Archive for July, 2013

artist abbreviated | | Page 2

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I have to admit that one of my favorite things about posting on this blog is the amount of research involved. I could honestly spend hours upon hours looking at covers, researching authors, and digging up information on designers, illustrators and artists all the livelong day. My brain and eyeballs would never get tired, but … Continue reading »

artist abbreviated: fernando juárez |

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Here’s a recipe for a very interesting interview:


  • Freakishly Talented Illustrator (Fernando Juárez)
  • Freakish Talent
  • Spanish, the language Freakishly Talented Illustrator speaks fluently and you do not (even though you minored in it)


  1. Pore over all of Freakishly Talented Illustrator’s work and post a gushy comment on his blog begging asking him if he’d be interested in an interview.
  2. Become extremely ecstatic when he responds, but keep your cool and try to act “professional” to show you’re not just some weird fangirl. This basically means to “use less exclamation points” in your emails.
  3. Mull over the fact that while his English answers to your questions were not originally written in his native language, you really want his story to be shared.
  4. Try to set all of this information about the interview up in a humorous way, perhaps in the form of an anecdotal recipe?
  5. *edit* Create the world’s longest post in the history of mankind, and get so caught up in it that you forget to eat dinner.

On a slightly more serious note, the below answers from the wonderfully talented illustrator Fernando López Juárez come in edited form. I’ve done my best to interpret his responses without sacrificing what I feel was at the heart of each of his answers.

Some backstory first. I discovered Juárez’s work when browsing Goodreads and stopping to look at the cover art for Rita Murphy’s YA, Bird.


Gorgeous, isn’t it?

love illustration. I don’t think I can say this enough. I think every time I feature cover art that’s illustrated, I’ll have to annoyingly reiterate how much I love it. (Sorry in advance) I especially love how all of Juárez’s illustrations evoke feelings of wonder, fascination and curiosity.

Below are some early sketches of Bird’s cover art, along with the finished jacket:




To my delight, I also discovered that he worked as a color key artist on the animated feature, Planet 51 (more work is on his blog):


Okay, enough ogling for now. Let’s hear from the man himself!

TCG: Can you give a history of your career as an illustrator? What were some of your early influences? What eventually made you want to go into art/design/illustrating?


I liked to draw for as long as I can remember. I loved “The Adventures of Tin Tin” and “Asterix and Obelix.” There was no internet yet and my generation could see the work of only the most published artists. The possibility that people could see your work
around the world was only for a few artists.

Now, thanks to the digital age, all artists can easily show their work to the world. All these young hopefuls in the artistic world have direct entry into it. Their artistic maturing process is a lot faster than the artists of my generation. I can see it in my daughter — she’s eleven years old and she is a faster learner than I am! Anyway, that’s another story. icon_wink-9750891


In 1993 I started studying graphic design and illustration at the art school Ramón Falcón in Lugo, a little city in northern Spain. During this time, I was influenced by Alan Lee and Brian Froud with their book FAIRIES.

I wanted to be an epic stories illustrator like them. Their magical world impacted me so greatly that their scar is still visible in my illustrations today — especially when it comes to atmospheric elements.

Three years later my career took another direction. I started working in the 3D animation world in 2000 at Bren Entertainment for four and a half years. I worked as a junior artist doing everything under the sun in the art department, but taking on more responsibility than I was learning.

The most important thing I learned there was that animation studios are places of movement for a lot of artists: not only illustrators. Modelers, animators, lighting artists, photographers…everyone was a storyteller in their own artistic field. It was enriching to see each person’s interpretation of their art.

Currently I’m an art director at another animation studio, Ilion, in Madrid and I’m still learning. Also, since 2003 until present-day I’ve been working with Illustrationweb, an illustration representation agency. I have done all kinds of illustration jobs during these years working with international publishing houses and advertising agencies.

My biggest artistic influences at the present — I love the work of Rebecca Dautremer, Tadahiro Uesugi, Dice Tsutsumi, Peter De Sève, Mark Ryden…I aspire to be as talented as them, even when I’m an old man!! icon_smile-2509290


TCG: How was your experience working on the covers for Bird and The Owl Keeper (Christine Brodien-Jones)? Were you able to read the novels before working on the covers? Did the publishing companies give you an idea and you ran with it? What kind of parameters did you have to work in?

FJ: Usually when I get these kinds of jobs, I’m given input from the editor and writer because they have a clear vision of what they want for a book cover. Besides, I’m only creating what I consider a small contribution in their huge project.

I think it’s really important to understand their ideas, how they imagine places and characters — this makes it possible to go in the right direction on the first step. In regards to THE OWL KEEPER and BIRD, I can say that working on these covers was really rewarding for me because we ended up with a good balance between their vision and my style. Rita and Christine were both really happy with the final result, and the editors too…that’s very important!! icon_wink-9750891

TCG: What are some of your favorite book covers (even if they’re not young/adult)?


THE HOBBIT, illustrated by Alan Lee, was my favorite cover for a long time. The golden title and some touches on the treasure with the sleeping dragon on the top of it, reminds me Gustav Klimt’s paintings, one of my favorites artists.


Also, CORALINE’s cover art by David McKean and design by Hilary Zarycky — a great book cover.

TCG: I notice some of your work on your personal blog is very magical with a fantastical quality. How would you describe your type of artistry? Is there a type of illustration style you prefer over others?

FJ: I try to capture a realistic style with a touch of fantastic atmosphere in regards to lighting. With the characters and sets, I prefer a cartoon style over a realistic one, maybe somewhere right down the middle. As far as a preference to illustration style, I prefer children’s books because as an illustrator, I feel much more free to do my work. In most cases, the client is looking for a specific illustration style and usually for a specific illustrator to translate a beautiful story in pictures with his or her personal point of view.


