Every once in a while I do a roundup of book cover illustrations, showing them before and after the cover text was added on top. The cool thing about book covers is that they're made to work together with text, but they also stand on their own. Here are some great examples from some talented illustrators and designers.
Wow, this is an old one! This is one of the first book covers I ever made, way back in 2014. I really liked how it turned out, and I've been itching to show it to you guys! But for some reason it was under NDA for a long, long time, and I forgot about it for a while. But now the book has been published, so I can show it to you.
This is the cover for "Double Fudge Mysteries" from Annie's Fiction. In this cover, the art director asked for the inside of a bakery window, with lots of chocolate treats. A bottle of poison is tucked somewhere behind the desserts. Outside the window, a white persian cat peers at the scene.
"We need to somehow suggest that this takes place in the south," the art director told me over the phone. "Any ideas?"
"I've never actually been to the south," I said.
"Me neither," she said. "What do they have there?"
"Um....alligators?" I suggested.
Eventually I came up with the idea of spanish moss hanging from trees, which has quickly become my go-to solution for any illustration set in the south!
Here are the roughs I sent to the AD.
As a joke, I sent in this rough too:
"Thanks for giving the alligator a try," the AD said, but they decided to go with rough #3, with a change to the cat's pose. But otherwise I was good to go to final.
I had a lot of fun looking at ideas for cute dessert displays on Pinterest! Looking at it now, I think I would have tried to do even more cute things with price tags and patterns on the china and stuff. Again, I drew this three years ago and my style has become more polished and detailed since then.
I spent so much time rendering the frosting on these cupcakes!
Here's the final illustration with the book design:
Now that I see the tagline "someone has a killer sweet tooth," I really wish they would have gone with the alligator idea!
If you want to know the #1 thing you could do to get the most out of your time at art school, here's my advice:
Observe your classmates, and make friends with the artists who are going places.
How to identify them: they submit more homework than the teacher requires. They draw in their free time. They talk about studios, publishers, working artists, awards, industry publications. They spend their money on conventions, ateliers and workshops. They get excited about printing processes, business cards and paper types.
Those students are going to land studio jobs, book deals, agents and gallery shows. Make friends with them, and as much as possible, stay in touch after you graduate. Not only are they going to be valuable professional contacts, but they will also lend you the emotional and creative energy to get through the post-graduation slump. They'll invite you to join projects, meet up with you at events, introduce you to opportunities, cheer you on social media, give you advice on your portfolio and critiques on your newest pieces. They will encourage you to keep going.
Recently during a trip to Barnes & Noble I saw some cool book cover illustrations of children riding dragons. I tried to think of how I could draw a dragon-themed book cover with my own unique spin.
When I was in college, I studied abroad in Japan. I lived with a host family, and they had an 8-year-old boy who was really good at origami. One time we were sitting in a restaurant and he was folding little origami animals out of the chopstick wrappers. I asked him to make me a rabbit, and this is what he came up with:
Pretty good considering he made that up on the spot, and was only 8 years old!
So for my flying dragon book cover, I imagined a story of a boy who can bring origami creatures to life. I decided to depict him flying high on an origami dragon above the city of San Francisco.
Even though I've never lived in San Francisco itself, it kind of feels like home. I grew up in the Bay Area, and I commuted to SF almost every day while I was attending the Academy of Art. As this gloomy Portland winter drags on and on, I've been feeling nostalgic for the California winters that defy all seasonal conventions. Look at these photos: I took these in February 2012.
I designed this illustration as a wraparound book cover; meaning that it's designed to extend from the front of the book cover, around the spine and onto to the back. It had been a long time since I had drawn a wraparound, or anything in a horizontal format. Here was my initial sketch.
I drew the buildings with the help of a 3D model of downtown San Francisco in Google Sketchup.
I wanted moonlight to be hitting the dragon's wing, so that it would frame the boy nicely and contrast with his black hair. So I placed a big full moon behind the TransAmerica pyramid.
Did I spend a lot of time drawing tiny city lights? Yes, yes I did. I'm sure my concept artist friends could have given me some tips on doing that more quickly, but I forgot to ask! Actually, the thing that gave me the most trouble wasn't the cityscape, but the clouds. I wanted to capture the look of San Francisco fog, and I wrestled with the clouds throughout the painting process, making them lighter, darker, thinner, thicker, cooler, warmer, etc., until I settled on something I was happy with.
The design of the origami dragon is a combination of several different designs I found online. I tried not to copy any single one too closely. So it probably isn't feasible to fold this exact design, and origami experts could surely spot some inaccuracies.
Here is the finished piece again, my host brother, riding an origami dragon, over my favorite city.
Twitter is my favorite social media platform. I've found that it's been a great way to discover and build friendships with other artists. It's kind of like a big party, where everyone is mingling and meeting new people. While I can't say that being on Twitter has brought me paying work, it has allowed me to participate in collaborative projects and zines that I probably otherwise wouldn't have known about. (Also, one time I won a ticket to the ICON conference by retweeing a tweet. So that was cool.) Occasionally I see art directors tweeting about what kind of art portfolios they're looking for, so I do think it's possible to land paying work through Twitter.
If you're interested in getting started on Twitter as an artist, let me invite you to the party and show you around.
Follow artists who work in the industry you're interested in. If you want to do Magic the Gathering cards, look up some MTG artists on Twitter. If you want to do children's book illustration, look up your favorite book illustrators (and SCBWI) on Twitter. Through their conversations and retweets they'll start introducing you to new people to follow, and voila - you're building a network!
Follow employees of companies you're interested in. Obviously this varies depending on what industry you want to work in, so do your research. Search for terms like "art director" or "senior designer" on Twitter. Go to a dream client/employer's website, check out their staff page, and search for those people on Twitter.
