Friday, December 16, 2011

The Iterations of a Cover

I recently published my first middle-grade fantasy, and I had the pleasure of working directly with the cover artist, who hand-painted the cover for the book. It was quite an interesting process watching the cover evolve from the rough art to the finished product, so I thought it would be fun to share the stages.

The story is about a twelve year old girl named Penelope Moonswoggle, who is the only person in her entire  town who can't ride a dragon. She's an outsider, an outcast, and if she doesn't figure out how to ride a dragon by Saturday, she'll be booted from the town. No one believes she can do it, no one except Penelope and an old, homeless gnome named Farkle. The story is Penelope's journey of finding a dragon she can ride, a personal quest that teaches her about believing in herself, about the power of true friends, and how to be strong when the world thinks you're going to fail.

To do justice to this story, we really needed a cover that showcased this amazing dragon that is her guidepost on her journey. Merripen is a magnificent, iridescent purple dragon with a personality that is so endearing and brave. My only instructions to the artist were to bring that dragon to life. 

Before we begin, please remember that all these images are copyrighted to the artist, Pete Davis, and cannot be copied, redistributed or anything like that.

First up, I'll show the initial draft of the dragon. When I saw it, I immediately loved the vibrant colors (the way he brought the color purple to life was astounding) and the the energy of the cover, but, I thought the dragon was a little scary and not endearing enough for twelve year old girls. What do you think? 

Next up, the artist worked to give Merripen some of that charm and warmth that he has in the story. In this image, his mouth has been changed to give him that subtle smile, his eyes were colored green and given pupils, and his snout was rounded and he was given a goatee and some horns. This was also our first attempt with lettering. At this point, we thought it looked pretty good, and I thought Merripen was delightful.

We were literally about to pull the trigger and go live with this cover, when we starting thinking that the font didn't look very blended with the cover, and there was a sense that the cover wasn't quite finished. We decided to try a banner, and change the aspect ratio of the cover so it was the shape of a novel and not a picture book (because it's not a picture book!). We tried many different banner iterations with different fonts styles and sizes, different banner placement, but we couldn't get one that felt quite right.

Then the artist had a stroke of brilliance. The story is a fantasy, a trip to a magical land of wishes, uniforms, dragons and so much more. What if we used a banner that gave that feel? That moment is the moment that changed that cover forever, and took it from good to amazing. He decided to handpaint a banner and make it old-school and worn in appearance. The result was magic. 

At this point, our last task was to decide what color banner to use, what color font, and how much to warp the text so it looked like it was waving with the banner. The final result is below. 

Is it brilliant? The process of creating this cover was a fantastic experience of going back and worth and working as a team, feeding off each other's suggestions and using those to prompt new ideas. It was a fantastic experience, and I used the same artist to create the cover for my next book, which is a non-fiction book of essays about getting through the tough times. As you can see, it's a totally different book, and a totally different feel, but it's still brilliant. I think that's the sign of true artistic genius: when you can create such different feels and products, and still make them work. The artist is already at work on my next book, and I'm so excited to see what we come up with! 


Sharon said...

that was cool to see how the Penelope cover came about. Using the waving banner was perfect!

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