Greetings fellow Earthlings. I’m Don Maitz, an artist who has worked professionally in the book publishing industry for nearly fifty years. I’m here to explain how, given informed visual information, you CAN tell a book by it’s cover.

You’ve heard it said, “ A picture is worth a thousand words.” and, “ Every picture tells a story.”  What gives truth to these statements is that images have a language. If observed with insight, they speak to us.  Studied consideration is required to parse out the words pictures reveal. 

Here is an example of a picture communicating with a word. On your person you likely have a camera, the one in your cell phone. Most cameras offer two choices. One can position the device so the subject is framed in a vertical format, or the desired image can be captured in the horizontal position. There is a word being communicated for each orientation, regardless of what is in the frame. In the vertical selection the word is, “Impressive”.  We admire tall things. We look up to them, literally. Things that have vertical stature impress us. When framing the subject in the horizontal format,  the word that emerges is, ‘Expansive”. This is because things wider than they are tall, urges our peripheral vision to kick in.  As our limited scope perceives the world as flat, the horizontal framing suggests a nearly endless horizon being evoked. This is subtle communication that implies a reaction we know deep down, but is taken for granted, and so becomes overlooked.  Our subconscious registers these visual cues and “reads“ the images we see. It is word association, inspired by graphic content. 

The French Impressionist painter and sculptor, Edward Degas, once said, “Art is not about what we see, but about what the artist makes us see.”   How do artists accomplish this?  They use five tools, which are the underlying structural principles of a  visual image. Much like composers of music utilize string, wind, and percussion instruments, the instruments of the graphic artist are; LINE, TONE, SHAPE, COLOR & TEXTURE.  These forms are engineered or orchestrated to create a design, much like musical instruments work in concert to create a sound or tune. Each of these five visual elements ”speak” to us in different ways. Careful observation interprets what they say.


TEXTURE –  This is a pretty straight forward means of communication. Rough vs smooth, crisp vs soft, abrupt edges vs blurred edges.  One extreme is sharp, prickly, direct, clear, and harsh.  The other being perceived as gentile, pliable, indirect, nuanced, diffused. A hard edged character in a book is best presented with crisp contrast.  An ineffective character suits a subtle, diffused environment. These contrasting effects applied to LINE,SHAPE, TONE, and COLOR enhance their dimension.

In all  these applications, (LINE, SHAPE, TONE,COLOR & TEXTURE), the use of VOLUME CONTROL adds to the “effective communication” these lend to reflect a book through it’s cover, or any application of visual graphic art. Remember, “Every picture tells a story”.   Should a line be thick or thin, straight or curved?  HOW thick does the line need to be to serve the intended idea’s presentation?  Or, will thin better communicate the intent?  How much curve serves the concept?   For shapes, how many effectively do the job?  Do all three basic shapes need to be presented? Should they be big or small?   Should they be distorted ?  If so, by how much?, and why?    What setting on the volume control best amplifies the fitting degree of contrast?  What settings reflect the tone that best interprets the subject?  What color or color combination suits the intensity of the ideas presented? How garish or how drab presents the feeling of a story?   The term offered earlier,  “studied consideration“,  engages as decisions refined by interpretation, experience and intuition.  The written word offers a visual springboard as the mind’s eye immerses into the story. The feelings the language evokes offers the cues to make a visual based upon the author’s intent. 

When the artist is the sole author of the image, all the above holds true, because the story being told visually comes from an inspiration they form in their mind with an internal verbal description. 

  The ideas presented here about image-making are not entirely original with me. I learned about  LINE, SHAPE, TONE,COLOR & TEXTURE while in art school from a valued teacher, John Massimino, in his Composition Class.  The spark to apply these principals to evoke emotion derives from another instructor, Leonard Fisher.  Combining these principles to reveal and enhance the content of a book, and, to better tell a story with a picture, is my contribution. 

 With the development of AI tools, (I call Creativity Theft Software) it is important to offer the human connections between thought and creation.   This became a motivating factor in providing this feature that offers understanding towards the role intuition and the human subconscious, play in making connections to explain where true creativity comes from.  

 -Don Maitz 

Please note: I’m posting this on behalf of Don Maitz on the blog, he was nice enough to share his knowledge and expertise with all of us and there will be several parts to this series posted each Monday. The series will cover Line, Shape, Tone, Color and Texture. If you’d like to find more content from with or learn more about Don he (and Janny Wurts) can be found here on


About Author

Author: Steve

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *