Tag Archive for What’s In a Book Cover?

From Sketch to Final Art; Final Art to Cover

I’m sure my Nation of Readers will remember this sketch, which I talked about here, fifteen months ago.

Well, lubbers, double quick, set your deadlights on the final art:

“Ahoy, me hearties!” I cried. “Prepare to be boarded!”

Interestingly, in the above final piece the pirates and boy appear rather small, almost lost. But I’m looking at the proofs, which I recently received, and can assure you that, thanks to tight cropping across a two-page spread, it’s anything but the case. You have to see it on the page (a thought to keep in mind during the Dawn of Kindle).

For many artists, rough sketches are exactly that — rough. Sometimes extremely rough — more shape and placement and perspective than detail — to the point when you almost wonder, “Can this person draw?”

Funny, that question never arose when it came to Greg’s rough sketches.

One of the things that editor, Liz Szabla, loved about the art for this book was, in her words, “The pirates look like REAL PIRATES!”

That’s Liz, sometimes she talks in all caps, sometimes italics.


The other day I showed you this:

Below, please find the uncorrected, unapproved — read: still fretting the details, tweaking color tones, debating everything, etc. — cover design. A collaborative effort, indeed, involving the skill of many folks whose names do not appear on the front cover. (Please do click on the image, and double click, to see in greater detail.) I think this is part of what we mean when describing a book as “well published.” The tone of the relationships involved, the professionalism and courtesy, which is always hidden from view, plus the attention to detail throughout the entire process. I’ve experienced a wide range of extremes across the previous 20+ years; these days, I’m just feeling fortunate, because essentially all this good stuff happens without any help from me. To which I can only say, over and over again: Thank you.


NOTE: If this aspect of the creative process is at all interesting to you, and if you are not a long-time reader here, please check out my seven-part series of posts, “What’s in a book cover?” In it, I detail the cover process from concept memo to rough sketch to final cover — including interviews with an editor, art director, and illustrator — of an upcoming Jigsaw Jones title, beginning here.


POSTSCRIPT: Just realized that this is my 300th post since I started this blog, back in May, 2008. Each one, healthy and nutritious and self-absorbed.

Jigsaw Jones Cover: Part 5, Jennifer the Art Director

At last, here’s the fifth installment of a series of posts following the creation of a single book cover. As I follow this trail, coming across talented, creative people along the way, I keep thinking of that scene in The Wizard of Oz, — “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

Because that’s exactly what we’re doing, demystifying the process. And maybe taking away some of the magic. But in place of magic, hopefully we’re shining a light on some of the fine folks who make the covers — while the author sits around and does nothing. In Part One, back in October, I interviewed Scholastic editor Matt Ringler, and we talked about the origins of the “cover concept.” For Parts Two and Three, we learned about cover illustrator R.W. Alley’s creative process, concluding with a lively chat with R.W. himself. In Part Four, we got to see the rough sketches. Exciting!

Now the process shifts back in-house, with the sketches on the desk of Scholastic art director Jennifer Rinaldi. We’ve gone from concept to rough sketch. So now let’s meet Jennifer and decide whether we like her or not find out a little bit about who she is and what she does.

Hi, Jennifer. How long have you been an art director? Is that a job you dreamed about as a little girl in pigtails?

I have been book designer and an art director for almost fifteen years, but I have always been crazy about books and reading. As I grew up I realized that a big part of what I loved about reading was not only absorbing a great story, but seeing the way the type and pictures were arranged on a page. It took me a while to figure out that this is what I always wanted to do, I had no idea such a cool job actually existed!

R.W. Alley has handed in several different sketches for the new Jigsaw Jones cover.

Do they go to you first? What now?

Yes, Bob sends me the sketches a couple weeks after getting the cover concepts. He usually sends a couple versions of the cover. I place them in a mechanical, which is a layout that shows all the type and the logos in place with the art. I usually choose the color palette at this point. With other books, I wait until I have final art before deciding the colors for the type, but the Jigsaw covers are so colorful I know I can’t go wrong! Also, we have done so many of them, I need to make sure we don’t repeat the colors, so I try to plan ahead.

Do you get to pick your favorite? Or is this a committee thing?

I will usually give my opinion, but I don’t get the final decision. The Book Club manager decides which sketch she likes best.

If you have selected a favorite, why? What goes into the decision?

As you have seen, Bob’s sketches are always really great, so it’s not an easy task to pick the best. Usually it’s just a matter of selecting which elements they want to highlight the most — and Jigsaw needs to be the focus, of course!

There’s an added complication with this book. This is a so-called “Spy and Solve,” a book that includes some kind of snazzy electronic gadget to (cough, cough) enhance the reading experience. That’s yet another element to stick on an already crowded cover.

I can’t wait to see this thing in person once it is actually produced! I will definitely get my hands on a sample “spy ear,” because I always wanted to be Harriet the Spy as a kid.

As a kid, I wanted to be the one driving the sports car in Go Dogs Go!

That’s a good one, too! Remember Are You My Mother? I just found my old much-loved copy of it in my parent’s basement, and had so much fun re-reading it.

Sure, I remember that book as a child and even moreso as a father who read that book aloud many times. It’s just about perfect. Interesting how one of our most cherished children’s titles is centered on probably our deepest, most horrifying fear — separation from the mother. The people at Disney know this well, because you see it over and over again, though not often with the same comic touch. But back to you!

As far as the cover goes, I still don’t know how we’re handling this; I imagine we will add a starburst to the front cover, with some clever copy written by editor Matt Ringler. Usually the people who design the Book Club newsletters (the pages and order forms that kids get in school) will add something into their copy, plus a picture of the gadget, to let readers know what cool item they will be getting with the book.

