Thursday, 2 August 2012

Blog Tour: Sarah Hammond - The Night Sky in my Head

Two posts in one day - that's practically unheard of this year!

I've got Sarah Hammond here this afternoon to talk to me about the gorgeous cover for her novel, The Night Sky in my Head. I'm always fascinated to hear about the cover design process so I had a great time reading this post. I hope you guys enjoy it too.

Now, I'll hand you over to Sarah:

Have you ever wondered how a book cover is designed and created? I have received lots of compliments about the wonderful cover for The Night Sky in my Head and was delighted when designer Karen Stewart from Oxford University Press and illustrator Lucy Davey agreed to tell me  what went on behind the scenes…

SH: How did you come up with the idea for the lovely cover design for The Night Sky in my Head?

KS: Coming up with an idea for the cover was a challenge! Initially I had a meeting with our Sales/Editorial/Marketing and Design departments. Following this, I had an intense yet positive meeting with the editor. We were all aware that this book tackled issues, yet we didn’t want it to look solely like an 'issues' book. It was important that the cover looked attractive enough to be picked up by a prospective reader . . . yet also projected a gentle, quiet, undertone of 'issues'. It was obvious that nature featured strongly in this book and I felt that it was extremely important to ensure that the cover had an organic feel. The story flowed and undulated and gathered pace, sometimes with a dreamlike quality, then slowed down again. I really wanted to capture the story movement by conveying artistic movement in the cover. I also realised there was another way I could create artistic flow, as there was a plot-line running through the story that involved arson. I could therefore include a blown out match with curling wisps of smoke emanating from it that could be cleverly turned into title lettering. But I knew I would have to choose an artist that would be able to illustrate the artwork and typography. Not always easy.

SH: So how did you know when you'd finally hit on the right idea?

KS: I'd experimented with a photographic cover and at one point just thought about having a burning match on the front cover and a 'spent' match on the back cover, but I thought this wouldn’t convey any narrative. In total, I came up with 6 cover roughs which I presented to the editor. Fortunately she instantly latched on to my favourite and last idea with a very big smile. I knew I'd cracked it at this point! Fortunately our Sales/Editorial/Marketing and Design departments were also happy with the concept. It was now up to the author and her agent to give us the thumbs up to proceed. You and Victoria Birkett gave us your approval.

SH: Why did you choose Lucy as the illustrator?

KS: Lucy Davey was an easy choice. Her style is incredibly eye-catching and could project a lightness and attractiveness to the overall 'issues' feel. Her artwork was obviously going to lend itself to the flowing organic feel that we were trying to achieve. Her stylised shapes were beautiful and engaging and her use of flat colour combined with pattern and texturing in some instances, added extra depth. AND she was confident with typography. Perfect!

SH: Once you had settled on the basic idea for the cover, what was the process for finalising the design? Did the idea develop or change much?

KS: I sent Lucy a basic rough that I had created just to give her a sense of what we were looking for.

I stressed that visual movement was important. I supplied a list of elements that were important to the story line e.g. a stressed teenager (Mikey), a bittern, a dog (Timmer), and various other key elements. The idea certainly did develop and very much for the better. I really enjoy working with illustrators and their input is so very important. Lucy took my rough concept idea and made it better. She made it work! It’s all about team work, talking, listening and bouncing ideas off each other. Lucy knew the 'feel' we wanted to project and she delivered!! Initially, the colours were quite laid back but our Sales Director felt that we needed to inject some brighter more intense colours to help warm the colour palette. So Lucy obliged.
Here is an example of the original and darker colour palette:

SH: Lucy, you have done a fantastic job with the illustration of the cover for The Night Sky in my Head. What was your process in creating the cover illustration once you received the design brief from OUP?

LD: Thank you! My first step was to read the book - this sounds obvious but it’s quite rare to get a copy of a novel you’re illustrating (particularly if it’s unpublished).  This was really helpful in understanding the tone and atmosphere of the book.
To produce a rough for the cover, I started with several thumbnail pencil sketches. Once I had quite a clear drawing of the cover design, I drew the elements separately, scanned them and layered them up in Photoshop in black and white.

Karen was happy with my rough so I went ahead with final artwork, working in a similar way, although more precisely and in colour of course. The title lettering was an important part of this cover so I started with that and worked the other elements to fit around it.

SH: How did you collaborate with Karen to produce the final cover? How does the relationship between designer and illustrator work?

LD: For this cover Karen came to me with quite a specific idea of what she wanted. The emphasis was on capturing a sense of movement and flow to reflect Mikey’s experience of ‘the backwards’. Karen provided a list of elements that could be included on the cover – I narrowed these down to the more essential ones as I was keen not to over-complicate the image.
I was delighted with Karen’s reaction to my rough and she was happy for me to go to final artwork without many changes at all. There were some colour changes to the final artwork as Karen was after a brighter, more colourful image and I tend towards a muted/limited colour palette.
It was great collaborating with Karen on this cover, as she is obviously very dedicated to producing some good artwork for her covers and her enthusiasm for it really comes across.

SH: How did you add your own personal artistic stamp to the cover?

LD: It can be difficult to put your own stamp on a cover when a designer has a strong idea of what they want, but in this case I had a good sense of the atmosphere of the book when I started and it came about quite naturally. I felt that my style suited the cover and I always love drawing animals. It was a great opportunity to do some interesting hand lettering as well.

SH: Karen, were there any particular challenges in designing the cover for this book? If so, what were they?

KS: Apart from the main challenge, which I discussed earlier about trying to NOT make this look like an 'issues' book, the additional challenge was to try to fit a shed and reeds into the artwork. I also thought that if we could add trees/branches without leaves this would help to help project the quiet undertones of 'issues' on the cover. However, I just couldn’t work out how they could be positioned to sit alongside all the other elements that were 'flowing' in a circular movement without looking ridiculous.  Fortunately Lucy solved this problem for me by creating a hill at the bottom of the cover with the shed perched on top. This grounded the cover and gave it weight. The reeds/brambles/branches then fell in to place naturally and also helped to create the circular, organic movement I was asking for.

SH: What was the hardest aspect of this illustration and why?

LD: For me it was the colour. I ended up spending a long time adjusting colours in Photoshop to try and get them right. It was fairly obvious that the background should be a blue or green but I struggled to make the other elements work with this. I started by using quite naturalistic colours, browns for the bird and dog, but in the end they just didn’t ‘pop’ enough, especially for a children’s book cover. Karen asked that I brighten them up, which I was a little concerned about as I prefer a limited colour palette. In the end though I think it worked out well.

SH: What is your favourite part of the cover and why?

LD: Probably the title lettering. It was a challenge to make quite a long title fit together and flow – Karen wanted it to have a smoky look to tie it in with the story.  In the end I was pleased with how it turned out and how the pictorial elements of the cover could fit around the title.

KS: Oh there are so many favourite bits! ALL OF IT! I love the colour palette. I adore the flowing title lettering, the detailing on the bittern’s body, the overall circular decoration/movement of the reeds/brambles and trees and, lastly, and this is a very small point . . . the fact that 'The Backwards' is written backwards. That makes me smile!

SH: Many thanks to both Karen and Lucy for producing such an excellent cover for my debut teen novel and also for sharing an insight into your artistic processes with me.  You have even inspired the creation of a celebratory cake!

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