cover artist: Ravven

Today I’m thrilled to have Ravven, the cover artist behind Rainbird and Mourning Cloak, on my blog, answering questions about her work and process. I first saw her art on DeviantArt, and fell in love with its gorgeous colors, details, and textures:

architeuthis_regina_ravvenSea_Fae_ravven

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome, Ravven!

1. Can you tell us a little bit about your artistic journey? How did you get into book cover design?

I’ve always drawn and painted, but never expected to make a career out of it. In the spirit of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face I resisted art classes, as I wanted to be a writer and not the artist that everyone assumed I would be. As a consequence my drawing skills are quite subpar, which is a shame. Learn the basics of your craft, kids – then you can do the fun stuff!

In terms of technical knowledge, my years as a web designer helped me greatly. I also worked in the art department of a large Los Angeles portrait studio where I was allowed to shoot on weekends – since my work is mainly digital paint with a Wacom tablet on top of photos, being able to light and shoot my own stock was wonderful. Since we moved to England I’m lacking a studio to shoot in, but it’s on my list. Working in digital marketing and web design teaches simplicity of concept, and how to lead the eye for greatest impact. Since I came from a largely untrained traditional art background, that was invaluable to me as a designer.

2. What are some of the influences on your art?

Hmm, that’s a tough one. There are artists that I love, such as Dave McKean and John Jude Palencar, but they’re so far beyond my art that it’s like looking up at the stars. :) I keep files of covers that I really like, which I have here. I like lush covers with good use of shadow and light, very dramatic.

Angel of Fire

3. People do judge a book by its cover. What are some common cover design mistakes you see?

I always pick books by their covers. There is a fantasy writer whom I absolutely love (no names) who recently came out with a new book that had a horrible, cheap-looking cover. I normally buy all of his books in hardcover and I just… can’t… buy this one.

My number one cover design mistakes would have to be not having a professional cover done. I know that sounds really self-serving, but it makes me cry when people are trying so hard to publicise their book and the cover is horrible – everything is stacked against them from the start. Other mistakes would be not having the text pop and be clear even at small sizes, and having a cliché cover. Styles in cover art go in and out, and if you’ve seen something too often (pretty girls in big dresses, drowning girls, Big Face covers) it becomes boring.

4. What’s the best part about your job? The worst?

The best part is the collaboration between myself as artist and the author in bringing their vision to life on a cover – it’s such an exciting experience and I feel as proud as a parent when I see my covers out in the world. I love it! Collaboration can actually be the best AND the worst, depending on how much freedom is involved. The best covers come from an open collaboration, trading ideas, throwing out what doesn’t work and having the freedom to experiment with wild-ass ideas. The flip side to that is when the author has an
extremely literal idea of what the cover needs to look like, especially when they wish to exactly re-create a scene from the book. Literal covers quite often end up being so constrained that the end result is lifeless and muddy. I think a cover image should reflect the theme of a book, and how it feels, while still being true to the characters and world.

Mortality

5. When I first worked with you on the cover for Rainbird, I had a hard time picking stock images because I didn’t know what’s easy to do and what’s not when it comes to photomanipulation. Can you talk about the limitations of photomanipulation?

There is an amazing amount that can actually be done with photomanipulation on covers as long as you can paint – that is the most important thing. On Rainbird, for example, the original model was wearing a short denim jacket and denim cutoffs. Pants were added, which thank goodness were mostly in shadow, and then two versions were created, one with bare arms and one with a duster. Both were painted (the duster used some of the detail from the original jacket). You can change or replace hair entirely, change the color of hair and eyes and skin, and add clothing – but generally it all has to be painted to blend it and fit cloth to bent arms, etc.

6. What’s the most challenging cover you’ve worked on?

One of the most challenging covers was a science fiction cover for Kala Wade Media – since I don’t do 3D work or paint things from scratch, coming up with the open space ship bay behind the characters was tough. Another challenging cover was one of the Westerns I worked on, simply because it was impossible to find the right stock. Just try doing a search for “handsome cowboy” or “young ranch hand” or whatever and see what you get…lots and lots of musclebound guys wearing cowboy hats and not much else. :)

Born in Flames

7. What are three of your favorite covers (not your own)? What makes them stand out?

Seed by Rob Ziegler, for it’s use of stunning image-as-typography. I can’t do this kind of work, but I admire those who can.

Wither by Lauren DeStefano – a “pretty girl in a dress” cover that transcends all the others. One of my all-time favourites.

The Drowning City by Amanda Downum. Deep shadows, bright highlights, extreme drama in the way that the character is almost silhouetted. Lovely.

8. Is there a genre or sub-genre that you haven’t done a cover in and wish that you could?

I’d like to do more horror and suspense. I love those scary, even gory, covers and haven’t had the chance to do many of these.

