Life is a Dream

Life is a Dream book cover
Life is a Dream book cover

One of the projects in my first class with John F. Malta was to design a book cover for a Penguin Classics book. There’s a long list of these books, but I eventually settled on Pedro Calderón de la Barca‘s Life is a Dream, because it didn’t seem like anyone else was going to choose that one, plus it deals with perceptions of waking reality versus dreaming, and I’m basically a comic book villain with a single obsessive theme…

If you aren’t familiar with the story, like most people, I assume, Wikipedia summarizes it about as well as you need it summarized to understand my cover:

Life Is a Dream (Spanish: La vida es sueño) is a Spanish-language play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca. First published in 1635 (or possibly in early 1636), it is a philosophical allegory regarding the human situation and the mystery of life. The play has been described as “the supreme example of Spanish Golden Age drama”. The story focuses on the fictional Segismundo, Prince of Poland, who has been imprisoned in a tower by his father, King Basilio, following a dire prophecy that the prince would bring disaster to the country and death to the King. Basilio briefly frees Segismundo, but when the prince goes on a rampage, the king imprisons him again, persuading him that it was all a dream.

The play’s central theme is the conflict between free will and fate. It remains one of Calderón’s best-known and most studied works. Other themes include dreams vs. reality and the conflict between father and son. The play has been adapted for other stage works, in film and as a novel.

There is a little more to it than that, and the story doesn’t exactly end that way, but that’s fine, the main points are there. So, in November 2015, I designed the prince as a stoic tower overlooking the flaming ruins of his kingdom. Fast-forward to now, in my fourth class with Malta, and we spend part of the semester designing our own projects. As I’m planning to freelance, and because I seem to end up making book covers, I thought it would be a good idea to apply what I’ve been learning for the last year and a half to an old design. I placed a limit on myself in that I had to keep the original design- the same construction of the tower (more or less), the same typeface, and the same flames.

 

penguin book cover comparison
penguin book cover comparison

The difference between the two is stark, and I am glad I made the updated version. I downplayed the mixed-media aspects I frequently use in my work because I did not feel like they were warranted here, and even though I have been frequently told not to drop shadows in work, I felt that it worked in this case. I wanted it to resemble a construction, something reminiscent of a stage play, utilizing overt symbolism. I only had a few days to do this, but I think that if I had more time, I would actually print and construct the elements with paper, cardboard, colored gels, and lighting, then photograph that for a final image.  For quick turn-arounds, though, this meets my expectations. Incidentally, I did not actually use the drop-shadow effect in photoshop, I created the shadows with layering.

This is the pre-critique version. It was suggested that some lighter flames be added to the foreground, and part of a third cloud added to the left edge of the image. This image does include the bleed, though, so were this to go to print, the final image (posted above), would likely need these additions moved inward a little, particularly the cloud- but as a final image here, for image-making purposes, it is probably ok.

 

Pre-critique version
Pre-critique version