My current desktop wallpaper =)

Also there are fewer descriptions in children’s literature, or perhaps the texts are shorter than in young adult literature, and that helps a lot! icon_smile-2509290  This is a general rule, although there are often exceptions. I know that the process is much more intense and absorbing with children’s books because there’s a much greater amount of artwork. I also enjoy working on covers. The most important thing for me is to take on a variety of jobs, or at least have a rest between similar jobs.


TCG: What type of qualities in a book cover (young adult or any other kind) would make you want to pick it up?

FJ: When working on book covers, the most important thing to have is a good duet between the graphic designer and the illustrator — both people need to strive to work towards creating a beautiful and attractive composition: harmoniously, with empty spaces. (In terms of design style, I’m not fond of the Baroque style for a cover)

When I’m doing an illustration for cover art, I try to think of what would attract my attention when I’m in a bookstore, what book would catch my eye if I saw alot of shelves stock full of them.It’s all about that first instinct, those very few seconds, for the buyer to take that one book fromall the others. (Then of course, it depends on the author whether that buyer will like the story or not) This is why it’s so important to have good artistic teamwork between graphic design andillustration: Bad graphic design can to loseone’s favor on a book cover, and vice versa.

Thanks so much for the interview, Fernando. I enjoyed exploring all of your artwork (as well as your influences), and I look forward to seeing more in the future!

artist abbreviated: neil swaab |

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I’m really not quite sure what on earth possessed me to call this feature “Artist Abbreviated.” Judging by my past interviews, I don’t know what it means to abbreviate things. Whether you want to chalk it up to my early journalism days or my never-ending interest in my creative community, I feel like I never seem to run out of questions.

But this post isn’t about me. It’s about getting into the imaginative brain of a guy who seems to have his finger in every pie when it comes to artistry. Illustrator, designer and art director? Oh, sure. Animator? Check. Writer…yes. Cartoonist? Sure, why not be talented in this arena, too?

If you’re not familiar with any of his work, you may recognize at least one of his YA covers:


Yep, he’s the guy responsible for designing (and illustrating) the face of a book I’ve heard nothing but endless praise for. Being perfectly honest, I wanted to read it as soon as I saw its cover. So without further ado, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to its maker, the unlimitedly talented Neil Swaab.


Photo © Cat Cutillo 2007

How did you get to become who you are today in your profession? Did you always want to be an illustrator/designer/art director?

I went to Syracuse University where I majored in Illustration. I’d always been attracted to art, writing, and storytelling growing up and thought it would be incredibly cool to have a career where I could make things in that market for a living. When I graduated college, I moved to New York to try to make it as a visual artist. I landed a job at a magazine soon after and started illustrating on the side during evenings and weekends.

superjail-6611401A year afterwards, I left that job and moved into the book publishing industry at HarperCollins where I was an assistant for an art director in their Children’s Division, working on children’s books and young adult novels. I worked my way up through the ranks in a few years and then was put in charge of the two imprints I had started on as an assistant. All the time, I was still freelance illustrating. After five years of doing that, I quit to work fulltime freelance. All sorts of interesting projects came to me soon after, and I even got to animate two television shows for Adult Swim and Comedy Central. I now split my time between art directing, illustrating, and writing for a variety of clients inside and outside of the publishing world.

You’ve done a pretty darn healthy amount of fantastic YA covers. I can’t even choose my favorite, because they’re all completely different and fantastic in their own way. Do you have a favorite one that you’ve done so far?

Thanks! I don’t really have a favorite, but at the moment, I’m really proud of the Boy21 cover I did for Little, Brown. That cover was the closest to my original vision and, luckily, didn’t get compromised in the book cover committee machine that governs most covers. And I got to work with my friend, Josh Cochran who illustrated the drawing over the photo!


(You know how I’m normally all OMG MAKE IT STOP when it comes to faces on covers? Obviously this one doesn’t count. OBVIOUSLY.)

How would you describe your particular type of artistry?

I would call it narrative illustration. I like to do art that tells a story in some capacity. Even as a designer, I’m obsessed with story.

How would you describe your design process in cover design?

Cover design is an incredibly long and tedious process. First, I’ll get a memo that has some key points relating to the book, usually giving a paragraph summary of the plot, description of the main characters, and a list of a few similar titles in the marketplace. There may or may not be a manuscript at this point. If there is, I’ll read it as quickly as I can, jotting down notes and making little sketches for any imagery that comes to mind. I try to think about what the tone of the book is, what are the key things I want to convey in the cover, and what might be a fresh take on the cover. I try to make covers that are graphically interesting, but also have something clever going on as well.

youaremyonly-7550625After I’ve done my reading and recorded any initial responses I had to it, I’ll then meet with the editors and have a conversation about the book. I want to see if the way they see the book is how I see it and discuss things we both think are important to convey and any strong ideas I may already have. The editors may have a concept already in mind as well or an idea that they want to see. I’ll add that to my list of things to work on as I start exploring concepts. Once we both know that we’re on the same page I’ll go off and start concepting.

When I concept a book, I do everything from rough sketches to fully-finished pieces. If I’m imagining a cover will be illustrated by someone other than myself, I’ll do some rough sketches for it and attach it to samples from the illustrator. I may even use the illustrator’s work to make a mock-up of the idea(s) to help people visualize it. If I’m imaging the cover being more photographic, I’ll do photo research and start mocking up idea after idea. This is the fun part of the process because one idea often sends you in the direction of another you might have never thought of. I generally work very intensely for a couple of weeks (often juggling other work or covers at the same time) until I have a large collection of ideas. Generally I do a minimum of 30 or 40 complete sketches.

