EDITOR’S NOTE: Even if I’d had an unlimited budget for my book covers, there’s really only one designer I’d have approached. Any number of professionals can do an artistic “one-off” design, but I needed someone who could not only create beautiful individual covers for each volume in The Key To Darbas series, but also someone who could come up with an overall visual concept that will extend across the series as a whole. Janet is a visual communicator — calling her a “graphic designer” seems almost trite — who thinks and works on multiple layers simultaneously. I couldn’t be happier with the results, so I asked her to write a guest post on what went into her process. — dc
Creating art for someone else is an often an ungraceful dance of finding the proper cadence and avoiding crushed toes. When Dan asked me to design the covers of his Key to Darbas series, I was thrilled — and nervous. We are usually (and sometimes bluntly) honest when we critique each other’s work.
I also didn’t want to screw it up. These are good books that deserve a chance to connect with audiences and I wanted to help make that happen.
Illustrating the concept of A Madness on a canvas two inches wide seemed a bit daunting. Bravely, I took the easier one first . The title of the second book, Siobeth, reflects a tangible thing, a sword.
I started the way I would any project. I am quite familiar with the (brilliant!) story but wanted to know what he was thinking. What were the images in his head? What icons spoke to him? What was the impression he wanted to make? The designs had to accurately reflect the content, but they also had to be visually similar and had to work a several sizes.
After talking with Dan, I did my usual browsing for inspiration. I’m a total fan-girl for symbology: alchemy, heraldry, printers’ marks ( the world’s first branding and marketing campaigns).
This led me to consider creating a series of medallions that could represent a House or an entire country or whatever segment we chose. I went back to The Author to find out if the idea of a metal coin or engraved wood talisman would be inconsistent with anything in the story. It wasn’t and I was off.
I drew from the text itself. A sword more like a Samurai katana than a Scottish Claymore. Motifs evocative of the Celts. Bronze not gold. And, obviously, a key. For the magical element, we considered a pentagram, but I felt that this particular symbol has a specific and negative association for some people that might not accurately reflect the book’s content. Instead, I decided to use a five-petaled flower.
The end result — done as the original medallion concept — was good but it didn’t read well at the small, buy-this-book size. So, I cut out the background and la!
Ditching the rigid idea of a medallion, I had a bit more freedom to work with on A Madness. I kept the circle construction for visual consistency and used the “before and after” concept of a landscape devastated by war. I liked the circular image of the ouroboros (Editor’s note: That’s the symbol of the House of Proxmire — dc) but thought the idea of a two-headed snake fighting itself better represented the conflict in the books.
The mountains were a photo of the Blue Ridge in North Carolina I took myself. I bought stock tree art and cannibalized it. The sword here is the type most common in the world of Darbas, much more like a early culture’s bronze swords than later medieval versions. The fire is the beauty of Photoshop effects.
(Trivia: The “leather” of both covers is actually a doctored photo of the faux finish on our foyer wall.)
If you’ve read this far, thank you. It’s rare for artists to talk about the creative process, and when they do, it often seems as if the finished concept popped into their heads and magically became reality. I think this short-changes the value of such work and is discouraging to struggling creatives everywhere. It only looks easy once it’s done. I doubt it’s harder or easier than most work, but it is work, no matter how much you love it.
And I do love it. The best part is when the client loves it too. Money pays the bill, but sincere appreciation is what keeps creatives going. I consider myself very fortunate to receive public praise like this. Not many designers do, although I suppose that’s just as well, given sexual harassment laws.