Words of inspiration

Given that I’m both a designer and a fiction writer, it’s no surprise that I absolutely love book cover design. And given my love of all things modern (yes, I adore that little black dress of fonts, Helvetica), it’s also no surprise that I have something of an obsession with vintage Penguin covers.

If you’ve spent any time in used bookstores, you’ve probably seen them—old paperbacks featuring a simple title upon a clean Marber grid accompanied by a single striking photo or illustration.

Source: Abduzeedo. The green was featured on crime titles throughout the 1960s.

I’m not sure why I love them so much. If could be the simplicity, the boldness, the tease of that single-object cover (which is, incidentally, making a comeback thanks to one particularly popular book), or maybe it’s just that shameless Helvetica all over the place*. Whatever it is, I’m clearly not the only designer who digs it—just check out these gorgeous Harry Potter redesigns done in classic Penguin style. Squee!

Anyway, for a while now, I’ve been meaning to do some designs of my favorite quotes about creativity and writing. Since there were several I wanted to do, I decided to make a quickie project of it—almost like an assignment I might have had in design school. This meant I needed strict parameters, so I decided on these:

  1. The design must take inspiration from classic Penguin book covers, using similar photo or illustration styles and fonts. Each one will be letter-sized.
  2. The design can only use copyright-free/public domain imagery or original art.
  3. Each design must not take more than 1 hour to create.

I kind of need parameters, probably due to the fact that I’m too used to working within brand guidelines. This is true even of my writing, where I often work best under some kind of time limit, word count, or self-imposed deadline. It’s a little disturbing to realize I’m obsessed with rules, but if they help me get the job done and prevent me from procrastinating because I don’t know where to begin, then who friggin’ cares?

So instead of drawing, I have some of my favorite quotes to share. If you have any quotes about creativity you’d like to see turned into a design like these, feel free to post them in the comments. Maybe I’ll even throw in a free Facebook portrait for the one I find most inspiring!

* I’ve thought long and hard about this Helvetica obsession. I’m convinced it relates to my love of patterns, grids, and uniformity, all of which stem back to growing up on U.S. military bases around the world. Helvetica was the primary font for signage on everything from the Commissary to the Shoppette, the bowling alley, the laundromat and just about anything AAFES. Funny to think how all those Cold War-era bases were fighting Communism while at the same time employing a distinctly socialist aesthetic.


Be careful what you wish for

Great knowledge comes at a great price.


I recently read (and reviewed) Laini Taylor’s urban fantasy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which inspired this image. While I loved the book’s heroine, Karou, the character that really fascinated me was Izîl, the doomed man from Marrakesh. Taylor creates a terrific mythos in the book about wishes and magic, and Izîl makes a tragic decision to tap into the most powerful magic-wish there is: a bruxis, which he can only obtain by extracting all of his teeth. Unfortunately, like Faust, Izîl wishes for knowledge, and his wish is granted in the form of Razgut, a fallen angel who rides the man like a mule until his death. Being an astral creature, Razgut has cosmic secrets that he continually whispers into Izîl’s ear—fulfilling the man’s desire for knowledge but also, in the process, driving him mad. Naturally, no one but Izîl can see Razgut, so he also loses his family and livelihood as mind and body are all destroyed by a wish that ultimately proves a terrible curse.

For the illustration, I was mostly interested in Razgut, who’s described as a kind of parasite, “a bloated torso with reedy arms wrapped tight around the human’s neck”. I imagined him like a giant tic, draining Izîl’s vitality so the man grows ever frailer as Razgut engorges himself. I figured he’d be tricky to draw as his face should have some remnants of seraphic beauty, but he’s mostly a vile creature, an imp-angel with little to suggest his previous life but a pair of wing stubs.

At any rate, these characters got me to thinking about wishes that are best off not coming true. I wondered*: had Izîl known the exact form of his wish fulfillment, would he have simply have been more specific? Or would he save his teeth and never wish at all?

Myself? I’d save my teeth.

* Yes, I know fictional characters are not real people. I just like to pretend they are.