Part 5 : Narrative and Illustration

Preparing for Assignment 5 (3)  : Subjects and cover illustration


From the beginning I’ve wanted to base this Assignment around Horsell Common. I live opposite and go there just about every day with our dogs. It was good that I also managed to have a go at Geocaching which was something else I wanted to do,  and combine this with the Common as well. I enjoyed playing around with the images and it was good practice for putting a sequence together. I decided they wouldn’t be right somehow for the Assignment though.

The author H. G. Wells had a connection with the Woking area.  He had the Martians landing on the large sandpit on the Common in his book “War of the Worlds”. All paths lead into the Sandpit. It is still a ‘stage’ – a place where walkers and dogs often congregate; people picnic; children play and horses skirt around it.  I photograph there regularly and decided to use images taken during January and February this year – mainly of one particular event.  This was so that I could stay to some extent within the ‘sequence’ theme in terms of action and also confine myself somehow – otherwise I would just go on and on taking photographs because I find the Common so interesting.  The overarching theme though is the use that people make of the Common:-

The event began for me at the point where there was suddenly a large file of children coming down one of the paths, shepherded by adults. The children were all dressed in green, chattering gaily and skipping around but in a fairly orderly fashion.  We followed along after them.

I’m not going to include any more of the images at this point but wait until I’ve decided upon all the ones I want to use for the Assignment ‘story’.

Understanding Layout

I’ve been working for some time on a personal project of mine which involves putting together some letters and photographs from the 1940s, writing a commentary and compiling a book.  My ambition was to do it all myself rather than using software like Blurb and, to this end, I acquired Adobe InDesign. Vicki, one of my fellow students, is an expert on InDesign and kindly put together a 1:1 training session to put me through the basics.  Knowing that I was approaching Assignment 5, Vicki also suggested I collect some magazines together to have a look at layouts and covers. Big thanks to Vicki for all her encouragement and support.

Potential covers

My aim for the cover illustration was to have something inviting, colourful and interesting which would set the scene for my overarching theme of how people use the Common. My idea for the title would be “Let’s Meet on the Sandpit”.  I immediately ran into some challenges though when I looked through the photographs. The Common is quite heavily wooded and so is often shadowed in places. Colours tend towards brown and green and there is a darkish blue tinge to the soil.  It was winter so there was less sun/light. Photoshop can obviously help with all this but there was another challenge. A lot of the photographs I take on the Common are in landscape format but images on magazine covers are usually in portrait format. This meant I would have to do some careful crops.

With the photograph above I would have to choose between horses and people with dogs because the people are almost at the edge of the frame. Also, I’d been using a new Canon G12 quite a lot at the beginning of the year which meant that the quality of cropped photographs would be more compromised than with my 500D.

This crop was the widest I could manage but the people look confined.


I wanted to keep the white dog but when I consulted my husband he said that  this crop made everything look too cramped. I reluctantly re-cropped so that the white dog was no longer there and now people, the other dogs and horses had room to move.

The next image was actually taken at the side of the Sandpit where people were gathered together under the tree:-



This had potential as it cropped quite well, fits the theme and could be intriguing. It seemed static though, I looked for others that had more action and were also actually taken in portrait format:-


These didn’t grab me in quite the same way as the first images.


The one above is just a tree. The silver birch gives contrast with the green leaves, plus there is some blue sky, but there is no action.  Interestingly enough, at the weekend I showed all my cover ideas to a friend of mine asking her which ones would attract her to buy if she saw such a magazine in a shop.  One of her comments was that some people don’t like dogs or horses so might well give that type of cover a miss and, therefore, the tree was more neutral.

Magazine title

I wanted to have a go at a title and the one above was my first attempt.  I was reliably informed that in design circles it’s generally frowned upon to put a different coloured outline (stroke) around text – I’d put a yellow stroke around the black magazine title. I’ve now changed all the wording to yellow and it stands out against the background.  That was another aspect I realised –  that you have to think carefully how the colour of the cover image background will affect any wording.


I’ve spent much longer on this Assignment than on my previous ones.  One ray of hope came from listening to a recent interview on the Radio 4 Book Programme. Alan Hollingsowrth, who wrote The Line of Beauty was telling his interviewer that he wrote between 200 and 300 words per day.  There are 300 pages in the edition I looked at so at the rate of 11 words to a line and 32 lines to a page it means it took him around a year to write this book.

I’ve found all this process quite challenging and felt stressed-out at times but have been determined to work through it.  I’ve learned lots as a result about formats, backgrounds and placing text.  Now I have to sort out  the images to use for the ‘story’ and make a final decision on the cover.

14th March 2012