If you guys are like me, you LOVE covers and I always wanted to know more about the creation process. Tony Mauro, who created quite a few Urban Fantasy covers, nicely answered some of my questions!
The best case scenario for me is always to read the book first. That really gives me a good feel for the characters and makes it a lot easier to bring them to life on the cover. Unfortunately, there isn't always time to do that so I'll work from a synopsis provided by the publisher which works too. My only contact is the Art Director from the publishing house. They contact me and give me direction for the cover and when I deliver my artwork it's then shown to the Editor, Publisher and Author for approval. I very rarely have any contact with the Author until after the cover is complete. Some of the authors are nice enough to shoot me an email when they see the final art to say thanks and let me know that they are happy with what I did.
What kind of instruction do they give you?
My direction from the art director is usually a few sentences describing the scene and the character to be portrayed. It's usually pretty open to interpretation and is lose enough for me to do 2 or 3 different versions that all answer the same problem for the client to chose from. A detailed character description is usually pretty important too. Below is an example of the actual notes I was
given for this particular book and the resulting pieces of art that I delivered.
Direction from client:
We would like to focus on heroine who is an “elemental Assassin” She should look sexy but tough. Holding a knife in one hand and the other hand we should be able to see the spider rune on her palm. Editor would like her in jeans and tee- but sexy, with skin showing.
Setting is important. We would like to somehow get the “Pork pit” on the cover. See description:
The Pit, as locals called it, was nothing more than a hole in the wall, but it had the best barbecue in Ashland. Hell, the whole South. The outline of a pink, neon pig holding a full platter burned over the faded blue awning. I trailed my fingers over the battered brick that outlined the front door. The stone vibrated with muted, clogged contentment, like the stomachs and arteries of so many after eating here.
Art I delivered: The challenge here was shooting her at angle that would show the inside of her hand where it would look natural. The sign and store front for the pork pit were made from scratch. I hired a friend of mine that has done a lot of caricature work for help with the drawing for the sign.
What are the main steps of the design itself?
As soon as I get a project, the first thing I do is look at the authors previous books. This will tell me the general tone and feel of what their reader's are used to as well as tell me how much space I will need to leave for the author's name. This is crucial for my design. Some author's names will take up the entire top half of the book which makes my design area into a square instead of a vertical rectangle. While on the other hand some author's names are treated much smaller on the cover giving me more space to fill with my image. Usually after reading the direction and seeing what the previous books looked like I get an image in mind of what the cover is going to be.
The next step is casting a model (if it's a character driven piece). I use a couple different model/photographer networking sites like modelmayhem.com or OneModelPlace.com to find my models. Finding the right model is often the hardest part, it's very important to capture the right attitude,age and style for the character and if the model is wrong the piece will never work.
The photoshoot comes next and I'll try and cover several different poses and outfits to cover a lot of different ideas as well as potentially be used on the next book in the series if it's going to be a recurring character on the cover. The shoots generally don't take me very long because most of the
work for me comes in later on the computer when I paint it all up. The photos merely serve as a foundation for me to build off of so I'm not trying to capture the perfect photo. Next I play doctor Frankenstein on the computer and start cutting apart shots to get the best face with the best pose. Sometimes it just happens where the pose is perfect but the model had their eyes closed in that particular shot so I'll just grab a head from another shot and drop it on the body I like. I keep my lighting the same throughout my entire shoot for this reason. I usually shoot the girls with their hair in a ponytail and just basic make-up so that I can paint the hair blowing around and place it right where I want it to go rather than being stuff with a shot where half of her face is covered by runaway strands of hair. The same goes for the make-up, I'll paint up her face and use the colors that are in the piece or in her outfit for her eye shadow and lip color.
Usually I get the main character 80% finished before I start doing anything with the background. I use a lot of stock photography for the foundation of my setting. Usually it's 2 or 3 shots pieced together to make a scene which establishes a foreground, middle ground and background. You achieve the most depth by sticking to that format. On the left is a good example of utilizing FG, MG and BKGRD to establish depth.
What's your working place like?
I work out of my home so I have a photo-studio in my basement where I do all of my shoots and then just an office with a computer and lots of props EVERYWHERE. LOL
People always get a kick out my house because there are swords, daggers, helmets, toy guns, capes and just about any other fantasy element you can think of all over the place. Each one has been used in an illustration at one point or another. I use one of my spare bedrooms for an office and it's all blacked out so no light comes in and also has walls adorned with swords, guns and guitars. I call it "the cave".
(click to see full version)
Did it ever happen that you had to completely start from scratch because a creation didn't "fit the book" ?
Luckily, this doesn't happen to often because I'm in constant communication with the art director to make sure we're all on the same page. But that being said... sometimes the author doesn't agree with the direction in the first place so we have to start from scratch and change the entire concept. It's the age old battle between the creative team and the marketing team.
This is a tough one for me to answer. It's kind of funny because my favorite piece may be my favorite just because of some tiny little details that only I would ever notice.
I guess I have different favorites for different reasons. Unfortunately they often end up on the cutting room floor. This is tough for every artist but when you have a client you have to remember it's their art. Enclosed is one of my favorites that didn't make the cut as you see it here. Originally this image was done for a vampire book called First Blood. The publisher chose one of the other concepts I did for this one but later on I was asked to remove the blood from this one and it ended up getting used for a different book. I like this image because it's bold and simple. I always try and think of it as if I were in the store walking down the isle with thousands of books staring at me
would I stop and pick this one up.
That's about it, thanks so much for the opportunity to share my work and process with you and be sure to check out my website at www.darkdayproductions.com.
Thank you so much Tony for answering my questions, it’s greatly appreciated!
I think your cover of Archangel’s Kiss by Nalini Singh is my personal favorite =)
Feel free to show some love to Tony by leaving a comment <3