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 – 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.

Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest


  

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!

    

Behind the Cover – Luke Lucas
(Falls the Shadow by Stefanie Gaither)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCoverToday I welcome to the blog Luke Lucas, the designer of Falls the Shadows by Stefanie Gaither, published by Simon & Schuster. Thank you Luke for being here!

Twitter | Instagram | Behance


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

About half way through my first year of art school together with a friend we started a glossy print magazine and the rest is kind of history. It was really through creating layouts and lettering and design details for magazines that my obsession with lettering and illustration as a specialised career path was born.

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

I have done quite a few covers with Simon & Schuster now. This one was through the art director for that specific title, Laurent Linn, and my rep here in Australia – The Jacky Winter Group.

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

Laurent was really interested in expressing the use of light and shadow to form a face in some way. I pitched the idea that that given there was the duality of the good and evil clone within the story line we could represent this by using the light for good and shadow for evil. I supplied a few sketches and the concept evolved.

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

I had no contact with Stefanie but I’m sure that the she was involved with the review process. I dealt directly with Laurent.

Do you have pictures of earlier designs?

This was one of the earlier rough drafts when we were still fleshing out the concept. The design changed quite a bit from here and subject details evolved to be more feminine but the core idea is represented here.

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 3.40.34 PM

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?

In my experience it can really vary. I’ve worked on projects where the author is probably a little too involved and others where they appear to not really have much input at all. I’ve been briefed by authors directly also. For the most part, like on jobs like this one, it’s up to the designer to sell a concept to the art director or whoever briefs them but then the art director has to sell it internally to their superiors and the author.

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

I’m typically hired for crafting custom lettering so this job was quite nice in that it was more of a conceptual illustrative piece than strictly type.

Finally, what are some of your favourite book covers, whether they’re recent or not?

Of the books that I’ve read in the last few years I quite liked the use of colour in the cover for Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shtenygart. There are so many really though.

    


Thank you again, Luke, for your answers!

If you want to see more of Luke’s work you can check out his website and Behance!

  

Behind the Cover – Duncan Smith
(Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

Today’s interview ties in with the last one! Duncan Smith is here to talk about Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, published by Harper Collins, as well as other books he’s worked on by the same author.

Behance | Blog


Howl

castle  house

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

Well, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a cowboy, then I found out about Space so, I had to be  an astronaut!  Then, James Bond, Tarzan, and then finally Batman!  (The Adam West version not the guy in the rubber suit!)

I always loved drawing, but never thought you could make a career out of it, until my art teacher told me about The Glasgow School of Art! So that’s where I headed and had a wonderful time meeting like mind folk and learning all they could offer! After I graduated, I moved to London, and knocked on every Publishers door dragging along my portfolio until finally someone gave me a job, and so in a nut shell, that’s how I became an Illustrator!

How did you get involved with these covers for the Howl’s Moving Castle series? Did HarperCollins contact you directly, or did they already know your work?

 I got a call from Nina Tara, who was working at Harper Collins at the time. She told me all about the project (I’d worked with Nina on stuff before) and it sounded great. Nina’ is one of the best designers around, she gives you detailed briefs and loads of suggestions but leaves room so you can add your own creative flair.

Spellhorn  Frankenstein  Mockingbird

How was the process of developing the cover (the typography, the illustrations…)? Was there a clear goal in mind?

The Type was already worked out by Nina and she’d worked out a brilliant concept for the cover. The idea was that silhouettes of the characters and elements from the story would be dotted around the type, or on top and reversed out inside the type. I knew where Nina wanted the images to go, so after reading through the book, I quickly started doing tons of little sketches and Nina would drop all of these in place and we would go back and forth like this until it all came together.

sillhouettes

How was the author involved? Did you get a chance to speak with Diana Wynne Jones at the time, did she give any suggestions or ideas? 

As far as I know she really liked them. I didn’t speak to her and I’m not aware that she had any input for the redesign.

Do you have pictures of earlier designs?

No, not earlier designs for the front cover, but I think I did some different sketches for the back, before we settled on the solid black drawings to encompass all the blurb.

