Editorial Illustration

Travel Guides

The synopsis of the brief for this exercise is to create three diagrammatic illustrations for the book jackets of travel guides for the locations: Istanbul, Helsinki and Milan. Although diagrammatic illustration has been touched upon in Part 3, I wanted to start this exercise by looking into it further in order to see the scope I had for the illustrations. When discussing contemporary diagrammatic illustration, Alan Male explains, "‘But in a contemporary sense, one can apply the term ‘diagram’ to an array of innovative and richly colourful images that go way beyond the basics of pure information graphics: illustrated maps, detailed cross sections, engaging interactive features that not only facilitate an educational need but can also provide an appropriate visual alternative for use in advertising campaigns, for promotional purposes or for editorial commentaries.’ Male, A (2007)

This quote and the outline for the exercise both indicate that there is a huge range of possibilities for the artwork. In order to help focus and write myself a brief, I decided to look at some existing book jackets for travel guides and started with a few from my shelf.

This book jacket is quite busy. There is a lot of text. In addition to the location name, there is a list of sights that can be seen there and publisher’s details run in banners along the top and bottom of the cover. The text is all digitally generated with the largest font being used for the location name which is also in bold, and a different colour to make it stand out further. The text used for the list of sights is the same font but smaller, not in bold and in grey. This ensures it is subordinate to the location title text as it is that that is needed to initially catch the viewer’s eye.

The title text has been placed at the top with a photograph of the location beneath it. I think the text leads on this cover because it is quite large, almost half the size of the image and is in a dark colour on a contrasting white background.

The photograph shows an idyllic holiday setting and the composition has ensured that a range of elements are included in the beach scene to maximise the information given to the viewer. There is a strong foreground created by the boats which tells a reader boat trips could be a part of their holiday, then the eye is led around the shoreline and taken up into the hills via a castle and other buildings in the native style. The range of elements makes it appear that there is a lot to explore in this location. In addition to that is the list of sights. This is accompanied by a few images. One is a photograph of a mosaic which is there to advertise the roman remains to be found at Pompeii or Herculaneum. Another photograph is used to show that the area is particularly famous for lemons.

There is a diagrammatic illustration on the cover which depicts a castle and palace that can be found in Naples. This is a duplicate of an illustration inside the travel guide and acts as a map for visitors. On the cover however, it is another example of using an image to show the sights that can be discovered there. The diagram is very a detailed line drawing flat coloured with watercolour or digitally. It is realistic in its style.

This travel guide from a different publisher is very different to the previous one and much less busy. There is more negative space in which the location text has been placed. Placing it in this area on a white background makes it stand out really well. The text is digitally created, fairly large and in a darkish blue for contrast. There is a shadow effect behind the text which makes it stand out more. Although it can be clearly read, it is the photo that leads the eye on this cover. The text below lists the things the travel guide has to offer and is in a different font and colour to the location text probably to create further contrast. Small capitals are used for this list in compared with upper and lower case used in the title. Similarly to the guide for Naples, this list text appears in a subordinate grey, however the top point is in a bright red. This could either be to create contrast to the title or perhaps to highlight the fact that it indicates the top 25 sights, the best things to do in Munich.

The main image on the cover is a photograph of part of the city. The viewpoint is from above allowing more of the city to be advertised. Only the rooftops of buildings can really be seen though so I’m not sure it really advertises the city that well. There is a much better photograph just inside which depicts the historic buildings against a beautiful mountain backdrop. I know which I’d rather go to!

The other image on the cover is of a map to show that the guide includes a map. Again this is a photo.

This Rough Guide travel guide to New York is almost half text, half image. They have the familiar Rough Guide logo in the top left corner of the cover and the location text placed just below halfway down. Bullet points sharing what they guide offers are placed in a banner at the bottom. The location text is in the usual branding employed by Rough Guides consisting of digital text in white on a coloured background. The use of white on orange creates really good contrast and creates a contemporary look. The same text is used below though in a much smaller font. Again white is used on a darker background but the blue doesn’t create as much contrast as the orange. This ensures the location text is what first catches the viewer’s eye. Some of the words in the bullet point list are in a different colour to highlight key words.

