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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for stopping by, Ravven!