First off congratulations on your cover wining my blog’s 2017 BookCover of the Year! How does it feel knowing people thought your book cover was the best of all the year’s winning covers?
It’s an unbelievable compliment. I’m so flattered and honored. I want to thank everyone who voted for supporting and appreciating all of the various artists.
When did you get in to art?
It’s been a lifelong thing. Since age three, at least. My mom was incredibly encouraging, always ready with paper, pencils and crayons to draw with any time I ever got bored. It just became my default activity, then grew from there. My mom just kept encouraging me, then my friends and teachers as well, all the way up to college at the Art Institute of Boston.
How long have you been creating covers?
I took a few cover design classes in college, but my first professional cover was actually for my own novel, Carnival of Time, in 2011.
What got you started in creating covers?
Soon after publishing my own novel, my good friend Chris Philbrook started planning his zombie apocalypse series, Adrian’s Undead Diary, and he came to me for the cover and interior design. His story was wildly successful, and I gained attention from there.
Do you prefer one medium over another?
For book covers, I prefer a graphical design done with digital art like the Colony Lost cover, or the covers I’ve done for Chris’s Reemergence series. For character and creature illustrations, I prefer starting with pencil, then finishing the lines with ink and coloring with Copic pens. If you’re not familiar with Copics, they’re really fun. Like a watercolor brush in marker form. Very vivid and blendable.
Do you have someone who inspired your own work? If so, who? Why?
I’ve been inspired by so many different artists. I could probably list hundreds, but some of my favorites are Brian Froud, Tony DiTerlizzi, Terryl Whitlatch, Mike Mignola and Gabriel Rodriguez. I love artists who have an understanding of human and animal anatomy but also how to manipulate overall shape and form to evoke different impressions. Little distortions and exaggerations, as well as careful observation and subtle detail can all radically change the way a creature or character comes across.
What makes you choose to work with an author or not?
Stylistic fit is an important issue. As in: does my style fit what this author is looking for? I feel the need to be respectful of an author’s vision, and be realistic about what my strengths and weaknesses are as an artist. If an author is willing to spend money on quality art, but needs a look or style that isn’t my strength, then I have to be honest with them, rather than wasting their time or money. Nobody wants to turn down good work, but you can’t build a reputation on disappointment. Sometimes you just have to say “Hey, this really isn’t my thing. I think you may need to look for someone with a different skill set.”
What do you look for in a great client?
The other part of the equation is that the respect has to be mutual. I always strive to respect a book’s author as the first and last authority on the way their creation is represented. But I also expect a certain amount of respect for artists as professionals as well. For example, if an author comes to me (or any other artist) looking to get a professional grade cover but then offers to pay with “exposure,” they’re not really respecting that art is real work worth paying for. The best clients are those who know what they want, or are at least able to recognize what does and doesn’t work for them, and who also respect their artists as fellow professionals.
What are some of your pet peeves about clients?
It’s important to remember that not every artist is capable of creating the kind of image you might have in mind. Artistic styles and techniques vary tremendously, so take a look at the artist’s other work. If their other covers are similar in style to what you need, then they’re probably a great fit for you. If all they do is colorful, slightly abstract paintings but what you need is a gritty black and white photo, you should probably look elsewhere. This is definitely something you want to be clear about early on–long before any money changes hands.
What would an author need to do to work with you? Do you have a link to your standard rates, or do you negotiate fees by author?
I’m always more than happy to talk to people about cover work, whether it’s to set up a new client relationship or just to help them figure out what they need to be looking for.
I do negotiate fees by author. That intimidates some people who were hoping to just see a quick price list, because not everyone knows what to expect. What it really means though, is that there are a whole lot of different approaches to designing a cover, and I want to help match up your needs to something you can afford. Authors come to me with a wide variety of budgets, and once I get a general range of what they’d be able to spend, I can suggest different approaches and find out if any of those fit their needs.
How did you come to be chosen to create the cover of Colony Lost?
As I mentioned earlier, Chris Philbrook is a great friend of mine. We’ve known each other since high school, and he kind of jump-started my cover design career by recruiting me to work on his first books. I’ve done almost all of his illustration and design work since.
Artistically, what were your goals for the cover?
I wanted to capture the spirit of the book. There’s a darkness, but also a sense of hopefulness in the middle of that. The black background and menacing mouth/guns/creature imagery are counterbalanced by the bright color scheme, which also reflects the colors of the strange auroras that shine over the planet where the action takes place.
How was Chris to work with?
Chris is always fantastic to work with. He’s very specific about what he wants and needs, but also very willing to flex and try out suggestions that I might have. He’s also very clear when something isn’t working for him, so I never have to waste any time pursuing an idea that isn’t going to work.
What inspired the idea for this cover?
I’d been talking to Chris about doing another graphical cover (flat shapes & colors, rather than photorealistic images). He actually suggested the idea of creating a scared/menacing mouth using silhouettes of story elements, and I love the idea.
Can you walk me through the whole process of that cover? From commissioning to final product? How did you feel about tit once it was finished?
We started just throwing ideas around, with me doodling on a piece of scrap paper. I was talking about silhouettes of guns and creature parts, and he had the great mouth idea. I went home later and started making various silhouette shapes to move around, and tried arranging them in a number of different ways. Colored background with blackened mouth. Black background with color inside the mouth shape. Different proportions and sizes. We kept going back and forth, with him letting me know what was working and what wasn’t, and me fiddling with whatever wasn’t quite right until we had something we were both excited about. That’s the best possible outcome–when the author and artist are both really jazzed up about the final product.
Is it your favorite cover? If so, why?
I have to admit that while I feel really good about the Colony Lost cover, it’s not my favorite. That might go to another of Chris’s books–Tesser: A Dragon Among Us. That was one of my first seriously graphical covers, and I’m still crazy about how it worked out. Plus I just love dragons. I will confess to having a tremendous dragon bias.
What do you think it was about your cover that fans liked so much?
It’s bold, it’s got stark contrast and bright color, and the image is (hopefully) arresting and elicits curiosity. Is the mouth screaming in fear or attack? What kind of strange guns are those? What sort of monsters are all of those limbs connected to? Those are just my own impressions, but whatever the case, something clearly worked and I’m very grateful for that.
What can we expect to see from you next?
It’s safe to say that I’ll be bringing you more Chris Philbrook covers soon. The guy’s crazy prolific. I’m legitimately jealous of that. He’s got more Reemergence novels coming, more Adrian’s Undead Diary stuff. There might be more Colony Lost on the way, and he’s always cooking up new stuff, too. The guy’s head is packed full of nightmares. But they’re fun nightmares.
Is there anything you’d like to say to readers?
Keep reading. Keep supporting the authors and artists that you love, whether it’s with purchases, votes, or reviews (authors LOVE reviews). Most of all, I want to say thank you. Your appreciation matters, tremendously.
Once more Alan, I just want to thank you for spending time to do this interview. Your cover was great. I look forward to seeing more from you.
Thanks so much. This is a terrific honor.
It was such great fun running this competition. I’m overjoyed at the response it received in its first year, and I hope that continues to grow. Artists almost never get credit for the work they do, and I want to build something that truly recognizes them and the covers they create.
Please continue to support this award by voting, liking, and sharing it with your friends. If you’re convinced to vote because you had one friend or author you liked in one month, keep voting in other months. Try to remember that every one of these authors and artists put in a ton of effort.
I’m honored to have Mr. MacRaffen as the first recipient of the award, and I look forward to making a few more.