…on the creation of the cover for The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn.
I’m a blessed writer to have Kristopher Orr designing the covers for my novels, and can attest that readers agree. Kristopher takes my thousands (and thousands) of words and distills them into one compelling image that captures many elements of the story’s setting, character, and mood. And does so in a way that draws readers to the book before even one of those words is read.
Kristopher took time to answer my questions about his working process, and the design journey he took with my latest release, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn. I’ve looked forward since the book’s April release to sharing with my readers this behind-the-scenes glimpse into this cover journey (as we did last year with Burning Sky), so here goes.
Welcome Kristopher! Let’s jump right in and talk about how
you create a book cover.
Lori: As someone who briefly
pursued a career in the visual arts, I’m curious about the process of book
cover design—the day to day work of creation. What’s your first consideration
when presented with a new novel to design?
moments of when a reader picks it up. Sending clear signals about the
nature of the novel’s emotional experience is really important.
several things stream into your mind when you begin a new cover. Who are the
main characters, what do they look like? What is the genre and what does it
look like? What is the time frame? What’s the general mood of the novel? How do
we retain those visual cues but create something unique and in line with the
author’s voice? Is there a history with the author that we need to consider,
type treatment, color palette, name placement, that sort of thing. Will the
cover be seen mostly online or in stores?
are you given from sources other than the story itself?
comes to reading the market and gathering research. We’re often given some
ideas about where the book will travel, but we strive to look at being unique. Original
within the scope of what the book is, so to speak. Your novels are really fun in
this regard because this era hasn’t been flooded like some. There’s more room
to breathe the historical air.
Lori’s note: Room to breath the historical air. I like that!
design process into steps?
We murder to dissect! But I will tell you there is a path to be taken and that
trek is different for me every time, but the general idea is the same. I
usually begin with gathering as much information as I can. That often means a
cup of coffee, opening up the windows to let some light into the creative cave,
and reading what is available of the novel! I’m looking for inspiration and
details to include on the cover. Then some research asking: what’s out there?
What will it be put up against for comparison? What do I find inspires me as
the artist? How can we stretch the genre? What is the next visual step for the
look of the thing? How is this book unique? Then I sketch out ideas to process and
hopefully answer my questions. Then it’s off to image searching on specific
sites for backgrounds, and even characters that fit the character descriptions.
At that point I’ll have a good idea if a photoshoot will be required or if I
have what I need to begin compositing images together and designing typography.
It’s a system that seems to be working well for me. But a cover is an adventure
to be undertaken with thoughtful care and strategy. It’s an art, but also a part
of a business, thus systems have to be in place. Just like if you step into the
wilds without a compass, you’re not likely to arrive at your destination, to break
into a canvas without a strategy is asking for disaster. We set out with our inspirations
and strategies and best ideas for how to get there, but inevitably there are
unforeseen challenges. My experience is that grace flows strongest from a
genuinely desperate situation where a deadline looms, and the creative well’s
run dry. Then the only place left to turn to is a sketch book, and a guttural
cry out for help to the One who hears my prayers. Invariably things work out
Lori’s note: I know that feeling of desperation! It happens several times during the content edit phase!I also know how hard it is to break down a deeply creative process into steps. It’s all so organic and formless at times, all those steps bleeding into and overlapping each other….
design process do you enjoy most? What is the most challenging?
the cover flows together. It’s magical seeing everything finally synchronize
and work together. The most challenging part of the process is our critiques
and having to go back and change typography I really like, though it might be
impossible to read…. There is a tremendous amount of expertise and knowledge
that comes together to decide on which cover to use. That makes it easier to
submit to their guidance. It’s often very challenging to accept decisions I
understand from a mental standpoint, but can’t fathom as an artist.
The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn Cover
Lori: How many comps did
you create before the final cover was chosen? Can you share some of those that
arrived at the final pretty quickly. We knew what Tamsen looked like and could
nail down the model easily with your help. There were 6 unique compositions
before we landed the final and cleaned it up.
developmental stages of the final cover, from concept to finished design.
Kristopher: First pass is well received. Going for a very painterly aesthetic inspired by Lori’s writing style and by the miniature painting that plays a significant roll in the story. Time to go shoot the right model!
Kristopher: Here’s the first composited and rendered with the painterly filters and overpainting.
Interestingly, it’s not uncommon to arrive at the basic composition of the final early in the process. We often need to try some other options before we are confident it’s right.
This comp was well received, but the dress is the wrong color, and the type is dropping out. Also her pose and expression aren’t quite communicating what we are looking for.
Kristopher: Interesting idea, beautiful landscape, dress looks good, but it’s dark overall, and her expression is not quite right. It’s more annoyed than anxious or concerned.
Lori’s note: I do love that landscape on this one.
Kristopher: Nice composite but we’ve lost the painterly aesthetic we initially responded to. It’s too photographic, and also too romantic. This has become about the girl, not the adventure she’s going on. It needs more adventure drama.
Losing Lori’s name at the top.
Kristopher: Back to initial comp but with a new pose communicating more hope.
We’ve achieved the painterly style, but it’s too impressionistic. We need to see the dress, not an impression of it.
Also, make it blue.
Kristopher: Looks good!
Finesse for the final. Bring in more dress, and push the colors further.
That long strand of hair going down her back is troublesome.
Also, work on that type- who can read that?!
Kristopher: Finessed, and off to press.
The Cover Shoot
Lori: My original vision of Tamsen Littlejohn looked something like a very young Catherine Zeta-Jones.
I’ve mentioned elsewhere
that Victoria, the lovely young woman who portrays Tamsen Littlejohn on the
cover, was my top choice among the models I was presented with back in 2013.
have any stand-out memories from the day of the cover shoot with photographer Mike Heath?
the final had to be an outdoor shot. Mike is great at light, so it was no problem
to composite an indoor shot. But I still wanted the option… then it began
raining. We shot inside, but later the
sun came out it made for a great effect- everything looked like it could have
been in the Appalachian mountains!
I also remember Heather Miller, who did hair,
did an amazing job on the historical elegance of the style. Then she had to go
mess it all up to look like Tamsen had been running through the woods for
several days. She did it with grace and art, but it was still hard to watch!
The end result was perfect!
in that gown that didn’t make the
cover that you can share?
Kristopher: Happy to!
(below) Hair, makeup and costume are done and look great.
Victoria, the model, got into character quickly and gave photographer
Mike Heath lots of poses to work with.
Lori: I’d have been happy had we settled on any of the above poses. Thank you, Victoria, for donning that very orange (but lovely!) gown and having your gorgeous hair all mussed to be on the cover of my book. 🙂
Kristopher, for sharing these behind the scenes looks at the creation of the
Tamsen Littlejohn cover, and for sharing with my readers your experience and craft as a book
cover designer. It’s a process I’m sure they find as interesting as I do. Thank you, most of all, for creating such gorgeous book covers, for me and many other writers.
walk back through these knowing where we ended up. I’m delighted with these
Lori: Me too! And I know readers agree.