The Book Cover as a Site of Creativity

Pinaki De with the youngsters who attended his workshop

Pinaki De with the youngsters who attended his workshop

Award-winning graphic illustrator and book cover designer Pinaki De distilled the nitty-gritties of book cover design into a fun-filled workshop at the Muskaan Summer Literary Meet

‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’— this idiom has gained currency because the cover of a book plays a crucial role in affecting one’s impression of the same. When you browse the shelves in a bookstore, chances are that interesting book covers grab your attention before anything else. Creative minds play with book covers to complement the narratives books contain. To initiate young minds into this art that is all about playing with spaces and designs, Prabha Khaitan Foundation organised the Muskaan Summer Literary Meet — and one of its events was an absorbing and enlightening workshop conducted by the award-winning graphic illustrator and book cover designer, Pinaki De. Youngsters from all over the country, who have already begun their literary journeys, gathered in this workshop in Kolkata to learn about illustration techniques, the subjective interpretation of book covers and pinups, and so much more.

De distilled the nitty-gritties of book cover design into this fun-filled workshop that the children thoroughly enjoyed. He began the workshop by commenting on the need to step into a youngster’s shoes to appreciate the world their way. Upon learning that the children in attendance were writers already, he said, “I am so fascinated to know you have all begun writing, and even designing covers for your books. In this workshop, we will learn how to hone our ideas and allow the mind to play with them.”

“Different emotions are parcelled into book covers that immediately transport the readers to the fictional reality of the book.”

One of the most important aspects of a book cover that De introduced the children to was the idea of space. “Everything in this world needs to breathe,” he said, “and so do book covers. If you cram too many things in a small space, you will feel claustrophobic. Likewise, we need to leave space on a book cover as well. This space is called negative space. Designing a book cover is all about mastering how to manipulate negative space into producing something captivating.”

What better way to arrest children’s attention in a workshop of this kind than through showing some fantastic book covers? By discussing in detail numerous book covers, De acquainted the children with the concepts of fonts, handwritten texts, illustrations, embellishments, perspectives and atmosphere that render book covers new meanings. He elaborated, “It is a misconception that book covers are meant to be decorative pieces of art. A designer or an illustrator allows their imagination to take flight and create a book cover that carries symbolic messages the text contains. It becomes a visual extension of the narrative. Different emotions are parcelled into book covers that immediately transport the readers to the fictional reality of the book.” 

A workshop on illustrations would have remained incomplete without mentioning the illustrations of the maestro, Satyajit Ray, who had begun as a children’s book illustrator. It is from his illustrations of Pather Panchali that the idea of creating the landmark film came to Ray’s mind. Underscoring the importance of thinking locally, De said, “If there is something you can write about your city, there is nothing like it. You belong to this space, no matter where you go. Try to look around and create this space in your art.” To ensure the children were a part of this engaging conversation on book covers and pinups, De occupied them in an exercise at the end of this discussion. It was interesting to note how the children understood the key points of this discussion, and tried their hands at creating covers for their books. Workshops of this spirit are extremely crucial in teaching youngsters how to think outside the box.

Muskaan is a joint initiative of Prabha Khaitan Foundation and Education for All, and is supported by Shree Cement Limited as their CSR initiative.