My next guest is Kirk DouPonce, the designer of The Oversight’s cover by Charlie Fletcher, published by Orbit. Thank you for doing this interview, Kirk!
How did you become a book cover designer? Was it an area you always wanted to explore, or did it simply happen?
At my preschool graduation from Tot Town I was given a diploma that read “Most Likely to Become an Artist”. So, I guess I’ve always known that whatever I ended up doing it would somehow involve art. As far as specifically becoming a book cover designer, shortly before graduating from art college I met an art director who worked at a local publishing house. He graciously allowed me to show him my portfolio. And then, to my surprise, gave me an actual book cover project! Since then I’ve worked as an art director for a publishing house as well as a design studio that focused on book covers. Ten years ago I went freelance again and started DogEared Design. About 95% of my work is book cover related. I can’t imagine loving a job more than this one.
How did you get involved with this cover design? Did Orbit contact you directly, or did they already know your work?
I met Lauren Panepinto, the art director of Orbit Books, at Spectrum Live about three years ago. Lauren is young, energetic, and crazy talented. She was new to Orbit when I met her. I’m not sure how it came about but somehow we got into a heated conversation that involved howler monkeys. After the show I emailed her a couple portfolio pieces and she sent back a nice reply. Two years later I was pleasantly surprised to see an email from her entitled “Emergency Project”.
Lauren’s email arrived on a Monday morning and she was needing an approved cover for their catalog by the following Monday. Lauren had hired a photographer for this project who had “crapped out” leaving her short on time. She was apologetic about the time frame and promised that if I wasn’t able to work on this cover she’ d fully understand and throw another one my way later. Attached to the email was a comp that she had put together using low resolution imagery she found on the web. Though rough, the comp gave me enough visual information to know what Orbit was looking for. I was excited to work with Lauren and felt up to the the challenge.
How was the process of developing the cover? Was there a clear goal in mind?
The process for creating this cover was different from most. Fortunately there was a clear goal in mind, however, since we only had a week I wanted to make sure the publisher signed off at every stage. There just wasn’t a lot time for back and forth after the cover was created. A re-shoot would have been painful. Lauren’s comp showed a hand with smoke coming out of it so my first step was to find the perfect hand model. I spent a morning driving around town asking people I knew, and some I didn’t, if I could photograph their hands. I then narrowed them down to the three potential hand models below. Lauren and the editor on the project ended up choosing the middle set of hands. That worked out well since they belonged to Stacy Gwinn, a close friend of our family who has nothing but time to do photo shoots for me.
The original thought was to have the arm wearing a Victorian era sleeve. So while I was awaiting approval on the hand model I shot my wife’s hand wearing numerous shirt options. In the end it was decided to go without the sleeve, a decision I fully agreed with.
From there we did the actual photo shoot. I shot a couple hundred photos each with subtle changes in pose and lighting. After carefully going through each one I was able to narrow them down to the six images below which were then sent to the publisher for approval.
Once the hand image was approved the fun began. To help give the cover a Victorian flare I combed the interwebs looking for a cool Victorian pattern to use in the background. I found the below design on istockphoto and turned it into a dimensional wall paper looking texture in Photoshop.
Creating the title treatment was next. To imply magic Lauren asked that the title be formed from smoke emitting from the hand. I knew this was the most critical part of the cover. It would either look super cool or super cheesy. My first font choice was Kartago which has a unique eloquence to it. But I didn’t like the “R” and needed the “O” to be wider. So I broke a cardinal rule and mixed in Serlio LH, a similar font. By admitting this I realize I could lose my design license. But I don’t regret it. If absolutely necessary I would do it again. Yeah, that’s how bold I am.
For inspiration I did a web search for “smoke type”. There were a lot of examples but none that really worked for what I was imagining. So I just messed around with different images of smoke. The ones that worked best were shot on black backgrounds. By setting their layer blending modes to “screen” the black backgrounds disappeared leaving only the smoke visible. Then it was just a matter of using Photoshop’s liquify filter to manipulate the smoke to look like it was wrapping around the title.
The last thing to create was the heraldry. I was feeling good about everything else, so I decided to take my time and sculpt it using a 3D program called ZBrush. This is the part I had the most fun with. After reading the manuscript I realized I needed to flip the lion and the unicorn. It’s not often I have a manuscript to read, but I do prefer to read them when possible. And I have to say this was one of the best I read that year.
How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with Charlie Fletcher, any ideas or suggestions?
I’m not privy to the conversations that occurred between Orbit and Mr. Fletcher but he must have been at least somewhat happy. His only request was to have the lion’s head looking at the audience instead of in profile. Now that’s the kind of author I like working with!
Do you have pictures of earlier designs?
Because of the deadline I only had time to put one cover together. I’d love to show the rough comp I was initially provided with but since it’s composed of images nabbed off of the interwebs, I better not.
From your experience, does the publisher have the final say regarding the design of the book, or does the designer (and in some small ways, the writer) have free reign?
Oh, I have complete control. No, I can’t even type that with a straight face. Every publisher is a bit different but all have some sort of a hierarchy. Wherever the bottom of that hierarchy is, the designer is under that. And I would guess that an author’s pull is directly proportional to the number of books they’ve sold.
Was there anything particularly different or interesting about this book cover, interesting facts you’d like to share?
This was a fun one. I’d love to do more like it. In fact, I just finished the second book in the series. But I don’t suppose I should say much about that other than I enjoyed working on that one as well. I love it when I can wear the hats of a photographer, illustrator, and designer on a project.
Finally, what are some of your favourite book covers, whether they’re recent or not?
That’s not an easy question. Off the top of my noggin I love Umberto Eco’s covers, Will Staehle’s EMPEROR MOLLUSK vs. THE SINISTER BRAIN and anything illustrated by Nekro.
Thank you Kirk for being here!
If you want to see more of Kirk’s work you can check out his website, and here are some examples Kirk provided!