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.

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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)


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

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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:


One Response

  1. Always interesting to get a sneak peak into the process of projects like these. Wish it was a bit more extensive (I usually do), but a nice interview none the less with great questions ^^

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