When I sat down to design the cover for Return to Wondermark Manor, I didn’t have a clear picture in my mind of how I wanted it to look. So I sat down with some oversized paper and just started sketching layouts with a ballpoint pen.
This is a great technique for unclogging your thinking. I knew I wanted to fill several sheets of paper; there was no sense in leaving any blank space. I didn’t know what I wanted the thing to look like, so I couldn’t call anything right or wrong. I focused simply on filling up pages with as many different designs as I could come up with.
Around page two or three, I started to get excited. Seeing designs sketched out helped upgrade this from some nebulous “project” in my imagination into an actual, physical book. It was starting to crystallize into something concrete. I visualized the designs that I’d drawn as fully-complete covers, as if I were holding the finished book in my hands, and gauged my reaction accordingly. What did I like and not like? Which designs and what visual elements were I responding to?
After I’d filled several pages in a bit of a frenzy, I began to peter out of ideas. That was okay, though; I had a really good start on some interesting designs. I set the whole stack of paper aside for a while.
When I paged through it again a few days later with fresh eyes, one unusual design stood out to me. I don’t know why, but I was really drawn to the asymmetry of the diagonal-slash composition on this page:
That basic layout became the foundation of the final cover. I didn’t follow the sketch exactly, but it gave me a place to start, a ramp to get my motor running. When I do a design project I usually have to start without knowing exactly where it’s going — trying to plan too much ahead of time can overwhelm me, and I never get anything done. But if I just hunker down and start playing around, usually I’ll figure out what I’m doing after a while and then I’m off to the races.
Here’s the final design (click for bigger):
p.s. I tried to work “the sketches popped my creative clutch” somewhere into that whole description, but it sounded dirty so I nixed it