Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Meet the real life "Cover Girl" who designed the cover for "Cover Girl"

I thought I'd do something different for my release day, and it seemed appropriate that for a book titled "Cover Girl" it might be cool if readers met the artist who designed the cover, along with many others. Alex Allden is a cover artist for HarperCollins, and in the short time she's been there she has knocked out many eye-catching covers. And what are the odds a guy whose heroines are redheads and is married to a redhead has a cover artist who's a redhead?

Alex, short for Alexandra, with Merlin

So I asked Alex to spend a little time answering questions about artists that many of us have wanted to ask.

-Tell us a little about yourself, your background, and how you got interested in art.
Well … where to begin without sounding like a lonely hearts ad :)
I’m a flame-haired, book-obsessed, cat-lover who was brought up in a small village in Cornwall. I blame the Celtic blood for my hair and also thank them for my greatest super power. It was hard not to be creatively inspired when living amongst the woods, rivers and sea sides that my childhood had, thus I loved art from a very early age. Being a perpetual dreamer, I always had my head lost in a book. It wasn’t until I left Uni that I found I could combine both in my actual dream job! I always feel so lucky that I get to work in book cover design.

-My mother was an art teacher but I cannot draw at all. Are artists born with the talent, or can it be learned?
In my family it’s the opposite – my mother claims she cannot draw, yet 3 out of her 4 children can draw, the other is talented with music. She’s always wondering where it came from, we reckon some distant ancestor. I loved drawing as a kid and whether I started with natural talent or whether practice and study over the years made me good at art, I don’t know, I think it was a mixture. One thing I will say is, I was born with an over-active creative imagination (as I imagine writers were), I’m not much of a writer or musician, so all this creativity had to come out somewhere.

-Take us through the process of creating a book cover. Do you brainstorm with the editor, read a synopsis, read a little of the book?
First of all I get a brief from the editor, most of the time they have in mind what market and audience they want to appeal to and any competition covers, to make sure it hits the right mark. I always try to read the manuscript before I design but time constraints mean I can’t read every book. If I can’t I always read the synopsis and have an in-depth chat about the story with the editor. I then go away and research imagery and ideas.  After I come up with some designs, I run them through with the editor or through our weekly cover art meeting with all the publishing whiz kids (sales, marketing and publishers). If a cover is liked in house, we pass it on to the author, because that person in my opinion is the one to impress; it’s their characters I am bringing to life. If all goes well, its all systems go to get the book out to the public.

-You recently told me you like working with my fiery redhead heroines. Why are redheads so much fun?
I do believe I might be biased here but I love a good redhead heroine. I think we stand out from the crowd; it’s not hard to spot us! We are … well, fiery! There’s a certain crazy, unique energy that comes from us (well I hope in my case). That’s why I think we are so much fun.

-How did you come up with the concept for the Cover Girl book cover?
The concept for Cover Girl was one of those instant covers for me. I had a visual in my head as soon as I read the brief and synopsis. I felt it fit in with the previous cover I did for Twitter Girl but also played off the double meaning of the word ‘cover’. The heroine actually being covered by a book subtly linked to the fact that she is being written into the book (without her knowledge), but also the undercover nature of the hero, his lies masking his true identity. It just highlights all the intrigue and secrets involved in the story, with the cheeky humour that is the beating heart of any Nic Tatano novel. It also showed the key links to the publishing industry with her being an editor, the glasses and red pen adding to this image. 

-What makes a good book cover?
Well that’s a toughie … it all depends on the viewers personal preference, each book cover for me can only be as beautiful as the beholder chooses it to be. For me, I gravitate towards covers with illustration, beautiful patterns but most importantly a clever idea. I like my covers to make perfect sense to me as I read the book, the feeling of ‘Oh that’s why they did that’, closely followed by ‘Gosh that’s clever’. Also I think a good cover is something that’s fits the genre and audience of the book but also creates impact and is unique. I always start off designing covers I like, with the hopes that everyone else will too. It’s a lot of hoping and finger crossing.

-What’s your typical day like?
Most days start with me sitting at my Mac, Wacom pen in hand and a rough to do list in the other however depending on mood, inspiration and timing, I could be designing some dark thriller one second or picture researching cute dogs for a woman’s fiction title the next. Some days are just so different you can’t plan them, like being out on shoot working with models and photographers, or painting some words for a title or asking your colleague if you can photograph their hand (sometimes it’s that random). My strangest day was working at home, sculpting a papier-mâché forest whilst fighting off my inquisitive cat. Each day can be so unpredictable, which is what makes it so much fun, it’s why I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. 

-How long does it take to create a book cover?
It all depends on the title, sometimes a cover as be based on instinct and it’s done in one day and luckily approved by everyone. Others can be tweaked for months, to get it just right. Our digital first books usually have a quick turnaround, as the idea is to be one step ahead of the digital market, whereas I have some titles I can have longer on. If a book cover has a long creative process, like working with an illustrator or photographer, it can take a lot of planning/time. 

I’ve had fun creating lots of my covers but I’ll mention 2 in particular:
The Fire Sermon PB: When I was at Uni, I loved creating paper cut-outs/sculptures. So when the editor for this explained she wanted a paper art route, I was so happy and keen to tackle this with my own two hands. I spent two days at home, molding the pages of the HB into a scene from the book, creating paper cut trees, silhouettes and threading fairy lights into the sculpture. I even got to create my own handwritten type for the title. It was probably to most hands on, creative cover I’ve worked on … yet!
The Shock of the Fall PB: this was so much fun for me because not only was it a book very close to my heart but also it was my first big literary title when I was a junior. The process to get the right cover took months. It wasn’t until I dreamed of a cover idea one night and the next day illustrated it that I finally got the right cover. It was the first book to make me realize my natural flare for illustrated covers. The fact it did so well was such a bonus!

- I had no idea you ever left your office to create a cover... tell me about your trip to the forge to create something unique.

It was my first shoot I’ve ever worked on and ended up being in the most unusual location. When I started on the Fire Sermon HB I put together the Alpha/Omega brand using photoshop and stock images. However this didn’t have that real, tackle, feel you can get from a brand! I had no idea I could actually get a real blacksmith to do this or that I could art direct a shoot in a forge. Nick Moran, the blacksmith, was amazing; he took my design and created two amazing brands right before my eyes. I then hired the talented Johnny Ring to photograph the brand heated up in the coals of the furnace. Marketing coordinated with me so that they could film a cover reveal on the day. It was a wonderful team project and showed how much effort we go into creating covers. 

-What’s it like to go into a store and see your work displayed on a shelf?
It’s the most incredible feeling. It’s the closest thing to being a rock star. The best is seeing someone next to you on the train, reading a book you’ve worked on and you feel like tapping them on the shoulder and shouting to the whole carriage ‘I designed that!’ I don’t of course … that would be terribly un-British. 

-Finally, do you believe you can judge a book by its cover?
Ah … the chicken and egg of all questions. I think you shouldn’t judge a book solely on its cover. If we have done our jobs right, the cover should be the first thing to attract you to the book but the back cover copy needs to be the final draw to get the reader to take it home. The cover is the flashy wardrobe of the brilliant story underneath. The two should be a match and never be judged separately. 

Thanks, Alex, for taking so much of your valuable time... I'm sure readers found this fascinating. We'll leave our readers with one more wonderful cover...