Behind the Cover – Vincent Chong
(The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge)

by Diana Sousa

After a “slight” break Behind the Cover is back with an interview with Vincent Chong, who designed several covers for Frances Hardinge. This interview is about The Lie Tree, published by Amulet Books.

Portfolio | Blog


How did you become a designer and illustrator? Were they areas you always wanted to explore, or did it simply happen?

 I’ve always enjoyed creating art as long as I can remember and loved to draw as a kid.  So when I realised that it was possible to earn a living as an artist I don’t think I considered doing anything else, but it wasn’t always clear what area I’d pursue.  At one point, I was very interested in 3D animation and even wrote off to companies such as Pixar for advice! After school I did a year’s art and design foundation course which allowed you to experiment and explore different areas of art.  During this, it clarified to me that I was more interested in illustration/design rather than fine art, and it was at this point I started considering becoming an illustrator.  But from there, rather than do a specialist illustration degree at university I chose to do a broad graphic design course which allowed you to specialize in illustration later on.  This proved to be a good decision for me as it allowed me to pick up design skills and knowledge that really help me with my work now.

How was the process of developing the cover? Was there a clear goal in mind?

I’d already done another Frances Hardinge cover for the publisher (The Cuckoo Song) which was received well, so they wanted to keep to the same design approach for this with the focus on a single object on a black background.  When the art director commissioned me, she already had a few initial ideas that she wanted me to explore, including a tree with swirls of lies around it; a piece of fruit with a bite taken out of it; a rotten fruit with lies scratched into its side.  So I played around with these ideas doing some quick rough sketches to visualize their suggestions as well as giving my own slant on these concepts.

(Click the images to make them bigger)

How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with Frances Hardinge, any ideas or suggestions?

I only liaised with the art director and had no contact with the author myself, so I’m not sure if they consulted her during the cover process at all or just presented it to her when it was finished.

Do you have pictures of earlier designs?

Here are the thumbnail sketches for the various ideas.  Of the initial sketches they really liked the approach of 1D and 2A/B.  They felt that the cover image should feature some sort of tree element so they wanted me to combine these two concepts and I went on to produce a few more quick roughs to play around with ways of how this could work.

 

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 rein?

In my experience, typically the publisher does have the final say when it comes to the design of the book rather than the designer.  Usually, the bigger the publisher, the more people there may be involved in the process, from the design and editorial teams, to the publisher and marketing department.  There’s even been instances when the book buyers have had an influence on the final cover design.  Depending on the project the author has varying degrees of involvement; some times the author may be consulted throughout the design process and invited to suggest ideas and give feedback and other times they might not be involved at all.  Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to have gotten to work with a range of big publishers and smaller presses and indie publishers; the smaller publishers have smaller budgets and might not be able to pay as much, but usually I’ll get to have more creative freedom so those projects can be very fun to work on.  With self-publishing becoming more popular in recent years I’ve also been commissioned by writers themselves and so in those instances it’ll usually just be me and the author involved in the cover design.

Was there anything particularly different or interesting about this book cover, interesting facts you’d like to share?

In the original finished version the apple was completely red.  However it later came back that they wanted me to add a touch of green to the apple as they wanted to push it even further away from the Twilight book cover which also has a black background and red apple.

    

Finally, what are some of the favourite book covers that you’ve seen (recently or not), from other designers and illustrators?

I find that I’m often more drawn to the covers of children’s books which can have some fantastic illustrations.  I love the covers for the latest UK editions of the Harry Potter books which feature artwork by Jonny Duddle who I’ve been a fan of for a while now. I’m also a big fan of John Rocco’s work – he’s done a lot of covers for fantasy adventure books such as the Percy Jackson series. A few years ago at a Con I came across Canadian publisher Chizine Publications.  Their books caught my eye straight away as they’ve got some wonderful cover designs.  If you haven’t seen them before you should check them out.

    


Thank you Vincent for this interview!

Don’t forget to check out his portfolio, and in the meanwhile, here are other projects Vincent has worked on:

    

Behind the Cover – Marci Senders
(A Thousand Nights, by E. K. Johnston, and Passenger by Alexandra Bracken)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

And it’s time for a double interview! Marci Senders designed the covers of A Thousand Nights, by E. K. Johnston, and Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken, both published by Disney-Hyperion.

Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest


How did you become a designer? Was it an area you always wanted to explore, or did it simply happen?

I always knew I wanted to be an artist in some form. I went to Tyler School of Art of Temple University. Even when I took painting or printmaking classes, my projects either became books or had some form of typography in it leading me to graduate to get my BFA in Graphic Design. My senior portfolio was very young and playful since I ended up hand drawing most of my projects. After graduating I accepted a Junior Design job at Alloy Entertainment, a teen-centric book packager. My first hardcover book I ever designed were the original covers for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series.

How was the process of developing the cover? Was there a clear goal in mind?