The photograph shows two of New York’s iconic sights; the yellow taxi and great American diner. Two taxis are shown. The one in the foreground is stationary while the one behind is moving creating a blurred affect. This works really well when depicting New York because it suggests fast movement and New York is definitely very fast moving and busy. The image is very effective and is definitely what catches the viewer’s eye.

This cover is quite different to the others in that it features a full page image and limited text. The orange Rough Guide logo is located on the spine with just a small part of it evident at the top left of the cover. As with the New York guide, the text is in large white lettering. The dark purple background provides great contrast to the white. The text is in lowercase but the bold font ensures that this doesn’t impact on the clarity. The photo behind the text banner is quite dark in tone meaning the white text stands out even more and makes this the lead on the cover.

Whereas the imagery on the other guides have focused more on the buildings, this cover features people buying and selling food at the water’s edge. This imagery is selling a culture more than touristy sights to be seen.

As the brief asks for illustrations for three book jackets, it is important there is a visual continuity between them. Therefore I thought it important to Iook at a series of travel guides by the same publisher to analyse how they visually relate to each other. All images: amazon.com

The continuity between design of these covers is striking. The orange backed logo is in the same place on each, top left and the png logo is at the bottom right on all versions. The location heading text is placed at the top, in the same font, uppercase and in the same colour. Each shows a full page photo of the location with the text laid over the top. To ensure the white text shows up, the composition of the photos ensures a darker colour at the top. This is plain in the case of the sky in Poland and Belgium and Luxembourg, while Paris is slightly different in that the text is placed over detail of the Eiffel tower. Although the detail is dark in order to create contrast, it still hinders the clarity of the text meaning it is the image that leads the eye rather than the text as in the other two.

All three covers depict buildings in the images to show the viewer the sights they can see in the locations. The composition of the Paris guide is interesting because it is taken from underneath the Eiffel tower looking up which is a view that you see when visiting it. It is also intriguing because it is cropped to show only a little part of the tower but just enough to make it recognisable. This is a device that can be used when depicting such an iconic sight as The Eiffel tower. The buildings featured on the other two covers are not so iconic meaning that more of them needs to be shown in order to provide a sense of place. Different compositions feature dependent on hierarchy of subject. For Belgium and Luxembourg the focus would be to show the frontage of the buildings. These are architecturally beautiful and indicative of this part of the world. If the photo was composed differently, such as to the side as in the Poland cover, the features of this architecture would not be displayed in all their glory. It also allows for some other sights to be included such as a market and town or city square. In the Poland guide the focus is the building with the beautiful spire in the background. The image has been composed so the eye is led from the front, along the street to reach it at the end.

Although the images are totally different in subject and composition, it is clear that these guides are all part of the same series due to the same font, colour and placement of text and logos.

Next I looked at the Lonely Planet series.

As with the Rough Guides, there is a clear visual continuity between all of these titles. The logo is placed centrally at the top of the cover. The location text is in the same font, lowercase and the same colour. The size of the text does differ according to length of location name. All of the covers have a full page photo behind the text. In most of the covers the text is placed over a dark, plain background. In these situations, the text leads over the image. However in cases such as Prague and the Czech Republic, being placed over the tree detail makes it harder to read because there is not so much contrast. All covers have the same blue box at the bottom left which boasts the benefits of buying this particular brand of guide. Each location is represented completely differently in terms of subject and composition but this does not detract from the fact that they are clearly all part of the same series.

