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

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have pictures of earlier designs?

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

SavageSong_Comp1  SavageSong_Comp2  SavageSong_Comp3

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

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

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

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

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

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

    

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

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


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

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

    

Behind the Cover – 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.

    

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!

TwitterDeviantArt | Behance


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 – Nathalia Suellen
(Splintered by A. G. Howard, and One by Leigh Ann Kopans)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCoverToday’s artist is Nathalia Suellen, creator of the covers for the Splintered series by A. G. Howard, by Amulet Books, as well as the One Universe series by Leigh Ann Kopans, self published.

Twitter | Facebook | DeviantArt | Instagram


Nathália Suellen is an independent artist and commercial illustrator based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Entirely self-taught, Suellen’s signature style incorporates female in surroundings of a twisted and disturbing world characterized by the use of dark elements, pop-surrealism, haunting sceneries and otherworldly creatures done through a mixture of photography, 3D, and digital painting.

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

I think a better question would be how did I become a professional illustrator because that was a thing that simply happened. Before working for clients I worked for myself, art is part of my life, as a way of expressing myself when I cannot express with words.

    

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

They contacted me through email and we started discussing about the series. I became interested immediately.

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

I knew roughly about the story through the art director and, of course, I had some requirements to comply but nothing too specific. I remember starting the first sketches thinking in three essential things: bugs, strangeness, and eye-catching colors.

The very first Splintered sketch was a full body Alice with gothic clothes, striped socks, windy hair and a scenery full of bones, mirrors and bugs around (the model was insanely beautiful too). We spent a month or so in this first idea but things got too nice and serious that they decided to move the whole idea for a close up Alice, which I think now was one of the most important things for achieving this “special” thing, it somehow turned the cover more powerful and movie-like.

How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with A. G. Howard, any ideas or suggestions?

I had no direct contact with the author just with the company. But of course Anita’s opinion was essential and taken in account for every single change done, she was behind everything. But there are other parts involved too, including the art director, marketing department, sales and so forth.  I think my job is to please them all.

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?

As I said before, there are many departments involved, there are important things for a publisher that it’s not quite clear for the artist in the first instance. The model we chose, for example, needs to be “the one” and even though we think we have found the right model, sometimes the sales/marketing think its too old or too young. I don’t think there’s a final say, we work as a group with different views and purposes and every opinion is important, many things are taken in consideration for a cover.

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

I could feel the public waiting Morpheus and Jeb’s cover. They were really crazy for the cover reveal. Everyone was really excited for the next books and was somehow a big responsibility to me. I mean, I was the one who had to find the right Jeb and the right Morpheus and turn the whole story into existence. That was an incredible feeling.

  

How does it work when it’s the author themselves contacting you, and not the publisher?

Same thing but more informal.  It’s only you and the author and it’s faster.  Perhaps the big difference is you are more free to try unusual things. If the author said yes, you just go ahead.

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

No specific goal, I think… but it was clear the main characters were able to fly. So I just had to do something with that. Later we decided to play with something related to DNA and from this came the DNA wings.

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

I don’t think there’s nothing particularly different but was nice the idea of connecting both covers through their wings. I like to do that.

From your experience, is it better/worse/or any different working with the author directly, instead of having a publisher as an intermediary?

There’re good things in both cases. Not better or worse. I like to make art so it’s always a pleasure to work for someone. It’s good to work for a group and see your art around the world but its also good to work for a single person and challenge yourself, try different things and see a book grow. There’s advantages in both experiences.

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

I like Cinder cover art really much. Simple and elegant.

    

Leigh Ann Kopans has some words to say about her covers!

My goal was to publish a book that was indistinguishable to my readers from any novel from a Big Five publisher. Your book’s cover is one of the most important things for making sure it reaches the maximum amount of readers. I know we say that people shouldn’t judge books by their covers, but that’s ridiculous. Your book’s cover is the outward representation of what’s inside. If you didn’t invest creativity, care, and professionalism into your cover’s design, how do you expect your readers to think you did anything differently with the words and story inside?

I just can’t shut up about how extremely, incredibly, unregrettably DELIGHTED I am that I had complete control, both inspiration and veto-power wise, over this cover. And if I wasn’t self publishing, I most likely would not have had the fine-tuning control over this most important of book aspects that I had. Basically, this cover business is one of the things that most makes me love, love, LOVE my decision to self-publish ONE. And a HUGE “thank you” is due to Nathalia, for being so patient with me through the whole process, and, of course, creating a GENIUS cover. Genius genius.

I’m still getting comments on how gorgeous the cover is. And I think it went a long way toward making ONE’s release as successful as it was.

(You can read more about the process here)


Obrigada Nathalia for your time, and thank you Leigh Ann for your thoughts!

I hope you liked this interview, and if you want to see more of Nathalia’s amazing work, you can check out her website. Here’s a preview of what you can find there.