Q&A with Paul Higdon, Bethany House Art Director
Did you base the people on photos of models, and the background on a specific scenery photo, or did you create them from scratch?
To answer this question, I’ll explain the process. At the beginning I needed a brand look for the series. To create this I needed to team with a designer and illustrator. I reviewed perhaps a dozen U.S. and overseas artists before selecting John Mattos from San Francisco for Julianna’s series. Then I chose Jeff Miller, an award winning designer at Faceout Studio in Bend, Oregon for his layout and conceptual skills.
The cover models were established from a mix of character descriptions from the author’s early manuscript, model/photo references, and various time period inspirations. The info was collected to be given to John. This nationally renowned artist used his illustrative genius to envision and create the Drew Farthering and Madeline Parker characters.
John was very in-tune with the styling we wanted for the cover art, so his experience helped push details to next level. The art deco graphic style also influenced the colors and architectural elements in the background and overall composition. Jeff then applied his typographic layout to John’s art. In all I probably evaluated six or seven variations before deciding on the final design.
About how much time does it take to design a cover like this?
Each cover varies in time and is unique to its story, setting, and list of characters. Death by the Book was a follow-up title to the first book, Rules of Murder. So there was some advantage when designing Death by the Book because we were able to pick up and continue a lot of the styles established on Rules of Murder.
Rules of Murder roughly took 50 hours, give or take, for art direction and design—composition, layout , typography. That included research, team discussions, Illustrator reviews, art direction, thumbnail sketches, type development, character development, image and inspiration research, and revisions/finessing to nail down an approved, final look.
Once the series was established the following titles average around 15-20 hours, give or take, of art direction and design. The actual artwork by John occurs separately from this process and each cover takes approximately 30 hours, using his computer illustration skills.
What are the challenges of creating an illustrated cover compared to a more traditional cover?
Creating an illustrated cover can be much more challenging than a photographic and/or traditional cover because the latter is usually driven by photography that is already established, or can be more easily manipulated to suit a cover design. That's not always the case, but pure illustrative covers require more leg work from the get-go because you're creating imagery from a blank canvas, and that usually means more heavily involved steps. Finding an illustrator who is a good fit is also an unique challenge, and you have to be able to communicate in visual terms with them in order to get the results our marketing/sales team needs, and the quality our readers expect.
Another challenge facing us today is the reluctance by sales leaders to try new ways of doing things. Because DREW FARTHERING MYSTERIES employs a stylized illustration concept, our sales team had to be convinced this would work for our market. Bethany is known as a leader in fiction cover design and it is important we continually seek out fresh ways of representing our authors and their stories.
Which of the three covers in the series do you like best, and why?
This is tough. I honestly like all three covers for different reasons. Rules of Murder will always be a favorite, because it established the series look and feel. We were proud of the final results. Jeff, the designer, is also a huge car fan, so to be able to include a vintage car from the early part of last century was fun for him. Murder at the Mikado is also a stand out in my mind because of the layering, and slightly more abstract perspectives. It was also a fun challenge to depict the setting with a night scene. Because of the overall dramatic perspective I would have say that Murder at the Mikado is my favorite, so far…
Links to download the covers: