Graphic Design / Interactive Design / Fine & Applied Arts / Parkland College

GDS 273/274 Illustration I & II
Project 6: Biography Book Cover Illustration


Instructor: Liza Wynette


To develop conceptual thinking skills. To explore illustration styles. To apply composition and illustration skills to real-world visual communication problems. 

Secondary objectives

To utilize the Adobe Creative Suite as an illustration and production tool.


Create an illustration for a book cover. The book is a biography; the subject of the biography will be chosen by the student. The client is University of Illinois Press. 

Required elements:

  • an original illustrated portrait of your subject
  • title of book (use the subject's name)
  • byline (your name)
  • spine art and type

The illustration must reflect the personality of the subject and historical period featured in the book.

Consider the following:

  • lighting
  • perspective
  • abstraction vs realism
  • color palette
  • textures
  • background image or pattern


  • place your design on a digital book cover mock-up for your portfolio

Your final design must show an understanding of unity, emphasis and balance. When appropriate, utilize rhythm and depth as well.


1. Research for inspiration: Research existing book covers. Look at all biographies, not just illustrated ones, for good typography and composition. Be sure to review trade publications (Print, How, Communication Arts), annuals (Workbook, Society of Illustrators), and web sites like I-Spot or Altpick. Scan your favorite examples and publish your research on your personal process page for critique (be sure to caption each image and cite the source). Be prepared to explain why these examples are successful. 

2. Marketing research: Choose a person with whom you have a connection with (he or she can be dead or alive, famous or unknown). If appropriate, interview the person (see questions). Alternatively, research the subject in the library or on the Internet. Summarize your research in the form of a memo describing your choice (see sample). Use this information to develop your concepts. Have your brief reviewed by the Writing Lab, then email your brief as an attached Word file or a shared Google Doc to (instructions).

3. Incubation: Absorb the information you have gathered and sleep on it. Allow your unconscious mind to make connections for you.

4. Develop the concept: In your sketchbook begin to conceptualize ideas for this project (see examples of sketches). Make at least 10 sketches of all possible directions you might take this project. Edit your concepts down to your best three ideas and redraw them on 8.5 x 11 white paper using a felt tip pen. Scan (scale/crop in Photoshop: no wider than 1000 pixels), increase the contrast (see tutorial) and publish your concepts on your personal Process Page for critique. Be prepared to discuss how your design fulfills the client's marketing objectives. Also print your sketches for your Process Book.

5. Proof: Based on the critique of the above, use the computer to execute at least two versions of your best idea (present at least one proof with an alternate font choice). Publish one multi-page low-res PDF (instructions) linked from your Process Page for critique. Be prepared to talk about what design principles are utilized in your design. Also print a high-quality color proof for your Process Book.

6. Final critique: Based on the critique of the above, revise your design (if needed), then print a final proof on 11x17 paper for critique (see printing tips). Prepare a presentation to justify your design decisions. Also publish one multi-page high-res PDF (instructions) on your personal Process Page.

7. Grading: Based on the critique above, refine your design (if needed). Submit two copies of your work for grading. One proof will be returned to you after grading. File the graded proof in your Process Book for individual review along with all the preliminary work you did for the project (research, brief, sketches, preliminary proofs, final proof). Review your Process Page and make sure you have an accurate record of your process. Also submit one multi-page high-res PDF (instructions) via Cobra's dropbox. You will not receive full credit for this project if any of the above elements are missing.  

8. Portfolio preparation: If you are happy with the results of this project, consider including it in your portfolio. If necessary, continue to make refinements until you are 100% satisfied with the project. Be sure to back-up all your files for future editing.

9. Extra credit: Submit your project into next year's student show by printing an art gallery quality proof and mounting it on foam board. Also prepare an archival quality JPEG (see example) (1000px wide, no larger than 200K) and submit your project using the online entry form at Your project may win a cash prize and be published in a showcase of student work on Parkland's website.

Last updated: 8/11/17 ■ Webmaster: Paul Young