I wanted my son to color some brain template. I will put this into front of my thesis (on visualization of diffusion MRI tractrography data of the human brain), as book cover. How can I put this in even fancier context? Employing some shadows? Where? I just want to look this a bit more professional embedded, without altering it too much. Thanks for your suggestions and ideas.

enter image description here

I have the outline as separate image: enter image description here


  • The coloring is not science related and totally fun
  • I want to preserve sketchyness

Edit 2:

  • Message: The reasons why I want to put this on top of my thesis are twofold. On the first side: Everyone can do science. Science is fun, creative and unexpected. On the other side: I want to devote this work to my son, which missed me a lot during these days of writing it.

Edit 3:

Thanks to all suggestions. What do you think about this?

enter image description here

Edit 3: Originally I scanned it like this. The neon colors were due to How I tried to remove paper background...

enter image description here

I think I need to rescan it with proper coloring, as this example is cut off on top...

  • I actually think it is pretty cool the way it is. However, @Horatios suggestion was also pretty good. When this is put in context: a thesis with a pretty formal layout etc, it will be a wonderful contrast. – benteh Apr 18 '14 at 15:46
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    ....another idea is to let the drawing be as it is, but put a faint outline of a skull/face. – benteh Apr 18 '14 at 15:48
  • what is your image editor software? – Ilan Apr 18 '14 at 17:10
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    You need to have your son sign it. It's not art until it's signed "The Brain - Billy Age X" – MVCylon Apr 18 '14 at 20:03
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    I'm not sure of your son's age. Why not give him more templates to color. Explain to him what it's for, and let him chose the one he wants you to use? – MVCylon Apr 18 '14 at 20:07

10 Answers 10


My thoughts:

  • Don't scrap the coloring outside the lines, I think that's important otherwise it looks chopped out of context. But I'd lose some of the random marks that exist only outside the brain.

  • Color is important; think about splitting it into color groups and using Hue/Saturation/Value adjustments. A lot of our perception of an image comes from color. I'd cut anything neon or garish and go for something more muted. Also tint the yellows orangier to establish more contrast from the white.

  • Don't frame it; I think the frame should be the size and balance of the cover or PDF or whatever. Let's assume 8.5 x 11.

  • Avoid cheezy shadowing or cutout effects. They might look good if you don't have experience in looking at lots of graphics, but if you have seen lots of them, they detract more than they add.

enter image description here

UPDATE: After your revised update, I see Math Jr. was actually on the right track about the color. :-) As it came on wrinkled paper I thought it might be useful to consider if going along that kind of thinking could look a bit less flat. There's lots of options, my point is more about working in the spirit of the material/motif instead of fighting it...

enter image description here

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    Thanks, this looks very professional. Can you give me pointers on such color manipulation? I am using Gimp or Inkscape, don't have Photoshop. Actually I must admit that these colors were introduced by me, to remove paper background. I will edit my post to submit the original – math Apr 20 '14 at 14:10
  • The misspelling seems ironic ;) – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 20 '14 at 15:12
  • @math If you have to use Gimp then it doesn't look like there are any built-in luminosity preserving color tools :-/ I don't mind doing it for you and sending you a full-res image, but your new scan is cropped. If you put it on DropBox or wherever send to brian@hostilefork.com. I actually think the crumpled paper texture is interesting...maybe worth experimenting with, although you don't have to use that specific crumpled paper if the image has been extracted...? – HostileFork says dont trust SE Apr 20 '14 at 23:16
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit I've mentioned having trouble with my name; can't get listed in phone books, can't get a misprinted "Brain" car title changed to save my life. So turnabout is fair play, I guess? At least it checks to see if people are reading... – HostileFork says dont trust SE Apr 20 '14 at 23:17

You will have to forgive my immensely crude mockup, but just trying demonstrate some ideas:

Edit: since you added that this will be a hommage to your son, remember the old saying: everything looks good in a frame. This is true; and you could stylize it: enter image description here

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  • I l i k e i t. absolutely interesting ideas! up – Ilan Apr 18 '14 at 18:03
  • The first black head silhouette isn't too bad, but the skulls and faces aren't really compatible with a child's artwork. Their detail and precision really clash with the brain. The "framed work of art" is beautiful. – Phil Perry Apr 30 '14 at 13:45

I can't put my finger on why, but I think it would look better with clean outlines around the brain like so:

Coloured in brain

I think it helps to convey the message that whilst it looks primitive it has been chosen for a reason and has been professionally touched up.

I could also make a pretentious statement like the artist has chosen to stay within the overall boundaries creating a stark contrast to the rest of the image.

If you would like to know how best to get rid of the colouring around the image, please comment below this post and we can point you to some existing questions and resources that will help you to do this.

On the point made by Phil Perry, I agree that you shouldn't try too hard to make it perfectly clean all around the outside. It also reminds me of Roald Dahl books and Quentin Blake's beautiful illustrations where there are just tiny bits here and there that he colours outside of the lines. I would not consider Quentin Blake's style to be "adult within the lines" even though he almost always does stay within the lines.

Roald Dahl Illustration

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    Must add that by 'it looks primitive', I mean a primitive style if it were created by an adult. For children it is nothing short of perfect. :) – Dom Apr 18 '14 at 16:08
  • I'm going to have to strongly disagree on the sharp delineations of content which is scribbled. I think it's incongruous. See my answer for my alternative thinking. – HostileFork says dont trust SE Apr 20 '14 at 4:42

Leave it be, that is, if your child colored a bit outside the lines, that's fine. You might clean up the free-floating dark marks below the brain, as they are a bit distracting. The charm of the picture is that it's by a child, so don't try to keep it all "adult within the lines". Keep some white separation between the picture and any text or other illustration.

