic flair on the original graphics from the movie.
When I started doing preliminary sketches, there were a couple of overarching ideas that popped into my head. For one, I wanted to have illustrations of the main characters of each book on the cover (Aladdin and Jasmine, Gatsby and Daisy, and Beast and Belle). Each of the duos would be dancing, but their poses would be representative of the nature of their relationship. I also wanted to have the main palace/“home” of each of the couples lurking somewhere in the background. I left the rest of the cover ideas to be free to develop as I progressed.
But now, with these initial ideas in mind, it was time to get to work!
Aladdin is a classic tale of a beggar who finds his way into the heart of a princess, eventually becoming a prince himself. Aladdin is a story with a happy ending, but there was tension along the way (as in all fairy tales), and his grasp on Princess Jasmine was fleeting at times. So, when I sketched out the two main characters, I wanted to portray them in a pose that showed how they were united, but it was a tricky road to get there. In addition, their different social classes represent a natural divide between the two; their touching hands are pressed flat together to represent this bridged connection.
I wanted to explore multiple different layouts, but I made sure to keep in mind the fact that my design should be one that could be replicable across the different books. In other words, the components of each front design should have similar components for the other books as well. I approached each cover with a different idea:
- Cover 1 focused on the relationship between the main characters, and emphasized the the palace in the background. In addition, I included a moon, because I felt that might look nice on a rich purple background. Right off the bat, I knew that Cover 1 was the idea I wanted to really pursue.
- Cover 2 focused on an object of great significance in Aladdin, the magic carpet. I figured that in the other books, I could also find an object of importance and emphasize it on the front cover.
- Cover 3 has the silhouette of the palace dominating the view. For the other covers, I would be able to create silhouettes of each of the palaces/homes and use those on the cover as a consistent theme.
I ended up choosing Cover 1 as my main idea because I like how it included all of the components I originally wanted. It had the main characters on the front, the object of great importance on the back (the magic carpet), and an additional symbol on the spine (the genie lamp). In addition, the palace would be shown in the back of the front cover, marking a comforting presence behind the two main characters. I also really liked the composition of this cover, with the title in the upper right corner.
Last Christmas, I received a Wacom Bamboo Sketch digital pencil from my parents. I hadn’t had much time to use it this past year, but thankfully, P4 finally gave me an opportunity to do so! Thus, I had three main tools for my designs for P4: my Bamboo Sketch pen, the Adobe Illustrator Draw app on my iPhone, and Illustrator on my desktop.
I started by drawing Aladdin and Jasmine on my phone. As mentioned earlier, I wanted to be careful to not directly rip off Disney’s art style. So, I spent some time brainstorming different ways to depict Aladdin in a more abstract way. This is what I came up with:
It was my first attempt at an abstract, artistic rendition of Aladdin, and I was pretty satisfied with how it turned out. I wanted Aladdin to look somewhat 3D, so I included some highlights and shadows, but I still wanted the art style to be fairly minimalistic. After I completed Aladdin, it was time to move onto Jasmine!
As mentioned earlier, the key pose I wanted to depict the two characters in was one of balance; I wanted to show them together in a pose that represents the line between royalty and poverty, but their hands being flush with one another demonstrates how they’ve overcome that imbalance. After playing around with Jasmine’s color tones and style, I finished with this:
As seen, I made a few changes to the color scheme; instead of having Aladdin’s hat and waistband be red, I made them both a golden yellow color. Although his attire was originally red in the movie, I felt like gold fit my color scheme more. After drawing Aladdin and Jasmine, I felt like I had a much better grasp of what I wanted my color scheme/four colors to be: Purple, Yellow, Blue, and Brown.
The great thing about the Adobe Illustrator Draw app is that it supports Creative Cloud syncing! So after I finished my drawing on my phone, I was able to directly transfer it to my desktop version of Illustrator.
Next came creating different vectors and images for my book cover. On Illustrator, I made a moon with a few craters, and then I used various squares and triangles in order to create silhouetted palace outlines. For the Aladdin palace, I (with the help of Suzanne) also learned how to create dome shapes. Thankfully, the final silhouette vector looked pretty similar to the actual palace from the movie!
My first draft for my front book cover was fairly rough, but it gave me an idea of how I wanted to pursue my covers. I mainly wanted to experiment with composition and placement of the different components, so I placed the palace in the background with sand dunes in the front.
I hadn’t yet included the titles, but when Suzanne and Rachel offered my some preliminary feedback on my piece, I started to make tweaks. For my title font, I really wanted to pick out one that conveyed a sense of regality and elegance. I was thinking that some sort of gothic serif font might look very clean yet royal, and I eventually found one called “Bodoni 72 Smallcaps Book.” At first, I was confused what “smallcaps” meant, but then I realized: every letter of this font was in capitals! The lowercase letters were simply smaller capital letters. I really liked that aesthetic, so I chose to use that font.
