Invisible Cities

Text by Italo Calvino (1972)
Ink, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign
This illustrated version of Invisible Cities is intended to be seen as a traveler's notebook, in which Marco Polo describes his various adventures and draws the fantastical sights. What struck me about this text is the fact that there does not to be any definite sense of time or place. Marco Polo traveled the world in the 13th century, yet Calvino describes dirigibles and skyscrapers. In order to reflect the ambiguous nature of the book, I tried to utilize a flexible art style that takes inspiration from a variety of sources from Chinese ink drawings to illuminated manuscripts. I also looked to Avatar: The Last Airbender and the Lord of the Rings as stories that similarly merged numerous time periods and cultures.



I chose to use the text Invisible Cities because I was interested in illustrating a grand, fictional world. I began the process by dumping the text onto pages in InDesign to determine what the best font size, page proportions, and page size would be. I originally based the page size and proportions off of common notebook sizes, but I eventually made the size slightly larger to create more room for the illustrations. Originally, I tried to find a font that fit the theme of the book, but I later decided to keep the font simple and readable (using Garamond) and rely on the layout and illustrations to convey the personality of the book. 


As I considered the layout of the pages, I also thought about what imagery I would use and how I would make the drawings. I wanted the drawings to look like they were sketched quickly, so I originally considered using a micron pen to make the illustrations, and I decided early on to use minimal color. In order to choose what exactly I wanted to draw for each page, I read through the text and sketched the features of each cities that struck me as most interesting. I began to flesh out Calvino's world as I imagined it.


Once I decided what I wanted to draw for each city, I began to consider how the illustrations would sit on the page and how the composition would vary from page to page. I wanted to make sure that the illustrations interacted with the text in different ways so that the book would not feel repetitive. 


Because it seemed that the illustrations would need to have some weight to create more contrast on the page, I tried using charcoal instead of micron pen. I figured that the larger tool would leave bolder marks while forcing me to use more loose gestures. However, I had some trouble varying the line width, which I tried to solve by drawing in layers. This made the drawings feel less natural.


I also tried different approaches to the layout and hierarchy, and I started illustrating the initials in order to further integrate the text with the illustrations.


After struggling to use charcoal as my primary medium, I switched to brush and ink. This allowed me to create images with stronger marks and more line variation. While these drawings weren't as "sketchy" as I originally intended, they still felt loose enough to fit the theme of the notebook-style book. 

For the cover and endpapers, I created this small illustration (based off of the ornate designs found in illustrated manuscripts) and used it as a repeating pattern.


Once I completed the ink drawings, I added color digitally in Photoshop.