My original research for this project was actually more literal and to show a modern take on Arabian Nights. (Please see the mood board below) I knew I wanted to do something really cool with the type. When I showed my first round to the Editorial/Sales/Marketing/Publicity teams, the reaction was that the cover should look less romantic and focus more on the tension between the main character and the demon.

Moodboards_ya7-XL

How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with E. K. Johnston, any ideas or suggestions?

Our process starts with working closely with the editorial team and as the covers get refined, we show the in-house Sales, Marketing and Publicity teams. After everyone in-house is on board and we have a really strong cover or concept, we present our covers to the authors. This processes ensures us to show the author’s a cover that the entire group thinks will best represent their book. From there, we work with the author to make sure they are as happy as we are.

Do you have pictures of earlier designs?

AThousandNights_lineup-2880x1864

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 rein?

Our standard process starts with the designer reading the book. We then discuss basic themes and concepts with the editor and ask them to fill out an Art Form for every book. From there, we present mood boards to the entire Art and Editorial teams. It’s a good way to brainstorm and start positioning our list to ensure we best represent each book and that they all look unique. Then the designer starts working on the project and we take everyone ideas into consideration. We then present many innovative ideas that we feel will both best represent the book and stick out on the book shelves. As we work with the editors and other members of the group the covers get revised based on the feedback and often are lead into a new direction that we would have never thought of otherwise.

Was there anything particularly different or interesting about this book cover, interesting facts you’d like to share?

We commissioned illustrator Peter Strain based on these two images.

PSTRAIN_LIFE_AQUA_WEB_670  QFT_WONDERFUL_LIFE_CWEB_531

E. K. Johnston said:

“I am still blown away by that cover. It’s gorgeous, and intricate, and absolutely stunning. My narrator’s village, the Star Trek joke, even the end papers! It’s just amazing.”

(If you are wondering about the Star Trek joke as I was, it’s “Sokath, His eyes uncovered” from the The New Generation episode Darmok! Thank you, Emily!)


How was the process of developing the cover? Was there a clear goal in mind?

The goal for this cover was to show the time travel element in a really modern, smart (yet simple) way to make sure this did not look like a historical fiction book. Please see the other versions below. The group reacted really well to the cleaner, more contained concepts with the unexpected twist.

Passenger_lineup-2880x1864

How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with Alexandra Bracken, any ideas or suggestions?

It was important to Alexandra Bracken that we get in the action/adventure element of the story on the cover as well. On the original version of the cover, the NYC skyline was more romantic. The lights on the bridge were shaped like hearts that we removed and we added more storm clouds on the bottom.

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 reins?

For this cover, it was important that it had some connection to The Darkest Minds series even though its a different genre. We wanted Alexandra Bracken’s fans to easily find this book. That’s one of the reasons why we settled on having one main image on the cover.

Was there anything particularly different or interesting about this book cover, interesting facts you’d like to share?

I had created the image using a variety of stock photographs. Once everyone was really happy with the overall look, we sent to image to CGI Illusion Studio who made the image in the bottle look more like a plastic model. I am so happy with how real it looks!

Finally, what are some of the favourite book covers that you’ve seen (recently or not), from other designers and illustrators?

I gravitate to really smart, simple covers with an unexpected twist. I really love the Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard series look for its simplicity and the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo covers because the illustrations really set them apart. Here is a link to all the covers I love.

    


Thank you Marci for this amazing interview! Here are other covers Marci has worked on:

    

Behind the Cover – Nim Ben-Reuven
(Revenge and the Wild, by Michelle Modesto)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

Here with us today is Nim Ben-Reuven, the amazing letterer and designer behind the cover of Revenge and the Wild, by Michelle Modesto, published by Belzer + Bray (HarperCollins). We also have an introduction by Jenna Stempel, the designer!

Website | Behance | Instagram


Jenna Stempel: I knew this cover would be challenging from the start—the author packed so much imagery into a steampunk Western world full of magic, cannibals, and vampires. It felt especially important to hint at the boisterous adventure and occasional violence that had me entertained and telling everyone at the office about this book. I was a fan of Nim Ben-Reuven’s cheeky work on Instagram and thought his gorgeous and elegant hand-lettering was a perfect match to balance out the flames and blood splatter I had in mind.

How did you become a designer and illustrator? Was it an area you always wanted to explore, or did it simply happen?

Nim Ben-Reuven: One day I saw a book jacket that Chip Kidd made for Augusten Burroughs’ book, Dry, and immediately I wanted to learn how to create that type of stuff. Soon after, I applied to grad school and moved to New York, thinking I could somehow get in without any design background and somehow it worked. I’m still a bit shocked.

How was the process of developing the cover? Was there a clear goal in mind?

The creative team at Harper Collins had a pretty good idea of what they wanted from me (hand made, super elegant letters), so the process was quite smooth. They had a specific examples of other work I had done to shape how I created the title lettering for the cover so I was never left high and dry to try to read anyone’s mind (which happens often with clients). The photographic imagery below the lettering was put together exclusively by Jenna Stempel and her team.

