Behind the Scenes - Loona and the Sargasso Sea Cover Art

Loona and the Sargasso Sea launched on Amazon last month! I'm excited about the project because I illustrated the cover art! Today I'm going to give a behind the scenes look at what it takes to create a professional illustration for print. 

A quick caveat. I illustrated the cover, I did not format the cover or do the lettering for the title. I also did the entire piece digitally using FireAlpaca (a freeware digital illustration program) and MS Window's native photo editing software. 

Above is the finished cover, front and back. Both front and back have the same base illustration with slight alterations. to fit the needs print and a conventional book cover. The first thing I did was talk with the author. The book is set in Nantucket, an island off the cost of Massachusetts USA and the author wanted a cover that captured that setting and a bit of the fantasy elements that are the crux of the setting. With this basic information, I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to draw. The next step was to look online and find some good reference photos. Since I have never been to Nantucket, this was an important step to capture the mood of the setting. Below are some of the reference photos used most heavily in the creation of this cover.

With reference images in hand, the next step was to select a color palette for the illustration. The color selection is as important as the line work in the illustration for establishing mood. Look at the difference between the front and back cover. Both covers have the same illustration, but the back cover has different mood because the palette is more dark and purple. For now, I'll focus on the front cover, because that is the cover I illustrated first. To help me selected a cohesive color palette, I use a free online tool, paletton which allows me to start from a standard palette, select colors, and tweak the pallete until I have the basic colors selected for my piece. Below is the color palette I started with for the front cover. It's only four colors. Limiting my color options helps me force the illustration to remain cohesive throughout. There are many colors used in this illustration that do not strictly appear on the color palette. When using colors that stray from the palette, I am careful. These colors will look out of place. This can be good. An element in an illustration that looks out of place can draw attention to that element and make it pop. However, this can be bad as well. An element that is unimportant, but pops because of a color choice can make the illustration confusing.

Armed with both my references and my color palette, it was time to begin drawing the illustration. For this I wanted a minimalist look with bold line work. I started with the line work in black. Once I was happy with that, I changed the color of the line work to the darkest shade of the color I wanted to be most prevalent throughout the illustration, blue. When I was happy with the line work, I laid down flat colors. That is, I filled the regions with roughly the color I wanted them to be. So I filled the sand with an orange color, the sea with a blue color, etc. Once I had my flats down, I began painting. Since I was going for a minimalist look, I wanted the painting to add subtle texture to the illustration without cluttering the minimalist aesthetic. The finished illustration was sent to the author for a few rounds of edits. Where the author pointed out elements of the illustration that did not match her vision and I adjusted the illustration to better fit the author's intention. The final product was sent to the author for final approval. The back cover was the same illustration as the front cover, but with the mermaid tail edited out and a few color filters applied. The purpose of these filters was to change the color palette and thus change the mood of the illustration for the back cover. Both of the final images were sent to the author who then sent them on to a formater who added all the text elements and ensured that the piece was formatted correctly for print.

All in all, illustrating a cover is a lot of fun. I enjoyed the process and it is immensely satisfying to have my illustrations on a book that sits on my bookshelf!

Loona and the Sargasso Sea is available on amazon as both paper back and kindle.

I currently have openings for new illustration projects. If you're interested in working with me, my email is mary@curiousdoodler.com