Every day this week, we welcome graphic designer and author Suzanne Williams, who shares some excellent information in a special series on designing book covers.
Part 2 – The Basics of Design: Composition
Hopefully, you are reading today’s article because you read the introduction and it only made you more determined to learn. You want to self-design your book cover and you want to do it right. Now, where to begin?
You must acquire a graphics program and software to assemble your book cover, those being the first two most essential things to have. I use Adobe Photoshop to assemble difficult images and Microsoft Publisher 2007 to assemble the book cover. There are other programs on the market, but these provide most everything you need.
Book cover design is all about composition. What is composition? It is the arrangement, or the placement, of all the elements on the page. All of these elements when viewed together should answer one important question. What do you want to draw the viewer’s eye?
There are a few basic rules of composition that always work –shapes, lines, and the rule of thirds. Shapes and lines both draw the eye in a particular direction, whether that’s a strong vertical element elongating the page or a more curving one, softening the scene. The strongest lines are often diagonals. The strongest shapes are “S” curves. In both cases, the viewer’s eye is drawn from one corner of the scene to the main focus point. This could be your title or a particular graphic.
The rule of thirds divides the scene into three parts horizontally and vertically. In the rule of thirds, nothing is cut in half. Instead, you divide all your elements into three’s, placing them in a “third” location and NOT down the middle. This is always more visually stimulating to a viewer. Think of a vase of flowers. If you place two flowers in the vase, then one will lean to the right and one will lean to the left, and you will have a hole down the middle. Odd numbers – 3,5,7,9 – are always preferable, so three flowers present a much better composition.
Now, what are these “elements”? Here I am talking about the number of graphics on your cover. One photo of a lovely woman spanning the entire front is good. Two side by side is bad. Yet take those two and set them atop a rolling landscape scene and you have three elements. However, take your two women, the rolling landscape, and throw in a vase of flowers, and now you have four elements. Three was better or if you have the space on your cover, then increase to five. You must also count any text as an element, so one graphic, your title text, and the author’s name counts as three elements.
However, watch your negative space. Negative space is the area where there is nothing (the white in our book cover example). Too little negative space and your cover will become crowded. Also, pay attention to where your elements cross each other. If the telephone pole in the landscape is now coming out from the woman’s head that is bad. You want each element to accent the other without the scene being busy. Simple is always better in graphic design.
Once you have your composition in mind, what is the next step? Next, we’ll talk about “The Basics of Design: Layering and Graphics.”
Suzanne D. Williams is a native Floridian, wife, mother, daughter, sister, granddaughter, Christian, dachshund owner, spelling whiz, wildlife enthusiast, photographer, graphic artist, and writer. She designs book cover art for independent publishing companies and self-publishing authors. She writes a regular column on digital photography for Steve's Digicams, as well as in her personal blog. Her book, Fearless, is her personal testimony of how God freed her from crippling fear. Her novel, Missing, debuts in April.