RandW_handmade

How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with Michelle Modesto, any ideas or suggestions?

As far as I could tell, the author was not involved in the design process. In my experience working with large publishing houses, the author is only brought in toward the end of the process to sign off on final imagery. I’ve had experiences working almost exclusively with authors in the design of their book jackets but only when the authors themselves have enough sway to personally bring me on the project. Or if I’ve been kidnapped by the author and trapped in their basement until I do exactly what they tell me to do in terms of design sketches.

Do you have pictures of earlier designs?

REVENGEWILD_nimbr_sketch_01  REVENGEWILD_nimbr_sketch_02

revengewild_finalsketch_small  REVENGEWILD_mockup_03

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 rein?

I’d say the publisher (specifically the marketing team) has the final say in how most jackets are designed. This can be frustrating at times when the final goal becomes a marketing ploy rather than an engaging and unique piece of design art. Oftentimes, for better or worse, a publisher will try to shape the design of a cover in order to sell the book quickly rather than actually look interesting. The only time I’ve experienced any free rein is when an author is self-publishing or paying me out of their own pocket to design the book.

Finally, what are some of the favourite book covers that you’ve seen (recently or not), from other designers and illustrators?

I’d have to say that Rodrigo Corral is always killing it with his jackets. But pretty much any book store I walk into, I’m floored by the art and typography out there these days…

    

 

Michelle Modesto said: I loved this cover immediately. It was beautiful and unique, and fit the tone of the novel perfectly.


Thank you Nim for this amazing interview, and Michelle for your words! Let’s hope that part about an author kidnapping you is not based on real experiences ;)

I leave you with more of Nim’s great work, and see you next time!

  

Behind the Cover – Jenna Stempel
(This Savage Song, by V. E. Schwab)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

New year means new amazing covers to talk about! Today I’ll be talking with the very talented Jenna Stempel about This Savage Song, by V. E. Schwab published by Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins).

Website | Twitter


How did you become a designer? Was it an area you always wanted to explore, or did it simply happen?

As a teenager, I had a brief fantasy of becoming a badass printmaker, making enigmatic posters to paste up around town in the dead of night. (The documentary Beautiful Losers came out around when I was graduating high school and I had romanticized the idea of vandalism in the name of self-expression.) Otherwise, I was pretty set as a teenager on studying illustration.

I went to Washington University in St. Louis where illustration and design were both under the umbrella Communication Design major, and it turned out I liked design and typography just as much as image-making. After school, I discovered publishing was the perfect combination of the two. I worked at a small children’s book publisher outside Chicago for a little over a year before moving out to New York to work at HarperCollins.

How was the process of developing the cover? Was there a clear goal in mind?

Overall, Greenwillow art director Paul Zakris wanted a mysterious atmosphere. It was a great opportunity to read the manuscript and run wild! The design process on this title was actually quite linear; it definitely helps when the narrative is engaging and there is such strong sense of tone. I submitted an array of concepts and once one was picked, there were only a few rounds of minor iterations.

How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with V. E. Schwab, any ideas or suggestions?

It’s a designer’s dream to work with an author who lets us do our thing with no creative limitations.

Do you have pictures of earlier designs?

I do! You can tell I really wanted to make something drip, but I also liked the idea of a knife with a violin scroll handle.

SavageSong_Comp1  SavageSong_Comp2  SavageSong_Comp3

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 rein?

I definitely don’t have free rein—at the very least the publisher, author, editor, marketing and sales departments, and our big accounts all want to agree that the final cover suits the market, genre, and narrative. I don’t mean to make the cover design process as complicated as putting together furniture from IKEA, but I’m definitely not at the top of the food chain.

Was there anything particularly different or interesting about this book cover, interesting facts you’d like to share?

Working with a couple concepts involving violins brought back some repressed memories of playing in the orchestra in middle school, where I frequently competed for the second-to-last chair. I’d say my rivalry to be second-worst really prepared me for the high stakes, cut-throat industry of teen book covers, haha. In any case, I really enjoyed working with a limited color palette, as well as lettering a script that was both gritty and decorative.

Finally, what are some of the favorite book covers that you’ve seen (recently or not), from other designers and illustrators?

My coworkers aren’t just willing to chuckle politely at my anecdotes and commiserate over the rattling noise from the coffee maker nearby— they also make really inspiring work. I love Joel Tippie’s The Crown’s Game and Aurora Parlagreco’s Dumplin’. Outside our department and genre, I also really admire covers by Coralie Bickford-Smith, Jon Gray (below), Isaac Tobin, and vintage covers by Roy Kuhlman.

    

Victoria Schwab, amazing author and a very lucky person when it comes to covers( as seen on our previous interview) said:

I am beyond thrilled with the cover of This Savage Song. The designer had the seemingly impossible task of conveying not only the book’s thriller underpinnings and supernatural content, but also its more universal notes of identity, of hope. She did an extraordinary job.


