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 – 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 – 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 – Chris Riddell
(Coraline and The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

 

Chris Riddell is known for illustrating Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and The Graveyard Book, as well as his own books Ottoline and Goth Girl, and political cartoons for the Observer. He has won awards such as the Nestlé Gold Award and the rare honour of two Kate Greenaway Medals. Chris lives in Brighton.

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How did you become an illustrator? Was it an area you always wanted to explore, or did it end up happening?

I became an illustrator because my twin passions were reading and drawing. The books I read provided the inspiration for my drawings. I decided when I was quite young that I wanted to illustrate books. My heroes were Sir John Tenniel and William Heath Robinson (shown below, respectively).

  

How did you get involved with these covers and illustrations? Did Bloomsbury / Neil Gaiman contact you directly, or did they already know your work?

Sarah Odedina at Bloomsbury contacted me and sent a message to Neil, who e-mailed me the first draft of The Graveyard Book. I loved it and readily agreed to illustrate it.

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

The process with the covers of The Graveyard Book and Coraline were similar. The designer gave me a loose cover brief and I drew a rough and suggested hand lettering. Neil and the designer approved my rough with no alterations and I went to finished artwork.

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

Neil is remarkable in that he doesn’t give directions for how I should interpret the characters. As long as I respect the text, he gives me freedom to envisage the characters as I see fit. The only comment was Neil asking me to change Silas’ hair from white to black.

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

Bloomsbury have been very good at allowing me free rein to draw the covers and illustrations in my own way.

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

Neil creates a visual space for his illustrators to occupy, giving us texture, description and leading details to fire our imaginations. He is a perfect writer to work with in this respect.

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

I love Shaun Tan’s work, David Roberts, and Alexis Deacon. My favourite cover is “The Adventures of Uncle Lubin” by William Heath Robinson (shown above).

  


Thank you Chris, for your time!

If you want to see more of Chris’ work, including his other books and illustrations, you can check out his website! I hope you liked this interview.

  

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!

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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.

    

Behind the Cover – Alexandre Chaudret
(The Iron Trials, by Holly Black, and Cassandra Clare)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

Our next artist, Alexandre Chaudret, is the illustrator behind the cover of The Iron Trials, written by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, published by Scholastic. Thank you Alexandre for answering these questions!

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Based in France, Alexandre graduated from Supinfocom, Valenciennes, in 2011 as a GC Artist. Since then he worked as a freelance illustrator for several companies, designing characters, illustrating board games and trading card games, and, as in this case, book covers. He currently also works for Spiders Games in Paris, France.

 

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

Since I was a kid, I always loved to draw. In fact, I always liked to tell stories, so I learned to draw them. Then to paint them. Finally, when I chose to do art for a living, I studied fine arts and traditional arts, before going in a 3D CG School (Supinfocom, France) where I graduated as a 3D Director. Since then, I worked in the video games industry, as a Cinematic Director and Concept Artist. Finally, I also have a freelance activity: that’s where I do illustrations and character design, as well as book covers, and role playing games or miniature figurines.

I can’t say if  was “driven by destiny” to become an illustrator, but let’s say it was close to fate!

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

I was contacted directly by Scholastic. They had discovered my work on one of my websites, Behance, if I recall well. It was a great surprise, and I got involved in the project quickly. I think they wanted a kind of “concept art” approach for the cover, and my double activity may have been an advantage in the process.

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

I was given a lot a liberty in the sketch phase, which I always do in black & white values, just to get the composition right. I think my main focus was on the Enemy, because it was a very cool figure from the book. Once the sketch is accepted, it is just a long journey until it  gets finished, from first colours to final details. I always had a great liberty on the piece, through each step of the process.

How were the authors involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, any ideas or suggestions?

I was not in direct contact with the authors, but of course, they were fully involved in the process. Each step had their validation. It is their baby. I had absolutely to get the right idea of their story, characters and mood.

I am just a “hand that paints”. They are the genesis mastermind!

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?

From my personal point of view, and my way of working, that is not the case. These kinds of projects are a team work. Everyone is involved, every one is important and has their responsibility. Of course, I am paid for this work, so my first goal is to please my client, editor and author as well.

