Monday, November 5, 2012

Brain on Fire

Brain on Fire is an inspiring memoir by Susannah Cahalan, a New York based journalist. Here is an excerpt from the author's site:

My memoir Brain on Fire chronicles the swift path of my illness and the lucky, last-minute intervention led by one of the few doctors capable of saving my life. As weeks ticked by and I moved inexplicably from violence to catatonia, $1 million worth of blood tests and brain scans revealed nothing. The exhausted doctors were ready to commit me to the psychiatric ward, in effect condemning me to a lifetime of institutions, or death, until Dr. Souhel Najjar—nicknamed Dr. House—joined my team. He asked me to draw one simple sketch, which became key to diagnosing me with a newly discovered autoimmune disease in which my body was attacking my brain, an illness now thought to be the cause of “demonic possessions” throughout history.

The original direction on this cover was for it to be warm, clean, and evocative—something that may allude to the medical aspect of the writing but still look approachable and human. The publisher nixed the idea of a photo of the author on the cover, so these were to be type driven comps.

Here are a few of the 1st round comps:

--> I wanted this comp to have a graphic pattern that might be mistaken for flowers, when in fact the elements are small icons of antibodies. The author explained that her condition meant that the antibodies began attacking her body, so in this case I have them attacking (in a beautiful, non-scary way) the title.    

The author speaks of chronicling her illness through her journal entries (and her father's own entries), so this is a nod to that important writing which was a crucial key to piecing her story together.

A more straightforward illustration....which is developed upon below in the 2nd round.


The initial feedback was that these comps were too clinical, so my art director asked me to try a new angle. They wanted me to not use the brain or make this look more like a memoir, focusing on the survival story and the personal aspect of the book, as opposed to the brain science.

Here, I created a more intimate version of the silhouette. The title is trapped in her head and the painted background alludes to fire. The scattered sunflower petals also show a "burst," such as flames, but are softened in this context.

The author explains how her speech and writing became increasingly incoherent during her illness. I used the title as though the author had written it out over and over, showing the progression of the title growing more and more illegible and then recovering at the end.

I also wanted to try something that would suggest the inner functioning of a brain without being too literal. This image really struck me. I think it evokes a network of neurons without showing anything clinical or technical. It’s amazing how items from nature can call to mind completely unrelated phenomena. I also liked how the hand is reaching up and starting to lift. The one lone flower stretches through the top of the title in a hopeful way.

In the end, none of these comps worked and the publisher chose another designer’s more straightforward approach with an author photo on the cover. I'm happy I had the opportunity to read this inspiring book and design comps for it, despite not having one chosen.

Free Press, Art Director: Eric Fuentecilla