  • This is the correct answer. :) Be honest with the material. Don't hide the true intent with 'fanciness'. Emphasize the child's work...don't camouflage it! The only 'fancy' element I'd suggest is enclose the coloring in a in an image of a picture frame. Emphasize that it is art! – DA01 Apr 18 '14 at 17:07

Before I say anything else, I want to say that I am touched by your gesture to literally include your son and I think your son would be, too, and regardless of how you eventually decide to present his coloring.

That said, I like your 3rd Edit idea a lot and I decided to run with it and produced my own mockup of a full cover to help explain my thoughts.

enter image description here

1) I like the illustrated brain as it is including all the color streaks on the outside of the outline.

The body - much less the brain - is not always so 'orderly'; a bit of chaos (the color streaks) helps to literally illustrate this point.

For this reason, I left the wayward color streaks in on my idea and simply used the whole picture of the illustrated brain - minus the white background.

I also liked the idea of drop-shadowing to help make the brain illustration stand out more so I incorporated it into my mockup as well.

2) I like the idea of blending in fun with science.

In the case of your thesis in particular, I kept thinking about brain waves and grids and similar things and so I came up with the idea of using grey (according to my color theory class, grey is supposed to be a good color to help promote creativity) backgrounds with subtle patterning.

The main grey background has a grid-like patterning and the grey background behind the brain has an organic bubble and DNA-like patterning.

Grids are more 'clinical' feeling; DNA and bubbles are more 'organic'.

3) If possible in your thesis cover (or maybe elsewhere), a credit to your son for the coloring of the illustration would be a way to 'immortalize' his inclusion into your thesis.

An extension of this idea is: After you get your thesis printed, print him out his own copy, too, and have both of you sign it.

In my mockup as an example, I indicated a credit to the person responsible for the illustration of the brain.


Clean clear type, plenty of white space.


Place on table, single window bright overcast day, handful of crayons scattered photo from 60egrees above, depth of field. Full bleed to edges of page, white type


I think there is already a lot of contrast going on here:

  • Black and white vs. color
  • Sharp precise lines vs. well... not so precise lines :-)
  • Semantically, science/serious vs. childhood/fun

What is the message you want to communicate with this though? Are the colors located in meaningful places of the brain?

I think if you add more to this, you will make it less professional. Pick a very legible serif or sans-serif to go with this and a nice quality of paper. You might want to play with how to frame the brain in the page. Reuse the colors of the drawing for elements like titles, bullets, etc.

I wouldn't go much further or it might get chaotic. If you really want to add to this, you could make the drawing look like it was cut out of the paper, leaving a white outline all around it, putting a light shadow on this and then using a solid color background.


I place for the inspiration some examples from shutterstock:

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    Hey Ilan, you're quite a busy person on GD and it's great to have you here. I must point out though, that this does not really answer the question. There is almost no text but rather a collection of images that would help spark ideas. Unfortunately that is not what the OP is asking; if you could relate the images back to the question with some analysis it could be considered a decent answer. – Dom Apr 18 '14 at 16:12
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    @Dominic thanks for the comment. For me the question is too broad to help with, thus I preferred to provide some concepts the OP can use for the inspiration, considering the fact he has an outline. Any "wording" is unreliable, cause it is pure visual question. (btw someone found the answer useful, but your downvote is ok too) – Ilan Apr 18 '14 at 16:19
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    I usually prefer to leave a comment or nothing at all if I don't think I can add much to a question. I get that you can't comment images, but you could have made a lightbox and commented a link to that. I honestly don't see how this helps the OP any more than they could have helped themselves. – Dom Apr 18 '14 at 16:30
  • @Dominic what is lightbox? – Ilan Apr 18 '14 at 16:32
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    (@S.E.Overlords, Last comment I'll make! Promise!) The things you've mentioned in your last comment is exactly the kind of elaboration I was hoping for. One constructive theme that I think all your images touch on and share is their abstract nature. I think it's relevant here but I wouldn't know where to start on an answer like that. – Dom Apr 18 '14 at 16:51

I'm going to play off of Phil Perry's excellent suggestion. Leave the art alone! For two reasons:

  1. (Sentimental reason): It's your child! You can't ruin their masterpiece!
  2. (Professional reason): When you commission art or illustration, you have to trust the artist. You give them the brief, and then let them do their thing! After all, you supposedly hired them because of their talent.

That said, that doesn't mean you can't do more with the cover...certainly to more, but emphasize the great rawness of the artist's work rather than disguise it. Example:

enter image description here

(Sample frame located here: http://depositphotos.com/2200129/stock-photo-Two-hollow-gilded-frames.html )

  • You are right, this is why I don't want to change the image itself. But its embedding should make clear, that is very valueable to me. Not just copied and pasted as picture. On the otherside: The way you embedd the image, may already destroy the masterpiece... I will find some way. Thanks for your hint. – math Apr 18 '14 at 17:39

Remove the black parts of the image with photoshop (best cut them out). Then apply some blur filter and something making the colors cleaner, maybe even shine like the design in Tron. Then either add all on a black background and add the brain image in white above it or just overlay the black brain image again, although grey could look better. In such cases I usually contact a designer and let him/her do the clicking.

Imagine this image, but instead of thin border lines you have filled areas. So anything your son has drawn is in strong colors, brain lines are white and background is black.

enter image description here

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