We all wonder how cover artists manage to bring our favorite stories to life, and authors are no exception! Deb Caletti, the acclaimed author of some of your favorite YA novels (The Queen of Everything, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, and The Nature of Jade, just to name a few), had to know how the incredibly striking cover of her new book, A Heart in a Body in the World (out 9/18), came to be, so she went straight to the source: the illustrator, Daniel Stolle. Read their interview below and peep some images of the cover art in process, and be sure to check out more of Daniel’s work on his website, Twitter, and Instagram!
Deb Caletti: First of all, I want to say a huge thank you for the incredible work you did on the cover for A Heart in a Body in the World. It’s stunning. The images of the process are works of art themselves. I notice that in all of them, there’s the distinct sense of the great distance Annabelle is traveling. How do you decide which aspects of a book to focus on?
Daniel Stolle: Thank you. It has been my pleasure. The distance she is traveling and her means of traveling foremost are such a central element of the book that I felt it needed to be included.
I feel empathy for her act of confronting a difficult life situation, with a form of physical catharsis. Sometimes things are so complicated and hard, that you just want to do a simple act – like running. But what seems like running away at first, turns actually into the opposite.
DC: So true! And your empathy shows in how you portrayed the small running girl. I can feel how burdened she is. I imagine the process of creating a book cover must be different from when you do a piece for yourself as an artist. Even if I didn’t read (or write!) the book, I see a story in each cover that you do. Are there particular goals you try to meet when crafting a cover?
DS: My main aim is to create a memorable image, that also holds up repeated viewing. Ideally it bridges a gap between simplicity and fast readability on the one side and subtlety and room for different interpretations on the other side. I know some rules and tools of the trade to achieve the first part, but the second often requires a more emotional approach, that is harder to describe. Sometimes I hear some interpretation of a drawing of mine, that I have not thought about earlier. In a way I intentionally do not try to think every interpretation to the end and leave things unsaid and unthought – breadcrumbs for a viewer to pick up. It makes me happy to hear, that they evoke stories in you – that is just what I like them to do.
DC: I totally get this – the aim to create something memorable, lasting, readable, yet subtle. These are remarkably similar to my own goals when writing a novel. I confess, though – after sixteen books, I know nothing about the process of cover creation. Can you describe how this basically goes, in terms of working with the cover designer?
DS: I have to also confess, that I am not very experienced with book covers yet – my background has been editorial illustration until recently. I have worked on less than ten books, and most of them in the last two years, so I am still learning.
The first step is a brief, that I receive from the art director. But already the content and depth of the brief varies from project to project. On some occasions, art directors saw my previous work for magazines and wanted a specific drawing adapted. For others I was given, a very detailed brief of what to draw. In the case of A Heart in a Body in the World, I was given a basic idea by the designer but also encouraged to come up with my own. The final drawing is a hybrid of the original idea of the designer and my own.
The designer is more responsible for the general direction, for example considerations regarding marketing.
I usually like art directors that feel like a collaborator – a sense of “we are in it together”. I try out a lot of things, and the art director is guiding gently and non-judgmental. Some of the things I suggest, I know are not great, but they might just need that one detail, that one spark from the art director’s side (like color, see below), to make it great. That is what I hope for.
DC: I love that. It sounds like the work a writer does with an editor – that respectful collaboration to make something better. I also love the bold primary colors of the Heart cover (and in a lot of your work). The dramatic contrast of that blue and white also really hits the emotional tone of the book. Can you talk a bit about color choice? Did you have the colors in mind when you were doing the sketches?
DS: In this case, credit goes to Sarah Creech, the designer. The blue was her decision. I usually do not have colors in mind during sketching. I even work on the finals without being sure about the colors. I often leave it until last, to try out very many things. I would wish I had a more controlled approach. Often some guidance at this point is very welcome for me.
DC: Interesting. You know, I often wish the same thing – that I had a more controlled approach. So much of the creative process is just plain intuitive. One thing leads to another. Speaking of that – I see the ideas that didn’t end up on the final cover – the looming shadow, the high wall. How did you feel about the end choice? Did you have one you just plain liked the best, either the image chosen or another? Was there a “Wow, that’s it!” moment when you designed those incredible faces?
DS: Sometimes it bugs me of course, if I have a favorite, that is left by the wayside. But I think being too precious about your ideas is not very healthy for an illustrator.
Although there are clearly different ideas and directions in these sketches, I feel that it all evolved naturally into this final idea. It feels like a good result and I have no regrets about the other ideas.
DC: Daniel, it was a beautiful result! Thank you so much again for sharing your process – and your talent – with us. I’m honored to have your work as the face of A Heart in a Body in the World.