Thank you Jenna for taking the time to do this interview, and Victoria for your comment!

As always, I accept any and every suggestion on what covers we should talk about. For now, I leave you with more of Jenna’s work – even though the next interview will also be about another amazing cover she’s worked on!

    

Behind the Cover – Will Staehle
(A Darker Shade of Magic, V. E. Schwab)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

After a break, Behind the Cover is back! As always, I accept suggestion for covers and designers I should feature, so feel free to send them to me.

This time we have Will Staehle, the amazing designer behind the US cover of A Darker Shade of Magic, by V. E. Schwab, published by Tor Books.

Website


A Darker Shade final for Irene

How did you become a designer? Was it an area you always wanted to explore, or did it simply happen?

I’ve always been interested in art. I even have a bunch of sketchbooks from back when I was three and four years old!

It also helped growing up in a artistic family. My parents own and run a design firm in the midwest, so I grew up working summers there, and learning various art programs at a fairly young age. I moved to New York after college and was offered a cover design position at HarperCollins publishers, and eventually worked my way up to be art director there before heading off for the west coast.

How did you get involved with this cover? Did Tor contact you directly, or did they already know your work?

I’ve worked with Irene Gallo the art director at Tor on a number of projects now. ( Including: Something More than Night / The Revolutions / Made to Kill / The Unnoticeables)

    

I feel very fortunate to get to work with her. She’s a great art director and Tor has a bounty of great books on each list. Irene reached out to me about working on A Darker Shade of Magic, and after a quick read-through of the premise, I was hooked!

How was the process of developing the cover? Was there a clear goal in mind?

I wanted the cover to be strong, and somewhat magical, but not overly so. Perhaps it’s just me, but I often approach these fantasy / sci-fi books a bit carefully. I try to walk a fine line between celebrating the fantastical nature of these stories, but also packaging them in a way where “non-sci-fi / non-fantasy” readers can pick them up and fall in love with them too. I’ve always felt that there is a huge part of the population that would love sci-fi and dragon stories, but they’re also the same audience that would never pick up a book with a dragon painting, or robots fighting on the cover ;) So I guess in some way I’m trying to trick people into expanding their horizons. Even more importantly is to make a serious attempt to present the book in the best possible way. Many of these authors work on these novels for years and years, and as a designer you’re given a few weeks to “package” it. So you want to put your best effort into it. ( Especially if you love the book, like I did for A Darker Shade of Magic! )

How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with Victoria Schwab, any ideas or suggestions?

I’m not exactly sure which notes came from Victoria vs. Irene, but the only real issue I had to address was that Irene had asked me to change the type, and add the additional author-of line to the cover. If I recall the illustration stayed as it was originally drawn.

Do you have pictures of earlier designs, or works in progress?

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 1.04.25 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 1.04.39 PM

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 1.04.49 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 1.05.05 PM

As you can see I tried a few different approaches, but I personally always felt that the graphic, and bold solution was the best. ( It also creates a sharp and unique look for future books in the series. ) That being said, I also explored other options including a more photo-collage approach, as well as some more vintage, and map / surveyor-style illustrations.

From your experience, does the publisher have the final say regarding the design of the book, or does the designer/illustrator (and in some small ways, the writer) have free rein?

After 10 years of designing covers, I have yet to find the project that allows me free reign with no feedback ;)

You have to keep in mind that there are often many people involved in the cover approval process. You have at very least: The Publisher ( and sometimes an assistant publisher ), editor, art director, sales team, author, agent, and often times the large book-buyers themselves also chiming in on the cover.

So there are many, many cooks in the kitchen. Tor’s process seems more streamlined than most to me, with less back and forth, which I think has allowed for very strong covers to make it to market.

Was there anything particularly different or interesting about this illustration, interesting facts you’d like to share?

Nothing beyond the obvious, it was an excuse to play with some fun, graphic shapes though! I’m generally interested and intrigued by very graphic, and bold shape-driven covers, something I also channeled recently in the newest Ernest Cline novel: Armada.

I was also very pleased to hear that Victoria was in love with the final cover. It always makes the project a little better when the author and the book publisher are equally happy with the end product.

Finally, what are some of the favourite book covers that you’ve seen (recently or not), from other designers and illustrators?

This is always fun! There are so many talented cover designers nowadays. Some of my favorites continue to be: Roberto De Vicq, Iacopo Bruno, Charlotte Strick, Jacob Covey, Robin Bilardello, and Helen Yentus. But I could write a near endless list of favorite cover artists. As far as favorite covers of late, I’d say: The Book of Numbers by Oliver Munday, and The Buried Giant by Peter Mendelsund are both spectacular.

