Jan 10, 2013

Interview with a cover artist-Ravven

I love doing author interviews, but today we have something different-an interview with a cover artist!

Admit it, if you're like me, sometimes the cover is the sole reason for putting a book on your wishlist. I knew I wanted to do this interview with Ravven as soon as I found out that she created the covers for two novellas that I read last month-Rainbird and Mourning Cloak by Rabia Gale (I actually have a girl crush on both Ravven and Rabia, both extremely talented and spoiling this fantasy fan rotten.)

Welcome to Willing to See Less, Ravven!

When did you start designing book covers?

I'd always wanted to design book covers, but my career had mainly been in web design/development  and project managing ecommerce and social media sites. It was challenging and rewarding in many ways, but not what I dreamed of doing - however, it was too well paid to just give it up! Several years ago I began doing book covers as a portfolio-building exercise, more for myself than anything else. I set a challenge to create one cover a day for thirty days, which was a lot of fun. After a parting of ways with the digital media company that I was working I decided to go freelance.

Taking the leap into freelancing is a very terrifying thing for anyone, even those with money saved up (which I hadn't, unfortunately). I sent out about a million emails to small publishers, tried to get my art out there, and in the end we managed to not lose the house - always a good thing! I worked with several smaller publishers, a lot of wonderful self-published authors and the business just grew. There were a lot of people who really helped me out, such as Tanya Anne Crosby, a wonderful author who allowed me to work with her on a number of covers for her backlist. I'll always be so grateful for all the help I received.


Do authors usually have a clear vision of what they want the cover to look like? Is it sometimes difficult to meet a customer's expectation?

Usually they do, and that forms your starting point. That vision may change and evolve as we work, but it helps to start out with a clear idea of what the book is about, who the characters are, and what
themes the cover needs to convey. I have a small questionnaire that I use to help me get the best idea possible of what the author wants in the final work. That said, if the original idea is too literal, it can
be a problem, and I prefer working from the position of "how the book feels" (theme) rather than illustrating a plot point.

The only time it may be difficult to meet a customer's expectation is when the medium isn't right - I work with stock photography as a base, and very specific images can be impossible. I usually recommend hiring an illustrator for these images. Hiring models and doing your own shoot would be the ideal way of handling very specific expectations, but that is generally too expensive an option for indie authors or small presses.


Can you describe the process? What programs do you use, where do you start first, how long does it take in average...

As above, I usually start with the images. Most of the books I do feature a character, so that means hours and hours of looking at stock. I work quite quickly, but the inital phase of finding the right
model is very time-consuming. Looking at hundreds of photos of beautiful men or women should be fun, right? No, no...looking at stock can be soul-destroying. :) You can spend most of a day looking through many hundreds of images and THEY WILL ALL BE WRONG.

Once I find the stock that I want to use, I begin creating the initial mockups. I usually work on the large-size file that I'll be using as a final image, so I can create backgrounds that I'll be using for the final image. Initial mockups are quite rough, with watermarked stock and very little painting. I usually tell people to try to think of them as sketches or storyboards rather than final images. I work in Photoshop, and once I begin the final image I'll be painting with a Wacom tablet. The image is comprised of tons of textures and photos all composited together and then painted to blend and add detail. When we have a final image that we're both happy with I'll do another round of mockups with different fonts and text treatments for the author to chose from. That's the basic process, and depending on what snags we hit a cover can take a few days to a week - it all depends.

I know this is like asking a mother which one of her children she loves most, but is there a cover that you're particularly proud of? Or one that's been especially challenging to make?

They're all my favourites! One of the recent ones was the cover for Daisy Madigan's Paradise by Suzy Turner. Sometimes when you submit early mockups to an author there is one that you are in love with. If the author is all "meh" about that one it hurts because that was your baby. So when Suzy chose the image that finally became the cover I was all "Yes! That's MY girl!" The romance covers for Tanya Anne Crosby are some of my other favourites, as well as the Born In Flames cover for Candace Knoebel, which has gotten a lot of attention.


Do you think there are some "trends" for book covers? (I remember seeing a lot of girls in ballroom dresses last year. Or eyes, lots of eyes...)

God, yes - girls in pretty dresses, drowning girls, Big Faces. All very over-used trends (although I do have some favourites that transcend those trends - just because it's a "girl in a pretty dress" cover doesn't mean that it can't be unique and stunning).

In your opinion, what makes a great and eye catching cover? What do you like to see on other designers' covers?

I think that good covers need certain basic things: type that stands out which is readable at a small size; a strong image with good use of shadow and light; good overall balance so that all of the individual
elements stand out without anything getting lost or fighting each other for dominance. I really admire designers who do unique things with type as that isn't one of my strong points: the cover for Broken
by A. E. Rought would be a good example of this, as is NOS 4R2 by Joe Hill.

Many, many thanks for being my guest today, Ravven!

To find out more about Ravven, visit her website, check out her deviantART site, like her Facebook page, or say hi on Twitter!

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