These travel guides all feature photographs rather than illustration so I wanted to explore some travel illustration. I have looked at illustrated maps previously so I decided to focus on posters and leaflets. I started with David Klien who designed and illustrated many iconic airline posters during a mid century time when air travel was seen as glamorous and exotic. I have looked at some of the more iconic ones previously so thought I would look at some of the less familiar ones. This poster for Rome depicts a large figure in the foreground dressed in traditional clothing with the two most famous sights behind him. The illustration definitely leads the eye with the brightly coloured figure grabbing the attention. From there the eye is lead quickly to the destination name, down to the Colosseum, further down past St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican to the name of the airline company. Although colour is used in all elements of the poster, it is the bright primary colours of the figure that catches the eye. He is also a large figure and is placed at the front of the composition. The two buildings appear set back in the distance because most of the building is represented in just a small illustration. They are colourful but the tones are muted. The green colour for the word ‘Rome’ is not particularly eye catching, it is the placement of the red feathers in the man’s hat that leads the eye to it. This red is also used in the name of the company with bold text, all of which ensures it stands out. The text used for the destination looks like it was hand created. It is a serif type font with some embellishments which match the traditional feel the poster creates. The posters makes Rome seem an appealing place to visit, somewhere you can be immersed in tradition, history and culture.

This poster is very interesting in terms of composition and text placement but it is not diagrammatic so is not a style appropriate for this brief.

The poster below designed by Eric Pulford is perhaps a little more diagrammatic, in particular the illustrations inside the elephant’s head. It depicts a range of sight seeing elements from animals on the Safari to buildings found in Africa’s cities. The representations are fairly realistic but I don’t think there is any accuracy in location. The elements have been arranged with effective composition in mind.

I then looked at designers Max and Oscar who create modern and inspired destination graphics. I feel that it could be possible they were inspired by posters like Eric Pulford’s above. Their poster below could fall into the diagrammatic illustration category because it depicts a slice of Copenhagen, a cross section almost. The purpose of a diagram is to communicate information which this image does. It gives information about the whole city starting from the Nyhavn canal and waterfront in the foreground, to the top tourist sights set behind. A bicycle has been included to represent Copenhagen’s bike culture. This is a very appealing illustration to look at. The colour palette is bright and engaging while still being fairly limited. This limited palette creates a theme that ties all elements of the image together. In particular it is the colour used in the canal that creates the connection because it is also used in the townhouses on the Waterfront and in the buildings behind. Definition between the townhouses and the buildings behind has been created through the use of different colours. The townhouses are brighter and feature yellow and red in addition to darker tones of the turquoise colour. The buildings behind are softer and are depicted in pinks, greys, muted yellow and a lighter turquoise.

The composition probably doesn’t depict the actual locations in the correct places, however it is accurate in that if you were standing on the waterfront looking in the direction of the city, the tourist sights would be located behind the townhouses on the front. Some of the background buildings appear to be further back than others, for example the white spired building is smaller and more set back than the two buildings either side. This could be based on actual location.

The text is a simple digitally generated sans serif font all in uppercase. It is crisp and clean and suits the modern graphics. The use of black on a lighter plain colour ensures it stands out.

Although clearly created in the same style, Max and Oscar’s poster for Berlin is quite different to the one for Copenhagen. The composition is very different with the river Spree winding its way through the city rather than running along the foreground. The Brandenberg gate and TV tower have been placed centrally in that order from the front, around and behind which other important buildings and sights have been positioned. Again there may or may not be accuracy in the position each element in terms of location or it may have been down to what created the most effective composition. The eye is immediately drawn to the TV tower. Not only is it a tall structure and placed centrally, it is bright white against a dark petrol blue background. At the bottom of the tower is a red heart which leads the eye to the red in the destination text. This is the same device as used by David Klien in his Rome poster. In contrast with the text used in the Copenhagen poster, a bold serif font in different colours is used. From the text, the eye follows the river, taking in the sights along the way. As with the Copenhagen poster, a limited colour palette, this time influenced by the German flag, is used creating a visual continuity throughout. Other iconic elements such as the Berlin Wall, mug of beer and tram have been included to give a viewer further information about the location.