  

On the topic of books, I actually have a new one coming out in the fall! It’s my first original middle-grade novel, I created the character and had a college friend of mine write the story’s text. I did the cover ( obviously! ) and created over 200 illustrations in the interior. It’s somewhere between a novel and a graphic novel ;) The book follows the adventures of a cursed victorian bellhop named Warren the 13th, and a grand and powerful mystery that is hidden somewhere within his family’s hotel! If people enjoy my design work, I’d highly suggest picking it up! It comes out November 24th, but is available for pre-order now.

Victoria Schwab had some words about the cover:

I would just add that the cover PERFECTLY encapsulates this book. I love the graphic take and the slightly retro/universal aesthetic, and it’s so beautiful that I have a poster of it on my wall!


Thank you Will for this interview! And thank you Victoria for your time!

If you want to see more of Will’s work don’t forget to check out his website, but in the meanwhile, here’s a preview!

    

Behind the Cover – Karl Kwasny
(The Year of Shadows, by Claire Legrand)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

Karl Kwasny joins us to talk about the cover he did for The Year of Shadows, by Claire Legrand, published by Simon & Schuester, as well as the illustrations he did for the same book.

Website | Tumblr


How did you become an illustrator? Was it an area you always wanted to explore, or did it simply happen?

Well, I’ve always wanted to do something artistic, but it took me a while to discover exactly what that was. I bounced around various courses at university for a while until I ended up doing graphic design at QCA in Brisbane. I love design and typography and so on, but I didn’t want to end up working at some design studio doing work I didn’t care about.

So I decided towards the end of that course that I needed to have a proper go at being a freelance illustrator. I started sending out emails to every art director I could find the contact details for and eventually started getting a few jobs. Then I got an agent and work started coming in more regularly.

How did you get involved with this cover? Did Simon & Schuster contact you directly, or did they already know your work?

I think this one was through my illustration agency, actually. I’m not sure if the art director knew about my work beforehand. It’s hard to tell sometimes unless you ask.

How was the process of developing the cover? Was there a clear goal in mind?

The brief was fairly open to begin with, aside from the fact that they wanted a full bleed image, meaning the art goes off the edges of the cover. Although, on the final version there’s an ornamental border.

I did a few thumbnails of possible directions the cover could go in, and showed Lucy Cummins, the art director. She then chose a direction (thumbnail 5) and we started developing the final cover.

(click to make the image bigger)

Roughs

How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with Claire Legrand, any ideas or suggestions?

Well, in my experience the publisher tends to distance the author from the illustration process. I emailed Claire a few times to clarify some things, but the publisher much prefers if you don’t. I can understand why they take this approach – it makes it much easier for them to keep the process under control. If you have the illustrator interacting with the author and making decisions without the publisher being aware of it, it could cause some confusion.

Do you have pictures of earlier designs of the cover?

Just the early thumbnails of other design options and sketches for the cover we ended up with.

OliviaEarlyDesign  CoverVeryEarlyRough  BGPencils

What about the interior illustrations, how was the process there?

Well, as I recall I was given the manuscript and a series of illustration suggestions – the editor and the author went through and picked out parts of the story they felt ought to be illustrated. I picked my favourites and started working on them. Like the cover, I sent over a series of thumbnails first, then I was given the go-ahead to work on the final versions.

The deadline was pretty tight on this project, and I had several other projects to do simultaneously, so I ended up needing to substitute one or two of the more complex interiors for less detailed ones. I wish I had more time to work on the interiors because I really love the book, but there’s not much you can do once it goes to print!

interior001 interior002 interior003

interior008 interior009 interior010

From your experience, does the publisher have the final say regarding the design of the book, or does the designer/illustrator have free rein?

The publisher definitely has final say on projects like this. They have to get all sorts of approvals from their marketing people and so on. If you’re working on your own project – your own intellectual property – I imagine you have a lot more freedom than if you’re working on someone else’s project through a publisher.

What can you tell us about the title typography?

Typography is one of my favourite things to work on. I seem to remember that I did a sketch one afternoon for the type, and sent it over to the art director to ask her what she thought. We ended up using that version for the final cover! I’m not sure how much there is to say about it really. They wanted something script-ish with some flowing embellishments. I always love experimenting with different ways to combine letters.

Was there anything particularly different or interesting about these illustrations and cover, interesting facts you’d like to share?

Well, this was my first proper book illustration project where I worked on both the cover and interior illustrations, so in that sense it was something of a milestone for me.

Finally, what are some of the favourite book covers that you’ve seen (recently or not), from other designers and illustrators?

Hmm, the one that most recently impressed me was Wild by Emily Hughes. I also discovered Henry Hikes to Fitchburg by D. B. Johnson the other day. I quite like the style, but mostly I like it because it teaches kids about Henry David Thoreau’s philosophy.

  


Thank you Karl for your time and your answers!

Here are other works Karl has done in the past:

    

Behind the Cover – Todd Lockwood
(Memoir by Lady Trent series, by Marie Brennan)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

Today Todd Lockwood is here on the blog to talk about the covers of the Memoir by Lady Trent series, by Marie Brennan, published by Tor Books.

