5.3 Travel guides


The brief was to produce three book jacket illustrations for travel guides for the locations Istanbul, Helsinki and Milan.

The purpose of the exercise was for students to practice and reinforce the process driven design approach used in previous exercises and to develop a set of illustrations in a travel guide genre.

Keywords from the brief:

  • Many elements and brought together in a diagrammatic way
  • Type to be hand drawn
  • High degree of flexibility
  • Write yourself a brief that is challenging but manageable
  • Be aware of the processes that have so far led to your development
    • Ideas generation
    • Visual research
    • Image construction
    • Understanding contexts
    • Media usage
  • Use worksheets and sketchbooks
  • Refer to examples of work
  • Provide client visuals for all three covers
  • Mock-up one

Initial research

I carried out initial internet search to understand how other contemporary illustrators are approaching the same problem, and selected a number of different travel guide visual styles that I found interesting or informative in some way.

I then carried out more detailed analysis on two in order to break down and understand the intent and techniques used by the illustrator to inform my own thinking.

Book cover analysis 01 – Hello NY

Research image 01
Hello NY, Julia Rothman, http://www.juliarothman.com/hello-ny/#1

The book is an illustrated guide to New York. Amazon describes it as: With humour and tenderness, Rothman offers an eclectic assortment of quirky historical titbits (how the lion sculptures in front of the New York Public Library got their names), expertise on idiosyncratic places to visit (where to find the tennis courts at Grand Central Station), interviews with locals (thoughts on love and life from a Hasidic Jewish landlord) and personal recollections from growing up in the Bronx (eating fried fish at Johnny’s Reef)–all illustrated in her signature whimsical, hand-drawn style. An illustrated city guide that’s as entertaining as it is informative, this is a treasure for anyone who hearts New York.

A brief description of the cover

The illustration is a typical view of New York looking down onto rooftops. The title of the book and subtitle are incorporated into the illustration. The handwritten style, limited colour palette and use to flat colour and line art are charming. I love the tiny figure sunbathing on the roof of the nearest building.

What are the image(s) communicating?

The cover reflects the title of book. It’s like the establishing shot of a film that lays out what the book is about and indicates the quality and tone of the contents.

How does the cover address the needs of the audience?

The illustration is clever, charming and stylish. If a reader is interested in a book about New York that has those qualities, they’ll pick this.

Book cover analysis 02 – Turkey: A Monocle Travel Guide

Research image 02
Turkey: A Monocle Travel Guide

A brief description of the cover

The cover illustration shows a collection of typical Turkish subjects organised in a cohesive realistic way. The illustrative style is retro – similar to a style that was popular in the 1960s. This gives a cover that was produced in 2012 an out-of-date feel. The background colour is a cool teal colour. The illustration uses warm colours in the foreground to produce a visual hierarchy with the warmest being used in the foremost foreground element.

Other information on the cover describes the contents.

What are the image(s) communicating?

The images show readers a range of iconic Turkish subjects. The seven characters on the cover are smiley adding to the feel of a cheerful location.

How does the cover address the needs of the audience?

The cover provides potential customers and readers a clear idea of the contents.

Write yourself a brief

  • Title: City name
  • Subtitle: city break guide
  • Other written information: maps, itineraries, key facts, travel tips
  • Audience: Occasional travellers going on or thinking of going on a short weekend city break to one of the featured locations
  • Audience needs: Simple, informative and easily digestible information including maps, key points of interest, key facts, itineraries and travel tips.
  • Subjects for the cover: Many elements brought together in a diagrammatic way
  • Cover format: Portrait
  • Dimensions: 210mm x 148mm (A5)
  • Illustrative style: Simple hand drawn line art with flat colour fill. Attractive and accessible.
  • Typography: Handwritten title. The other typographical elements to use same font family – choice of font to be defined
  • Layout: The same across all books in the series
  • Use of colour: Each book to share a common core set of colours to help establish that all publications are from the same ‘family’.

Istanbul book cover

Istanbul research

I used travel reviews from the website lonelyplanet.com to provide me with a starting point for my research for all the book covers.


Istanbul ideas generation and visual research

I then carried out further internet searches to find interesting imagery. I visually brainstormed throughout this process.

All sketchbook images in this exercise are originally at A3 size.


Istanbul thumbnails

I used thumbnails to explore composition, viewpoint and colour layout.

I tried out various colour combinations before settling on the version which was then taken through into the final artwork.

Istanbul client visuals

The thumbnails and visual research were combined to draw up the final artwork. The initial pencil drawing was then inked using a dip pen. This gave a nice black line quality that would scan well (at 600dpi) into Photoshop.

The handwritten heading was ‘placed’ into Illustrator and then copied into Photoshop to give a bold black outline.

The final artwork was created digitally in Photoshop.

Istanbul Travel Guide – client visual

Helsinki book cover

Each cover was produced using the same process and I won’t repeat the description of each step apart form highlighting where there were specific challenges or differences.

Helsinki research


Helsinki ideas generation and visual research

Helsinki was the biggest visual research challenge because there wasn’t a huge range of material and subjects to choose from.

Sketchbook page04

Helsinki thumbnails

Sketchbook page09

The colour thumbnail used a core set of colours from the first illustration. This principle was carried into the final illustration and gives a sense of commonality to all three book covers.

The brightly coloured houses provided a brilliant subject and meant I could make some fairly strong decisions with the colour layout.

Helsinki client visuals

The final artwork was created in Photoshop.

There’s a nice effect on the chalkboard where I reversed the black text and applied a pastel filter to give a chalky feel.

Helsinki Travel Guide – client visual

Milan book cover

Milan research


Milan ideas generation and visual research

I liked the idea of incorporating a Milan city skyline into the image. I wanted the image to give an impression of a very cosmopolitan and switched-on city.

Sketchbook page02
Visual research

Milan thumbnails

Sketchbook page07
Thumbnails working out composition and viewpoint

Milan client visuals

Milan Travel Guide – client visual

Milan mock-up

The brief specified that one cover should be mocked-up.

Milan book cover mock up cropped
Milan Travel Guide – A5 mock-up

What I learned from the exercise

What went well

  • This exercise is very similar to the Children’s book cover. I thought the execution of the illustrations in that exercise were good, but the design didn’t have personality. I wanted to use the the prescribed process in this brief to bring more of myself and my style into the images. I think I was successful.
  • I thought carefully about colour layout and visual hierarchy. I felt I was quite daring (for me), in use of colour. The use of colour thumbnails and a limited common colour palette all worked well for me.
  • The analysis of current practice, particularly the work of Julia Rothman, helped direct my thinking and approach.
  • I hadn’t created a visual book cover mock-up in Photoshop before. It was very straight forward and effective.

What I could have done differently/better

  • I received my tutor feedback from PART 4 after launching myself into this exercise and committing myself firmly to a digital approach. The advice I got was to use and experiment more with traditional ‘analogue’ approaches. I’ll do this with the next exercises.


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