The Anatomy of a Cover

Let's take a look under the hood at the creation of a book cov

The Art Director

Hi! My name is Brian, and I am the art director for Imagined Interprises, Inc. I get asked all the time, how is a book cover created? Well, let's take a look, shall we?

The Project

The first thing you need is a project. We just happen to get one of those a few months back when we signed author Maxwell Alexander Drake and his new Fantasy series the Genesis of Oblivion Saga.

It is best to know what your cover will be covering, so manuscript in hand, I sat down and read. That done, I picked Drake's brain to find out any ideas he may have had.

Find an Artist

Once I had a good understanding of what the cover will be wrapped around, it was time to for me to pick someone to draw it.

I will not go into the gritty details, suffice it to say that we finally chose Lars Grant-West (of Magic the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons fame.)

For me, this is the most important step. Picking the right artist is not only about finding someone with the skill to create a wonderful piece of art, but someone who you can work with as well.

I really hit the jackpot here. Lars is not only a wonderful artist, he is one of the easiest people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. He is not only willing to take direction, but just as willing to give suggestions.

Get the Artist up to speed

Next, I had to bring Lars into the fold. Books are about creation, and Fantasy books are even more so. The cover art is the first exposure a reader will have to the words inside, but it is the words inside that matter most. So it is important that the person who will be drawing the cover has a good understanding as to where the author took his fantasy world.

Except, artists are busy creatures. Getting them to read an entire manuscript is like herding a group of cats into a swimming pool - sure you get a few in the drink, but most just wander around the edges licking themselves and staring at you like you are crazy.

So again I headed back to the author, Drake, and asked him to give me the sections of the book we had discussed that would make possible covers. These were sent to Lars to read and start his creative juices flowing.

Lars and Drake also passed a few emails back and forth to insure continuity of the project.

Thumbs Up

With a few choice chapters in hand, Lars started to think about the direction he would like the art to flow. Lars' expertise really become apparent at this stage as he was able to pull from his years of experience and help shape the direction of things.

Once Lars felt he had a grasp of the world Drake had created, he popped out some rough sketches - and when I say rough, I mean you could probably find ancient cave paintings with more detail. But at this stage of the process, they are more than adequate. These took on several different avenues of possibilities.

Here are some of the sketches he sent during the first round. The cover titles are simply place holders so that people can see how the art will look once the words are draped overtop. Click on each to see a bigger picture of them.

Let the Discussions Begin

The first run of thumbs always creates a buzz around the office. People who I didn't even know worked for the company stop by to give me their opinions about what they like, don't like, and what they pictured the cover would look like as they read the manuscript.

Now, don't get me wrong, input is good. As the Art Director, it is my responsibility to create a great cover the Fans will appreciate. Since everyone here is a fan, I really do listen to them.

Round Two

After much discussion, a little debate, and a little more discussion, I headed back to Lars with some ideas. We started to mold the cover into something more defined. Still keeping an open mind as to the direction of things, we abandoned several of the ideas from round one. This allowed us to take a harder look at the others, changing or expanding them, as well as shooting off on one or two new tangents.

Check out the below sketches and see how our thinking evolved. Notice the words are gone, but there are still boxes to mark the area where the title will be and the art has started to improve. Also, this is where some alternate poses can be brought in and check out. Click on each to see a bigger picture of them.

Round Three

The art moves from simple cave paintings to a more refined image. Still, even with the improved artwork, more thumbs = more discussions.

By now, the direction for the cover has been chosen. You will note by the pictures below we chose to go with a more montage approach. This was due to the fact that Drake's work has multiple plot lines and we felt that the cover should convey this.

At this point it was a lot of back and forth between Lars and I. Most of this is simply tweaking. Stuff like - Move this arm there, Shift that guy over, etc. Really minor stuff, but it can make all the difference to the finished product. Sometimes a tangent or two are explored (as you can see in the last pictures below) but for the most part it is just refinement.

Click on each to see a bigger picture of them.

Finalizing the Picture

After a bunch more discussion, a few more tweaks, and as many rounds of thumbs as are needed, things start to level out and a really good finalized sketch is created. This gives everyone a clear picture as to where things are at, and what things should look like in the final painting.

Click on each to see a bigger picture of them.

The Under Painting

Once the green light is given and all the people who need to sign off on the final sketch have done so, things kicked into high gear. Lars was turned loose to, well, to use a technical term, get jiggy with it.

Moving away from the computer (which he used to create the sketches) Lars pulled out the canvas and oils and began creating the under painting. This is the first layer that will grow into the final picture.

The nice thing about this step is that now the artwork is of a quality we can use for marketing and promotions, as well as on the website, so that makes the marketing people happy.

Click to see a bigger version.

The Final Artwork

Even with the under painting, things can be changed. Well, truth be told, even with the finished oil painting done, changes can be made to the artwork digitally.

But that is neither here nor there. After the artwork is done, I go to work and add in the text. The title logo and the look of the author's name go through much of the same creation process as the artwork. Yea, everyone loves to have an input.

As the book comes out, and wins some awards or gets some great reviews, those need to be added to the cover as well. Once that is done, you have the final cover that is available around the world. Click on the image below to see the high-resolution version of the final production cover.

And my job is done!

Thanks for being a Fan,


Foreign Languages

Well, so much for my job being done.

As things happen with books that sell well, they move into other markets, and finally into other languages.

This cover came back to me this year for the Japanese translation of the series that has begun. My part of this is pretty easy. The translator translates the text into Japanese and sends it to me vie email. I then simply use my art programs with the loaded Japanese font and voilĂ  - we have a cover for a foreign land.