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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Guardian Angel Publishing Illustrators Discuss Creating A Book Cover


Have you ever wondered how a book cover is made? It is surprising how many different ways cover artists, book designers and/or illustrators approach the task. I talked with a few Guardian Angel Publishing illustrators to learn more about their process.

First, let’s introduce the talented ladies who took time out of their busy schedules to talk with me.  Melissa Ross, is the author/illustrator of Today I Am A Penguin. K.C. Snider has illustrated more than thirty books for Guardian Angel Publishing and Jennifer Thomas Houdeshell has already illustrated two picture books for Guardian Angel Publishing.

Thank you, ladies, for chatting with me. I’ve worked with K.C. Snider on my two chapbooks for tweens, The Weaver and The Wishing Well: Another Weaver Tale. We collaborated over both covers and I was curious if that was a standard experience or if that was simply how K.C. works. Can you give us some specific experiences?

Melissa: As both writer and illustrator of Today I Am APenguin, I wanted the cover to introduce the main two characters, Kaleigh and Ian.  I also wanted to convey the joy these two characters experience as penguins.  I chose an image where Kaleigh and Ian are enjoying one of the most fun pats of being a penguin-- sliding down an icy hill    Many people will buy a book just because there is something on the cover that catches their eye.  I chose vibrant icy blues and rich purples. This also helped create a dreamlike quality, which I imagine Antarctica feels like--a beautiful icy wonderland of whites, blues, purples and pinks.

K.C.: For The Town of Masquerade by Jack Samuels, the publisher, author, and I collaborated on the nature of the story to come up with an unusual book cover design to match the unusual storyline.  Even the colors used in the background and on the masks are at opposite sides of the color wheel.  I collaborate extensively with my publisher because she has a lot of great ideas and I can elaborate from them.  The author sent in his ideas of the important parts of the story he wanted to see incorporated on the cover.  When I have the ideas, I run them past my publisher first so she can critique them with how well they match the story in one quick look.  In this case, she came up with the idea of using the thespian masks of tragedy and comedy and having children climbing them.  I had an idea of the color scheme and of how the children would be climbing, how many children would look good, how to balance the illustration as a whole, and what kind of story it would tell in one glance.  If you notice you can only see one child’s face, the one at the top of the masks is wearing a mask.  The cover must draw in the public’s eye and it must be a reflection of the real story within the book.

Jennifer: I'm honored to be the illustrator of the touching, sensitive story, Ebeneezer’sCousin, by author Kristen K. Zajac, about a military family. This was the first book I illustrated for Guardian Angel Publishing, so I was delighted to find I'd be given total artistic freedom to create the cover in any manner I chose. Of course I carefully based it on the text so it provided enticing clues to the story's plot. I wanted to focus on the endearing face of  "Maria," the little girl who is the main character, as she held her much loved stuffed animal pal, the monkey, Ebeneezer. I used the circular bands of color to heighten that focal point, and I put the U.S. flag in Ebeneezer's hand to reveal that it's a patriotic story.

The author, Kristen, didn't see the cover until I had completely finished it, but she had seen all of the other completed illustrations by then and was most enthusiastic about them. I created the cover last.  She was delighted with it as were the child I had chosen as my model and her parents. Just remembering their joyful reactions and that of our fine publisher, Lynda Burch, still makes me smile. That is a soul satisfying experience for an illustrator! 

 ***

Thank you ladies. Let me share a little background on my book covers. On my first book, The Weaver, my publisher knew I wanted a house as the focal point and that I wanted it to have an old world, village feel. When K.C. was visiting St Louis for a big author/illustrator event, she and our publisher, Lynda, drove around town taking pictures of houses. Lynda had first hand knowledge of a house that she felt would portray my ‘village in the mountains’ feel. K.C. brought the pictures back and I fell in love with the house. In order for K.C. to create the character, Unwanted, I read the passage that described him.

I was more prepared for my second book cover, The Wishing Well: Another Weaver Tale. There is a house in my hometown that looks like it belongs in a quiet hamlet in the Alp. So I knocked on the door and asked, “Could your house model for my next book cover?” The homeowner readily agreed and even provided some digital pictures from a more bloom-filled season that I immediately forwarded to K.C.

I was thrilled with the collaboration and the amount of input I had on my covers and, of course, I’m in awe of K.C.’s talent. Is developing the cover always such a team event? How do you decide the elements, the colors, or even the culture? Do other authors give you pictures? Do you have to do research?

K.C.: Some covers require specific ethnicity, expression, colors, and personality to match the characters in the book.  In the case of Masquerade, most of the children are from family photos of the children in my family and my publisher’s family.  A couple of children are based on generic pictures from magazine ads, etc.

