Clothing for Books

I have come across a series of articles by a book jacket designer on the elements that go into the art and business of representing the heart of a novel on its sleeve (urgh, sorry!): Jacket Mechanical. It doesn’t hurt that he focuses on the thoroughly thorny dilemma of getting the book cover right for Lolita. As you can imagine, there have been some covers that are so far off the mark, they spark second-hand embarrassment in the viewer. Just say no to sexy Lolita, or 50s housewife Lolita, or from the movie of the same name Lolita.  That last one I have a pretty strong prejudice against for any work: there needs to be separation of book and film treatment, because that there is usually so a vast difference between the two forms of media that it’s disingenuous and sort of sad to try to sew them together in such a way.  Like sewing your trousers to a fancy top – you’ve got a jumpsuit on your hands, but how do you put it on? And are you sure you want to?


The other reason I have been interested in book jackets, is that I am still taking a night illustration course at the Edinburgh College of Art. I had an interesting brief discussion with one of my teachers about the parallels between the narrative of the novel and the narrative of the book jacket, and the article I’ve linked to does a good job of delving into that same issue.  Here, then are my attempts at describing or intimating at the narratives of two seaside novels:

Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea


Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse

I apologise for the hash job of scanning – these were done on A3 paper and my dinky scanner can only take up to A4, hence edges clipped off, and random parts having to be realigned.

In both of these covers, I tried to play with perspective to say something about thematic elements of the novel. The protagonist of The Sea, The Sea is an affable raging narcissist with a view of nostalgia and lost love so warped and self-aggrandising that it can be used to justify to some pretty bizarre acts. I wanted to capture To The Lighthouse‘s use of framing human desires within the frame of domesticity, as well as providing a slightly unsettling view – the impossible window looking out above a lighthouse that is positioned on a rock in the middle of the sea – to better reflect Virginia Woolf’s techniques of deflection. Not sure if that’s all coming across, or if I’ve got the best grip on the texts, but it’s all about the challenge, about trying theory to practice.  And getting my hands (and face) all inky in the process.



Filed under consolations of reading, Edinburgh, Illustration, The Now, Theory

4 responses to “Clothing for Books

  1. I like your illustration for the Murdoch novel (though it’s missing the sea monster).

  2. Wow. I love the style of your drawings. I find them something very special, especially the first one with the different perspectives. It’s interesting and yet beautiful.

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