I’m pretty sure the non-creative average reader would want to claw his or her eyes out at this point. *inserts multiple high fives for creative courage*

I like to leave no stone unturned when it comes to idea generation. Ideas are the most important thing! Once I’ve got 30 – 40 comps, I’ll narrow them down to about a dozen to share with the Creative Director or whoever my contact is at the publishing house and we’ll then narrow them down to 3 – 5 concepts that we think are working the best. I’ll take any notes they have and incorporate them into those comps and then meet with the editors to review and narrow down further and refine based on their feedback.

bloodthirsty-2679590Once the creative director, editor, and I are happy and feel we have a strong cover direction and a couple viable alternatives, we’ll take them to a jacket committee meeting where the publisher and representatives from the sales and marketing departments will review and give their input. It is rare that a cover concept leaves one of those meetings unscathed. Frequently, they’ll have lots of comments or may even hate all the covers completely. It can be quite brutal. Afterwards, I’ll take whatever comments they had and start the entire process over again—refining covers they generally liked, or starting fresh if they felt the entire take on the book was off. When the latter happens, it’s usually not a fault of the designer, but a disconnect between the editor and the sales staff who see the book and its placement in the marketplace differently. For example, an editor may see the book as being more literary while the publisher may want it to look more commercial. Navigating the waters between both opposing views can be difficult. This process continues until everyone is in agreement on a direction or the weaker party gives in.

Once we’ve decided the look of the cover, if it will be illustrated or photographed I’ll contact the illustrator or photographer we want and commission them to create the cover. We’ll then go through the above cover meeting again to make sure everyone is happy with the sketches before proceeding to final art. If I’m creating the art myself, buying stock photos, or doing the photo manipulation, I’ll then go off and create the image. Once all final art is in, I’ll tweak the design—which at this point is mostly mocked up and not close to final—to get something that starts feeling like a real book. I’ll take it to a cover meeting again and get any other comments (there are usually some) and revise and tweak as necessary as often as it takes to please the many cooks in the creative kitchen.

Once the front cover is approved, I’ll then go on to design the ARC, which is an “advanced reading copy” with lots of marketing stuff on the back cover and spine. After that’s complete, I’ll design the real book jacket, carrying over design and art elements from the front to create a nice package. The jacket will route internally for several passes as copy and design are tweaked until it’s finally released to the printer.


We’ll then see a test print from the printer and adjust any color accordingly (and make any copy or design alterations as well which, as you guessed, most likely happens). Once the jacket is finally approved, we give the printer the OK to print. We’ll receive copies of the final jacket not long afterwards and the process is complete. The only exception would be if a large chain like Barnes & Noble has a different view of the book in which case, sometimes, they may tell the publisher they’ll take less copies of a book because they don’t like the cover and more copies if they were to change it to suit the market they want to push it in. And then the whole process starts over—only at a much more intense schedule since you still have to make the same release date! It can be crazy when that happens!

And that’s the process! Whew!

What do you think is the biggest misconception about cover design from the non-design-savvy’s perspective?

That a cover is made very quickly. Covers take a lot of time and are a carefully orchestrated affair. These images aren’t random that are put on the covers, but are scrutinized from every angle.

What is the most fulfilling part about being an artist?

I love to create. At the end of the day, I have something to show for it. I can point to something on a shelf or in a magazine or on the internet and say, “I made that!” Not a lot of people can say that in their careers. I also like the fact that I’m connecting with someone. Art has the power to emotionally resonate with its viewers. Even if it’s commercial art.


If you could work with any other artist/designer/illustrator/photographer (dead or living), who would it be?

unfinishedangel-1946769I have an art studio in the Pencil Factory in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I’d love to work with all my friends in the building (and those who have left it recently or are tangentially connected) because they’re all incredibly talented and some of the best illustrator/designers working today. So far, I’ve gotten to work with two of them—Josh Cochran on Boy21 and Alex Eben Meyer on The Unfinished Angel. The others would be Gavin Potenza, Jessica Hische, Leif Parsons, James Gulliver Hancock, Sam Weber, Chris Silas Neal, Grady McFerrin, You Byun, Ted McGrath, Kim Bost, Jennifer Daniel, Gilbert Ford, Jon Han, Jillian Tamaki, and our newest member Jing Wei. I’m sure I probably left a couple people off that list.

What do you look for in cover design when you’re browsing the bookstore, library, or online? What makes you want to pick a book up?

It’s hard to say. It just has to strike me first and foremost. Get my attention. I like covers that tend to have something clever about them where, after the initial impression, it lingers with you longer because there’s something deeper in there. Of course, it has to also be visually interesting and have a nice use of typography. It has to look like it was well thought out and the decisions weren’t arbitrary. Personally, I’m also attracted to minimalist and literary covers, but, unfortunately, don’t get to do many of them in the genres I create in. Somebody hire me for some literary adult covers!

Yes! Hear that, pubs? Neil’s your guy!

Are there any YA covers that have recently grabbed your attention?

So many! I recently filled in at Little, Brown for a few months while someone was on maternity leave, and they do some amazing covers. Ben Mautner and Alison Impey, in particular, just always inspired me when I saw what they were working on. I wish I had their chops.


And finally, just for fun — if you had gobs and gobs of money, and unfortunately could only spend it on a super-expensive jacket/interior design, how would you design it? Any big ideas you’ve had that may have just been too expensive for someone’s marketing’s budget? 

I think all the special effects only work if they’re right for a particular book. Sure, it would be great to have die cuts, embossing, debossing, three kinds of foils, five extra Pantone colors, matte laminate with spot UV, full-color interior, etc. on a book, but it has to make sense for it. Otherwise, it’s like wearing a suit to a pajama party. It looks ridiculous. It’s overkill. You can certainly overdesign and that’s a tendency I see in a lot of inexperienced designers. I strongly feel that the most important thing about design is communication and the reading experience and nothing should get in the way of it—only enhance it. That being said, it would be really cool to do a cover made of metal with engravings and etchings in it. Sign me up for that!