There is always research to be done.  How much is needed depends on the story.  Historical books require the most research to be sure everything is accurately depicted.  In Masquerade, the town is based on pictures from playgrounds, and pictures of Grant’s Farm in St. Louis, Missouri, that my publisher provided.  As an artist, I can easily come up with ideas; the difficult part is finding what will fit my ideas from real life.  For example, there is no description of any of the masks in this story nor was there a requirement to put masks on the trees, clocks, fire hydrants, etc.  I even put my little dachshund, Jack, in one of the pictures wearing a mask.  No one told me how to dress the characters or who to show as adults in the town and what they do.  Each illustration depicts a part of the story and a different piece of the town without being told, “I want a little boy standing just so… wearing such and such… in these colors…and crying.’”
 
Jennifer: I always find models to use for the human characters in the books I illustrate. Then I gather all of them together in one place and take photos of them acting out the various scenes in the text. I take close ups of the various expressions on their faces and then start sketching the people, composing the scenes and creating the appropriate settings. Then I do the final, detailed drawings using the photos for reference and begin the painting process.

 I did have to do a lot of research on military uniforms and insignias, various foreign locations, medical equipment and even capuchin monkeys for the illustrations themselves but not for the cover. I even went to a primate sanctuary to sketch capuchins. I created Ebeneezer after seeing a cute stuffed animal in a store window.

The author wanted the characters in this story to be Hispanic, so I chose the models accordingly. The little girl spoke only Spanish, and I only English, but with plenty of smiles and the help of my wonderful bilingual friend who was playing her mom, we did just fine. The child knew her well, but she had just met the man I chose to play the role of the father on the actual day of the photo shoot, so at first she was shy. Soon, however she was laughing and talking. They were all good actors to be able to portray a close family so convincingly. They all loved the book when it came out and were proud to be a part of it.
 
Melissa: Because my story is an educational one, it was very important to me to illustrate the anatomy of the penguins and other marine life in the story as accurately as possible while still maintaining their people-like qualities.   

I used many books with pictures of penguins as well as photos from the internet as models to work from.  I would have preferred real penguins to study, but the trip to Antarctica was a little too pricey, not to mention way to cold for a Texas gal.

***

There is so much work involved, isn’t there? It isn’t a matter of sitting in front of a canvas and painting any ole picture.

It was K.C.’s idea to add the milk bottle on the cover of The Weaver, which was a perfect addition because of how he meets the main character, Mary. Were there elements on the cover that surprised your author or did they have input on all of it? 

Melissa: Being the author as well, I was blessed to have freedom to create a cover of my choosing.  I wanted it fun, colorful, simple and eye catching.  Hopefully that was accomplished.

K.C.: The final rendering was a good collaboration, more with my publisher than with the author, so it was a surprise to Jack (the author, not my dog).  He was delighted with it. My publisher saw it as it was coming together, so if she was surprised, it was with how well the colors worked together.

Thank you ladies for giving us a look inside the process of creating a book cover. Our readers can learn more about your work by visiting your websites.

 
Melissa Ross: 
http://www.melissa-ross.com/
K.C. Snider:  http://www.kcsniderart.com/
Jennifer Houdeshell:  www.zhibit.org/jenniferhoudeshellartist 

12 comments:

Susan Hornbach said...

Thanks for you input on the process.

Janet Ann Collins said...

Very interesting. I'd never thought about all that's involved in illustrating a book before.

Margot Finke said...

Terrific article mate. I added itd to my Pinterest BLOGS page as well as all over the Social Networking spectrum. YEA!!!

Books for Kids + FREE Book Catalog
http://tinyurl.com/d8ppylg

Nicole weaver said...

Awesome article! very informative, thanks for sharing.

Nicole Weaver
Award-winning children's author
http://nicole-weaver.com

Sharon Stanley said...

Great information! It's always interesting to get a behind the scenes look at how things are done. Thanks for sharing the interviews. I'm adding this to my FB page.

Jack Foster said...

Great interview(S) I like contrasting the different approaches with each other as well as my own. Very entertaining chat with these wonderful ladies and I learned a thing or two too.

Penelope Anne Cole said...

Thanks, Kai, for bringing in K.C., Melissa, and Jennifer, to provide their own experiences with creating cover art. It's quite an interesting post. Writing and illustrating are such important parts of story presentation.

Allyn Stotz said...

Very informative interviews! It's really helpful to us authors to see what process the illustrators go through to illustrate our stories. Thanks for posting this!

Melissa Abramovitz said...

Thank you for posting this great interview! I learned so much about the illustrator's process.

Connie Arnold said...

It's great to learn more about the process of creating book covers from these talented artists. Thank you for the most interesting and informative interview!

Susan J. Berger said...

That was fascinating. Thank you so much for all of your hard work putting this together,

Nancy Stewart said...

What a wonderful and informative post! Thanks for sharing this part of "The Business."

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