With the growing popularity of the self-publishing platform, one question I see asked repeatedly on Internet forums and Facebook groups is: “What do I do about cover art?” A professional book cover is undisputedly one way of getting your story to stand out, and when you’ve spent as much time as I’m sure you have over writing, editing, proofing, and formatting, it seems silly not to pay just as much attention to a sleek and polished presentation. I’ve invited two talented artists to give us an idea of what it takes to produce a great book cover.
Gary Compton from Tickety Boo Press is back on the blog, but this time he’s wearing his art director and graphic designer’s hat. Gary, himself a speculative fiction writer, is deeply involved with his authors’ covers. He has found he enjoys cover design so much that he has opened a sideline business, Tickety Boo Covers, catering to the small press and self-publishing market. Some of his cover art includes Uncommon Purpose and Sunset Over Abendau (both upcoming books by Tickety Boo Press) and Prince of Demons (Tickety Boo Press, 2015).
Iranian writer and artist Aty S. Behsam has been doing cover art, character design, and storyboard for years, working in digital and traditional media with publishers and self-published authors in Iran and other countries. Some of her book cover work includes The Color of Your Lie (Naame Publishing, 2012), Adam Roberts (self-published, 2013), Ancient Technologies (Kraxon, 2013), Malevolence, Tales from beyond the veil (Tickety Boo Press, 2014), Magic, Metal and Steam (Tickety Boo Press, 2014), Space (Tickety Boo Press, 2014), and Sara of Somewhere (self-published, 2015).
Juliana: Welcome Aty and Gary. Could you start by describing your process for creating a book cover? What steps do you follow from beginning to end?
Aty: Thank you!
I look at a cover art from three perspectives: first a writer’s, then an artist’s, and in the end, a reader’s. The idea I get from the book becomes a color theme and a primary sketch which I share with the client and get some feedback. I finish the work and send it back, and apply the final changes if necessary. While making changes, if I’m sure about something, I fight for it. It applies to the artistic view on the work—colors, media, style, etc.—rather than the design. I refuse to tell a writer how their character looks like, but if, for example, the client wants a drastic change in color theme while I’m sure the colors already do a good job attracting readers, I try my best to convince the author/publisher to reconsider making changes, or that we ask a few people for their opinion.
Gary: I usually ask the author to pick a scene from the book and start from there.
Juliana: When working on a book cover, how much involvement do you find you need with the story itself? Do you read the novel (or short stories, for anthologies) first, or is an overview of the subject matter enough?
Aty: Before I start working on a cover art, I prefer to know a bit about the book, or at least the mood and theme of the content. For nonfiction it’s usually easier, but fiction requires more creativity so I need to feel something about the book to get that primary idea.
Usually a summary or definition of the book or characters works fine.
Gary: I think it is important the cover reflect the story, you can tweak it a little to add drama.
Juliana: What is your preferred artistic medium? (Paper and ink, paint, digital art, photography-based art…)
Gary: I do digital so I will take parts from pictures we buy rights to and knit them together. After talking to the author, if its Space Opera I will start with the stars, add planets, ships, battle scenes, etc and I do like messing about with colours, hues and opacity. Some of my favorites have been done by just playing with these elements!
Aty: The media and the style I prefer for a cover art depends on each book itself. Mostly I love digital painting, and when doing traditional art for books I love ink, markers, watercolor, and acrylic.
Juliana: What, for you, is the most challenging aspect of creating book cover art?
Gary: Making the author like the work and stop them criticizing so I can have a lie down. 🙂
Aty: The first sketch. It’s hard trying to show others a simple sketch of a finished work you have in mind. So it’s artistically challenging.
Juliana: Leading on from the last question, what’s your favorite part of the process?
Aty: Coloring and shading in any media always make me happy, because that’s when the artwork slowly comes to life. It’s fascinating and unbelievably fun.
Gary: Finishing them knowing I have created an individual piece of art that is unique.
Juliana: What are some of the book or graphic novel covers that made a lingering impression on you as you were growing up?
Gary: I can’t say any I am afraid, as this is a new thing for me that I just started 15 months ago and if I am honest I have no influences.
Aty: My absolute favorite is S. Neil Fujita’s iconic cover art for Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange and George Orwell’s 1984 are my favorites too. A few others are Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Road, Looking for Alaska, The Hunger Games trilogy, The Catcher in the Rye, and Harry Potter with its character design.
Juliana: Could you share some of the artists that inspire you in your own work?
Aty: I have a long list, but my current faves are Mahmoud Farshchian (traditonal), Iman Maleki (traditional), Sui Ishida (traditional and digital), Alice X. Zhang (digital), and Nicolien Beerens (traditional).
Gary: Jim Burns who did Tickety Boo Press’ Biblia Longcrofta. It is amazing!
Juliana: Thank you very much for joining us here and sharing some insights on what it takes to create an amazing cover. Looking forward to seeing a lot more original artwork from both of you.
You can find more information on Gary Compton’s cover designs at Ticketyboopress.co.uk, as well as on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/ticketyboocovers).
Spotlight is a monthly blog feature. Check out September’s Spotlight on Imagining the Future with Ralph Kern and Stephen Palmer. Next up in November: Spotlight on Editing.