Typography I’ve been experimenting with…

Book cover design has somewhat… evolved. Or at least it should. So in my spare time I’ve been experimenting with various media still within typography but somehow feel we can/should add more authenticity to the design of our books, posters… actually just about anything really… 🙂

These are some personal projects I’ve taken upon myself to explore… I hope you enjoy. And I hope to continue with this soon.

The work below is far from perfect, but I think it was meant to be that way.


Book cover not commissioned. Just playing around with type...

Book cover not commissioned. Just playing around with type…

Book cover not commissioned. Just playing around with type...

Book cover not commissioned. Just playing around with type…

Book cover not commissioned. Just playing around with type...

Book cover not commissioned. Just playing around with type…

Playing around with hand lettering...

Playing around with hand lettering…


Hand lettering – a personal projects I’m experimenting with…


Hand lettering – a personal projects I’m experimenting with…


Hand lettering – a personal projects I’m experimenting with…


Hand lettering - a personal projects I'm experimenting with...

Hand lettering – a personal projects I’m experimenting with…

joy peace

Hand lettering – a personal projects I’m experimenting with…


If you’d like to see more hand lettering projects of mine, go to Patch & Purrr and Handlettering Pinterest page. Or follow my boards to stay in up-to-date.

Cheers! 😉


COVER DESIGN TIPS Part 4 of 4: Procrastination and chitter chatter


I’ve been procrastinating on this last post for cover design tips and what I’ve learnt in publishing.

Originally I was suppose to write about the client brief and deadlines. Then I realised that I’ve already spoken about ‘briefing a designer’… Hmmm, a recap and detour is needed!

But as far as deadlines are concerned, there’s nothing much you can say about them except that they are there for a reason, and they will be here to stay no matter what industry you’re in. The sooner you start seeing it as your friend – rather than your enemy – the less you’ll despise it. There’s two reasons why someone hate deadlines: 1) they miss them all the time, and 2) they not being set realistically. Other ailments are bad communication and bad management. These are factors that make deadlines seem like a black hole and unreachable. Set reachable and more frequent deadlines.

Why I found this last post on what I’ve learnt in publishing hard is quite simple actually. Everyone appreciates the truth, right? And the truth is I’m afraid to end this phase of my design blog posts because what I’ve learnt in publishing is what I know today. And since I’ve written about that already… what happens next?

What’s next will be what I’m learning and discovering now. I’ll be doing my very best to teach you what I know and what I’m learning, new people I’ve come across, interviews with other book designers, new learnings in book design, and business events I’ve attended. I’ll share with you my learnings and views of these events to help fuel the work and life we lead.

Something I’ve been facing particularly this week is that freelancing is not easy. Duh! We all know this and people warn you about this. But neither is working for a boss. What’s difficult is how we view our work. Our skill. Our belief in ourselves is what will make or break us. People will throw their opinions at you whether you want it or not. You need to ignore what’s poisonous or absorb what’s good for you.

I’m grateful for this post. This post is a retrospective. A lesson I’ve learnt while working with agile methodologies..


So here’s a quick recap of all the posts I’ve written on things I’ve learnt in traditional publishing:

Intro to what I’ve learnt in traditonal publishing

The spec handover

The book grid

The spec design

Typefaces and fonts

Thoughts and tips on feedback, criticism, typesetting and the book plan

The book cover

Cover artwork

Cover design tips: Part 1 of 4

Cover design tips: Part 2 of 4 – Typography

Cover design tips: Part 3 of 4 – Colour


Hope you enjoyed and learnt something from these posts. Even if it was just one thing.

But as all good things, sometimes they need to end so that you are forced to start afresh. I plan to do just that with my next posts.

Stay curious. Stay tuned.


Cover Artwork

When it comes to book cover illustration communication is key to a successful cover. A lesson I learnt in publishing when I worked with freelance artists. Original hand Illustration takes longer to do. That’s obvious. But, keep this in mind if you have a short time frame in which to complete a cover.

