Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Book Cover: Story Magic

Last year Jolly Fish Press asked me to do the cover for Story Magic by Laurel Gale. It was such a fun assignment, and to celebrate its publication day, I thought I'd do an epic blog post about how the cover came together, and explain the process of working with a publisher. This was also the first commercial assignment I did working (almost) exclusively in Procreate on my iPad Pro.

Step 1: The Assignment

I was not given the text of Story Magic to read - instead, I was given a brief blurb, and some notes. I was told that the cover should:

- Have a magical vibe
- Have a 'hero's journey' vibe
- Reflect a more traditional middle-grade high fantasy style
- Convey stories or storytelling in some way
- Depict the main character (Kaya)

I was also told that the author liked bold colours, especially green, blue and purple, silhouettes and stylised characters rather than straight realism. 

I was given the following book covers as inspiration:

Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis, cut-paper cover art by Hari & Deepti

The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill, cover art by Yuta Onoda

I was also given some stock photographs of women the author thought looked a bit like she imagined Kaya to look, and a rough description of her appearance and clothing. 

Finally, I was told that they liked the idea of some sort of embellished drop-capitals in the title text.

To start with, in the original email I was sent, there were two suggested scenes for me to illustrate, but by the time I had the assignment and was given details, this had been reduced to just one:

Kaya has climbed to the top of a large tree and she's looking down on the city of Prima. She looks determined (she's made it through a long journey to save her brother). Per the text: The dopest ended a short distance ahead. Beyond it lay a sprawling city, waves of streets and buildings leading to a giant fortress with towers that soared into the clouds. (...) From her treetop view, Prima had looked enormous and beautiful, filled with colourful houses and towers that touched the clouds.   

Step 2: Designing Kaya

Based on the images and description I had been given, I started to design the character of Kaya. Coupled with the stock photos I had been provided with, I had a description from the author:

'Kaya is slender, scrawny even, with big brown eyes, straight brown hair, a thin nose and olive skin. She wears a dress with long sleeves and a long skirt, often with the blankets she knitted wrapped around as a shawl.'

I did a few sketches of faces, settled on one, and then started to design her costume. I had been told 'traditional high fantasy' but I didn't really know what sort of costumes would suit the world of the book, so I tried a number of different options:

(some of the faces on the right are from my initial sketching. I've combined everything here.)

Then I waited for everyone to get back to me and let me know if I needed to come up with more concepts or not. In this case, I was lucky- they chose costume 1!

Step 3: Rough Concepts

With the go-ahead on the look of Kaya, it was time to start coming up with concepts for the cover itself.

I started with four concepts. The first followed, to the letter, the description I had been given, and then I started to play around with it. For concept 2 I zoomed in for a more intimate illustration, and had Kaya looking over her shoulder, so we could see her face. For concept 3 I sat her in the tree, telling a story to the Listeners, which form a large part of the story. (Books do not feature in the story, all the magic is through the oral telling of stories.). And for concept 4 I turned concept 1 around so we could no longer see the city of Prima, but got a full view of Kaya's determination, framed by the full moon. 

I sent these off, and concept 1 was chosen.

Step 4: The Cover Rough

With a solid direction now in place, it was time to work on the draft of the cover.

Those pink lines are my crop and bleed lines. I always like to add a fair bit of buffer to illustrations that are going to be used as colours, in case the designer decides to reframe or zoom out a bit (or if it is decided to produce a hard-cover copy. I once had to paint in extra illustration on a watercolour cover illustration when it was suddenly decided to produce a hardback book... never again!). So the internal line is the crop line (the dimensions of the cover) and the outer line is a generous bleed allowance. And after that, it's all buffer. In theory, only the portion of the illustration within the internal line would be seen on the final product. 

The placeholder text is a bit ugly - working in Procreate, the text tools are rather basic, so I just put in some rough text to indicate where it would fit.

The city of Prima was complicated, so I worked on that in another Procreate document (partly because it's easier that way, and partly so I didn't have to worry about layer limits. As I work at 400dpi (in case the designer decides to zoom in) I had a 15-layer limit. 

When I'd finished the rough, I did a quick colour study, and sent it off. You'll see here I had taken the image into Photoshop and done some better text. At this point, my suggestion was to give the appearance of embellished drop-capitals with stars (as it had been pointed out the really traditional drop capitals were a bit anachronistic for a story without books.)

Step 5: The Final

Apart from requesting that the Listeners be closer to Kaya, and that the font be less heavy, I was given the go-ahead to start the final. Yay!

I also provided a number of font options, as I couldn't position the stars to embellish the capitals until I knew which font was being used. Here is a selection of the fonts I offered:

(fonts used, clockwise from left: Alana, Cantoni, Memoriam, Harlean).

View this post on Instagram

Here’s the #timelapse of the cover for #StoryMagic, all done in @procreate (it was meant to be added to the last post, but... it’s been a long day...). This is VERY sped-up. The original@from procreate was nearly ten minutes long, and I’ve reduced THAT down to just over thirty seconds. It would be handy if I could draw that fast (although I might get motion sick 🤣) 💜 . . . #kidlitart #kidlitartist #kidlitillustration #kidlitillustrator #bookcover #kidlitcover #middlegradecover #middlegradebooks #jollyfishpress #timelapseart #procreatetimelapse #process #fantasy #illustration #ipadart #timelapseillustration #artforkids #childrensillustrator #childrensillustration #illustratorsoninstagram #illustration

A post shared by Alison Mutton, Illustrator (@alene.art) on

It was then decided that the designer would do the text, and the embellished capitals were ditched. These things happen, but I think it was rather a shame; who doesn't want to draw sparkles?

Here's the final cover 
(Design by Jake Slavik)

Sunday, August 23, 2020

If I Fits, I Sits

 Gracious, 202 has been a crazy year! I've actually been working fairly solidly, for which I am extremely grateful... but somehow this blog got lost. In an effort to prevent it from languishing completely, let's have a quick new post!

This is my latest Colour Collective post. If in doubt, draw a cat, I say! The colour was 'dark terracotta', which is not a favourite of mine, so I knew I wanted to make it pop with some nice clear blue. And the nasturtiums are in flower in our garden so I thought they'd be a nice addition. The rest of the foliage is shamelessly swiped from a current work project. I have been drawing a lot of leaves and jungle backgrounds so I just popped some of those in here to keep it speedy (I wanted a bit of illustration R&R with my Colour Collective, but I didn't want to spend too long because deadlines. This took 3, maybe 3.5 hours (hard to gauge when you were watching tv at the same time!)

I did this in Adobe Fresco, so there's a time-lapse. I posted it on Instagram, so I'll embed the post here. Click through to the second image to see it.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Animal Alphabets: Birds

I recently completed the Birds round of Animal Alphabets over on Twitter. Twenty six weeks of birds, one for each letter of the alphabet - all done in Procreate on my iPad Pro. 

Some of them are more finished than others, depending on how much time I had in any given week. See below the cut for a closer look at some of my favourites:

Animal Alphabets: Sea Life

I completed two rounds of Animal Alphabets over on Twitter in the past year. Here is the first set: Sea Life

See below the cut for a closer look at a few of my favourites:


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