Wide Sargasso Sea

Wide Sargasso Sea - student project

20 Dec: Darkened the blue a little. Here's the final cover:

9 Dec:  Designing a template for a series...

I've been working with the design as part of a series. Jean Rhys has quite a back- catalogue of short stories and novels. I wanted the look to be bold and easily identifiable as a publishing 'brand'. I think keeping the style illustrative and water-coloury (is that a word?) will help acheive this. So I want to retain the black back cover and use the spine and text to convey colour/textural elements within the book. (For example, in Leaving Mr. Mackenzie the protagonist finds herslelf living alone, in a rundown hotel room in Paris, so I chose a peeling, flaking wall texture.) Elements of the illustration or texture can also be repeated within the barcode box too, hopefully it balances the black with a burst of colour. I have mocked up a few examples, using some of my own illustrations to convey the style. (They've been done quickly, so aren't perfect! But you get what i'm trying to do hopefully :)

2nd Dec 2013...

Been experimenting some more - I have really appreciated people's feedback. I have tried to keep the ink blot 'inky' enough, otherwise it misses the whole Rorschach point of reference. I've also darkened the type and taken away the fill from the letters. I think this looks clearer and more legible, still giving a feel of space and emptiness. I've also dropped the textured watercolour paper back a little and darkened the face on the ink blot. (Looking at it on here, I might adjust the levels on the blue of the illustration slightly, add a little more black). I think the hardest part of the project has been taking away unneccesary elements, keeping it simple.

I also want to see how it would look in a series of Jean Rhys' stories and novels. 

26th November 2013... 

Still playing around with the type and image.... so many different ways of doing it. I definitely like the black image now. It's more striking and mysterious. I can add colour into the font that I choose. I've also added a paper texture to the illustration to give it more of an ink blot feel. 

Here's another one of my experiments with image and layout. I'm using Indesign, creating outlines and adding colour and texture into the font. It's getting there... still a way to go....

(I'm going to start uploading each section of my progress at the top from now on, as it seems to make more sense to me. )

Well.... it's been a busy few days, deciding how I will actually execute the Rorscach ink blot idea. I started quite intricately (always my problem) and then had to pare it right down. I was in danger of making it look like 70's psychedelia than an ink blot test. 

I'm going to show you my experiments, digitally and by hand, and also my moodboard/visual brainstorming:

1: Experimenting with indian ink on paper. This seems the obvious choice, i'm so used to drawing everything with a digital pen, that this was really nice to go back to basics and draw/paint by hand. I warmed up with loads of splats and marks, and to see what type of paper would be best to use. Here are some of the results:

I was quite pleased with the results, i've included the symbolism of the orchid (sensuality, eroticism), skull (death, premonition, obeah), parrots (in the book, a parrot with clipped wings unsuccessfully tries to escape the fire - another symbol of Antoinnettes hopelessness in the book), Antoinette herself- I wanted to give her a watery feel, to tie in with the symbol of the ocean, drowning, the Sargasso sea.

I have really worked on simplifying the image, but part of me feels it is still too literal, and needs to be more ambiguous. 

I tried working on it digitally too, here is one of my moodboards and some of my  digital illustrations: 

Although I like these visually, I feel they took me away a little from my main idea - to do a Rorscach-style ink blot representaion, but I needed to expore the idea digitally to strike it off. 

I've done a quick screen grab of work on the cover with possible font, I like the idea of a few mm of colour from the spine showing at the edge of the front cover (it's still a work in progress, spine and back cover to consider too). I like the idea of using a very empty font to complement the illustration. Nothing too fussy or intrusive. I still may work on simplifying the ink blot, but I am worried about losing too much. Would appreciate feedback.

25th November:

After getting some feedback today (from Andy A - thanks!), I've decided to explore something I dismissed earlier - having a black image, then maybe treating the type differently. Having the illustration only in black would defnitely be more of a departure to the previous covers. It would be more striking/memorable and maybe attract a few new readers?! Not sure Penguin would go for it, but the book has been published by quite a few different publishers over the years...

Still much to experiment with... will update more when I've tried out a few possibilities. It's easy to get caught up in tunnel-visioned mode, when you really get into an idea, and reject other things you've previously tried, even if you like them instinctively - because they don't fit your imagined view of the final piece.

START: 21/11/13

I want to reimagine the cover for Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. It was orginally a book I read at school (about 20 years ago) as part of the curriculum at the time. I then re-discovered it a few years ago and feel it would make a good subject for this project.

Here are examples of previous covers:


The majority of the cover designs show the setting - the tropical Jamaican vegetation, a wealthy plantation in the 1800's and the main character: Antoniette Cosway. I want to explore the themes more fully within the book and design a visual graphic, something less literal, something that the prospective reader will want to engage in, and something that (hopefully!) communicates the essence of the book.