Some covers require both photograph and illustration. Either way, you need to plan enough time for everyone: the artist, designer, editor, and the printer if you want to print on time. Communication has to be clear and consistent between everyone. At the publishing house I worked at, it was the designer and editor’s responsibility to ensure the artist was briefed correctly and followed the timeline accordingly. There were strict rules in place. Rules I see value in now. Though, I like to think of them more as guidelines, than rules 😉


Artwork by Vincent Sammy

1st Rough

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before but a first rough illustration is exactly that – rough! The artwork below is still very detailed for a first rough. It’s basically to show the client how the concept will look on the cover. To show overall structure – not detail. Once this stage is approved, then we move onto the 2nd rough. slr_21

2nd Rough This stage should show more detail before the artist goes to colour. It should show clothing detail and facial detail. Some artists do one rough and go straight to colour from there. It all depends how you work and what kind of client you have. With hand illustration its always best to keep in frequent communication with your client. This is because if something is not right, its more difficult to remove or redo, than it would be as a digital illustration. Yes, the process of hand illustration may a bit of a lost craft these days, but it certainly has its rewards. A unique piece of artwork on your cover is priceless! (I said priceless – not free).

Artwork by Vincent Sammy

Adding colour

As mentioned before, colour can change everything on your cover. It can lighten, brighten, darken or dampen it. It has the power to transform a flat piece of pencil roughs into something that looks alive. Colour adds life! So as you can see, this is a very important conversation to have with your artist. Another important conversation is freedom. How much creative freedom are you willing to give an artist on your cover? No point in hiring a professional artist and limit their input. If you control a piece of art too much, you’ll destroy it. Give the artist the basic and necessary information. Things like the story, the concept, guidelines of where text will sit on the cover, the colours you roughly thought of (subject to change), a rough idea of the character on the cover, how old they are, what kind of clothes they wearing, your target market, etc. These are things the artist should be made aware of. On the other hand, some artists need more guidance than others, while others prefer working on their own. You’ll only know which one you getting when you work with them. Find out how they work and if they have done cover art before. slr_23

Semi-final Colour

Semi-colour is roughly 80% of the artwork complete. More contrast added and more colour detail. Untitled-8

Final Artwork

Once the illustration is complete, the artist scans in the artwork and takes it into Photoshop. Here he enhances the artwork by adjusting the lighting and contrast, and by adding in extra detail and texture. Basically, post-production work. With digital, there are many ways to make anything look spectacular, but you need to know what you doing, and how to do it. A combination of an original painting with digital effects, can lead to a piece of art no-one else will have on their book cover.slr_devilhunter final-x2
[Artwork copyright of Vincent Sammy]

Vincent Sammy works on many book covers. To get an idea of the kind of illustration work he enjoys, or if you’d like to contact him, visit his Deviant Art page

Hope you found this helpful 🙂

“Words are life”… The Book Thief

This is such a beautiful movie. It’s about writing, reading, hope, courage, perseverance, trust, love, hate, war and so much more. It made me appreciate the simplicity in books and in life! The very things we sometimes take for granted. Click the trailer below the poster to view what it’s all about. A movie I need to watch once more…


Typefaces and FONTS

Taken from the Floating Frog www.thefloatingfrog.co.uk/

Taken from the Floating Frog http://www.thefloatingfrog.co.uk/

Did you know there’s a difference between a font and a typeface?
If you didn’t, not to worry, neither did I.

typeface is also known as font family. For example, Helvetica is a typeface. Or Caslon Pro is a typeface. Some typefaces have large font families like Helvetica. Some have smaller font families like Arial.

A font is a particular style of a typeface. For example, the bold, italic or roman of that typeface. The font sits within the typeface family – just like children. Each child has a different personality. So too with fonts. Some are bold, some light, some heavy, and others are even bold italic!

Wikipedia has more information should you like to go into a bit more detail.

There are thousands of different typefaces, and there’s a lot more in-depth descriptions on the web – one being The Font Feed.


