Book Covers

Cover artwork needs to grab your attention on the shelves. They need to sharpen their elbows to be seen among others. With traditional (dead tree) publishing, there were lots of tricks available, which could make a book stand out: you could make it glossy, emboss it, use metallic inks, give it flashes of holographic or irridescent colour, and so on. Almost all of these techniques relied on the design changing as you walked past it: eyecatchers.

'Digital Heat Death' Covers

With an eBook, you can design a flat front cover, but you can't use many traditional tricks to get yours seen. Instead, you have a flat RGB colour palette, with no animation. Your cover artwork must do all the attracting by its own merit.

A Lightness of Touch: the oddball

A Lightness of Touch is a neat design. In retrospect, I think it's so neat, that it disappears, and does not attract. In achieving its perfection, there is nothing to make the brain think, "Hey, that's funny!", so it doesn't really register, until you look very closely.

The artwork is a careful splice of two playing card designs: the King and the Queen. You probably haven't noticed yet! So I'm going to write this off as an indulgence on my part, and move on to the better-thought-out designs.

Anthology 1: Rewrites and Perspectives


Our anthologies are a step in the right direction, and have some coherence in their design. The backgrounds are different from each other, but they are held together by consistent typography, which works well against a dark background.

Heat Death Anthology 1

The 1990s made this style popular with design studios, the Helvetica Light adding some refinement and purposefulness to the image. I think this is because type, in general, has a sense of holding itself up physically.

The Stand-up Type

Roman letters, with their serifs, look like a construction, with legs to stablize the structure. Some glyphs, like the Times New Roman "e", look very unstable, and might cause some subconscious unease when they are seen. It has been shown that, from a very young age, our brains can detect things that are about to fall down, or are impossible. So with likes of Helvetica Thin (or our use of Roboto Thin, which I chose because it had better letter forms), the brain is being lit up when it sees the impossibly flimsy letters, to say "this shouldn't work", and it grabs attention as "that's funny", which is precisely what you want for an attention-grabbing cover.

Typographically, it's neat, and the blocks line up very well. I feel this compensates for the fragility of the letters, and reassures the viewer that it works neatly as a whole.

Background image

You're looking at a computer-generated render. A script describes the structure to a renderer, which takes a few hours to calculate the lighting and generate the image. I wrote the script, to adapt to any design changes, so that I woudn't have to spend lots of my own time re-drawing the image if I wanted changes made. Instead, I could just leave the computer to do it. For example, I could tell it to make more floors, fewer books, view it from a different angle, change the lighting, and so on. In every case, builds the carved wooden vertical struts, constructs the brass and mesh walkways, works out the size of the shelves, how many there are, and places each book, randomly varying it by colour, and nudging its position to be slightly untidy. Below are some examples of renders I made after this book cover. They contain further details, like handrails and access points. It remains an unfinished project:

A small library

A very small library

A huge library

Anthology 2: Abstracts and Crossings

Heat Death Anthology 2

This is another render, based the optical qualities of a very simple set-up, of only two objects: a small coloured sphere (middle-right), placed inside an mirrored ellipsoid (a slightly stretched sphere). For the very tiniest details, you're looking at about 250 reflections around the mirror.

I had been playing around with virtual 'decorative paperweight' renders for about twenty years before making this one, and only recently has it become practical to make these images on a desktop computer. This particular image was inspired by Refurio Anachro's notes on Ellipsoids.

Being vaguely mathematical, and pretty, our image was featured on the AMS 'Visual Insights' front page, and a few other maths sites. I also made a GPU shader (graphics card accelerated) version, which works about a million times faster, with some compromises.