Website | Twitter


    

How did you become an illustrator? Was it an area you always wanted to explore, or did it simply happen?

A little of both. My parents encouraged my artistic pursuits, though they discouraged me from comic book art, sadly, which is what I enjoyed most when I was young. It’s how I taught myself to draw. In my mind, I was really telling stories, so writing and drawing at the same time. I went to the Colorado Institute of Art in 1979-1981, and leapt straight into advertising. I did design and illustration for a local design firm for a year and a half, then left to try my hand at freelance illustration. I painted many many beer cans and satellite dishes and other extraordinarily dull things for the next fourteen years. Throughout that time I admired the book covers of Frank Frazetta, Michael Whelan, and others, and played D&D with my friends to preserve my insanity. I was so sick of ad work, I was prepared to hang up my brushes and get a real estate license.

Then in 1994 I attended my first convention, World con in Winnipeg, Manitoba. A whirlwind two years later TSR hired me on to their art staff. It was a huge break—career saving, even.

How did you get involved with these covers and illustrations? Did Tor Books contact you directly, or did they already know your work?

TOR Books was the first publisher outside of TSR to hire me for cover work, so I’d known the art director, Irene Gallo, for quite a while. I’d done other work for her and she knew my dragons, in particular an anatomical study I’d done for my own entertainment.

How was the process of developing the covers? Was there a clear goal in mind?

The first one was, I believe, fairly directly inspired by my anatomical piece. I revisioned it for the cover—mine was a muscle study, but that would have been a little hard core for a book cover, but we wanted that feel of a scholarly study. So I left the skin on the front of the dragon and made it more transparent as it went toward the tail, gave it a jauntier step so it would feel alive, not flayed (as it turned out, that same dragon gets dissected in the book!). The conceit is that “Lady Trent” is also the artist, so I went with a pencil-and-watercolor look.

I honestly don’t recall how the second cover came about. I had met Marie some time after the first book was done—we met at a book reading in Seattle, and exchange emails regularly. I might have suggested it, or Marie and I in combination with Irene might have discussed it. I do recall that we switched from the original idea in order to choose a dragon that would be more interesting in motion. I had in mind the illustrations of an artist I recalled seeing a lot of during the 80s, Bob Ziering, who did these amazing, fluid motion studies. I had done something similar for the Draconomicon that Wizards of the Coast published a few years before, of a red dragon’s movements as it took off.

Marie suggested the third—a size comparison chart. I was totally on board with that. And Marie suggested a bunch of marine fauna to use and gave me the taxonomical names.

Do you have pictures of earlier designs?

See below for some earlier stages. The need for typography dictated the pose and motion to a certain degree, but I knew from the outset that it would be anther profile moving from left to right, back to front.

(click on the images to make them bigger)

DragonNature II_sketch_001 copy   DragonNature II_sketch_003 copy

DragonNature II_sketch_008 copy

From your experience, does the publisher have the final say regarding the design of the book, or does the designer/illustrator have free rein?

The degree of autonomy varies from publisher to publisher, but the publisher has final say, of course. I received a great deal of trust and free reign on these covers, which adds to the enjoyment of doing them. I was so into the project that I took it upon myself to design the typography for the title treatment. I didn’t want it done wrong. It needed to evoke the design sensibilities of the time in which the novels are set.

Was there anything particularly different about these illustrations for you?

They are a refreshing change of pace for me, in that I get to explore a look that doesn’t come up very often for me, the pencil-and-watercolor technique I mentioned previously. They’re almost all drawing. The paint part of it goes pretty quickly. But that means that the drawing is carrying much more of the load than normal.

Finally, what are some of the favourite book covers that you’ve seen (recently or not), from other designers and illustrators?

There are so many outstanding artists working these days that it would be impossible to pick a favorite. I grew up on NC Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, Frederic Remington  (below), Charles Russell, and others. Then Frazetta and Jeff Jones, Whelan (below), Boris… Along come the TSR artists: Parkinson, Easley, Caldwell, Brom. So  many others working now whose works inspires and challenges me: Donato, Scott Fischer, Jon Foster (below), Rick Barry, Stephen Martiniere… Too many to name or remember!

    


Thank you Todd for your time!

Here are some other examples of Todd’s work:

    

Behind the Cover – Joey Hi-Fi
(Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor, and Blackbird by Chuck Wendig)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

Today’s designer and illustrator, Joey Hi-Fi, talks about two books – Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor, published by Hodder & Stoughton, and Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, published by Angry Robot.

Twitter


How did you become an illustrator? Was it an area you always wanted to explore, or did it simply happen?

Fabulous secret creative powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic pencil and said… By the power of Grayscale!