While thinking about illustrated maps as an option for the illustration I decided that one showing exact locations and street and place names wouldn’t be appropriate for a book jacket. However an illustrated map in this style by Max and Oscar might be. It is diagrammatic providing accurate information about California while still remaining completely pictorial, a style which may suit a book jacket for a travel guide more. The icons representing California’s buildings, culture and food have been placed in roughly the correct geographical locations. The background to the state outline indicates what surrounds it, the sun could be there to represent the neighbouring desert state of Nevada. To the left the Pacific ocean is depicted with waves and sea animals.

I decided to start researching each of the locations before creating myself a more focused brief. I made mind maps from information found on the internet and also made a gallery of photos for reference for each location.



My Brief

Produce a diagrammatic illustration for each of the following locations: Istanbul, Helsinki and Milan, to be used a book jacket for a travel guide.

The illustrations will be for a full size travel guide at 198cm x 130cm. Artwork to be to scale.

The images should capture the essence of the location and provide information about what can be enjoyed there. They should make each place appealing to visit.

In order to be diagrammatic, images need to be based in realism and objectivity.

Colour palette to be limited to colours representative of the location.

There is free rein on composition, viewpoint and media used.

Each illustration should visually relate to the others as it should be clear they are from the same brand.

Text to be hand lettered. This can be the same on each to maintain continuity or created individually to reflect each location.

In order to fulfil the diagrammatic, objective part of this brief, I started by drawing landmarks from each location from reference before starting to illustrate. Including these landmarks in my illustrations would fulfil the providing information about the locations part of the brief.

I had a few ideas for the illustrations and made thumbnails to explore them. My first idea was to create an illustrated map of each location. Although I was interested in this idea, I didn’t feel it would work as a front cover. I also came up with the idea of using a public transport map as the background on which landmarks and sights are plotted at the correct locations. I really like this idea but again, I feel it is too diagrammatic for a front cover. I would like to explore this idea in the future though.

My other idea was to create a composition of the main sights in each city. This would fulfil the brief in that it would provide information about what can be enjoyed in the locations but would also look appealing as a front cover. I created the compositions for this idea digitally so I could freely move each element around.

The first two compositions show the Basilica Cistern at the bottom which I thought was important because it is an underground sight. I tried the text both at the bottom and top but felt neither of these had an element that leads the eye. Everything is too jumbled. The text in the third leads the eye with diagonal movements up to the top. The next three compositions focused on placement of the Blue Mosque which I felt should take centre stage. Number 4 is too disjointed and looked strange having such a large Blue Mosque at the front. I did quite like number 5 in which the eye is caught by the blue Mosque and is lead down to the text. I also quite liked number 6 in which the buildings were placed roughly in the shape of Istanbul.

The next three are all versions of a similar idea. They all feature the buildings positioned in a dome shape. There are a lot of domes in Istanbul and I thought it would work well to reflect this in the layout. I also felt that the eye is led nicely from the text up to the top of the dome.

Happy with the composition, I drew the visual.

My brief asked for a limited colour palette reflecting the location. I researched traditional Turkish costume to see what colours reflect the place and found them to be pinks, purple and gold. I also wanted to include blue to depict the Blue Mosque. I then made colour visuals on photocopies. The first was all wrong because the pink background didn’t allow for enough contrast. Also the blue was all on one side, rather than running through the whole artwork as intended. The pale blue background on the second was much better and so were the colours on the buildings but I wasn’t entirely happy. Istanbul is surrounded by sea so I thought I could reflect this in the background colouring. The third visual has pink as a background for the dome part with blue surrounding it. Although I was happy with the provisional colouring, something was still not right with the composition. Everything seemed a little disjointed.

I felt that having the buildings overlapping more would address this issue. I was much happier with this composition. All of the main sights are included, the text leads the eye up to the top of the dome and it isn’t disjointed.

I followed the same digital process for the other locations. I chose the composition on the far right. Helsinki is surrounded by sea and this composition gives a nod to that. It has a strong lead from the text upwards through the various sights. The buildings are overlapped to prevent the image appearing disjointed.

