Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino

Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino - student project

CHANGE LOG - most recent stuff is added to the bottom...

11/21 Chose book, began project, did preliminary research on previous covers

11/25 Finished reading book and started brainstorming concepts

11/27 First round of sketches!

12/2 First round in Photoshop...still definitely have a long way to go.

12/5 Round 2 in Photoshop and Typography exploration



Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino is a collection of 200 folktales from all over Italy. Italo Calvino is an incredible author who I love, he wrote Invisible Cities and Cosmicomics. His work is really imaginative and fantastical, but always in a very original, non-cliche way. His retelling of these stories brings out the best in them, I think.

My favorite thing about this book is how surprising the folktales are. Weird stuff keeps happening with no explanation (an apple turns into a girl every morning and takes a bath! turning the pages of a magic book makes a prince turn into a canary! a magic talking buffalo head raises a little girl!) and it opens up your imagination. They're logic-defying, out-of-the-box. Which makes them really fun.

Another thing that could be cool is to look at what's historically been done for anthologies of folktales (ornate, lushly illustrated), versus what's historically been done for Calvino's work (more minimalist and cerebral.) I think what happens when those things come together can be explored to interesting effect.



(This one seems to be the most often seen one out there. Below are a few others I found.)


(the cover of this one shows a peacock)

And what seems to be two common cover treatments for Calvino's other work:




Finally finished a thorough readthrough of all 200 tales! Feeling a little sad that there aren't any more to look forward to, but excited to have 100% of the stories at my disposal for inspiration.

Started thinking about some concepts while the book is fresh...

1. A hole that leads to an underground world

One common motif in the stories was that of a peasant pulling a large vegetable out of the ground and revealing a big hole that leads into some kind of weird underground kingdom. The plant is usually very ordinary, like califlower, cabbage, or fennel. By contrast, the kingdoms are extraordinary and have magical properties. I think the idea of an ordinary surface world, with a surprising passage to a much richer and fabulous underground world, matches the spirit of the stories pretty well. Wondering if this could be an opportunity to do some of the cool book jacket tricks like Chip Kidd shows us in the video.

2. Transformation

Another common motif is that of transformation--men transforming into animals or princesses transforming into objects, etc. The idea of transformation is magical and embodies the spirit of a fairy tale well (where else are you going to read about things like that happening?) Done right, it could also be a really striking image for the cover. I like the idea of an unintuitive transformation, like a man turning into a ring. It'd be tricky and fun to figure out how to do. And again it gives the opportunity to show the ordinary becoming the extraordinary.

3. Nuts -- something big emerging from something small

Something else that happens often is that heroes receive a series of magical nuts. (Walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, acorns, etc. etc.) Usually in a series of 3. In times of need, they crack the nuts open and out pour all kinds of treasures. The treasures are usually something that can definitely not actually fit inside a nut. (Yards of silk fabric, entire armies, golden looms, etc.) I like the idea of a very small, ordinary object housing an amazing abundance of magical stuff. It fits with the idea of the book, too, which is essentially a brick of paper until you open it and read it, at which point it expands into a whole world.

4. Just a lot of mini-images from the stories sort of collaged together

There's 200 stories, and they're all diverse and full of different things. It might be an injustice to choose one image over another. Maybe the right thing is to overwhelm the senses with a bunch of images, all different characters, objects, or motifs from the stories to give a broad sense of what the world is like. I think this solution is a little lazy, concept-wise, but sometimes the most straightforward solution turns out the best.

Those are my thoughts for now! Next step for me is to investigate those approaches by doing some sketching, I think. And continuing to keep an eye out for more inspirational cover images.



Thought about my concepts and came up with a few rough sketches. Not all of them turned out well (couldn't make a convincing figure transforming...that would probably take some time.) But I thought I'd post some of the ones I sort of like.

First two follow on the hole-in-the-ground-leading-to-magical-kingdom approach...

And the next one follows the nut concept. (Magical stuff comes out of a tiny nut.)

Personally, I like the nut one the best so far. When I was doing research on what to put on the cloth coming from the nut, I learned about Florentine's beautifully patterned paper made in Italy. I think it makes sense as a visual element, and it's also really beautiful. A few examples below. 

Next is to process any feedback I might get and keep refining these sketches...



Moved forward with the nut idea. Kind of slapped together some patterns as a gut check to see if this will that regard I think the idea is worth continuing to explore. Still have so much work to do to make this into what it should be though....still need to really work out what the best collection of patterns and curves are, not to mention the type!



Draft 2. Refined the curves/patterns a bit and started paying attention to the typography of the title and author name. Also worked on the nut.

For typography, I looked at Louise Fili's work--she's known for doing Italian-inspired typography, logos and book covers and I thought she would be inspirational. But upon a little digging, I found out that she was actually the one who designed the original cover of Italian Folktales! Looking back, I actually like the typography on it--it's bold but has a few more fanciful curves in it to give it personality and evoke fantasy. Why fix what's not broken? I decided to use the original type on this book cover as well, with some modifications to make it work for my layout and concept.

Still not totally happy with the patterns and curves. I think I need to push a difference in scale between the different kinds of patterns...also wondering if I need to rough them up a little by adding a texture. But that's something I can keep playing with.

I think next I'm going to do the whole wrap-around jacket, including the spine...