A new book cover – Creating the first drafts


Before beginning any work in PhotoShop or Illustrator, it’s good to have a general concept for the cover in place, at least in terms of technique and elements. With City of God cover I knew I wanted to use photography and the double exposure effect that has been so popular lately. I’ve been wanting to use it in a project ever since seeing the opening sequence for True Detective’s first season.

I also needed to use imagery that is recognizably connected to Rio, which led me to search istockphoto.com (my go to place for stock photography) for images of Christ the Redeemer statue and favelas. I saved dozens of images, but this next one stuck in my mind as the perfect background image and color scheme for the cover design. I went ahead and purchased the photo, and started to build the cover design around it.


First things first. Finding a recognizable image connected to Rio was essential for this project.

The publisher had also requested a human figure to be on the cover. As the story of City of God is about two young guys from the slum of Cidade de Deus, I tried to find a picture that would pass for someone Brazilian. For the double exposure effect (an image over another image) to work, this also needed to be a silhouette image, so I would be able to mask the shape of the man and create the overlapping image layers. Here’s a link to a how-to article, if you would like to create something similar in PhotoShop.


A perfect image for creating the double exposure effect.

The next step was finding some great distressed fonts for the title. Normally I like to use fonts I can find in Adobe Typekit, because Adobe CreativeCloud membership also includes the usage of 100 fonts. This time I lucked out finding some awesome freeware fonts at misprintedtype.com.


I used Astonished from Misprinted Type for the author name.


I used Downcome from Misprinted type for the title.

At this point, I don’t spend too much time tweaking and perfecting the cover design before sending first drafts to the client for comments. I like to get the basic idea down and send in drafts as early as possible. The reasoning behind this has been a big lesson in managing design projects. It’s really not necessary to use a lot of time in perfecting something before you know you’re heading in the right direction. The sooner you get feedback on the design, the better. I knew I wasn’t quite there yet with the design, but I needed to know if the basic idea was what the client wanted from the cover. Here are the two versions I sent in for comments:


Version 1 is slightly lighter.


Version 2 is a little darker.

The good news is the cover idea was well received and the idea is on point with the story. Version 1 was better liked and the client had one comment about perhaps introducing a vibrant nature element into the mix. We agreed that the design as such might not be distinct enough to stand out. But now I can continue with version 1 and go ahead and purchase the silhouette image (as you can see, the iStock watermarks are still in place in the cover drafts).

Another designer rated the cover idea “good basic stuff that will probably get better with some grungy styling”. He’s so right. In addition to be willing to share unfinished work as early as possible, being open to feedback is essential for growth and getting better at this craft.

Next time I’ll write a bit about fine-tuning the cover design for this project and how to choose the right print materials and techniques for the book.


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