I take pride in believing I communicate clearly. I am a writer – that’s what I’m supposed to do. When my editor goes off the rails while reading one of my drafts, I can generally pin-point what error has caused this…whereupon I take full responsibility for the disconnect, and adjust accordingly. I rewrite.
However, when it comes to communicating with artists, I don’t think I’m speaking the same language .
I’ve never been satisfied with the cover of my book A Veil of Fog and Flames – I’ve worked with at least seven different artists on the concept, never once getting what I was looking for – usually not even close.
- The first artist was a professional illustrator with a personal recommendation. We couldn’t come to terms on payment structure (she wanted to license, I wanted an outright purchase) – so I will never know if she could have produced that cover I wanted.
- The second artist, a graphic designer, was a young woman who had helped with the cover of my first book Embracing the Elephant. For that novel, I’d given her a photograph of a young girl in period costume on the deck of a sailing ship and asked that the colors and background and texture be manipulated to get me something that looked like a painting that may have been done in the 1840s (the time period of my story). I think this cover is gorgeous (the featured image on this post is an early rendering – the final version below is less nuclear-blast looking and is really fantastic)!I wanted that same beautiful look for the second novel. However, I couldn’t set up a photograph (because it was to be a landscape, showing San Francisco 160 years ago, based on the 1848 sketch below). When she asked for an HD photo to start with, I knew we were going nowhere – the camera had been invented less than 10 years before 1840, and HD photos were unheard of.
- Next, I explained my project to a recent graduate of a prestigious art school in Chicago – I showed her the same pen-and-ink sketch above and gave her the color palette (this was the second book in a series and I needed to tie the two covers together with the colors). She seemed eager, but two days later I got a phone call – she wasn’t sure she was up to the task. A crisis of confidence.
- The fourth artist was also a professional illustrator – I had seen his work and thought his sensitivity and sense of drama would work well for what I had in mind. He gave me the scene I wanted, and provided the drama. But his illustration looked better suited for a graphic novel and the colors were just wrong (despite having given him the palette of the original). It was as far from a companion piece to the first book as it could possibly have been. Do these two covers look like they’re related?
- Finally, I turned to the Fine Arts teachers in several local colleges and universities, presenting my need as a challenge – offering a substantial “reward” for the student who could produce a painting usable for my cover. Although a couple of students contacted me about the challenge, their samples indicated they couldn’t achieve the dramatic effect I wanted. However, one of the instructors introduced me to a young artist who he thought had the talent I needed. After several excruciating weeks of “needs more this,” “if you don’t find a color in the original cover, please don’t use it on this one,” and other repeated instructions (I never changed my mind about what I wanted – really), I finally got a picture that was palatable – not exactly as beautiful as I’d hoped for, but by this time, I was desperate. I needed a cover or the book wasn’t going to be published.
- I’m still not satisfied with the final cover (above right). The picture is too muddy for my taste. So, although the book was published as above, I continue to explore other opportunities. I found one book designer I thought might work, but they also wanted a photo of the time period for manipulation (not gonna happen).
- Finally, I discovered another illustrator. I’d seen his cover design for a fantasy novel – and I liked the drama of the piece. I engaged him – but his renderings ultimately lacked the dynamic and intensity I wanted for a cover. I still can’t figure out how he could get an exciting mood in one piece and fall flat in another. And the colors are all wrong again – where did that turquoise come from?
So, is the fault with me and how I communicate the picture I have in my head or is the fault that the artists with whom I’m working aren’t hearing me? I really hope it’s the latter, as the former means I probably should give up writing.