Again, pubs, on behalf of Neil’s Design Fanclub, I want to read (or at least stare at) my metal-covered book. Please hire him ASAP to design it. Neil, many thanks so much for stopping by TCG today!

If you need more Neil in your life, make sure to check out his site, his comic strip Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles, or follow him on Twitter.

artist abbreviated: guy shield |

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It was only two weeks ago that I posted a fangirly glowing review of August’s cover art, chock-full of nothing but sparkly adjectives positive things to say about that intriguing upside-down cover. So you can only imagine my surprise when I woke up to a comment on that very post from the illustrator himself, Guy Shield.

After trying to figure out how to word questions without appearing stalkerlike writing a few emails back and forth, I’ve discovered a few new things about Guy — like the fact that he was approached to illustrate August’s cover art because of how he proposed to his fiancée.

I hope you’re reading this sentence because you’ve already clicked on the link that takes you to how he proposed to his fiancée. And that you loved the story as much as I did. And that you found it just as charming and geeky and creative and sweet as I did. What? You haven’t yet? I’ll link it again just to make things easier for you. No really. GO READ IT NOW.

Where was I? Oh, yes. So as you can see, the guy (see what I did there?) is talented. I’ve cheerfully stolen some copy from his ‘about me’ section on his blog, because how could you not be interested in learning more about his work after reading this:

Self taught on a diet of pen and ink, Guy explores both comical and serious subjects through his work, taking a cinematic approach to composition and storytelling through single-panel frames.

And I’m so pleased that he’s obliged to stopping by the blog today. Here he is in photographic form:


Look! It’s Guy Shield!

(Not gonna lie, I half-expected an illustrated doodle when I asked for a picture.)

TCG: Did you always want to be an illustrator? What’s your story behind becoming an artist?


GS: As a kid I loved the idea that you could make a living out of drawing pictures—it seemed ridiculous, but amazing. My grandfather was an artist later in life, and anytime he came to town he’d teach me a few things and give me all these amazing pencils… Drawing seemed like a natural past time for me to adopt—I’d spend long summer holiday car trips filling up my old school books with drawings. I loved that it gave me a constant sense of direction and goals to improve, and when I realised that, there was never really any question about what I was going to do with my life.

rni_2-8897259At 14 I wanted to work in the comic book industry but there wasn’t much opportunity over here in Australia, so I ended up studying Graphic Design. It seemed like a sensible option and I had a geeky love affair with printing. I liked design because it felt like an extension of illustration. Type and image working together seemed like a really fun but powerful medium for communicating. I gave up drawing for about 3 years and focussed solely on design. Then I realised I was becoming ‘yet another graphic designer’ in an already flooded industry and wanted to find my edge again. I started writing to artists asking them about their craft and getting their feedback and tips along the way. I got inspired and decided to start again. It took a few years but eventually people started noticing, which felt like a bonus as I realised just how much drawing meant to me as an outlet.

I love the idea of starting something, leaving it, and coming back, honing that skill, and loving it even more. That’s completely inspiring and just illustrates (look, a pun again!) how our creative loves aren’t always so explicitly set in stone.

I discovered your work when researching the cover for Bernard Beckett’s August. I understand you were commissioned by Text Publishing to provide an illustration for the cover. What was it like working on that project? Did they give you free reign in coming up with a concept? How did that come about?


It was a fun project, but it took a while to get off the ground. I received the brief in April and then they told me to hold off on it because they’d delayed the publishing date. The project resumed in September. The concept was already pretty developed by the time they wrote the brief. It was exciting—I was on board straight away because anything that redefines the way we interact with something is good in my book. It was pretty tightly directed by Chong, the art director—it was his idea and the process was pretty meticulous. We spent a long time finessing things like the way hair fell and where arms etc were, right down to how much sky there was above the car or how open their eyes were… It was all pretty manicured, but it’s fun going to that level detail—that’s where some of the more subtle, more convincing beauty can be found. I wanted to get another angle of the interior of the car happening in the side rear view mirror, but it seemed like too much. I spent about 15 hours on that piece all up.



More behind-the-design thoughts for August and Genesis (another Beckett novel) can be found here on Guy’s blog.

How would you describe your particular type of artistry?

shield_5-6301686Cartoony I guess. A westernised Manga maybe? I kinda take american-style linework
with Japanese toning with european colour treatments… All my colouring is done digitally and that’s probably where most of my time in spent; building up harmonious palates and playing around a lot with combos. A friend of mine makes quilts as a hobby and she’s got an immaculate eye for colour balance/pairing so I’ll sometimes look at some of that stuff rather than try and rip off another illustrator, or I’ll look at the colour treatment of movies if I want to give something a cinematic tone. My stuff isn’t for everyone, but it’s pretty safe/conventional. I can go a little overboard with trying to cram too much detail in though. By the time I finish a piece I generally have to spend a few days not looking at it otherwise I’ll be continually changing it. Da Vinci said that “Art is never finished, it’s only abandoned”, and I kinda agree, but abandoned is too strong a word. I’d rather say ‘retired’!


If you had one Dream Project with an unlimited budget, what would it be?

Argh! This one is always tough, but I’d love to write and illustrate a really big, bittersweet, fictional graphic novel. And if it were unlimited budget then I’d travel the world while I do it! I quite enjoy writing and telling stories—I love finding out the stories and idiosyncrasies that make the people around me so special and unique. Beauty is always in the details.

If I had a million dollars I would absolutely fund this project (as well as commission you to paint several walls in my house). And I’d be first in line to buy that GN, too.