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

Well, the publisher always has final say, but it really is a load of people involved, from reps from bookshops, marketing and sales folk, the list goes on, but once the designer presents the idea and it’s approved, then the illustrator gets a chance to do their ‘wee bit’!

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

Because the silhouettes were going to be tiny there really wouldn’t be any room for much detail. So, I had to keep everything pretty simple, it was a challenge trying to give them some character and a sense of fun.

Finally, what are some of your favourite book covers, whether they’re recent or not?

There’s so many covers to choose from, let’s see, a great one is by my good friend Iain McCaig – Shadowline; Crazy River, Nina Tara; or anything by Mike Mignola – Baltimore.

    


Thank you Duncan for your time!

As is usual, here are some other works by Duncan, and you can check out his portfolio for more!

   

Behind the Cover – Nina Tara
(Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, and Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

 

Today I’m interviewing Nina Tara, responsible for designing the cover of Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, published by HarperCollins (as well as other books by the same author), where she collaborated with Duncan Smith; as well as the cover of Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens, published by Corgi Childrens.

Twitter | Facebook | Behance | Blog


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

Well, I was 16 and I actually wanted to be a journalist. I loved the idea of being a bit of a Nancy Drew detective type journalist! Unfortunately I didn’t get my grade in English, so Art it was then! I didn’t think Fashion design was for me so I looked into Graphics. I went on to study for 4 years and directly after college I managed to get a job in an advertising agency in Oxford. It was a great learning curve, having to think on your feet and very quick turnarounds to meet deadlines. I worked in advertising for about 5 years and then after redundancy I decided to go freelance and a few of us started up our own design agency. A few years later I returned to London and found myself freelancing for publishers too. One of the first clients was HarperCollins!

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

I was working as an in-house freelance designer – covering maternity leave. I was assigned the project by my studio manager as I had worked very closely with the editor who looked after Diana on a previous series Conrad’s Fate, The Magicians of Caprona, Mixed Magics and Witch Week. All illustrated by David Frankland.

Conrad'sFate_B_PB  DWJ_MagiciansCaprona_B_PB

MixedMagic's_B_PB  DWJ_WitchWeek_B_PB

TheLivesOfChrisChant_B_PB

How was the process of developing the cover (collaborating with Duncan Smith)? Was there a clear goal in mind?

Would you believe me if I said that the idea actually came to me the morning of the cover art meeting? Well, it did! I had explored quite a few ideas before, but none of them seemed to work. Each time I took them to the cover art meeting they were rejected. So, we were running out of time as the print deadline was looming and I quickly put an idea together of the type taking up the entire cover with little elements working within it. If you have read the book you will know there are many visual components and I had a lot to choose from for ideas for the illustrator I would have assigned.

I had worked with Duncan Smith before on previous projects and I knew he could meet the tight deadline, so I commissioned him. I sent a detailed brief with the initial concept worked up and some suggestions of character action, so he knew the sizes and spaces he had to work with within the text area.

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

As with many projects it’s great to be able to read the manuscript and do some research when deadlines allow. So, the best thing for me was discovering the many wonderful, adventure filled and imaginative books that Diana had written.

  

How did you get involved with this cover? Did Corgi Childrens / Random House contact you directly, or did they already know your work? 

I was commissioned by Random House cover designer Laura Bird to produce concept and illustrations for the cover. Laura had seen my previous cover design for Diana Wynne Jones – The Game illustrated by Rob Ryan and loved the look of the cover.

The game

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

The brief was great – a ‘Agatha Christie for 10-12 year old girls a 1930’s murder mystery’. I’ve done a lot of covers for Agatha comic novels for HarperCollins, so this was right up my street!

ac cards on table

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

Robin was great. She sent loads of ideas and suggestions via the editors Natalie and Laura – and often great references too. So, it was a really smooth process coming up with ideas and concepts for the look of the girls and the elements on cover along with the typography.

Do you have pictures of earlier designs?