With my first version of the front cover done, it was time to move on to the spine and back! According to my preliminary sketches, I knew that I wanted to incorporate a few key things:
- Spine: title and genie’s lamp icon
- Back: magic carpet and quote
I started with the back. The magic carpet was drawn with my Bamboo pen on my phone, and after I imported it to my desktop (along with the sand dunes), I set to work on the shadow. The shadow took a while to create because I did it on the desktop version rather than on my phone, so I had a bit less control of the direction of the lines. However, after a few tries, I finally got it to look fairly realistic.
The quote on the back of my cover was actually inspired by the original Disney movie poster from Aladdin’s release in 1992. Old Disney posters were very mysterious and serene, and they mostly featured a movie quote on them. The poster looked like this:
I found a flowing, cursive scripture font called “Savoye LET Plain” that I felt really encapsulated the mystique of this quote, and I used it to depict the phrase on the back of my cover. The front and back now looked like this:
Finally came the spine. Using the same Bodoni font, I rotated the “ALADDIN” 90 degrees so that it was pointed face up. I actually had to think for a while to determine which direction I wanted the word to face, because it could either face right or left. However, after doing some research, I learned that in Eastern cultures it’s more typical to have the word face to the right because we tend to peruse library shelves starting on the left side. Thus, if the title faces rightward, it’s easier to read it as you walk by. For the lamp, I drew it in my Adobe Illustrator Draw app and imported it to my desktop as well. All together, my cover looked like this at the interim crit.
I liked it a lot, and I felt very proud of the progress I had made. The feedback I got during the interim crit was very positive as well, but I got some really helpful suggestions that I implemented in order to complete my cover.
For one, people felt as though my background cover was a bit too bright and inconsistent among my other covers (will be seen later in the Process Doc), so I changed it to a duller, more muted purple. It brought out the gold and the characters a lot more, so I think that this was an effective change. I also removed the purple bars next to the spine, as I felt that graying out the spine was enough contrast on its own. In addition, I lightened the color of the palace in the background by lowering the opacity in order to make it more consistent with the other covers. After adding in space for the flaps (which I originally forgot — whoops!), I printed it out on regular tabloid paper and tested it on my book. The cover was actually about a millimeter too short in height for the book, so I made the necessary adjustment and reprinted it. My final cover was complete!
The Great Gatsby
Book 2 was The Great Gastby. This, similarly to Aladdin, was another story of an individual going from rags to riches and chasing after the girl of his dreams. However, in this story, the ending is not quite as happy; Gatsby eventually loses Daisy via his own untimely demise. In order to represent the fleetingness of their love, I wanted to show Gatsby and Daisy dancing with their fingertips barely touching, demonstrating how weak the grasp Gatsby has on Daisy is. This was reflected in my initial sketches.
I aimed for each of these covers to correspond to one of the Aladdin cover ideas in order to maintain series continuity. Because I liked Cover 1 for Aladdin the most, I also chose Cover 1 for The Great Gatsby. I really wanted the chance to portray the characters in Illustrator and design their mansion in the background.
Once again, I started by drawing Gastby and Daisy in the Adobe Illustrator Draw app on my phone. Gatsby was a bit trickier, because his suit was all black, but I still wanted to portray some level of 3D-ness. Once again though, I adhered to the minimalist aesthetic and avoided drawing faces. Daisy was fun to draw, as her yellow dress mirrored her skin complexion nicely. I tried to make sure to define the dress as well as I could in order to still make it stand out.
Once I had drawn Gatsby and Daisy, it was onto the covers! The process was fairly similar to Aladdin’s, so I’ll just go over the highlights and vectors created in Illustrator.
The mansion was created in a similar fashion to Aladdin’s palace, but the arches were much trickier. I first made a long, black rectangle, and then made multiple smaller rectangles and overlayed them on the top row. Then, I created archways by making rounded rectangles and overlaying them again. Finally, I selected all and cut out the overlayed shapes, leaving the black archway behind.
I used the same moon and fonts for The Great Gatsby as I did for Aladdin, and then it was time for the spine and back. For Gatsby’s back, I chose to keep it relatively simple as well. I drew a tree on the Illustrator Draw app and imported it to Illustrator, and then lowered the opacity a bit to make it appear fainter and fully behind the arches.
I wanted to use a quote on the back cover of The Great Gatsby as well, but because it wasn’t a Disney movie, there was no classic movie poster to reference. After searching online for a bit, I found a modern Gatsby poster that actually did include a short tagline.
“Can’t repeat the past? …of course you can!”
For the spine, I created the Gatsby “G” logo by cutting out multiple rectangles and shapes from other circles, eventually resulting in a pretty clean looking icon for the bottom. The text used the same Bodoni font as before, so the overall cover looked like this at the interim crit:
I didn’t like my Gatsby cover as much as my Aladdin one, but it was still pretty well received. Some of the main pieces of feedback I got were 1) the inconsistent color background with Aladdin, and 2) the fact that Gatsby and Daisy didn’t look as good as Aladdin and Jasmine. I didn’t use as many 3D shadows and highlights for these two characters, and I had accidentally made Gatsby’s head a bit too big. It was time to fix these issues!