What type of art (or artists) inspires you?


© Chris Gardner/House Industries

I like most kinds of art, and the ideas behind them, whether it’s someone being clever or just a strong emotional connection to a style or subject. Any visual expression is generally a good outlet, and anything I can look at for hours on end and leave feeling inspired for months is pretty special. There are tonnes of artists I totally adore, but the main ones that I follow are Tomer Hanuka, James Jean, Adrian Tomine, Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Yuko Shimuzo, Gillian Tamaki and Chris Gardner at House Industries. They’re all such unbelievable people with what seems like endless talent, but they’re seriously only a handful of the many.


© Jillian Tamaki/Puffin Canada – and look, it’s YA!

Just last year I was introduced to House’s work (sad, I know!). I want to look at and buy everything on their site. It also took me nearly half an hour hyperlinking all those illustrators and designers because I could not. Stop. Browsing.

Speaking of browsing. What do you look for in cover design when you’re browsing the bookstore, library, or online? Any favorites that come to mind?


© Tomer Hanuka/Penguin Classics

It has to stand out amongst the thousands of other covers obviously, but generally the simpler, bolder covers are often the best. High concept kinda stuff always inspires me—Chip Kidd’s a guru. I like a lot of vintage stuff as well—a friend of mine has an extraordinary collection of editions of Catch-22 and it’s so great seeing all the different takes on that book in all the different cultures it’s been reproduced for. I’m not really that well versed in the Young Adult fiction stuff sadly, and it’s such a big realm these days. Tomer Hanuka’s cover for Marquis de Sade always blew my mind for some reason. Such a risque but straightforward cover but the body language, colour palette and typography are so powerful. I liked Jenny Grigg’s covers for the Peter Carey series. Gray 318 are doing some great stuff too.


© Gray318/Mariner Books

This one’s my favorite of Gray318′s work, hands down. (Man, I am ON FIRE.)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview as much as I’ve enjoyed reading his answers and posting this myself! Warm thanks for stopping by TCG, Guy!

artist abbreviated: hugh d’andrade |

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Happy new year, everyone! Y’know, a week later. Man, it’s a good thing I didn’t put “Be timely about things/Get my act together” as a bullet point on my 2012 resolutions list, because a) that sounds incredibly boring and b) my real resolutions of “learning a new language” and “sending more letters and postcards” took up all the space on my sheet, especially when I wrote them in gigantic letters.

I digress.

Today’s interview is embarrassingly overdue. For those of you who weren’t aware, I’ve been a bit absent as of late, but for now I’m back in the cover-lovin-artist-diggin’ driver’s seat. And when I say “for now,” I mean until I get distracted by some new TV show or fun nail polish color. Or leave the country again.

But! Today’s post is about the incredibly talented illustrator, Hugh D’Andrade. I became enamored with his work when I discovered he was responsible for the paperback cover art for Dust City which came out back in September:


And out of the kindness of his heart, Hugh let me badger him with a slew of questions. Welcome, Hugh!


Hugh D’Andrade


Hardcover artwork

TCG: The original hardcover artwork for Dust City has a completely different feel next to its paperback counterpart. What was it like working with the team over at Razorbill? Were you able to read Dust City prior to working on the illustration? What kind of direction were you working with?

HA: I did read the book. Usually, when I get a jacket assignment, I get a copy of the book from the publisher. If I don’t like the book, I won’t bother reading the entire thing, I may just skim it. In the case of Paul Weston’s book Dust City, I devoured the book quickly, and loved every minute of it. It’s such a fun, amazing, interesting book, with a fascinating combination of fairy tale icons with contemporary political reality.

The cover of the hardback was perfectly nice, but didn’t really reflect the hipness and noir cartoonish-ness of the book. I think the publishers wanted to try something new with the paperback, so they called me.

Razorbill is actually a division of Penguin Young Readers, and I worked with Natalie Sousa there. She had really good ideas, and gave some really good direction that I think resulted in some great changes to my initial ideas. Working with a good art director is like that — it’s a collaboration that pushes you in a positive direction.

Did you find any part of DC’s design process particularly challenging?

The thing about working with publishers is that you often have to wait a long time for feedback, since so many people’s voices have to be consulted and synthesized. Sometimes that loses a little momentum. But I think that’s just the nature of the industry!

rpw_dustcity_pb-3212436The second cover seems to show an alternate point of view. I haven’t read the novel yet, but it seems as though the paperback focuses more on Henry’s character, and the hardcover focuses on the threat of his father in the gritty city. What type of story did you intend to tell on the illustrated cover?

I really wanted to focus on Henry, who is a young wolf who has a good heart but appears dangerous and menacing to people around him. I think a lot of young guys can relate to being misunderstood in this way.

My neighborhood — San Francisco’s Mission district — is full of young kids of all ethnicities. They lumber around with their backpacks and hooded sweatshirts, looking cool and dangerous, though if you talk to them you find they are mostly pretty sweet kids. I wanted Henry to have that feel, so I made sure he had a hooded sweatshirt and looked pretty big, but with a semi-sweet face.

Henry runs quite a bit in the story, so of course he had to be running on the cover. Turns out it’s a bit tricky to draw an anthropomorphized wolf running, but I think I pulled it off. If you look carefully, there’s a swirl inside his pupil, which alludes to his confused state through much of the story.


Do you have a particular methodology when it comes to illustrating on commission, or does it constantly evolve? How does it compare to when you’re creating art for yourself?

I always draw small thumbnails first. Lots of them! Thumbnails, in case you don’t know, are small quick sketches, maybe 1 or 2 inches tall, done quickly for concept and composition. I draw on scraps of paper, envelopes in particular, and just plain copy paper. This way I don’t worry about the image sticking around in my sketchbook. Most of these go straight into the recycling bin.