Murder Most unlikely  Murder Most unlikely 3b blue  

The first one is a black and white version of the very first idea. The blue one was one of the colour variations I sent in. As you can see the cover that actually made it to press is a lot simpler and cleaner and I think actually works really well. So the final isn’t too far away from the original – but with input from the Art director, designer, sales and marketing we were able to enhance the look to a simpler, cleaner and more fun cover.

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

Well, sometimes you are free to come up with a new concept – other times you are guided in the brief as to the type of look the publisher is looking for, but that doesn’t mean to say you can’t add your own design input and ideas into the mix! I often work up about 3 concepts covering all requirements and including my suggestion for the approach.

There are a team of people involved in the final say from the author, art director, sales, marketing and bookshop reps the books are being sold in – e.g Waterstones.  So, it’s interesting when you get feedback because everyone is looking at the cover from different perspectives. It’s good to remain open to ideas and suggestions – because what I think will work could be enhanced (or even sometimes not) by another suggestion. But we don’t find out until we explore all avenues and sometimes you could end up back at the first design idea!

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

Goodness – there are so many fantastic designers and illustrators that inspire me on a daily basis I would need to write another blog entry for you! But, I do count myself very, very lucky to also have many of my inspirations as very good friends too!


Thank you so much Nina Tara for these answers and the pictures you shared!

I hope you liked this interview. Here are some other works by Nina Tara:

    

Behind the Cover – Sarah J. Coleman
(The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Clarke, and Aristotle and Dante by Benjamin Sáenz)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

This week we welcome Sarah J. Coleman to the blog! Sarah has done some amazing work with typography and book covers, and as examples we have The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke, published by Strange Chemistry, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, published by Simon & Schuster.

Twitter | Tumblr | Behance


Sarah graduated from the University of Central England (then called Birmingham Polytechnic) with a first class honours in Illustration, and she also won an award for her experimental typography. She made a lot of relevant contacts while doing research for her final project, and this led to her first pieces of commissioned work outside of college, as well as a job at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

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

My New York agent Bernstein & Andriulli, was contacted by Simon & Schuster.

How was the process of developing the cover (collaboration between photography and typography)? Was there a clear goal in mind?

They had an idea in mind and sent several example of my work that resonated with them for this cover, particularly ‘Amethyst Child’.

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

He wasn’t!

  

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

Angry Robot, the publishers, they got in touch but via my London agent, CIA.

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

Yes, but I had quite a lot of leeway to come up with something. Again they knew what they had seen and liked about my work so I knew what my parameters were.

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

She wasn’t! Both authors only approved the final completed illustration.

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

I enjoyed doing the research on the specific types of building they’d asked for. And the manticore is female; she needed re-drawing a couple of times.

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

The publisher’s Art Director ALWAYS has final say of course, but in terms of whether the illustrator is briefed tightly or very loosely varies massively from job to job.

Finally, what are some of your favourite book covers, whether they’re recent or not?

I don’t really have ‘favourites’ as such – I applauded the Penguin Classics clothbound series and the Penguin RED classics. There are too many beautiful covers from history to mention – I have a collection of very old (18th century and upward) books whose covers are all beautiful but I couldn’t pick individuals, and the artist was often uncredited.

Any book which makes creative use of foil, of gold, embossing and traditional bookbinding techniques I will tend to gravitate towards, and also those which take risks and possibly put people’s noses out of joint – such as the recent photographic re-works of Roald Dahl’s books, packaged for an adult audience. A lot of people got very pissed off about those.

    


Thank you Sarah for your time and for these answers! If you want to see more of Sarah’s work you can go to her website Inkymole.

  

Behind the Cover – Patrick Insole
(The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCoverThis week we’re joined by Patrick Insole, designer and art director for Headline Publishing Group. He was responsible for making the UK cover of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, published by Headline.

Twitter | Headline Blog


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

I originally trained as an illustrator and, for a long time after graduating, that continued to be my ambition – I certainly never set out to become a book designer. My first job out of college, drawing and designing 3 dimensional maps, was really just a way to provide a regular income while I got my intended illustration career up and running.

