In the Realm of Book Cover Design

I have the otherworldly pleasure of being married to a fantasy writer. He started writing novels over 10 years ago. Since then, he's been fighting to break into the fortress that is the publishing industry. We recently learned about KindleScout, a reader-driven site for never-before-published books by emerging authors. One necessary element of entering was to provide cover art for the submitted book. I naturally volunteered to help.

Mandrake's hand after first major battle
Liefdom takes place in a unique realm created by Jesse Teller. It's the story of a fairy named Gentry Mandrake. Born with natural weapons in a race known for pacifism, he is cast out and hated for his differences. It's a hard book to visually represent, filled with love and darkness, hope and death. We didn't want a detailed illustration of one scene on the cover, preferring to instead come up with a simple, striking visual.  

When I asked Jesse if he had anything in mind, he mentioned a drawing of Mandrake's hand I had sketched a few years earlier. He also wanted a parchment background to give it a sense of age. In Liefdom, the main love interest is a fairy who inks the designs of butterfly wings. I wanted to also use colored ink splashes somehow.

Jesse wanted hand lettering for the title art and insisted on working with Chris Mostyn, a talented artist and friend. He was great to work with, very responsive. After a few initial sketches, he sent us this:

Hand lettered title art by Chris Mostyn

We put it all together and came up with a strong design that invokes struggle, pain, and beauty.
Initial cover design

However, after doing a bit of research and reading some fine print, we decided we needed a less bloody version! We tried taking off the red, but it lost impact in the process. For the final cover art, we eliminated the hand and brought in more splattered ink. The ink splashes are actually watercolor, with added saturation and multiplying done in Photoshop.

The dark lower portion of the cover begged for something to anchor it. I needed a brief line of copy to balance the title art. It was the perfect place to include a mention of Perilisc, the name of the continent in which the story takes place.

It's organic, tense, and beautiful. The spotlight behind the title adds contrast, and a sense of hope, while an inexplicable darkness creeps up from below.

Final cover design

For more about Liefdom and Jesse Teller, visit his website.

A Surprisingly Tight Line to Walk

A dichotomy of passion and ego drives many artists, a desire to create something meaningful and a belief that one's creations can change the world. Anyone who's been to art school, or put their work out there for feedback, knows how hard it is to listen to criticism and learn from it.


In my case, compliments are equally hard to take. As soon as someone gives me a compliment, I feel like a spotlight is on me and I'm overcome with apprehension. What did they say? Do they mean it? Are they just being polite? How much enthusiasm should I show here?

For many years, I smiled and said, "Thank you," or "Oh, that's so nice of you." But after a while, that sounds less genuine. I've been designing quality work for 15 years. Pleasant surprise doesn't seem like the right response.

I'd rather react with confidence, "Yes, thank you, I agree," or "That's one of my strengths, actually." My fear is that such replies sound too arrogant. How do I react with appropriate confidence and delight without sounding absurd? It's a surprisingly tight line to walk.

I draw mandalas to work on understanding certain topics. For a couple of months now, I've wanted to draw one in complementary colors that somehow shows what compliments feel like. I started this project not knowing I was working on it. With all my daydreaming, I hadn't actually thought about the content of it. Each unfolding layer surprised me. At different stages of working through this piece, I felt a wide range of strong emotions—peace, sadness, anxiety, fear, despair, excitement. 

Graciously receiving compliments is complicated—part spotlight, part control, part etiquette, part deliberation, part applause, part encore. It's a dance I may never master, but maybe this study brings me a little closer.

Listen to Your Muse

Whatever your plans, be receptive to new ideas. Continually allow for revisions or adjustments that might take your work places you didn't anticipate.

This watercolor piece ended up differently than I had planned, but I couldn't be happier with the end results. I'd been thinking about this one for while. I wanted to use analogous colors—blues, greens, and yellows—to create something earthy. Then, I was going to title it "Analogue" as a statement about enjoying nature without digital interference. That was my plan. However, in the face of inspiration, I abandoned the concept entirely.

That concept did guide me through most of the piece. I even penciled in trees on the outer layer during initial sketching. As I drew layer by layer, I would look at the page, visualize something, and draw it. I knew most of it would be abstract, so I didn't think too much about what the shapes would represent. I knew I wanted trees; that was all I had figured out. As I started adding color on the interior levels, something kept bothering me. What were those long triangles pointing up between the trees?


As I continued painting, I kept feeling like something else needed to accompany the trees. I didn't know what. And I didn't know what the triangles in between them would be.

"Inspiration exists, but it must find you working." —Pablo Picasso

I kept adding color, building out to it, even painting the background beyond the mandala. The point is, I kept working. Even though I hadn't quite figured out the plan, even though I knew I was missing something.

I kept asking, "What kind of triangle silhouette do we see next to trees? What could those shapes become?" I had painted nearly everything else when the idea of steeples was revealed to me. Poured in with it came in the notion to alternate different kinds of steeples. I titled it "Analogous", using the many meanings of the word to apply to the color palette as well as religions that coexist alongside each other. At the very end, I decided to add black outlines reminiscent of stained glass.

This piece exceeded my expectations in every way. If I hadn't listened to my muse, it would have been a lukewarm sentiment about nature. Instead, it's a powerful statement about religion and spirituality.