Reaper's Novice

Thanks for stopping by, Ravven!

Check out Ravven’s website, or her Pinterest board for more of her lovely covers.

Comments

  1. I loved reading this, and couldn’t agree more — I usually buy books based on the cover, and Ravven’s are eye-catching and gorgeous. I know where I’m going when it comes time! I was fascinated reading about the process of what she does with the photomanipulation. Thanks for this interview! Really enjoyed it.

  2. Thank you so much for this post, Rabia! The covers that we’ve done together are some of my favourites and I’ve been very proud to have had the chance to do them. I think that you’re an amazing author, and I tell everyone that I can about your work. If I could have afforded it I would have bought Mourning Cloak for my sisters and all my friends – I don’t often feel that way about a book!

    • Thanks, Ravven! I love the way the covers turned out and how well they suit the personalities of the protagonists. It’s been a real pleasure working with you. :)

  3. So interesting! I’m so art-challenged myself that I’m fascinated by what the artistic process looks like from a graphics perspective. And these covers are incredible! Beautiful work, Ravven!

  4. It’s interesting to hear about the artistic process of covers. You do beautiful work!

  5. Amazing covers!
    I always think it’s such a wasted opportunity when a book comes out with what is clearly an amateur cover. I’m so inspired by these. Great interview! I love reading about the creation of these gorgeous pieces of artwork. :)

  6. Really beautiful, well done covers. Lovely Raven.

  7. Brilliant post, Rabia and Ravven. You might find me lining up one day for a cover or maybe even some blog artwork, Ravven. I love the idea of commissioning something just for me. :-)

    You finally got me to click onto Pinterest… which I’m avoiding out of fear. I don’t know what a Pinterest account would do to me!

  8. Actually I had another point I wanted to make — I think it’s really interesting how the style of cover art has changed over the past few years. I’ve always been a huge fan of Michael Whelen’s artwork for fantasy covers (my favourites are the covers of Stephen Donaldson’s Mirror of her dreams and Melanie Rawn’s Ruins of Ambrai) but he creates actual paintings, as I understand it. But the modern trend seems to be more models and digital artwork. I’d be interested on Ravven’s thoughts on this shift…

    • That’s an interesting point. I grew up reading mainly science fiction and fantasy, and I loved Michael Whelan, Rowena Morrill, Greg and Tim Hildebrandt and more. I absolutely loved those covers!

      Current trends, however, have definitely shifted towards digital, and the old cover illustrations have somewhat fallen out of fashion. I think in part it comes down to cost, and also flexibility. We’re lucky to have a wealth of really creative stock images to work with for a fraction of the cost of what stock used to cost. A generation of upcoming artists are working mostly, or completely, digitally. The upside is that you can have a great cover for a fraction of of what an illustrated cover would have cost, and you can have a choice of different concepts and models for a small amount of extra work. The downside, of course, is that it is all so easily accessible that you see a lot of the same types of covers done over and over, and the same stock models used on different books.

      There are some artist/illustrators whose covers still look current. I’m a huge fan of John Jude Palencar, who is one of my favourites. Daniel Dociu does gorgeous work, such as the covers for Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War. He’s also the Chief Art Director for Guild Wars 2.

      The old fantasy covers that I loved so much? I still love them…but I don’t know if they would sell me a book anymore, and that’s a sad thing.

      • Great points, Ravven! I know Michael Whelan is still a really respected artist and you’ll still see his work gracing the really massive multi-volume epic fantasies. I know he did the cover for Brandon Sanderson’s WAY OF KINGS, which I’m expecting to be the next big fat fantasy series now that Wheel of Time has ended. But you’re right that a lot of those illustrated covers are beginning to look out of date now.

        Oh, and Ravven, this must happen much more to you, but I get such a startle when I see a cover with stock imagery I recognize from all the hours I spent on stock sites, trying to find the perfect Rainbird and Flutter! A month or so ago I came across a book cover with a stock image that I recognized from one of the mockups you did for Mourning Cloak. Somehow I never thought that art directors from big publishing houses went looking on iphoto and Big Stock for images! (I guess I had the romantic notion that they hired models and set up their own photo shoots :D).

        • I think some do – I know the Cassandra Clare covers are cast and shot just for those covers. I think that big publishing houses should always work that way!

          I hadn’t realised that Michael Whelan had done the Way of Kings cover – he really is a gorgeous artist.

  9. Gah, wiling to buy edit button! “…of the cost of what stock used to cost.” Really? :)

    Also, I won’t thank everyone who said such kind things individually, but the comments are very much appreciated. I love working with Rabia on her covers, and getting feedback like this is a very wonderful thing.

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