A brief synopsis:

Wide Sargasso Sea (written by Jean Rhys in 1966) was inspired by Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. It is set in the lush, tropical landscape of Jamaica in the 1830's, just after The Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

Born into an oppressive, troubled colonialist society, Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway meets a young Mr Rochester who is drawn to her initally by her beauty, innocence and sensuality. Shortly after their arranged marriage - interference and rumours begin, causing her husband to reject her. Caught between her husband's demands, rising social and political tensions and her inner complexity, Antoinette is driven towards madness.

Wide Sargasso Sea is a kind of prequel to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.  The story of the first Mrs Rochester - the 'mad' woman locked in the attic in Jane Eyre. In that book she depicted as a disturbing, insane and menacing presence, known as Bertha Mason. We know nothing about her history. Wide Sargasso Sea re-imagines 'Bertha' as Antoinette, it shows the reader the factors that contribute to her being labelled insane - from the Caribbean to the cold, bleak attic of Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre. It is very much cleverly intertwined with the story of Jane Eyre, and shows Mr Rochester as a more multi-dimensional character and less-romanticised. 

Rochester cannot handle the exotic and wild beauty of the Caribbean, he finds it "menacing" as it threatens his control over his senses:

"Those hills could close in on you […] Everything is too much, I felt as I rode wearily after her. Too much blue, too much purple, too much green. The flowers too red, the mountains too high, the hills too near". (II.1.2.1-4)

It is a very atmospheric book, yet at the same time stark and unsentimental - depicting emotional fragility, isolation and the powerlessness of women in a patriarchal society. 


Part I: (Martinique), Jamaica: Coulibri estate  
Part II: Granbois, Dominica  
Part III: "Great House" England 

• The book uses multiple narration - Antoinette, Rochester and Grace Poole, giving a variety of perspective.

Where is the Sargasso Sea? 

It's an area of sea in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. The Sargasso Sea is 1,100 km wide and 3,200 km long. A barren expanse, salty, where hardly any sea-life exists, except seaweed in abundance. It harbours strange ocean currents and the Bermuda Triangle is situated there.

Although Antoinette crossed this expanse of ocean on her journey to England from the Caribbean, the Sargasso Sea also serves as a metaphor. It separates Antoinette from her homeland and Rochester from his. It is also a metaphor for inner death and isolation.

Key words brainstorm: 

Terrified consciousness/Complexity/Personality/personalities/Nightmare/Opposites: black/white   sanity/madness  male/female etc/Menacing/Violent/Erotic/Lush/Libido, sexuality/magic/obeah/misogny/disorientation/quest for identity/selfish, vain, weak mother - also suffering earlier from mental illness/inner complexity, coming from different cultural elements - Antoinette believes must be schitzophrenia/cold indifference/other self/split personalities/Ovid's Metamorphosis/death/rebirth/schitzophrenic identity/delerium/atmosperic/Crossing the wide sargasso sea - the loneliness of the ocean/drowning/trapped/helpless/ the unable to return/across the ocean to her demise...

I'm starting to think about a concept for my cover. I want to explore how I can convey Antoinette's state of mind, her inner complexity, a dreamlike quality, whilst possibly encompassing the sea metaphor in some way. 


I'm very interested in adapting a different visual language to use for the cover. One that I can use that works on 2 levels. Firstly, on a visually pleasing level, secondly as a device to communicate Antoinette's state of mind. One of the main themes within the book is mental illness - personality disorders and perceived madness/schitzophrenia. I've started looking into the Rorschach test as a way of visually communicating this theme:

The Rorschach test (/Л€rЙ”rКѓЙ‘Лђk/ or /Л€rЙ”Й™rКѓЙ‘Лђk/,[3] German pronunciation: [Л€КЃoЛђЙђКѓax]; also known as theRorschach inkblot testthe Rorschach technique, or simply the inkblot test) is apsychological test in which subjects' perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation, complex algorithms, or both. Some psychologists use this test to examine a person's personality characteristics and emotional functioning. It has been employed to detect underlying thought disorder, especially in cases where patients are reluctant to describe their thinking processes openly.[4] The test is named after its creator, Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach.

(Source: Wikipedia)


The Rorschach inkblot test implies thought and personality difficulties and disorders - strong themes that run throughout the book. The watecolour quality of the tests also communicate the ocean and a dream-like quality. 

I now want to start experimenting with this concept and try to incorporate Antoinette into it, as she is the one trapped by this. I feel she needs to be at the centre, with other parts of her life unravelling out towards to corner. I want it to be a strong, visual image.