My first job in book publishing, as a junior designer at Walker Books, was little different – despite loving books and reading, at the time I didn’t really consider it as a long term career option. Once there, though, I quickly fell in love with designing books – it marries the skills of an illustrator with those of a designer in a way that felt natural, and working alongside such talented and passionately creative people, not just other designers but everyone involved in the publishing process, I learnt such a lot, as I continue to today.

How was the process of developing the cover for such a genre defying book? Was there a clear goal in mind?

It’s actually really refreshing to work on something that is so difficult to categorise – so many of the covers we work on have, to some degree, to conform to the conventions of the book’s genre. The cover for Ocean At The End Of The Lane was very much a blank canvas, and a very open brief. That can be quite scary for a designer, and certainly at the outset there was some anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to come up with any ideas, but reading the manuscript, the book is so rich in imagery I needn’t have worried. As with many of Neil’s books, though rooted in reality, magic permeates through the story and I knew I wanted to make a cover that somehow combined this sense of the strange with the everyday, the difficulty being how to portray these contradictory qualities without giving too much away, or being too descriptive.

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

Neil has a very open-minded approach to his covers – allowing us pretty much free reign to explore ideas and to see what we come up with. Once we’d got some ideas that we liked we sent them through to Neil and between us we pretty quickly settled on a version of the final cover. From there it was just a case of refining the details.

Do you have pictures of earlier designs?

We actually got to the final cover quite quickly – there were a few other ideas that we tried (see below) but quite early on in the process I stumbled across the image of the diving boy taken by the very talented photographer Hengki Koentjoro, which I felt worked perfectly – dark and mysterious with a suggestion of travelling from one world to another.

Ocean_roughs_Page_1   Ocean_roughs_Page_2

Ocean_roughs_Page_3   Ocean_roughs_Page_4

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

It should be, and usually is, a very collaborative process. I work as part of a team of in house designers working for the publisher, so every cover we work on there’s a constant dialogue, sharing ideas between ourselves, the author, editor as well as the sales and marketing teams, so whilst ultimately the publisher and author have the final say, usually what we end up with is something that we’ve agreed on collectively.

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

It was actually an unusually straightforward process in the end – the expectation, when working on covers for such high profile authors, is always that it’s going to take longer and be a more difficult process, but sometimes as in this case, an idea can stick surprisingly quickly. For me, though, this was a very special project to work on. Neil has always been one of my favourite authors, so having the opportunity to design a cover for his latest novel was, though daunting at first, a real privilege and an ambition fulfilled.

Finally, what are some of your favourite book covers, whether they’re recent or not?

That’s a tough one! So many great covers, that I like for so many different reasons.

I love covers by Alvin Lustig and Paul Rand’s classic American designs for books like Kafka’s Amerika and Nicholas Monseratt’s Leave Cancelled (respectively) – such clean and simple designs that feel as fresh now as when they were first published in the 1940s. In the same tradition, though much more recent, Jon Gray’s cover for Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is also one of my favourites.

    


Thank you Patrick for your time!

If you want to know more about Patrick’s work, you can follow him on Twitter! I hope you liked this interview, and here are some other examples of his book cover design.

    

Behind the Cover – Jon Smith
(The End Games, by T. Michael Martin)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

Today’s artist, Jon Smith, is the illustrator of The End Games by T. Michael Martin, published by HarperCollins. Thank you for your time, Jon!

Twitter | Facebook


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

As a kid I was really serious about illustrating comic books. I think I was 13 or 14 when i started doing full 10″x15″ comic book pages and taking them to comic book conventions to get critiqued by my favorite artists. It was a fun and enriching exercise because at that time (and it probably hasn’t changed too much now) the only way to make it in comics was to submit samples to publishers and get rejected over and over and get brutally critiqued by artists who have made it because there’s a standard you have to reach to actually get work and they’re not shy about letting you know.

I don’t care how bad it is or how bad I am I just want to know where I stand, y’know?

