A writer creates worlds with words. An artist illuminates those worlds with images. When done properly, the synergy of storytelling can be palpable. And it's that synergy that draws young people—from 9 to 90—to the work of author/illustrator Dianne Lynn Gardner, creator of the Ian's Realm series.
A saga in every sense of the word, the books of Ian’s Realm—Deception Peak, The DragonShield, and the upcoming Rubies and Robbers—chronicle the coming of age story of Ian Wilson, a boy who follows his father through a portal into an alternate world where he is kidnapped by a tribe of dragon worshippers.
Dianne engages in extensive research for her books. She has sailed on a tall ship, walked a mile into a lava tube, and even constructed a yurt, all of which she discusses on her blog, illustrating her adventures as a writer with photos and videos.
Dianne’s foray into novel writing began with the image of a dragon. "Once the dragon took form the story came alive in my mind," she said in a recent interview for my Musings of a MadCityWriter blog. "From then on I wore a footpath from my house to my studio painting and writing all in the same day."
Dianne is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to see the third book in her series through to completion. As an incentive to induce contributors to back her work, she is offering the original oil paintings that were used for the first book Deception Peak, plus the cover illustrations for the four short stories in the A Tale of the Four Wizards series. There are also smaller level rewards such as eBook and print book packages and signed posters. The campaign ends April 13, 2013.
Intrigued by her book covers, I engaged Dianne in a conversation about designing cover art. She offers some practical advice for artists or even those looking to do their own covers.
MCW: If I am an artist--or I know an artist willing to do my cover--what do I need to know about format? For instance should the cover be designed on a computer, or can the artwork be done in a different medium and later converted to digital? How did you do the artwork for your cover?
DIANNE: The artwork can be designed in any medium you like so long as it translates well (i.e. pencil sketches are hard to scan). The artist should, however be told of the size of the book so that they can plan their piece accordingly (square, rectangular vertical, rectangular horizontal etc). Some artists who will not be giving the end product will need to know the exact dimension of the book for their artwork.
I design both the image and the copy. For the image, I use oil paints. All my book illustrations are actually oil paintings. When the painting is completed I take a high-resolution photo and place them into my software program. A popular program to use is Photoshop, but I’m more skilled with InDesign. I switch between the two.
I think more important than knowing the technical aspect to designing a cover, since that will be the artist’s responsibility, the author needs to know how to communicate with an artist. Too often authors request that the artist tell the whole story on the cover of their book. Please, trust the artist. It’s what they study. We have a saying in the art world “Less is more”. I’ve had to convince more than one author that there’s no need to put the whole novel as a picture on the cover. Your cover should be simple create a mood and lure your reader inside.
MCW: What is the most important thing a cover artist should know about image?
DIANNE: If I can’t read the entire novel, I need some good visual passages from it and a synopsis. I would need to know what kind of world the story takes place in, if it’s fantasy, modern, countryside etc. I would want to know the author’s vision as well, and simplify that.
MCW: What should a cover designer think about when planning title and author name?
DIANNE: Font makes a big difference in the look of the cover. Because of that, again, the artist needs to know the mood, the genre, the target audience, and if the author has any specific requests. Researching some best selling cover designs in the book’s genre helps to make a decision on types of fonts to use. As far as placement, that comes with experimenting with me. But sequels should be consistent in both author name and placement as well as font.
MCW: How important is the design of the back cover and spine?
DIANNE: The appearance of the back cover is just as important as the front because potential readers will flip the book over and look at the blurb and any reviews. The design should be simple enough that it’s read easily—not too busy. It’s nice to have the design continue onto the back cover in some way. You’ll see how I did The Dragon Shield in the example. The spine also should be attractive and easily read.
MCW: Is it possible to design a cover that works for both print and digital versions of a book? Are there differences between the two that the designer should know about?
DIANNE: It’s very simple to design a cover that works for both. A digital version needs to be read as a thumbnail, so there needs to be an element of simplicity to it, a good thing to remember when making a larger rendition. The nice thing about digital covers is you don’t need the back design.
MCW: Do you use, or are you familiar with, Photoshop or Gimp as a platform for designing covers? Are there other software platforms that you know of?
DIANNE: I use Photoshop, but I’m not as well versed with it as I am InDesign due to prior experience with the latter, so that’s the program I use. Often I’ll switch between the two because there are some things you can do with Photoshop that you can’t with InDesign. I’ve used Gimp before but not for designing book covers.
MCW: What about using stock photos for cover art? Any thoughts on that practice?
DIANNE: Pay the price. As an artist I am an artist’s advocate. Photographers work hard creating their unique and beautiful images. Their equipment is expensive. Their return is minimal, just like writing. If you can’t afford to pay for your images, then learn to shoot your own.
MCW: Once the design is completed, whether digitally or in another medium, what are the next steps toward preparing and uploading the design for use digitally?
DIANNE: Export to Jpeg and submit it for publication. I have a publisher so I don’t do my own uploading for publication.
MCW: What about for paperback format for a POD publisher such as CreateSpace? Is there anything specific to uploading a cover to a POD publisher that a designer should be aware of?
DIANNE: I believe Createspace has their own specifications. If so, the author will need to provide a template to the artist. I usually send my covers to my publisher in a file they can manipulate and they do the rest.
DIANNE: I see covers that show lack of creative ability all the time. Poor color harmony, the design doesn’t fit the book, the font doesn’t match the mood. Since your book cover is the first thing a reader is going to see it needs to be representative of your book. Make it count even if you have to pay someone who knows what they’re doing.
My thanks to Dianne for sharing her artistic insights with me and my readers.
Dianne Gardner lives and works in the Pacific Northwest. DeceptionPeak and The Dragon Shield, along with her other published worked can be found on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback formats.