In his book On Writing, Stephen King says,VK: Tony, what path did you take from having an interest in art to designing those fabulous covers?
"Description begins in the writer's imagination,
but it should finish in the reader's."
The writer's task is to decide what description will best serve the story, to select the significant, specific details that will convey character, setting, and mood. That's the cover artist's task, too.
Sometimes a writer is really lucky, and her book gets a cover artist who totally nails it, who takes her vision and makes it his own.
Tony Mauro does the cover art for the Children of the Sea series, and he totally nails it. So I asked him about his process.
Tony: I grew up in a very creative household. My father is a fine artist, my brother is a musician (solo performer), and my sister designs jewelry for fun. Mom is an absolute creative genius in the kitchen too. You can say I'm one of those people that always knew exactly what I was going to do when I grew up. Fantasy art was always a huge area of interest for me, and I always liked the idea of reading a story and trying to come up with that one single image to capture the mood and energy of the story.
A couple years after graduating from Art school, I sold everything I owned and moved to Los Angeles. Being in LA exposed me to a lot of really great projects, and I was able to establish myself in the entertainment industry as a movie poster designer. After spending 11 years in LA, I decided to move back to my hometown of Buffalo, NY, to be closer to my family. All of my work comes from Los Angeles and New York City, but I'm able to live in Buffalo. The book covers came about around 2 years ago when an art director at Penguin saw my website and called me to work on a new series she had been assigned. I was thrilled to work on it and since then they have become my biggest client. Now 70% of my work is out of NYC with Penguin and only 30% is coming from the entertainment industry in LA.
VK: Tell us about the process of making the cover. Where do you work? Do you use live models or photos? Where do you get your shots?
Tony: I work out of my house, which was something I was a little concerned about when I first started freelancing because I always enjoyed the social environment of working at an agency. But now that I've been self-employed for 3 years I love it and would have a hard time going back to working for someone else. I have a photo studio in my house where I shoot all of my models for the covers. Yes, they are all real people, and I shoot them myself.
The end result is a combination of photography and illustration. I take a basic photo to capture the expression and the pose, then I paint over it in the computer and add the environment and all of the hair, make-up and character details. Any one cover is usually made up of 10 to 15 different shots. Sometimes just the figure alone will be made up of 4 or 5 different shots. I'll go through all of my pics and choose the best face and put it on the best body. I'm a real doctor Frankenstein on the computer.
VK: Who is your favorite artist? Favorite subject? Favorite type of project?
Tony: I have lots of favorite artists for different reasons and from different genres. The big ones for me, though, are Norman Rockwell, Brom, Phil Hale and JC Leyendecker. I certainly lean towards the darker side of art and love dark moody artwork the best.
As far as my favorite kinds of projects, I can honestly say I enjoy them all just for being different from each other. As much as I like dark art, it doesn't mean that's all I want to do. The best part of my job is that every project is different and presents a different challenge.
VK: Do you work on exclusively on one project at a time or do you have multiple projects going at the same time?
Tony: It would be great to work on one thing at a time, but I usually am juggling 2 or 3 projects at once. But I still will usually break up my schedule so I am only working on one project for a few days straight, then I shift gears to something else for a couple days. I usually try not to work on more than one project per day. A lot of what I do is about hitting a groove with a project. Sometimes it comes together quickly and things fall into place nicely, and sometimes you have to struggle for a bit to hit that groove where it starts falling together.
VK: How much detailed author/editor input do you get when you start work on a cover? How much would you like? What do you fervently wish writers WOULDN'T ask for?
Tony: I'm usually given a story synopsis and a loose written description of what the publisher is looking for. They often reference other books in the same genre to take a look at to get me into the zone for that project as well.
In an ideal situation, I'll have time to read the whole manuscript and then start thinking up cover concepts. There's usually a moment that'll jump out at me while I'm reading a book that screams as a cover possibility. Unfortunately, I don't always have time to read the whole thing and I'll go by the synopsis provided by the publisher.
It really varies depending on the client. Some people like to give you very precise direction and are very specific about what they want. Others just set you loose and say, "Do what you do." I don't mind either way. The people that are very specific often make it easier on me because they are so clear about what they are expecting to see. On the flip side, it's fun to dream up whatever you want and hope the publisher agrees with you. Obviously the longer you work with people the more you earn their trust and they are more willing to let you have more freedom because they know what to expect from you.
All of my input comes from the publishers, and I never know if it was an author request or a marketing request for certain things to be included. I assume it's a little of both. Since the publisher, ultimately, is my direct client, I usually don't hear from the authors until after the cover is done. Thankfully I haven't received any angry emails saying "what did you do to my character"…yet. That being said, I love talking to the authors and wish they were more involved in my process. After all no one knows the characters better than the person who created them. I haven't had any outlandish writer requests yet so I guess there's nothing I can say I wish they wouldn't ask for.
VK: Do you have to plan for a series while doing one cover, and if so, what elements do you utilize to give a "series feel" to your images?
Tony: I'll usually try and visualize how any given image can be made into a series either with type or with the general vantage point and color palette. The nice thing about working on a series is that once the first book is done it sets the tone for the rest of the covers and you can just kind of follow the same formula and play around with different colors and looks. On the character driven covers you are really playing on the personality and traits of each character so just the fact that each cover will focus on a different character will ensure that they are different from each other while still staying in the same style and feel as the previous covers.
The other thing with working on a series is you're always trying to one-up yourself from the last cover. The art should evolve as the story evolves. So if the series takes a turn with a book that is noticeably darker in subject matter than the previous book the cover art should convey that right away. The characters are maturing, the story is maturing, and the art should mature as well.