I went back to my Illustrator Draw app and completely redrew Gatsby’s head so that it was more proportionate to his body. In addition, I added more texture to both of their outfits in order to add a touch more realism. I really liked the changes I made, as they looked much more lively in their frozen dance poses:
I also toned down the purple to make it darker and hazier, and the exact same shade as Aladdin’s cover. Reading the feedback for Gatsby was what convinced me to make all of the covers the same color. After adding book flaps and playing around with the kerning on the title (at the suggestion of Suzanne), I felt satisfied with the final version!
Beauty and the Beast
This cover wound up being my favorite cover by far, largely because I was really happy with how my illustrations turned out. I portrayed Belle and Beast in a tender embrace on the cover because their love story was arguably the strongest among the three books in my series, and I wanted to depict their dance pose to represent that tenderness. Following in the veins of Aladdin and Gatsby, my sketches for Beauty and the Beast reflected my 3 different series ideas.
To maintain the desired level of consistency throughout my series, I chose to work with Cover 1. I was super excited for the prospects of drawing Beast and Belle; even though I knew it would likely be immensely complicated, I was feeling a lot more confident with my digital pen and I wanted to take on the challenge… and challenge me, it most definitely did. I think it took around 2 total hours to draw the two characters, but it was completely worth it!
I could really feel my art style defining itself on this sketch, and I was very pleased with the balance of minimalism and definition I had created with my drawings. After I imported it to Illustrator, I set to work on the necessary vectors. The castle was fun to build because it required slanting out parts of the bottom story in order to achieve a more cartoony look.
Unfortunately, because I had spent so much time on the previous two covers, I wasn’t actually able to churn out a full draft by the interim crit. So, I slapped Beauty and the Beast on the front of a purple background, added their castle on top of a hill, and make a trapezoid to represent a staircase.
The biggest thing I needed to fix was make the background color of the three covers consistent. The difference became even more glaring once they were printed, so I wanted to ensure that I avoided this situation on the final crit. In addition, I simply needed to keep grinding on this cover in order to finish it completely. On to the staircase!
The staircase was a massive hassle to create, but after using multiple shades of brown and playing with some dimensions and perspective, I was able to produce a fairly regal looking staircase that fit my color theme well. I was now able to replace the trapezoid with an actual, elegant staircase!
For the back, I really wanted to draw the chandelier from the ballroom in the movie. For each of my other covers, I had utilized some sort of landscape component in the back. I felt that the ballroom would be an appropriate adaptation for my Beauty and the Beast cover. I drew the chandelier in the Illustrator Draw app, as well as the design for the ballroom floor. The chandelier took a while, as I wanted to ensure that I made it 3D and realistic enough. In addition, I also drew the Enchanted Rose from the movie as my icon for the spine. Here’s what they looked like on their own:
After including the blurb from the original poster from the 1991 film and adjusting the location of the chandelier and ballroom floor, my back cover looked like this:
The spine was a bit trickier for Beauty and the Beast, as I realized that my rose icon overlapped directly on the staircase. Because the staircase had some lighter tones of brown, it made it a bit hard to distinguish the rose from the rest of the background. In order to work around this, I made a rectangle of a dark brown color that covered that exact portion of the spine. After toning down the opacity a bit, this dark brown rectangle essentially served as a “darkening filter” for the spine, making it much, much easier to see the rose.
After combining all of these elements, as well as adding in book flaps and adjusting kerning, I had my completed final book cover!
Conclusions + Final Crit
This project was definitely one of the most time consuming and draining ones, but boy, was it worth it! Not only was the feedback I received at the final crit very positive and uplifting, but this was the most fun I’ve had on any project in a long, long time. I love art so much, and just getting the chance to rekindle my passion for digital art was an unforgettable experience. This project helped me establish my own art style and signature, and it was such a rewarding experience learning to combine my artwork with my design mentality.
Going forward, I know that I will look back at this project as a breakthrough of sorts. This is the first time that I’ve been able to say that I was able to merge the worlds of fine art and design. And although I didn’t use traditional media such as watercolor or graphite, digital art served as an excellent complement to my designs. I didn’t have as many iterations on this project as I did in projects past, but the sheer amount of different vectors and components definitely compensated for it.
Finally, I learned that even the subtlest of changes can increase continuity and consistency drastically. Design is not about making vastly different changes from iteration to iteration; rather, it is about looking at different pieces and understanding what design elements work. Then, it is up to us as designers to wield those elements and make our designs more fluid and powerful. For instance, just tweaking the background purple ever-so-slightly brought out the foreground so much more, and it also ultimately made my series more internally consistent. I learned so much this project, and I can’t wait to combine all of the skills I’ve gained this semester into the final project.
P5, let’s do this!