On Design: Book Covers


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.


“The Orphans” (1891) by Nikolay Kasatkin


13. The diary of a superfluous man, and other stories

The picture will have charm when each colour is very unlike the one next to it. (“On Painting” by Leon Battista Alberti)

It seems obvious that colors vary according to lights, because when any color is placed in the shade, it appears to be different from the same color which is located in light. Shade makes color dark, whereas light makes color bright where it strikes. (“On Painting” by Leon Battista Alberti)


06. Virgin Soil I

One of the biggest mistake that one could make is choosing colors, especially fonts colors when design a cover: You computer screen uses a different process of analyzing colors from that of a printer, so you must first check with the lab as to what color their printers can support, once you figure that out; then try your best not to stretch the colors, stick with a unified family of colors, and match the fonts you use with the design and the color layout of the painting.

As you see below; for the design for Tolstoy’s Resurrection: I used Vladimir Kazantsev’s painting, “At the Station” (1891), for in Resurrection; traveling from once space to another, especially by train is a repetition used throughout the book; once I determine the cover image, then I simply choose colors that best matches the image, in this case; I used White for the snow, and muddy Yellowish/Red to reflect the melting of the snow and the sun’s ray.

"At the Station" (1891) by Vladimir Kazantsev

“At the Station” (1891) by Vladimir Kazantsev


11 Resurrection

Same is true my design for Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons; it is the painting that determine the use of the color.


04. Fathers and Sons

Probably my design for Tolstoy’s Hadji Murad best illustrate the use of color and image in perfect harmony, no matter how bold it might be:


15 Hajid Murad

Sometime the use of the color depend on the content of the book. I like to use bright and warm colors and shift the saturation when the theme is light, such is the case for Tolstoy’s Fables for Children, the content is very light nature:


05 Fables for Children, Moral tales and other children’s stories

The opposite is true for  Turgenev’s A House of Gentelfolk and Tolstoy’s Domestic Happiness, the colors are cooled down to reflect the gloomy theme of the book:

"Winter" (1873) by Alexei Savrasov

“Winter” (1873) by Alexei Savrasov


02. A House of Gentlefolk

 "Moonlit Night " (1880) by IIvan Kramskoy

“Moonlit Night ” (1880) by IIvan Kramskoy


03 Domestic Happiness, and other stories

If you are designing a cover in English or any other Latin family language, the possibility of using and choosing the font that you desire is enormous,  and it will come down to your or client’s taste, but if you are design a cover for another language, as it happened to me a few weeks ago, design a DVD cover in Kurdish, you might have to create your own font, if not; there are very limited way to use fonts, and your work might suffer because of that.


Design for Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Dekalog/Kardozi

I usually stick with one or two font, or maxim of three in my designs, it is never recommended to use more than three fonts, or a one group of font family in a design, for the simple reason; it create chaos and not harmony, well, if your design is to reflect chose in the cover itself, then use as many as you wish.


19 Three days in the village and other sketches

                   From Book Design to Room Design





I like to mention the fact that designing a book cover is not much different from designing your room,  or as a matter of fact; in designing anything that exist in nature, there are a six elements you have to consider: Space, Objects, Layout, Theme, Colors, and Time.

I mention designing a room, because at the same time as I was designing the book covers, I was also designing my room; and having a deep passion for cinema, I wanted my room to become like an inside of a theater, the reason for that is because I use the room mostly to watch film and write, and in order for one to feel comfortable in an environment, one must reshape that environment to one’s liking and taste, only then can one become creative and feel comfortable.

Objects in Space

Objects in Space

One of the question that I’m always asked as to why I choose the color Red as the primarily color for the room? I chose is for the simple reason that it is my favorite color, and also; by its nature, Red is an active color, it attract the eye, move and animate one, but to balance the Red, the second color that I have used it Black, almost every object that I choose to decorate the room has a tone of black to it; from the DVD/Book shelves, to the wood on the door, tables, furniture and even the frame of the posters on the wall, Black is the secondary color.

A Tribute to Tolstoy and Chekhov

A Tribute to Tolstoy and Chekhov

Now; as much as I love to collect antiques, I try my best to display only the essential around me, on my table, beside my MacBook  which I do most of my work, bet it editing or writing, other objects are there no only for the same of display, but one way or another; to motivate or have a function, ah, but that is another story when it comes to decorating your room, I will keep it for another time, when I get a chance to write about it.


About Karzan Kardozi

Just another cinephile writing about Life and nothing more......
This entry was posted in Art and Literature, Update & News and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to On Design: Book Covers

  1. Kitku says:

    Such beauty and creativity! I look forward to reading more about the design of your room.

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