Cover Redesign Part 1

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Cover Redesign

by Carlyn Beccia

In publishing, a book's cover can make or break its success. The cover is often the public's first conversation with the book so it needs to start off with the right impression. The most difficult aspect of any book design is simply being noticed. Book covers today have to work even harder to stand out amongst crowded shelves, and to look arresting at short distances or shrunken down to thumbnail size on sites like

In this tutorial, I will show you the steps I used to redesign one of my favorite childhood stories, Watership Down by Richard Adams. In this illustration, I used vector art to contrast with a soft portrait of the book's two main characters — Hazel and Bigwig. Sometimes, just adding a modern twist to a traditional painting technique can give an updated look to a classic story.

Software Used
Corel® Painter™

Hardware Used
Wacom® Pen Tablet

Watercolor Underpainting
Vector Art
Oil brushes
Impasto Effects


Step 1: Sketching a layout

Examining the past


In successfully redesigning a book cover, it helps to understand current trends. Although it certainly has nostalgic appeal, the original book design may not be bold enough for today's crowded bookshelf. I decided that I wanted to retain the nostalgia of the original tale while making it look more sophisticated (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. First edition cover, 1972.



I first made a sketch by using pencil and paper, and then scanned it. Despite the book's talking rabbits, Watership Down is quite a dark tale with many of its characters as ruthless as the humans that the rabbits fear. I needed elements to communicate this subconscious underworld so I chose to surround two of the main characters, Hazel and Bigwig, with thorny branches. This twisted frame of branches reminded me of the dark undergoing in the rabbit's warren (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. The cover does not need to tell the whole story but it should pique the viewer's curiosity.

Setting tone

Nature is an important theme in Watership Down, so I wanted the background color and pencil lines to have an earthy feel. In Painter, I put the sketch on its own layer and set its Composite Method to Multiply.

Next, I used the Paint Bucket tool to fill the background with a light, yellowish brown. I created a new layer above the sketch layer and filled it with a darker brown color. I set this new layer's Composite Method to Colorize. This will make my lines look more like brown Conté crayon (see Figure 3). Lastly, I dropped the Colorize layer and the sketch layer down to the canvas.

Figure 3. The browns will be the base color for the next step and set the tone for the subsequent paint layers.


Step 2: Creating a watercolor underpainting

Applying base colors

I created a new layer and selected the New Simple Water brush from the Digital Watercolor brush category. On the property bar, I changed the Opacity to 10%Grain to 100%Diffusion to 20, and Wet Fringe to 0 (see Figure 5). This creates a very soft tinting of color with some slight texture.

Figure 5. By varying the New Simple Water brush's settings as you paint, you can create a more spontaneous-looking underpainting.

Remember that with any brush that has a Grain option, your chosen paper will determine the shape of the texture. I wanted my brush to pick up a very fine pebbled tooth, so I chose the Sandy Pastel Paper from the Paper Selector (see Figures 4 and 4b). To display the Papers panel, click Window > Paper Panels > Papers.

Figure 4. and 4b. I often work up the background colors before painting in the foreground figures.

Adding more texture

To pick up even more texture, I next chose the Sponge brush from the Sponges brush category. On the property bar, I changed the Opacity to 20% and the Grain to 20%. I then created a new layer above the Base Color layer and painted in the mottled sponge texture. Lastly, I lowered the Opacity of this layer to reduce the amount of texture (see Figure 7).

Figure 6. If you want a finer tooth in your paper, lower the paper's scale (A).
You can also control the Contrast (B) and Brightness(C) of your paper.
I often vary these settings as I paint to avoid a tiled-looking texture.
Figure 7. The Sponge brush creates a mottled texture around the edges. This texture reminded me of aged paper.

Painting Grisaille figures

Next, I painted in the rabbits with soft gray tones by using the New Simple Water Brush that was used previously. I made sure to work from the outside in, keeping the edges darker. This creates more of a rounded feeling in the bodies that echoes my circular composition (see Figure 8).

Figure 8. Creating an underpainting in Grisaille (mostly gray tones) is an old master's technique made popular in the Renaissance.
This method allows you to better see your painting's values. Get your values right and you have conquered the most difficult part of any painting.


Step 3: Creating a vector frame with Pattern brushes

Creating a vector brush

Using the Pen tool on a new layer, I created a thorny branch in black (see Figure 9). If I needed to adjust the branch, I used theShape Selection tool to adjust the points.

Figure 9. I drew the branches as vector art so that I would get a clean edge to contrast with the soft edges of the rabbit's bodies.

Adding a masked pattern

On my branch layer, I made a selection around the branch with the Rectangular Selection tool. I made sure to get enough space at the top and bottom. This step is important if you want to avoid feathering the black portion of your masked pattern. I then clicked the Capture Pattern button in the Pattern Libraries panel. To display the panel, click Window > Media Library Panel > Patterns (see Figure 10).

In the Capture Pattern dialog box, I named the brush Briar Branch 1, and set the Horizontal ShiftRectangular Tile, andVertical Shift to 0. I then repeated steps 7 & 8 five times to create five different Briar Branch brush patterns.

Figure 10. If your masked pattern does not turn out properly, there are a couple of common mistakes.
First, make sure that you are making your brush from left to right and not up and down.
Second, your branch must be on a transparent layer before you hit the Capture Pattern button.
Lastly, select enough space from top to bottom to get a clean edge to your mask.

Painting with patterns

On a new layer, I drew a rough black frame around my painting. I selected the Pattern Pen Masked brush from the Patternsbrush category. From the Pattern Library, I selected one of my new Briar Branch patterns, and used my paint brush to paint in a swirling motion (see Figure 11).


Figure 11. Using Pattern brushes saves time with repetitive elements.

I then painted with each of the different Briar Branch patterns around the circle (see Figure 12).

Figure 12. The new pattern brushes will automatically follow the direction of my hand.

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