After drawing dozens of these, I’ll find one that speaks to me. I blow that up in the computer, re-draw it a couple times, and submit some versions to the publisher. Usually I send them 3 full concept ideas, they choose a direction, and then we refine that with a few more rounds.

Funny that you ask about my process for my own personal work. It’s identical! However, that wasn’t always the case. I used to consider myself a fine artist (I studied this at school), and back then my process was simply to attack an oversized canvas and make a mess. This illustrator’s process works great, in my opinion, and when I teach I make sure my students use this practice.

Where does your artistic inspiration come from? What other artists’ work do you admire?

I have so many sources of inspiration! I love folk arts of all kinds — early American folk art in particular, but also Mexican traditions and other cultures around the world.


I love street art, and I’m always photographing things I see around town. I love old pulp fiction paperback novels. I love the rock poster tradition of the ’60s, as well as what that tradition has developed into since the ’90s.

I look at a lot of contemporary illustration and fine art. I like anything that is well drawn but not too slick, that tells a story, that involves the reader, and that makes use of good design and typography.


© Tara McPherson

Some artists I admire: Posada, Margaret Kilgallen, Jim Houser, Tim Biskup, Marion Bantjes, Chris Ware, Tara MacPherson, Henrik Drescher. I could go on!

It’s really hard to not fall in love with your artwork when you’re browsing your website and blog. I’ve fallen pretty hard, I’ve gotta admit. There’s fantastical and whimsy and beauty and wonder ingrained into every illustration. How would you personally describe your artistry?


Oh, thank you! I love hearing that. I have a hard time when I’m put on the spot to come up with a brief description. I want my work to be fun, accessible, hand drawn, strange, goofy, elegant. Also: useful, clever, delightful, energetic, curious.

You’ve illustrated cover art for some pretty iconic works of literature. From beautiful jackets like Carroll’s Alice to Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird to Speare’s The Sign of the Beaver, and even newer pieces like Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm. What kind of pressures come with creating something new for beloved, classic work?

dandre_tkam-9950517Funny you should ask. Yes, for To Kill a Mockingbird I did feel quite a bit of pressure! I loved that book as a child, and only a few years ago re-read it with my book group, and loved it all over again. It’s just a truly great American classic. Aside from the important moral and political message it delivers about the nature of racism and social change, it also has a strange, lingering beauty. It evokes a time and place in such a powerful way. I don’t know how Harper Lee did this, and I don’t know why this is her only book.

I had to set all that aside and just treat this as a job, in order to get started. I didn’t watch the movie, because I didn’t want that visualization affecting me. And I tried not to look at the other classic covers, but actually I had no choice. I had to look at the one that was the famous, silhouette cover, since this was what the publisher wanted to evoke without ripping it off in any way.

(Do check out Hugh’s post about the cover art on his blog, too!)

With the other books, I do feel pressure, but I’ve gotten pretty good at just using that as a kind of cattle prod to get me to chain myself to the drawing table. All jobs come with pressures. There are deadlines, the fact that many people will see the work, the desire to make something long lasting and valuable, the fear of failure. Par for the course, I guess!

Are there any covers out there that have grabbed your attention, or, in your opinion, have stood the test of time? What kind of cover art captures your attention?

I love old book covers that were printed on cloth using limited color palettes and traditional printing techniques, the type of stuff you find that was printed from the early 20th century to the 1950s or ’60s. This is one reason I have enjoyed working with Sterling Press, the publishers of Barnes & Noble’s classics that I did Alice in Wonderland and To Kill a Mockingbird with. They print on leather using foils and beautiful embossing. It’s really a pleasure.

I also love all contemporary book covers. One of my favorite ways to spend an hour is to peruse a bookstore, just looking at the covers. I’m guilty of judging books by their covers! In particular, I love the iconic hand drawn typography of book designer Jon Gray, who did the lovely Jonathan Safran Foer covers, and others.

Thank you so much for the interview, Hugh! Next time I’m in San Francisco, I will be stalking your art shows and I’m pretty sure my bank account will be pretty pissed at me afterwards.

For more Hugh, be sure to check out his website, Tumblr, and follow him on Twitter.

artist abbreviated: alison impey |

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I really could spend all the live-long day on the internet looking at artwork. And not just cover art. I could gaze at comics, sketches, illustrations, color palettes, furniture, paintings, video game concept art, photography, the list goes on and on until the end of the internet (which luckily I haven’t reached yet).

There’s no denying that art has its own impression on what a book cover should look like. It is cover art, after all. But what’s more is how it affects the artist responsible for a cover’s canvas. One night, I happened upon the portfolio of Alison Impey, a designer who’s responsible for crafting a few covers I may have mentioned on the blog. And she is all about some art.

Alison has kindly obliged to stop by for an interview today, so please do give her a warm welcome — I’m happy to share her work with you! I hope you love it as much as I do.

(PS – And holy photomania, Batman, is this interview filled with all kinds of book design eye candy! Okay, get thee to reading!)

TCG: Can you give a history of your career as a designer? What were some of your early influences? What eventually made you want to go into art/design?

AI: My career as a designer really began right here at Little, Brown and Company, but I think my desire to “design” became obvious to me when I was in college. Up until that time I had focused my creative energy on painting and drawing. I wanted to be an artist. When I got to college there were just so many new mediums to try. I found myself spending a lot of time in the printmaking studio and in the theater. I wanted to design costumes and sets. I never wanted to be on stage, but I loved the idea of contributing to the storytelling process. Oddly enough I think that experience, plus my love for the printmaking process and all the tactile elements of the paper and ink, really paved the way for my interest in making books.