Post your finished artwork. Duh. Just make sure that you have permission before you post any work done for clients.
Post your non-finished artwork. Sketches, works-in-progress, "sneak peeks," animated process GIFs, etc. Something that tends to do well on social media is a photo of your hand holding a pencil/stylus, hovering over a drawing.
Post encouraging thoughts and advice about how to improve at drawing. People love to retweet that stuff.
Post photos of art-related stuff. That can be events that you attend, photos of your studio, of new art supplies or books you just bought, paintings you just had framed, a show opening at a gallery, etc.
Compliment other artists when they post artwork. Just a quick "looks great!" or "this turned out really well!"
Retweet other artists' projects. Spread the word about their blog posts, webcomics, articles, giveaways, Patreons and Kickstarters. This means a lot to people.
Participate in art-related trending hashtags, challenges and communities. If you see the artists you follow are tweeting stuff like #inktober, #hourlycomicday, #meettheartist or #witchsona, join in! This is a great way for new people to find you. If you're interested in children's books, check out @Kidlitart and participate in the weekly conversations. Participate in the weekly challenges at Color Collective, Animal Alphabets or Sketch Dailies. You could even start your own hashtag or community. Game developer/pixel artist @eigenbom grew his Twitter followers by starting a daily art challenge called @Pixel_Dailies.
Show some personality. Occasionally post non-art related stuff, such as a picture of your fancy coffee or that drunk squirrel you saw vomiting on the sidewalk. Just keep it upbeat and fun, and limit this to maybe 25% of your posts.
Don't ask people to follow you. It's seen as desperate. If you regularly post using the list above, people will start to follow you on their own.
Don't fish for compliments. Don't tweet or direct message your art directly at individuals, saying "hey what do you think?" It's awkward.
Don't post anything negative about clients or customers. Never do this.
Don't only self-promote. If someone visits your profile and sees nothing but "pre-order my book!" and "back my Kickstarter!", they will ignore you. No one likes a sales bot. The occasional sales pitch is fine, but the majority of your posts should come from the list above.
Don't auto-post from other social media. Because of Twitter's character limit, the auto-posts are usually cut off mid-sentence and people will ignore them.
Don't get preachy and political.I know. I know. It's a tall order these days. In my opinion, if your goal is to build a following as a professional artist on Twitter, stay focused on that and find an outlet for your political opinions elsewhere.
Spend five minutes scrolling through your feed. Read tweets, re-tweet interesting things from other artists, follow new artists who interest you. If you feel like your daily Twitter feed is boring or impossible to keep up with, maybe you're following too many people. Try using the app TweetDeck to organize your feed.
Post at least one thing per day. Use the "what to post" list above.
Repeat. Networking is about building friendships - give it time.
If you're already on Twitter, what has your experience been? Do you have any other tips for newbies? Do you disagree with any of the points I've made above? Tell me your thoughts in the comments section!
You could have gotten a "normal" job with a steady paycheck. The reliable and safe career your parents wanted you to pursue. You could have defaulted to the cultural norm of talking about how much you hate Mondays and "live for the weekend." Jokes about the "rat race" and how your boss is such an idiot. In the words of Timothy Ferris, you could have settled for "a tolerable and comfortable existence doing something unfulfilling."
But you wanted more than that. Whether you're a freelancer, employed at a studio, studying at art school or working a day job while building up your portfolio, you've chosen to do the hard thing, the scary thing.
You've chosen to jump into a career that is unpredictable and uncharted, a job that's full of rejection and criticism, a field that's highly competitive and notoriously low-paying, work that our culture considers "not a real job." You're choosing to brave all of that because you can see better things on the other side. You want to create something that you're proud of. You have skills that few other people have and you're taking a chance that many people are too afraid to take.
So, artist friends: stop beating yourselves up. Stop criticizing yourselves for not producing more, not being more successful, not having a clear direction for your career, not getting more online attention, not networking more, not studying more, not blogging more, not having this whole thing figured out already. Stop tearing yourselves apart for every little mistake and perceived shortcoming.
Treat yourself with kindness. You are doing a brave thing.
My artistic goal for the beginning of 2017 is to create some portfolio pieces that represent the kind of work I'd really like to do. Last year I realized that my career was veering off in a direction I didn't want. It was time to make a course adjustment. Quitting the Explore the Bible series was part of that; making new portfolio pieces is another part.
Every time I visit a bookstore, I find myself drooling over the middle-grade books and feeling intense envy at every artist who gets to illustrate them. I was inspired to make this portfolio piece after a recent "inspiration-and-jealousy-tour" of the local bookstore. I wanted to make a cover designed to appeal to girls, with a pink-and-purple color scheme. I don't remember where the idea of a Egyptian princess came from, but her cat friend came from a desire to try my hand at drawing anthropomorphic animals.
Originally I had a sparkly, magical flying cat.
I was feeling uncertain about the drawing at this point. I couldn't decide if the flying cat looked cute or just kind of cheesy. The pose of the princess was definitely too cliche, too much like the cover of a comedy movie. At this point I almost gave up on the drawing, and set it aside for several days.
After looking at more book covers, I changed the setting to look more like a palace and less like a balcony. As far as I can tell, ancient Egyptian architecture didn't really use arches like this; that's a bit of artistic license on my part.
When designing book covers, I will sometimes add text on top just to make sure that I'm leaving enough room in the illustration. I've never formally studied typography, but I enjoy playing around with fonts.
I also put together some sample interior illustrations for this story, which I will show in my next blog post. Hopefully this is just one of several new portfolio pieces I'll create this year.