Do not go gentle into that good night (updated)

When I first came across this assignment, I was really eager to run through a long list of writings I've wanted to do a project on for a long time, but decided to stick with one of the four texts offered. I feel like it required a little more discipline that way.  I've worked on personal projects in the past, and was free to choose whatever book(s) I wanted. I was tempted to find my own poem or short story for this project, one that would have imagery and concepts immediately jumping into my head- an easy assignment, in other words. But I was determined to challenge myself and do a cover for Dylan Thomas' poem "Do not go gentle into that good night."

I was drawn to Thomas' poem more than the others for various reasons. The themes of death and mortality immediately caught my attention (I'd read the poem years ago in school, but had since forgotten about it completely). The poem was reportedly written for Thomas' dying father. It's a timeless subject, one that just about every one can relate to at some point in their life. So the next step- printing it out, and reading it over and over and over...

I underlined and wrote in notes of things that came to mind while reading. I also wrote out a list of words associated with some of the main themes of the poem.

Most of the time when working on an illustration assignment, I spend a lot of time developing ideas in my head and with words before I jump into drawing sketches. But this approach of starting the sketches right away, and developing the idea as you draw was very refreshing. I filled up almost three of the provided rectangle templates with thumbnail sketches (the vast majority of them complete garbage).

I picked a few of the thumbnails I thought had potential, and developed them a little further in photoshop.

I liked the idea of night being broken, or pierced, or exploded by rays of light or sunshine. Fighting against or committing some kind of violence against night. These examples weren't really conveying that (except maybe the middle one), and they were looking like a story about outer space or something. They were focusing too much on night -the metaphor- and not death. A few of my sketches involved a flame, or burst of light that seemed to be blocking, or obscuring a representation of death (a skull or skeleton). One in particular showed what could be thought of as the last burst of light from the sun, radiating out, partially hiding the spectre of death behind it.

I also liked another idea that showed what looked more like a candle flame (also often a metaphor for human life). I tried making an actual candle, but preferred the implication over the actual depiction. It could represent one last brilliant flash of light before sundown, but it might also represent a candle flame, temporary and fragile. I imagined the dying man lying in bed, looking at that candle flame and seeing death behind it, knowing it was waiting for him, but kept at bay for as long as that flame burns. From forced perspective it looks like a giant bonfire raging, maybe able to overcome death completely if it burns strong enough. I also liked that you can see a little bit more of death, especially his hand, which almost seems to be beckoning.

I decided to add typography to the last two ideas. Going into this project, I knew the typograpghy was going to be a challenge. I'm an illustrator, and don't customarily work with type, although I like to try. I wanted the main focus of the cover to be the illustration, and the title to be "the straight man," as Peter put it. The first composition looked best with fairly small, subdued type.

I liked it, but after putting type to the other composition, I was leaning toward that one. I never went back to work on the kearning or anything to tighten things up on this first one, so it's still pretty much a rough draft.

I spent a lot more time with the second composition, messing with the type over and over: italicized, not italicized, large, small, bold. Should it be in a neat, uniform layout? Staggered, like it's falling down the cover? Split into groups, like stanzas of a poem? etc.

Final cover:

I could have gone on forever (or at least until I went hunched over and exhausted into that good night) playing with the type, but there was something about putting it inside the flame that I finally rested on. It seems to let the illustration and the title do their own things without getting in each other's way, as well as maybe reinforcing the idea of resisting death, being safely separated from death as long as that flame fights to stay burning.

Looking forward to feedback, as well as seeing all the other projects!


I realize the deadline for the contest has been closed for going on a week, and I don't expect the following to change anything, but I had wanted to play around with the cover some more, just to see what comes about.

I'm not sure I like it better than my original cover, but it is a change. The mood is certainly different. Instead of the clear engraving of death, with the bright blue background, it now has a murky, hazy feel to it. It suggests that space between life and death- out of focus, and just barely hanging on. In contrast, the flame, which is still abstracted, is crisp and pronounced. It also suggests the violence- tearing through death- I was thinking about when sketching, but didn't quite achieve in my compositions. If anyone feels like leaving feedback or opinions, I'd certainly love to hear thoughts.

And the mock-up:


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