After graduating from Bates College, I moved to New York City and set out to find a job. I met a few really great people right off the bat. Brian Floca, a children’s book author and illustrator, was one of the first people to put me in touch with designers that were working in publishing. It was his friend, Alyssa Morris, who soon became my boss and mentor. Alyssa was the Art Director at Little, Brown and Company and she hired me as her assistant. The timing was perfect because Little, Brown had just moved from Boston to New York and they were looking to grow. Over the years we’ve practically doubled in size and with that have come wonderful opportunities to work on some amazing projects.


TCG: My three favorite covers of yours are Ash, Sweethearts, and You Killed Wesley Payne. Were you able to read the books prior to designing the covers? Did Little, Brown give you an idea and you ran with it? What kind of parameters did you have to work in?

AI: Thank you!

I do read all the books I work on. I would find it difficult to connect with the book if I didn’t read it first. A great design begins with a good understanding of the book’s tone. I don’t believe a cover ever needs to be literal, in fact I prefer if it’s not, but I do think it’s incredibly important to convey the right mood.

The process begins with a discussion about how the book should be positioned. We want to make sure we understand the intended audience and genre. We meet with the editors to discuss basic positioning details. After that we read the manuscript and begin brainstorming.


Ash is one of my personal favorites too. Malinda Lo actually featured a nice interview on her blog where I go into detail about that particular cover, but more recently I designed her second book, Huntress. It’s a prequel to Ash, and it was great to be able to design a companion piece. Huntress is much more of an adventure story and I wanted an image that was really powerful, but still had a soft lyrical feel. It was a tough balance, but I think the snowy background and the determined, yet poised presence of the character helps strike that balance. I also think the soft movement in the hair is dramatic, but not overwhelming. For this image I actually worked with a photo retoucher to get just the right details that I wanted.


huntress_ends-6788147The book also includes a map, printed in a beautiful plum color, on the endpapers. The map was something the author had suggested, and I was excited to work with map artist, Dave Stevenson on it. He did an amazing job. The details are simply exquisite. I just got the finished book in and it looks great sitting next to Ash. I intentionally chose inverted palettes, white on black and black on white. Seeing them side by side is very satisfying.


TCG: How would you describe your particular type of artistry?

AI: It’s nice to hear you refer to it as artistry. I couldn’t agree more, and I think book designers have a special knack for communicating a mood and translating the essence of a story into something immediate and visual, and hopefully something memorable. It’s no easy feat, but it’s a wonderful job to have.

I also like to think of what I do as packaging. As a book designer I’m responsible for packaging the content of the book. I believe an effective design carries through the whole book. I like to think of how someone will experience the book, from first seeing it on the shelf, to opening it up, and even the last thing they see when they close the book. To open a book is to enter a world, and the design should both enhance and complement that world.

TCG: List three of your favorite pieces you’ve done so far, whether they’re photography, design, or illustration. (They don’t have to be YA-related.)

AI: It’s tough to pick favorites. It’s like picking your favorite child, but okay, I’ll play along.



Top on my list has to be the ghostgirl books. It was such a unique opportunity to work on a project where I really had free reign to ask for whatever specs and format I thought best served the book. I was lucky to work with a great team (author, editor, illustrator, and production coordinator). It was truly a designer’s dream project.


I recently finished working on a book called The Time-Traveling Fashionista, which I was able to commission beautiful full-color art for the interior. I was thrilled to work with the illustrator, Sandra Suy, and I had no problem spending lots of time researching vintage clothes. It’s a really fun package.


Ash and Huntress are of course favorites, as is Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Okay, I realize I’ve maxed out my limit. That’s much harder than I thought it would be. I love so many of the books I work on.


TCG: What’s your absolute favorite part of designing?

AI: I really enjoy the brainstorming process. In the very beginning when I’m alone with a manuscript, reading it for the first time, I’m filled with the excitement of starting a new project. Of course, as the process continues there are many challenges and hurdles to overcome in the approval process, but it’s those early days with the project that I enjoy the most. And I think that’s where I develop the connection that keeps me going through what can sometimes be many, many variations of a cover.

I also really love finding new artists to work with, and I enjoy collaborating with artists. As a designer you may have the vision and the idea for a cover but you need to find just the right artist or photographer to help bring that idea to fruition.

TCG: Who are your artistic influences?

AI: I look to art for a lot of my inspiration. I enjoy going to galleries and museums. The art fairs were recently in NYC and I went to both the Armory Show and Pulse. It can be exhausting to cover an entire pier of the Armory Show in one day, but the amount of contemporary art you get to see is simply astonishing. I snapped a lot of pics on my phone to chronicle all my favorites and to log what I found inspiring.


I recently went to the Abstract Expressionist exhibit at the MoMA, and there was a gorgeous Rothko there (No.10). I can’t say I like all Rothkos equally, but this one really made me stop and gaze into it.  It was so simple, and so emotive. The soft edges and weightlessness of the color was mesmerizing. While on the Abstract Expressionist topic, I absolutely love Joan Mitchell’s paintings.


I also really like some of the graffiti art I see in NYC. There’s someone that goes around and manipulates the posters on the subway platforms. They meticulously cut out part of a poster and incorporate it into a different poster. It’s incredibly clever.

Artistic influences are never fixed or permanent for me. I find inspiration from an array of sources, but the key is to always be observing and looking for new sources.

TCG: What type of qualities in a book cover would make you want to pick it up? Are there any recent pick-me-up-worthy YA covers that you’ve noticed lately?

AI: As you can probably conclude from some of my earlier responses, I’m a sucker for packaging and when I go to pick up a book I want to feel the lamination and/or specs on the jacket, and I always take the dust jacket off and look at the case cover. I love when you’re surprised by a fun and different case cover design.