Ok – Jokes aside. I started drawing when I was a kid and I never stopped. I knew from an early age that I wanted to do something in the creative field. But at that time in South Africa becoming a full time Illustrator for me wasn’t a viable option. So I worked as graphic designer for many years – while moonlighting as freelance illustrator at night. That’s were my alterego ‘Joey Hi-Fi’ was born. Finally I quit my day job and moved onto book cover design and illustration in a full-time capacity.

lagoon_crafted_cover

How did you get involved with this cover? Did Hodder & Stoughton contact you directly, or did they already know your work?

Hodder & Stoughton contacted me then through Pocko (my previous representation in London). I’d also done work for them previously and they’d seen my work on other covers. Most notably my covers for Zoo City by Lauren Beukes and Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig.

How was the process of developing the cover? Was there a clear goal in mind?

My process on each cover I work on is initially the same. I start by reading the book. While reading it I make copious notes. Usually after reading the book I have a clear idea of what concepts I want to explore.

After reading Lagoon I was very excited by the possibilities for the cover. Being a fan of all creatures and things aquatic, the opportunity to illustrate my favourite denizens of the deep had at last presented itself! When life gives you lagoons you draw tentacles. Or something like that.

The initial inspiration for the cover of Lagoon came from a particular scene in the book. It’s part of the greater mystery within the novel, so I won’t get into specifics, but it involves a gathering of the various sea creatures that inhabit Lagos Lagoon. Sharks, swordfish, eels, stingrays, jellyfish, seals, sea turtles… and even giant tentacled monsters of the deep… to name a few. Tied into that event is a mysterious humanoid shape rising to the surface, large crashing tidal waves and Lagos city itself.

Lagoon is a great title to work with typographically. So I decided to combine the title with an illustration of this scene from the novel. My idea was that the negative space between the tentacles and the writhing morass of sea creatures would form the title of the novel: ‘Lagoon’.

How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with Nnedi Okorafor, any ideas or suggestions?

The back and forth was more between me and the publisher on this one. Her input usually comes in once she has seen the first draft. Thankfully she has liked all the covers I have done for her. So thus far she hasn’t asked for many changes.

Do you have pictures of earlier designs?

Part of my process includes deciding which concept is strongest – and then focusing all my time and energy on taking that single concept as far as I can. Unless I specifically get asked to present more than one option, I prefer to present the concept I feel most strongly about. My first drafts are therefore relatively finished. For Lagoon I presented one first draft – which was approved. I’ve included it here. You’ll notice that it’s pretty close to the final cover. My earlier designs are basically indecipherable scribbles!

lagoon_first draft  lagoon_crafted_cover

Was there anything particularly different or interesting about this illustration, interesting facts you’d like to share?

I learned that using various sea creatures to construct type is easier in your mind than on paper! While working on the illustration I kept thinking to myself ‘This is like aquatic themed Tetris’.

blackbirds_crafted_cover

How did you get involved with this cover? Did Angry Robot contact you directly, or did they already know your work?

They contacted me directly. I had done work for them previously and they had seen some of my other covers.

How was the process of developing the cover? Was there a clear goal in mind?

Chuck Wendig was still working on the novel when I was commissioned to do the cover. That happens on occasion. So unlike Lagoon – there was no complete manuscript to read. Instead I got a very detailed brief that Angry Robot and Chuck Wendig had put together. It included a loose concept, detailed synopsis, reference for the Miriam Black (the protagonist in the book) and key elements in the book that Chuck thought might spark and idea or two. As a loose concept for the cover, Angry Robot wanted the protagonist, Miriam Black, merging ‘with a roiling flock of birds’. Other than that prerequisite, I could spread my inky raven wings and see where they took me.

My initial idea was that instead of just birds, the portrait of Miriam Black could also contain various elements from the novel. Some hidden and some quite visible. The book is full vivid imagery. Some beautiful… some terrifying.
I’ve always liked the idea of readers getting to explore book covers and find little clues and elements relevant to the plot. The significance of these ‘clues’ is revealed as you read the novel. I personally like covers that invite repeated exploration.

I started by illustrating versions of Miriam Black in poses I thought would work well on the cover. I chose one pose and started working with that. I then worked with the negative and positive spaces weaving in birds and various other elements. It’s a painstaking but enjoyable process. In a way I had created my own macabre jigsaw puzzle.

How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with Chuck Wendig, any ideas or suggestions?

I love working with Chuck Wendig. He’s always eager to answer questions and share ideas. Which for me is vital when I haven’t got a manuscript to read. On Blackbirds the message ravens were clocking up a few air miles.
It’s always great when an author is happy to share insights and ideas – but respects you enough as an artist to do what you think will work.

Do you have pictures of earlier designs?

Again – only a first draft. Which was approved. You’ll see that it’s pretty close to the final illustration and design.
The scribbles that preceded this are not fit for public viewing.

Blackbirds_serif  blackbirds_crafted_cover

Was there anything particularly different or interesting about this illustration, interesting facts you’d like to share?

Similarly to Lagoon – I learned that merging a woman with a with a ‘roiling flock of birds’ is easier in your mind than in reality!

