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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

    SF Bay 1848

  3. 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.
  4. 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?EBook Cover reduced 300px               Jacobsen Cover
  5. 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.EBook Cover reduced 300px              A Veil of Fog and Flames eBook 400 px
  6. 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).
  7. 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?EBook Cover reduced 300px               Ferchaud Loricove 20160219

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.


About Lori Hart Beninger

Lori Hart Beninger is a native California writer with three critically acclaimed historical novels (Embracing the Elephant, A Veil of Fog and Flames, and A Peculiar Peace) that follow two 19th century young adults as they struggle with survival and acceptance in the pivotal era of the California Gold Rush up to the American Civil War. Please visit for synopses, availability, reviews, and more.
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