Milan was tricky in that it has a few buildings that are quite similar to each other. I wanted to ensure there was enough contrast between each one which is why I started with them spaced out. The first five compositions didn’t work at all and these are only the ones I saved! I tried so many different layouts trying to make it work. Milan is famous for fashion and shopping so I wanted to make that a strong theme in the illustration. I remembered from my research about Galleria Vittoria Emmanuele ii which is Italy’s oldest shopping arcade and is a beautiful piece of architecture. I drew a sketch and added it to the composition. Placing it at the front, just behind shopping bags really privileges Milan’s fashion and shopping history. I then arranged the other buildings ensuring they look balanced.

The text used on the thumbnails was just for placement because the brief requires the text to be handwritten. My next step was to create the text. I had originally intended to have the same text on all book jackets but once I had developed my compositions I didn’t feel this was appropriate because each city has such a different feel to it. I felt that Istanbul needed a gothic look, perhaps like Arabic writing in style but that wouldn’t work for the others. For Milan I wanted something elegant and stylish while I saw Helsinki as needing a clean, modern and minimalist look. Before creating the text by hand I made a digital version for each location.

To create the hand lettered text I started with my normal hand lettered text that I use in my sketchbooks and when writing greetings cards to people etc. Each one then became a variation on that.

For Istanbul I used gothic angles and lines thicker than others. Milan is in a flowing script while Helsinki is a variation on a sans serif type font. They are all quite different but because they all originate from the same style, I hoped there would still be visual continuity between the three illustrations.

Below are the visuals for the three locations. Although they all have different text, I think the compositions have ensured there is a similarity and continuity between them. The text is also placed in the same position on each.

With the colour development work I had previously done for Istanbul, I made that my choice for the final artwork. I felt that artwork for Istanbul needed to be sumptuous and opulent and it was this that dictated my media. I wanted to use Neocolour crayons because of their colour rich qualities. I had been doing some exploring in my sketchbook at about the same time, playing about with gouache under painting, particularly black. I was trying out which media and colours show up when laid over black. This gave me the idea to try out using black card for this illustration.

I tried out the colours I wanted to use and drew experimental bits to see how well they would show up. I was happy with the results so went on to complete the final artwork on black paper.

I wanted to create a feeling of opulence and I think I have achieved that. The black paper provides great contrast both to the images and the text which makes the whole book jacket eye catching. My research identified the need to include content that would engage a viewer and make the location appealing to them. As a diagrammatic illustration, it should give information about what can be seen and experienced there. In the brief I set myself, I wanted to capture the essence of the place. I think I have achieved all these things. I think it is enticing, both as a book jacket and a place. I created hierarchy by placing the text at the bottom of the dome leading up to the the Blue Mosque which I considered to be the pinnacle of all the Istanbul sights. My only worry is that the use of a black background reduces the visual continuity between the three travel guides as black wouldn’t be appropriate for the other two locations. Referring back to Max and Oscar’s work though, in particular Copenhagen and Berlin, for which completely different fonts and colour palettes were used but they still maintained continuity due to use of a similar style of composition and layout. I think the composition style and design layout is maintained across my three travel guides.

I have questioned whether the illustration is diagrammatic enough due to my colour choices not being accurate. Aside from colour though they are recognisable and it does provide information about Istanbul. I found getting the balance between creating a diagrammatic illustration that make an effective book jacket tricky to juggle. All of the book jackets I researched feature photographs. I thought my illustrated map ideas were too diagrammatic and thought that other ideas I had of featuring just one of the sights as part of a scene would not be diagrammatic enough. I was conscious that I didn’t want to make it narrative. When I refer back to the quote by Alan Male at the beginning of this post in which he discusses contemporary diagrams as being aesthetically pleasing which makes them effective in advertising and promotion, I think my artwork fits that description well.

I really enjoyed this exercise. I am very interested in travel illustration. It makes me want to go to all the places once I’ve researched them! I also took the opportunity to explore what is a fairly new medium to me trying out the different colour combinations you can make by layering over each other. I also played about with use of gouache and acrylic underpainting and Neocolour over the top to see what effects I could create.


Male, A. (2007) Illustration: A theoretical and contextual perspective. 2nd ed. London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts.