Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Life & Death of The Ace of Shades

Where possible, once a book cover is finished, I like to unite the original art with the author whose words inspired it. I've been collecting these stories at 'Where it Went' on my main website, but I'm adding them here too.

Now, I can't always share 'Where It Went' posts right away as I have to wait some months between finishing a cover and that cover's 'Reveal'. Sometimes this can be as long as a year. cover for Amanda Foody's new novel 'Ace of Shades' is an exception, as after several months' work on it, the completed cover was signed off then, at the last minute, swapped for a photomontage and font.

Now, this happens. It once happened after 9 months' work producing 47 - yes, 47 - different cover designs for a particular book of adult female fiction. 'Chick Lit' as it was (and probably still is) called - one of the hardest genres to get a cover approved for, due to its mass-market nature. The art director was happy, the author was happy, I was happy, sales were happy...the supermarkets weren't. You can't really get upset when this happens, because ultimately, your job as cover designer/illustrator is to help make a book sell, and if the Sales team at the publishers, or the buyers at the supermarkets - sellers of huge quantities of books - don't like a cover, no matter how beautiful or hard-grafted or loved by everyone else it is, it's not going to get through.

So, here was my completed cover for 'Ace of Shades', and below it, the one that the book went out with.

Along the way to the original version, there were many pencil sketches, revisions and two full size 'final' pencil renderings, before ink even touched paper. 

I always start a book cover with thumbnails, like these, to get my ideas down quickly and record them all, to weed out the weak ones from the possibles. And I do include the ones I suspect might be rubbish - because you never know where an idea will lead. I do this in my floppy Moleskine Journal - thin paper, lots of pages, I can carry it about, make a mess and abuse it a bit along the way, glue things into it and rip pages out - it's what a sketchbook's for! Here are a couple of thumbnail pages:

These'll often go to the client 'as-is'. Early on in my career I started to get a reputation for working up ideas too well - ie: making them rather too finished - and sending too many of those at once. Although it often impressed and delighted a client, this approach actually made their job harder, as it was more difficult for them to feed in to an idea, and to isolate one that wasn't working from one that was, because near-finished artwork can be very seductive, and can disguise the weaknesses in an idea or a layout. Plus, they'd have trouble choosing from the sometimes as many as 20 ideas I'd send in.

I still do that from time to time, but nowadays try to keep the number down to about 6 or 7 ideas, and resist the temptation to take the artwork too far before getting an opinion on it. Tough to do when you're really into a job and enjoying the process! (Having 47 options scrapped for a stock photo + font was definitely a turning point! That art director and I still work together, btw...and our record remains unbroken.)

So the ideas the client liked are then developed into large, A3  sketches - on paper, for this one, since this is the look and process I'd planned from the start. Not ALL my covers are paper-and-ink based - I've done all-digital ones - but most are:

From here, a final direction's agreed on, and a final pencil rendering is made. Tweaks might happen along the way - but with a good, fine pencil-stick Papermate Tuff Stuff eraser, this is no issue at all!

From here, the ink is added - my favourite black drawing ink on my favourite Japanese nib, helped by a handful of different sizes of gel pen - Mujis, and Mitsubishi Unipin Fine Liners:

...till myself and the art director agree it's finished and ready to have its colour added!

which is a process of very careful scanning with a very high-end professional scanner (worth the eye-watering investment) and adding layers of colour and texture created with ink on paper, sometimes combined with digital colour. This usually takes a few versions to get right - my initial 'vision' might not work when it's actually in front of me, or doesn't work when put through the 'Amazon Test' - which is where you reduce the cover to the size of an Amazon store icon, and check it for legibility, impact and muddiness!

Here are a couple of those colour tests (there were quite a few!):

and the final result you've seen posted at the top!

I wrote to Amanda to tell her about how much I'd enjoyed working on the cover, and that I had the original art - would she like it? She'd liked the first version of her cover, and wasn't sure of the reasons for going in a different direction but, like me, knows that these decisions are sometimes out of our hands. I posted her the original art, but kept these images as a record of the life and death of this particular favourite, so that it can live forever in blogland, as the one that was not to be.

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