In fact, I don’t really mind about “who has the final word”. I just want the project to be the best possible and please everyone. And I guess everyone I’m working with has the same vision. Anyway, I hope so!

The fonts are also particularly evocative. What can you tell us about those (names, reason you chose them, anything you’d like to mention)?

Ha ha, well you will have to congratulate the artist who did those beautifull letters. It is not mine! As I said before: everything is a matter of confidence. I was fully confident in the artist of the typography, and he did a great job.

(Alexandre doesn’t know the name of the typography artist, they worked independently)

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

As I said, I am more often asked for concept art and character designs than for full cover illustrations. So this was already a new experience. I really enjoyed it, taking time to get a really cool image done with all the details and stuff.

I don’t have a lot of fun facts about the process and all, but in the early sketches, I had done a “iron skull” mask for the Enemy. I guess we can’t change a guy painting skeletons and undead warriors all in one try, haha.

Will you be involved with the covers of the sequels? If so, are you allowed to share a sneak peek?

I don’t know if the second volume has been announced yet. But I think you should keep in touch ;)

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

That’s a hard question…

I’ll just check the books I can find on my desk. Well, near to me are some mangas, and especially one serie I find absolutely extraordinary: Berserk, by Kentaro Miura. The author usually paints beautiful oil paintings for the covers, absolutely incredible.

Oh, all the Hellboy comic books by Mignola are absolutely gorgeous too.

    


Merci, Alexandre, for your time!

If you liked this interview and want to see more of Alexandre’s work, you can check it out on his website!

  

Behind the Cover – Tom Bagshaw
(Pantomime and Shadowplay by Laura Lam)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

Our first artist is Tom Bagshaw, the creator of the Pantomime and Shadowplay covers, written by Laura Lam and published by Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot). Thank you, Tom, for joining us!

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Based in the Georgian city of Bath, England, Tom Bagshaw works as a commercial illustrator under the moniker Mostlywanted. For his personal work he has developed a highly rendered digital painting style through which he explores themes of fantasy, beauty and mysticism. While his work deals with imaginative content, it also aims for a strong level of realism in its presentation. Feminine beauty and portraiture play a large role in his work, but the women he depicts are never frail damsels in distress. More often than not they are strong, intriguing characters, with an air of mystery to them.

      

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

I had always wanted to do something creative and set out with an idea of becoming an illustrator or fine artist. What I’ve done has changed over the years, but I’ve always enjoyed what I’ve done.

How did you get involved with these covers for the Micah Grey series? Did Strange Chemistry contact you directly, or did they already know your work?

I was contacted via my illustration agency (Central Illustration Agency) – they had been approached by the publishers and were interested in working with me on the covers.

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

The publishers had a strong idea of what they wanted me to do and fortunately it was something I could really go with – sometimes it really doesn’t happen that way!

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

After a rough version was sent to the publishers for feedback I had some little changes to do which were things that Laura wanted to add in (things that were more relevant to the story).

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

It really does depend on the job – some publishers are incredibly specific and will be completely inflexible making you do a piece that isn’t your best. Others are wonderful and allow free reign with a little direction – but those with no clear direction are actually some of the worst to deal with, all they can tell you is what they “don’t” like. That’s not good direction.

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

Because of how well the publishers and author were able to communicate and give clear direction these were the most hassle free and enjoyable book cover commissions I’ve had!

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

I don’t really have any one book that is a favourite but since my youth I was always very fond of Josh Kirby’s work for Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.

    

Laura Lam is also here to give us her opinion on these amazing covers!

I love Tom Bagshaw’s work and feel he did such a wonderful job representing Pantomime & Shadowplay. I wasn’t involved in Pantomime’s initial brief, but when I saw the image I found it very striking.

I came up with the concept for Shadowplay and was delighted when it went through. I suggested some details to have it fit the story better on both covers, which Tom integrated really well. For instance, the mask on Pantomime initially has a lion, but it changed to a dragonfly. I doodled some crude designs for Cyan’s forehead markings on Shadowplay and he took them and made them beautiful. Love these covers.


Thank you to both Tom Bagshaw and Laura Lam. I hope you enjoyed this interview, and until the next one I’ll leave you with more work by Tom. You can see more amazing pieces such as these ones on Tom’s website.