When the next step is ready, with all the design elements in place, could you please send me a sample? I’ve promised to keep my Nation of Readers abreast every step of the way. A riot can be an ugly thing.

No problem! I think this is a really fun interview series — if only I had read something like this as a kid, I could have spent many more happy years making books


NOTE: True to her word, Jennifer sent along this “sketch mechanical.” I appreciate everyone’s willingness to reveal unfinished work. It takes a certain kind of confidence to pull back that curtain.

Jennifer added in her note:

“l warn you this is really ugly! I haven’t selected the colors yet, these are just place-holders. An interesting note about this cover: we flopped the sketch, because it fit better in the layout. I haven’t actually heard from Bob if he likes this or not!

The notes from Matt requested that Jigsaw be slightly smaller and the skeleton a little larger. It should really pop in the beam of the flashlight. As you well know, our covers are reproduced really tiny in the Book Club news, so we really want the skeleton to stand out when it’s small.”


NOTE: Here’s some links to the all the posts in this seven-part series: One, Two, Three, FourFive, and Six, and Seven. Read them all and experience the awe and wonder of the creative, collaborative process!

Jigsaw Jones Cover: Part 3, An Interview with R.W. Alley

This entry is the third in a series of posts following the creation of a single book cover. Here’s Part One and Part Two. Right now, let’s check in with artist R.W. Alley.

First things first: R.W. or Bob?

Bob is fine.

Do you ever receive a cover concept from the publisher and think, “Oh man, this won’t work,” or, “Gee, this is a really boring idea?”

The Jigsaw covers are very different from my other projects. Because of deadlines and the magic ways of publishing, I’m not given a chance to read the books before doing the covers. Now, there could be two reasons for this. One, is the above mentioned deadlines; the promo material for each title usually includes the cover art and this material is usually due while the book is still being written. Two, is that none of that is true and the editors simply don’t trust me to pick out the proper highlight to paint. I prefer answer one.

Of course this doesn’t answer your questions. Those answers would be “yes and yes.” My favorite editor silliness is when the spec reads in part, “Jigsaw in his tree house office, hears a noise, puts down his book, looks out the window, sees a shadowy figure which may or may not be a yeti making off with a glowing globe of uranium, and he, Jigsaw, runs after him, the yeti.” The problem is neither yeti nor uranium. Rather it’s the impossibility of showing our hero doing five things in one drawing.

Okay, I think I’ve got it. You have an irrational hatred of yetis.

Luckily, I think we’re OK for this cover.

How do you begin? Just coffee up and grab a sketchpad?

I put on my slippers, make some coffee, stare at the words on the paper, read the words on the paper, turn on the radio, become annoyed at the radio, put on a CD or even a record, tape some copy paper to my drawing table, notice there’s nothing on the paper, look at the old covers, try to think how to make this one different, pick up a pencil and start drawing. After a while, I notice a foul smell coming from the kitchen and realize I never poured the coffee I’d started two hours ago.

Specifically with this new cover — we’ll call it, “the skeleton in the closet gambit” — how did the concept strike you? I thought the flashlight angle was okay, in that it would give you something to work with, the whole light and dark thing. But I am concerned about the expression on Jigsaw’s face. I don’t want to see him terrified, you know; he’s Jigsaw, he’s got pluck! At this point, does that level of concern even enter the picture (literally) for you?

The first thing will be to get the general composition right. There’s a lot going on for a small image. School, closet, skeleton in general, skeleton hand with clue in particular. The flashlight will help to give a spotlight effect that will add interest and focus. As for Jigsaw’s expression, I completely agree with the pluck concept. However, this will be pinned down a little later.

You’ve done about 40 covers for the series. It must be difficult to keep things fresh — for “it” and for you. I mean, you can’t draw another picture of him writing in his journal, with yet another puzzled expression on his face. Can you?

The thing is that each drawing is a puzzle to be solved. Not too crazy different. Not too much like others. For this one, there are a couple of looking through door setups on other covers (not exactly the same, but there are doors), so I need to make sure this is somehow different.

What else are you working on these days? Are you excited about anything in particular?

The newest book is There’s a Wolf At the Door by the lovely Zoë B. Alley (October, 2008, Roaring Press). It’s a big picture book (11×14, 40 pages) in a comic panel format that retells five wolf-centric tales in a connected way. I am very, very happy to be working in this format.

Lightning round: Favorite illustrators?

Illustrator favorites, in no particular order, but always the same people: Garth Williams, Edward Ardizzone, Raymond Briggs, Tomi Ungerer, Ernest Shepard, J.J. Sempe and Tibor Gergely.

Those are some great choices. All-time favorite children’s book?

Two favorite children’s books at different ages: The Sailor Dog by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Garth Williams. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and illustrated by Ernest Shepard.

Thanks so much, Bob. I’ll have to seek out The Sailor Dog. In over ten years, we’ve talked exactly once. It’s been interesting to learn about your creative process. Hopefully we won’t wait another decade until the next time.

PLEASE NOTE: In Part 4 of this series, coming this Friday, Bob has generously shared some of his sketches for the upcoming Jigsaw Jones book cover. You won’t believe how cool these are; even as the author, I’ve rarely felt this INSIDE the process. What a treat.

ALSO NOTE: Fan Mail Wednesday has been moved to Thursday. And, um, Thursday is now on Mondays, Tuesdays will appear on alternate weekends, casual Fridays now require dinner jackets, and Latin Nights have been moved to Bolivia. Just to clarify.


LASTLY: Here’s some links to the all the posts in this seven-part series: One, Two, Three, FourFive, and Six, and Seven. Read them all and experience the awe and wonder of the creative, collaborative process!