Well, another month has passed by in the blink of an eye and I am delighted to return as guest blogger for the wonderful Makers’ Collective blog. Last month I promised you a peek at various techniques that I use in my illustration. The Ella Diaries cover artwork is a great reference for this as the closer you look, the more you start to see various techniques at play.

Next month I promise to move on from this topic, as I plan to share my thoughts on how and why I think I have found success in my chosen career – it might not be what you think!

But for now, let’s take a closer look at Ella Diaries.

There are 5 key areas that I revisit each time I create new cover artwork for the series.


The background is full of lots of doodles from the inside pages of the book. While this may seem quite straight forward, the challenge is that I usually don’t have a full manuscript at this stage. Of course my Editor is quite an expert at sending me enough information to make sure that this does not inhibit my creativity, but it’s an interesting part of the process to note if you are new to publishing. I mentioned in my previous post that I use a black ink pen for this doodling.


I then scan and convert my drawings to line work (vector art) using LIVE TRACE in Illustrator.

EllaDiaries_Book3_COV 1

I add colour to the cover version and the book designer at the publishing house will colour up the internal illustrations when she places my images into the pages in the layout.


The Polaroid style image of Ella forms part of the logo, but if you look closely you will notice that she changes slightly for each book.

EllaDiaries_ella collage

The pose remains essentially the same, but her wardrobe and styling get a bit of a tweak! One of the fun things about working on characters for a series is that you also get to play Stylist to your characters!

danielle mcdonald ella paintings

If you look closely you will also note that the black line work for Ella is hand painted. I usually use gouache (paint) for this and then scan and LIVE TRACE in Illustrator. This makes it easy for me to colour up the image in Illustrator. For me, the EYES are the most important part of any character drawing. It can completely change the way the character looks. So in order to get the consistency I am after I cheat! Yep. You guessed it. I use exactly the same eyes for each of the illustrations of Ella. I just copy and paste the artwork!


For creating the title text, I like to try out different materials to try to create a bit of interest and texture to the words in the title. I think about what materials might typically be in a young girls pencil case and then have a bit of a play around with them on paper.




I know that you can get a lot of these textures via the computer, but for me there’s something a bit more authentic in creating them yourself. I usually create my hand drawn artwork in black (or a dark colour) so that it I get the greatest contrast with the white paper, which helps in the scanning process. Once I have my scans I bring them into Illustrator to use LIVE TRACE again.

EllaDiaries_Book3_COV 2


This is actually one of the most important parts of the whole cover artwork! It’s the part of the book that you see when it’s all stacked up with other books on a shelf! It needs to be clear, bold and catchy!

For Ella Diaries this area is all about pattern, colour and texture. I always have fun messing around with lots of patterns with each new book. Like the title area, I test out lots of different materials and textures – all by hand, of course!

danielle mcdonald ED patterns

Then it’s a matter of playing around with colour (my favourite part.)


Of course the logos are an essential part of designing the spine of a book, so these need to be clear and consistent.



We can’t forget the BACK cover of a book. I always think the job of the FRONT cover artwork is to get the customer to actually pick up the book. If this is true, then I would say that the job of the BACK cover is to actually get the person to READ (buy or borrow!) the book. For Ella Diaries, this means carrying on the look and feel of the front cover artwork, through the doodles and logo artwork. We also needed a large area for lots of text, so this was a great chance to continue the look of the collage and layering, through ripped pieces of paper and coloured tape.

EllaDiaries_Book3_COV back 2

It’s also a chance to show some coloured doodles from the inside pages of the book. I simply trace over the doodle with blocks of colour using markers.

danielle mcdonald ED markers

Then I place the line work over the top of the artwork to create the final piece. I also use masks and drop shadow techniques to get some depth into the art and to help create the layered feel of collage.

danielle mcdonald ED mushroom 4


So there you have it. I hope this gives you a bit more of an introduction into book design and illustration.

As promised, next month I will share some insights into how I got started in illustration and how I have managed to get longevity in a field that can be difficult to break into.

In the meantime, please feel free to contact me with any questions, or drop by my blog to see what else we get up to at home on the farm. Best wishes for a fabulous month of May!

Danielle McDonald – Red Dog and Jude