July 01, 2020

A Cover Story

The cover of this issue of the magazine is the final of a series of four seasonal images we commissioned from Asya Lisina. We asked her to explain how she went about crafting this image.

The task was to create a cover for the magazine. It should be bright, summery, and not have anything to do with coronavirus.

I began with a compositional sketch. Beginning with thoughts of self-isolation, empty streets, and lots of free space, I decided to create a crowded composition filled with details, where the characters are tightly packed together. I wanted to draw the viewer’s eye in a sharp zigzag, beginning with the lower left corner and finishing with the apple-filled Zhiguli and the tiny figure of the fisherman, who plays the role of a lyrical afterword.

After adjusting the size and shape of the components, I began to introduce tone and color.

At first I planned to place light figures on a dark background – a simple, straightforward decision. But in this case, that approach obscured certain details and made it hard to appreciate all the picture’s separate elements.

The next version was an attempt to depict a cool day, with dynamic lines of growing grass, but it came out uninviting and sinister.

Having decided to work with layered overlays, I tried a sepia version for an old-fashioned look. The idea was that spending leisure time with others is out of reach for many people this year, a thing of the past. But I did not like the sickly texture and the color limitations.

Then I tried two versions using warm, complementary colors. They came out more-or-less fine, but also either too muted or too hot.

In the end, I decided to focus on the shadows, and that worked. On the one hand, having a single light source unified the elements; on the other, the outlines helped preserve a sense of the distinct elements and of the multitude of details. The eye moves in a zigzag, sometimes returning to the face of the picture’s protagonist in the center, who has turned toward the viewer. The shadows are clear and bright, but their movement creates tension.

A few notes on details:

I don’t like heat, crowds, or bright sunlight, and I would not find a setting like this to be relaxing. I expressed this feeling through the rippling car on the right. The scene seems, in some sense, idyllic, but there is also something unbearable about it. Even in the shadows, the eye has nowhere to hide and there is no rest from the blinding sun.

The men who are using skewers of shashlik to play foosball is drawn very small, since, in real life, I associate such people with aggression; the small size makes them less threatening.

The tall woman in the hat and glasses reminds me of an evil heroine from Japanese urban legends, the sort one might find in the horror manga of Junji Ito.

The End. Or just the beginning?

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