The Making of Magrit

A post by ABDA committee member Amy Daoud

Winner of Best Designed Children’s Fiction Book and Designers’ Choice Children’s/Young Adult Cover of the Year at the 2017 Australian Book Design Awards, designer Amy Daoud shares the story behind the cover of Magrit.

Nine-year-old Magrit has lived most of her life in an abandoned cemetery alongside her only friend, Master Puppet – a cynical mentor-like companion whom Magrit built from discarded bones and graveyard debris. While content with her world, Magrit’s life takes an unexpected turn when a stork drops a baby into the cemetery. ‘Get rid of it,’ Master Puppet implores, ‘Throw it away. Kill it.’ Instead, Magrit keeps the baby, gives him a name, and decides to raise him – ensuing a powerful, moving passage of self discovery.

Between the complex relationships of the characters, the fragility of Magrit’s journey and the whimsicality of the world Lee Battersby so beautifully created, my immediate mind’s-eye-response to the manuscript was a papercut illustration. It was almost a no-brainer. I perused stock image libraries to make sure there weren’t any photographic gems I could work with, but nothing inspired or seemed suitable for the 9+ readership. Thankfully, the book’s editor at the time, Jess Owen, was also keen on the papercut illustration route, so I set off and began materialising the idea.

Magrit concepts by Amy Daoud

Master Puppet is such a strong and symbolic character, so naturally he became my focus from the beginning. These initial roughs were simply pencil drawings taken into Photoshop for colour and shadow play. You’ll notice I was working with a different title at the time, which was still undergoing consideration (Bugrat is the name Magrit gives her new human friend).

Both were a good start – but where is the protagonist? It was important Magrit featured, so I worked towards including her in both concepts. This coincided with the title finalisation.

Magrit concepts by Amy Daoud

There are so many layers to the story, which was something I felt better represented in the ‘skull’ concept – a mix of motifs from Magrit’s world, forming together to present Master Puppet. Luckily, everyone felt this was the stronger direction overall (hooray!) and Lee was happy (bigger hooray!) so the next step was to choose the right colour palette.

It was also at this point that I was faced with the reality that executing the art in papercut form was not feasible, from a timing or technical point of view. Colour was an ongoing conversation with sales and marketing, and I was able to experiment with it freely when the art was digital. Additionally, the decision was made to include monotone illustrations throughout the book’s interior (!) including typographic sorts. In order to have control over the sizing and placement of these elements, it made most sense to work with them in digital form. So, just like the cover, I created vector objects from basic pencil drawings.

Magrit illustrations by Amy Daoud

I had thought choosing cover colours would be the most enjoyable part of this whole process, but it proved to be the hardest. How much or how little should be applied? Which elements should be filled? How about the type, if any of it? Do we remain dark or go cheery? If cheery, how cheery? Is the whole thing too Day of the Dead? Is that a bad thing? Should I start this cover again?

But finally, with the help of basically everyone in the office, a colour combination was chosen and the illustration refined to completion for the cover. Ta-da!

Final cover for Magrit by Amy Daoud