Some TIPS on using typefaces and fonts

  • Headings generally look good in a sans-serif. The term sans comes from the French word meaning without. Sans-serif fonts are without serifs. An example of sans-serif is Helvetica Neue LT Std – see image below. A serif is a typeface with serifs. For example, Palatino LT Std – see image below. When it comes to body text styles, I often use a serif typeface. Using serif typefaces for body texts doesn’t always apply to all books, especially in ebooks. Sometimes using a sans-serif throughout a book can look great for computer or cellphone reading. That is, we need to look at the usability of reading – where it will be read on – before we implement old text rules 😉 However, for printed books, it all depends on the kind of book you are designing, and the market you designing for. Remember, the typeface you use contributes to how a book is read – with strain or with ease. I think we all prefer the latter!

sans vs serif

  • One can get overwhelmed when choosing typefaces. There are so many that it can become confusing or even intimidating. Experienced designers should have a general knowledge on typefaces. Knowledge comes with time, study, practice, research, and by looking at everything around you… In the street while driving, while shopping, and even while watching television. This doesn’t always have to be learnt through an expensive course. The most obvious route is to read. And read more! It’s a good training ground in becoming aware of typefaces. So next time you are reading, take a moment, and look at the text on the page. Does it look good? Is it easy to read? Could it be better and how?
  • In book design, it helps to choose a typeface with a large font family to support your design. I’ve made the mistake where I once chose a really cool typeface. Loved it! Got it approved! Only to realise afterwards that it didn’t have an italic or a semi-bold font. Those ‘designy’ typefaces are perfect for headlines or for logo use.
    Also, if you using the typeface for body text throughout the book, then a good tip is to test the italics. Sometimes the italics can look awful within the body text. So test the bold and italics to see if you like the way it sits within the text before you make a final decision. Bear in mind, the bigger the font family, the better you are able to show variety in font without using another typeface. Sometimes you just got to… keep it in the family!
    Try to keep it as simple as you can. Don’t complicate matters. A good rule is not to use more than 3 different typefaces within a single book design.


A final note when choosing a typeface, and this goes back to when you designing the spec grid, is to look at the character and line spacing of that typeface.

Character spacing is called kerning.

Spacing between the lines is called leading.

These differ between typefaces and can either result in a pleasant reading experience, or a very strained one for the reader. Depending on who your market is – choose carefully and appropriately. Practicality is just as important as pretty. The typeface selection will play a vital role in keeping within your book’s extent. Some typefaces take up more space on the page than others. So when making up your book’s grid, take your time and play around with the different typefaces.


Hope you found this post enlightening. Is there something you’d like to add? As always, feedback is most welcomed! 🙂

The spec design

page grid



What is a spec design?

A spec design is preparing the book’s page look ‘n feel. It’s also a preparation for the handover to the typesetter. It’s a great method to keep your book in extent and create a consistent flow of text and imagery throughout your book.



There’s a lot of publishing professionals who don’t work with spec designs. Sometimes the manuscript is given directly to a typesetter. This can be a bad move depending on the typesetter you using. Some typesetters are trained designers, and some are not. Research the suppliers you work with. Ensure they have the qualification and experience to do the work you paying them for.

Side thought…

Book publishing is like a relay race. If the first person starts out bad, it affects each and every person further down in the race. And it’s usually the last person in the race who suffers the most (or gets the most praise if the job goes well!). So be considerate of your team members as you run the publishing race together! Responsibility and accountability is an important aspect in business. The responsibility of the designer is to ensure the text on the page looks good and reads well. The typesetter ensures that they keep to the design style and text is sitting on the page correctly. Typesetters have a very good eye for how text should fall on a page, and have a lot of knowledge and technical know-how in book publishing. Each have their role to play. And it’s really magical to see a book come together and be a part of the process.


‘Dummy’ text

This is extracted text from the manuscript. In publishing we call it ‘dummy’ text. The editor supplies the designer with dummy text in order to make up the spec design. Ensure you extract all possible text features, eg. body text, headings, box features, chapter openers, part page openers, contents page, and end matter like the glossary, index page text. Remember, we creating a shortened visual of what the book will look like before typesetting takes place. 