Interesting fact: At the authors request I included just a hint of Ellen Ripley (from Alien) in my illustration of Miriam Black.

Ellen_Ripley_Aliens

From your experience, does the publisher have the final say regarding the design of the book, or does the designer/illustrator (and in some small ways, the writer) have free rein?

I’d say in most cases it’s the publisher who makes the final call. I have very little say in what get’s approved sadly! The author sometimes has a say in what the final cover will be. It varies from publisher to publisher though. I’ve worked on a book cover where the author has basically said ‘no way is THAT going on my book’s cover’ and then vetoed the design. It happened to me once – and we ended up with a much, much better book cover in the end. Personally I value the input of the author very highly. I think authors understand the mood and tone of their book better than anyone.

Finally, what are some of the favourite book covers that you’ve seen (recently or not), from other designers and illustrators?

I’ll choose the ‘Recent-ish’ option or we’ll be here all day! I loved the cover for Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (design by the legendary Chip Kidd), The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, the covers for Jeff Vandermeer’s ‘Southern Reach Trilogy’ and most recently the cover for Adam Christopher’s Made To Kill, which is hard boiled detective meets pulp sci-fi eye candy. It’s designed by Will Staehle. I could go on – and on – but these are just the covers that have sprung to mind.

    


Thank you Joey for this great interview!

Don’t forget to check out his website if you want to see more of Joey’s work!

    

Behind the Cover – Kirk DouPonce
(The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCoverMy 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!

Behance


oversight2

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.

Hands1

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.

Hands2

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.

Hands3

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.

wallpapered

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.

Heraldry

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.

41WUeugoRHL  mollusk-front  Painter_Blood-Rights-MM


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!

  Abduction  816323bec2d86d5d440c091e53a2fb35  CurioRevised

Behind the Cover – Christa Holland
(The Star Thief Chronicles by Jamie Grey)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

Today I have Christa Holland talking about the covers she did for The Star Thief Chronicles by Jamie Grey, self-published through Createspace.

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How did you become a designer? Was it an area you always wanted to explore, or did it simply happen?

I remember spending hours working with Gimp and Photoshop in high school, trying to teach myself everything I could. During college, I was hired by a local print shop as a designer and then, later, at a t-shirt company.  I also ran my own small photography business around this time.

As a life-long reader, I always loved cover art, but it wasn’t until after college that I began to really consider the idea of doing cover art myself.

How was the process of developing the cover? If someone wants to hire you, how should they proceed?

The covers for both novels (Star Thief & Athena’s Ashes) as well as the novella (Fortune’s Risk), were all a bit different. To be honest, Star Thief gave me a bit of trouble at the start, while I was trying to find stock and pull everything together. The very first proof was much more blue and had less of a “grungy” feel overall. However, once I got Jamie’s feedback, everything began to fit together. Athena’s Ashes and Fortune’s Risk, however, started much more smoothly, since we’d already worked out the fonts and over-all style for the series.

Still, all custom covers start the same: The author/publisher contacts me and we’ll schedule a week to work on the cover together. Then give me some info about the book! For anyone that’s curious, there’s a list of details that helps me get started here.

How much was the author involved in this project, and was there a clear goal in mind since the beginning?

Jamie was very involved. Actually, she found the model that we ended up using on the final cover art, and I am so glad she did!

Personally, I need a clear goal to even get started on the artwork. If I can’t get an overall feel for the story from the beginning, I struggle to pull everything together. Each aspect of the cover – stock image(s), font and typography of the title as well as the font of any other text – all have to work together to communicate the genre and a bit about the story in a single glance. So, needless to say, I have to get a feel for the story from the beginning of the project. Sometimes this involves sharing stock images, other times, it’s just one or two extra questions that get me pointed in the right direction.

Do you have pictures of earlier designs?

star-thief-anderson-proof-ebook  star-thief-anderson-2-ebook  fortunes-risk-grey-proof1

From your experience, do publishers have the final say regarding the design of the book, or does the designer/illustrator have free rein?

The publisher and/or author always has final say. Personally, as a designer, I love it when the author/publisher comes to me with a clear vision, but at the same time, I need a bit of “wiggle” room. Too specific and the artwork feels a bit “stiff”, but too vague and it’s hard for me to catch their vision and get started.

Still, I always want the project to come together so that the author/publisher has that “this is the cover for my story” moment.

Finally, what are some of the favourite book covers you’ve seen (recently or not), from other designers and illustrators?

There are so many! I love looking at new releases, mostly so I can stare at all the pretty covers. One that has really caught my eye somewhat recently is YOU by Caroline Kepnes. Also, ALL OUR PRETTY SONGS by Sarah McCarry, SPARK by Rachel Craw, and the covers of all three novels in THE GRISHA TRILOGY by Leigh Bardugo.

    


Thank you so much Christa for your answers!

Here are more examples of Christa’s work, and you can see more on her website Paper and Sage!