But anyway everything turned on a dime when I committed to the Art Institute of Seattle out of high school. There’s nothing wrong with the school I just didn’t know what I was getting into. I told them I wanted to be an Illustrator, they told me Graphic Design was the program that fit me best…I didn’t really kow what that was but in my mind there would be bad ass Illustrators teaching me in this school, sharpening my already amazing talent :)

But the reality is, it’s a for profit school that makes money based on placement rates. They get people into their school by showing prospective students and parents thereof the numbers – if you enroll in program X there’s a 75% chance you’ll get a job in that field… whatever the percentage is.

The problem with Illustration is you HAVE to be good to get a job when you graduate, which kills the whole placement rate thing. They can’t make you talented, BUT you can teach people how to use Illustrator, Photoshop, Flash, Indesign yada yada and they should find a job somewhere. So when I started they were phasing the Illustration program out which is why they funneled me into Graphic Design.

When I realized this I wanted to quit but the contract my parents signed for payment (which was a lot!) was irrevocable so it was pretty frustrating, but by the end I started to figure out what design was and how I can fit within it… but I wasn’t really ready to get a real job, I never even applied for an internship anywhere which is weird but I was young and dumb so I fell into doing concert posters randomly which I guess makes sense because it’s not unlike the comic book scene. You throw yourself into it and if you’re good you stick.

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

They saw my posters on gigposters.com and contacted me. They were looking for someone to incorporate the type as the main design element. I believe this Eric Church poster is the poster they referenced, and I think Fitz & The Tantrums.

(click on the images to make them bigger)

  

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

I just kept throwing (ugly) comps at them with clever usage of type as the main element of the illustration until one stuck. I hate making comps because my stuff doesn’t make any sense or look right until it’s fully fleshed out. It was a fun process though, I love the work and my art director at HC is the best. We have a lot of fun in the Email exchange.

How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with T. Michael Martin, any ideas or suggestions?

T. Mike (I’m sure I’m the only one who calls him that) wasn’t directly involved, which is good. Having channels is good for the process because there’s the publishing/sales side and then there’s the author and the editor. So I submit comps and whatnot and then wait for the feedback after HC/sales and T. Mike and his editor have talked it over. That process repeats until everyone’s happy.

On the next book with T. Mike I went rogue and contacted him without telling anyone, which can be dangerous in that it can complicate things but I was mostly just asking about particular details of the story. I wanted to make sure I understood and whatnot and I think we both respected the fact that too much back and forth could gum up the process.

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 reign?

The book is a product, at the end of the day, and the publisher is the seller of that product so they have to get what they need so I’d say they have the strongest hand in the stirring of this creative stew. But HC, in my experience, has been good at balancing their needs with the authors needs.

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

I think it does a good job of including a lot of aspects in one image, the brothers, the dark creepy backwoods, the mountains and the zombies. I think it works for the most part, blending the photorealistic elements (the boys in the foreground and the mountains in the background) with the stark silhouette graphic of the trees but in a way the detailed illustration of the brothers goes against the grain of how “designy” the other 90% of the cover is. I guess it just leaves a little bit less to the imagination…but that’s nit picky, they are small and you can’t see their faces or anything.

Finally, what are some of your favourite book covers, whether they’re recent or not?

Wow. I don’t even know where to begin. Going back to the comic book thing that was my strongest influence as a kid, that Scholastic pamphlet that would come to school with just the cover images and brief description of new books always made me drool. I ordered books based on the covers alone… mostly Goosebumps and Calvin and Hobbes as I recall.

And the covers of movies and video games at the video store as well.. and as an adult of course posters have pretty much consumed my creative life. I’m bad at picking favorites but I’d have to say the stuff I like best is all the old pulp/scifi/noir stuff from the 50’s and 60’s. From the amazing painted stuff to the clever minimalist design, all very very fun.

    


Thank you Jon for these amazing answers!

I do agree that college/university can teach you the basics and how to work with certain software, but teaching you how to be good is very hard. That you have to learn mostly by yourself, because it only comes with hard work and dedication.

You can see more of Jon’s work on his portfolio and GigPosters website.