Book Cover Illustration and Design

I recently worked on a project for a book cover, so I thought I'd share a little of the process with you.

First I met with the author of the book and discussed the core message which I'll do my best to summarize:

Trumping the Red Queen
by Ralph Frid, Ph.D., is a heavily researched book that takes a serious look at innovation and creativity in today's times. The Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland is used as a metaphor. She represents business structures and systems born in the industrial revolution which no longer work efficiently in our fast paced, changing world. In the book the author explains a unique form of learning called Hyperstruction, increasing innovation and creativity without running everyone into the ground.

The client wanted the character of the queen to be the focal point of the cover.
She is dictatorial, mythological, rigid, feared and living in the past. She is satisfied with her reality as she explained it to Alice, "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
It was also important that the cover expressed an element of hope, innovation, and new beginnings.

At first, all I could think about was, "Fifteen years of the author's life has been devoted to the the research and writing of this book and I only have a few weeks illustrate the cover. I'd better make this illustration count!" Then I got to work reading the Trumping the Red Queen, and researching the characters in the original stories of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass to refresh my memory.

The next step was brainstorming with lots of rough sketches: Different types of crowns, ways to illustrate the old crumbling system... and how do you illustrate creativity or hope, anyway? Should I use symbols of the red queen or an outright portrait?

Then I pulled together elements from the rough sketches and came up with the portraits above. The last one was just for fun... couldn't resist!

I also explored other approaches using symbols for the queen rather than a character. On the left, gears & smoke stacks to represent the industrial revolution, and figures struggling to stay ahead the old way. On the right I went for a more techie feel to represent our times, the instability of change and movement into the future.

The client loved the center portrait of the Queen of Hearts.
I used angular features and a downcast gaze to project the queen's character. I used gears and smokestacks as symbols of the industrial revolution. I chose Black, white, red, yellow, the traditional colors of playing card, and mimicked the typical Queen of Hearts pose. Factory smokestacks, industrial gears, fast moving freeways represent our fast paced world today and echo the queen's words to Alice.

Below are some different ideas about placement on the cover to dramatize the deterioration of the old way.

The client chose the middle image because it is bold and straight forward. The only element missing in the design was an element of hope which I added later on the computer.

I created the portrait of the Queen of Hearts using soft pastels and pastel pencils on white PastelMat, which was the perfect surface. It's velvety texture took layers of rich color easily and it was easy to get a smooth thin line as well for the details. I used PanPastels to block in color of the main elements and shadows, applying rich solid color quickly. The variety shapes of the small Sofftool Knives, were very easy to use for filling in colors and blocking in square or triangular shapes. I then added details with pastel pencils.

The above left image was scanned on my home computer which just didn't cut it, even with editing. So, I had the illustration scanned professionally, enhanced the color in Photoshop to match the color of the original, cleaned it up a bit and added the pawns, which were drawn and scanned separately (right). At this point it was ready incorporate into the cover design.

I used Adobe Illustrator to add bold red and yellow color creating a glow and a swirl design to give the impression of movement. I put the layout together in InDesign. Here is the final cover design of the book submitted to the publisher.

Read more about
Trumping the Red Queen by Ralph Frid, Ph. D on the. Official Blog


  1. It was great reading your process. Thanks for sharing. I often do this on my blog as I find it interesting when other do this however it is not that often we have time to document the process. Thanks again and best of luck wiht the book sales.

  2. Love to read it,Waiting For More new Update and I Already Read your Recent Post its Great Thanks. https://illustrationstyles.net/


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