But with that bias aside, I think the biggest challenge with YA covers right now is that a lot of the “Paranormal Romance” books are beginning to all blend together visually. I personally find that the books that stand out are the ones that avoid the trend, but that is of course difficult to do when a trend is successful.

Thank you so much for the wonderful interview, Alison! I love your take on cover art — how it should enhance and complement opening a book as a door to another world.

Don’t forget to ogle the rest of her portfolio here!

artist abbreviated: heather landis |

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As someone who has to browse through hundreds of stock photos every year for her job, I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to come across a photo that doesn’t scream “Stick me in a human resources training video!” The difference between looking for a stock photo that doesn’t look like a stock photo and actually gazing at a photographer’s website for the sheer joy of gazing is pretty indescribable.

I was over on Society6′s website just two nights ago looking at all of the different gorgeous art prints, when a particular photo series caught my eye:


Photo by Heather Landis

If you’re a fan of YA lit and haven’t been living under a rock for the last 6 months, you know exactly which cover this beautiful photo belongs to. I was beyond excited to finally discover the photographer behind the print, the lovely Heather Landis (who has given me the thumbs up to plaster her awesome work all over this post.) Landis is not only a professional photographer, but a retoucher and illustrator to boot.

What’s more, Mara Dyer’s cover photo comes from Landis’ Abyss of the Disheartened photo series. I’ve posted a few here but I highly recommend you check out the rest on her website.

aotd_02-4353193aotd_04-1627614aotd_061-7827332They are gorgeous, no? I’ve been completely intrigued ever since I saw the cover art and read the mysterious summary for Michelle Hodkin’s debut novel. I can only imagine the Simon & Schuster art director coming across Landis’ work and saying, “THIS. This one belongs to Mara Dyer.” Beautiful work, Heather.

For even more photo-ogling, be sure to check out her Flickr site, too.

artist abbreviated: christopher silas neal |

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So I have this little list in my Gmail account that has a variety of links. This list includes blogs to check out, book covers to love (or loathe), illustrators, designers, photographers, you name it. And illustrator Chris Silas Neal has been sitting on this little list for quite some time. I think it’s high time I share his work with you.

He’s the guy who illustrated this cover. You might have seen it around somewhere or something.


A fangirly moment here, if I may. I have not read Chains yet. I’ve heard fantastic things about Chains but the reason why I want to read it is because of this cover. I’m not a historical fiction aficionado. I haven’t read much of it, to be honest. But there is something so poignant about this cover that just makes me want to pick up and hold this book. I want it to whisper its secrets to me. (I’m sure those whispers would include whisper-yelling, “Geez woman, READ ME ALREADY.”) From its combination of color to its handcrafted lettering and even to right down to its shading, this is the type of cover art that doesn’t feel manufactured or contrived.

And all of Neal’s work on his site feels the exact same way.  There’s something quietly beautiful about his illustrations. I was introduced to his work last year by my coworker (another illustrator) Vince. He sent this image via instant messenger, and I was immediately in love:


Cover for an MG novel by Kate Elise. Click through for Goodreads link.

Grounded is the perfect example of what I think is missing on the face of a lot of YA literature. It’s incredibly emotive. It can stand on its own as a work of art, but it gestures to its story within, paying respect to the fact that some author slaved over writing its insides. When I see a SGiPD (or Girls in Gowns) cover, I feel like I already know what the novel is about. Or, conversely, I don’t necessarily need to know what the novel is about because 80% of the time, its cover is a fraud and that sad skinny girl would never be caught dead in that dress anyway. 

Before I get too ranty, here’s more of Neal’s beautiful work.



Have I mentioned how unfair it is that MG gets all the good covers? Also, it’s a bit ridiculous how talented this guy is. Because if illustrating covers I’d like to have framed on my wall some day isn’t enough, he’s also made a little film for Kate Spade.

I mean really.


I would totally JPEG-bomb the rest of this post but you probably ought to go to cyber-stalk Chris on his tumblr or follow him on Twitter instead.

about tcg |

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First and foremost, I love to read YA literature.

I also like looking at pretty pictures, including but not limited to YA cover art. And I can be pretentious and judgmental when it comes to looking at covers. This little space on the web was just a natural fit. I’m not a designer or a photographer. (I’m actually a producer/editor.)

Because I’m terrible at talking about myself on my own blog, here are a few links to a few interviews I’ve done for a few good friends:

Persnickety Snark

Steph Su Reads


There are some covers that catch your eye simply because they’re just drop-dead gorgeous. They draw you in because they’re thought-provoking, magical, or just different. This blog is dedicated to the designers, art directors, illustrators, and photographers who put their blood, sweat and tears into creating the face of a cover you want to stare at for hours.

Got a question, comment, or suggestion? Feel free to shoot me an email. I promise I don’t bite. You can also find me on Twitter.

Last but not least — my name’s Capillya. Nice to meet you, and I hope you stay awhile.

about tcg |

No Comments »

First and foremost, I love to read YA literature.

I also like looking at pretty pictures, including but not limited to YA cover art. And I can be pretentious and judgmental when it comes to looking at covers. This little space on the web was just a natural fit. I’m not a designer or a photographer. (I’m actually a producer/editor.)

Because I’m terrible at talking about myself on my own blog, here are a few links to a few interviews I’ve done for a few good friends:

Persnickety Snark

Steph Su Reads


There are some covers that catch your eye simply because they’re just drop-dead gorgeous. They draw you in because they’re thought-provoking, magical, or just different. This blog is dedicated to the designers, art directors, illustrators, and photographers who put their blood, sweat and tears into creating the face of a cover you want to stare at for hours.

Got a question, comment, or suggestion? Feel free to shoot me an email. I promise I don’t bite. You can also find me on Twitter.

Last but not least — my name’s Capillya. Nice to meet you, and I hope you stay awhile.