The dummy text is styled or tagged as body txt, body 1st para, body indent, and HeadA, HeadB (see style sheet image below). The editor and designer use the same style sheets. So by the time the spec design is complete, the typesetter is using these style sheets for styling the full manuscript. Book design involves alot of thinking and planning ahead. Only once you do it – will you understand it


Style sheets

Style sheets make life simpler in book and magazine design. It keeps text consistent throughout. Have a look at the kind of style sheet names we use in book design. Below is a list of paragraph and character style sheet names.

chara styles para styles

The names need to make sense to the editor, the designer, and the setter, who will be using this to style the manuscript.

The paragraph style is the main style sheet. The character style lies within the paragraph style. So before you make character styles, you need to know how things will look on a page. Learn how to setup style sheets, and it will be your next best friend in book design.









For more info on style sheets visit: http://vector.tutsplus.com/tutorials/designing/an-intermediate-guide-to-stylesheets-for-adobe-indesign/


After the spec design is signed off

Once the spec is designed and signed off, the designer collects all the style sheets into an RTF file for the editor to start styling the manuscript. The editor is using the same style names the designer used. By using RTF format, Indesign picks up the formatting and styles the text according to the RTF and Indesign document. Sometimes the manuscript changes during setting, and the setter has to accommodate for this. If these affect any design features – it’s usually taken back to the designer to provide a suggestion on how best to fix.


The spec design will look like the book except it’s a much MUCH shortened version of the final book. It will give the author a good idea of how text and images will run on the page.

Have you or do you know of designers who use this method? Most importantly, was this helpful? Do you understand the concept of what and why we use spec designs?

Feedback is improvement 😉

The book grid

A4 grid

What is a book grid?

It’s the PRE prep work before the actual work… if that even makes sense. The grid establishes things like what the baseline height will be, how many columns to use, the page size setup and which typeface would look good together. It’s a page spread/s – see example above – on what some of these terms look like.

Body text

First step towards a grid setup is to choose your typeface and size of your body text. Typeface is the font family you’d like to use throughout the book. And body text is the main running text throughout the book. Choosing fonts takes a good working knowledge of which font styles work best with each other. I never use more than 3 typefaces in a book. More than that, and the book will start to look unprofessional and messy. But, this is dependent on the style of book you publishing, and the market you designing for. So do your research!

Side note: Kerning is the space between characters/letters. Leading is the space between lines of text.


Columns is a vital part of a grid setup. You can have a 3, 4 or even 6 column grid (see image above). Again, you’ll need to know the basic structure of the book. The heavier the text or box features in a book, the more columns you may have. This allows for design flexibility – especially within tight page extents. The lighter your text in your book – the less columns you may have. The grid allows for a consistent flow of text throughout the book and gives a good indication of how many words per line you can manage. A very important aspect if you want your book to stay within its page extent.


Headings usually (not always) are sans-serif, and body text is serif. But this all depends on the kind of book you publishing and whether it’s an online or printed format. ‘They’ say sans-serif reads better online compared to printed material. Heading size work in conjunction with the body leading size. Each component in book design is wired together in some manner. Nothing in book design works in isolation. It’s a connected bunch of wires working together to makeup one entity in the end.

Footer and Running heads

A header or footer is text or graphics that is usually printed at the top or bottom of every page. A header is printed in the top margin; a footer is printed in the bottom margin. That’s the basic explanation. Some of these can get quite creative, like having your headers running down the side of your page. For something like this, you’ll need to work closely with your printer or check visibility is clear on an electronic device. Nothing irritates a reader more than not being able to read the text. Especially page numbers! They are important in a book for many practical reasons including as a reference source.


Lastly, the baseline is the lines on which your body text sits (see image above). The baseline grid is a formula which uses the body text leading size. This is why its important to get your body text approved first. This is also why it’s important to get the foundation of your design grid right. Like building a house – if the foundation is wrong, the house will eventually fall apart. So lay your foundation down correctly, and the job will look good and run smoother 😉

Feedback is fuel for improvement! so feel free to comment or ask questions.

Next, I’ll talk about the spec design.