Shelf Candy is a weekly meme hosted by the lovely Five Alarm Books. This meme gives us an opportunity to highlight a cover we love and the artists who created it. Please click the button above to find out how to participate and to see what other covers are being discussed this week.
This week I decided not to highlight one cover but instead I wanted to showcase the covers of an entire series. And that is Nicole Peeler’s Jane True series.
WHY I LOVE THESE COVERS:
What isn’t there to love about these? As a big fan of the Urban Fantasy genre, I can say without hesitation that these are some of the most unique covers out there. I remember when the first book was released I saw it in a bookstore and my eye was immediately drawn to it. It was different. Unique. I picked it up, read the back, and was convinced that this was going to be special. And it was. I loved the book. The style is girly and fun but with an edge that makes it exciting.
I am happy to introduce you to the team responsible for creating these covers, Lauren Panepinto, Art Director at Orbit Books, and Sharon Tancredi, Artist and Illustrator.
SWR: Sharon, can you tell me briefly what your path was to becoming an artist/illustrator?
SHARON: I started my career a bit later in life than most! I had worked in advertising for many years, on the commissioning side of things, as an art buyer. I was commissioning both illustration and photography for our clients, which led to a real passion for illustration, and also prepared me well for the business side of working as an illustrator. About ten years ago I decided to do a post-graduate degree in illustration, and in 2003 I started my new career.
SWR: How did you become involved with the Jane True series?
SHARON: I was contacted by Lauren Panepinto, the fabulous art director at Orbit Books, who was interested in doing something a bit different for a UF series by then new author Nicole Peeler. I was very excited by the brief and we went from there!
SWR: Lauren, the covers for the Jane True series are truly unique – they are definitely not the typical style for a UF read. What was the decision-making process for such a bold choice?
LAUREN: At Orbit, when we were reading Nicole Peeler’s first manuscript, we loved how unique her voice was. We really felt it needed something different from the standard sexy-girl urban fantasy covers. As with the original Charlaine Harris covers, there was a whimsy to Nicole’s setting and characters that we wanted to highlight with a unique look. I thought Sharon Tancredi’s illustration style struck the perfect note of cute but still sexy, whimsical, but still a bit goth and dark and supernatural.
SWR: How much collaboration do you have with the author, Nicole Peeler, on the cover art?
SHARON: Normally an illustrator has no contact with the author of a book for whom they are creating a cover, and generally an author has very little input in the process. It’s all down to the publisher’s art department, who have a vast experience in commissioning cover art. Normally as an illustrator you don’t even read the book, but are given a synopsis of the story, and are more or less told what to draw. The initial vision usually comes from the art director, and you are bringing their idea to life. Sometimes you might get a chapter or two to read, or a very early draft of the book. By this stage the book is usually still being written and edited and is seldom in its final form, and the book is literally being put into its final form as you create the cover, with everyone working to a deadline. Sometimes the brief is a bit more flexible, and you are asked to provide a few ideas in rough form, based on reading whatever material is made available to you. The art director then decides which idea to go with, and you produce the final art. Nicole was the first author that I’ve ever had contact with, as once I had read the draft I was really blown away by the story and her writing, and emailed her to tell her how excited I was to be doing her first cover! I had never read a UF book before, and although prior to this it might not have been the sort of fiction that I would have chosen to read, her amazing story really got me hooked on the genre. We became friends after that and often spoke about ideas for all the covers, which really helped me flesh out Jane’s character and other details that were key to each book. It was brilliant working with both Lauren and Nicole, as we all seemed to have a similar vision of Jane and it really was a team effort!
SWR: The last Jane True book (and the soon to be released book) had a slight change in the design – a header and footer for the book’s title and author. What was the reasoning for this change?
LAUREN: It was a change mostly made for legibility at a smaller size. The banner design is great, but really has a hard time being legible at thumbnail size, either for ebooks or ordering print books online. We wanted to keep the illustrations, but needed the title and author to pop more.
SWR: What is it about Jane True and her world that you feel is the most important thing to convey in the cover art?
LAUREN: Jane’s unique voice. She’s not the standard all-badass-all-the-time urban fantasy heroine. She’s a complicated and completely relatable heroine, and the covers had to be unique to signal that. It’s always a risk doing something different from the herd, but we try to be risk takers with Orbit covers, and the fan response to the covers has been really amazing. Once you’ve met Jane, you feel so strongly that these are great illustrations for the books.
SWR: Has there been any thought given to producing a Jane True graphic novel based on the style you’ve created?
LAUREN: I need to take the fifth on this one, but the fabulous thing about Orbit and Yen Press is when imprints are physically sitting on top of each other, there’s a lot of collaboration, like the new Soulless manga series.
SWR: Sharon, can you tell me a little bit about your process. Once you get an assignment, how do you go about creating a cover?
SHARON: Quite often when I read a brief and/or manuscript I instantly get a clear idea of what I want to do, especially in the case of an imaginative and well-written story with a strong central character. Jane True took form straight away – I saw her as both a cute and sexy little brunette, with a real edge to her looks and personality. She wasn’t just some typical urban fantasy warrior pin-up, but someone a bit more complex. Both vulnerable and strong, girlishly cute but also powerful and sexually uninhibited and confident. Both clumsy/self deprecating but also razor sharp clever and witty. Ambiguous characters like Jane are always the most fascinating and inspiring ones to try and visually manifest! I started sketching, looking for visual references of women that I felt captured aspects of Jane, especially her half coquettish ingénue/half kick ass urban fantasy warrior persona. I know that some people had a few issues with her apparent “adolescent” appearance on the first cover – her sexy but child-like looks didn’t sit right with some, but I really wanted to get the exciting ambiguity of this amazing young lady across! After several rough drawings and some post-final artwork tweaking Jane’s image was born! There was much to-ing and fro-ing with the first cover, as there always is, getting not only the look of the character right but also the atmosphere of the environment and the general design and layout, but once we finished the first cover the template was set and the sequels followed on from there. The covers, as you say, were certainly something of a departure from the typical style for a UF read, but I think Jane is not a typical UF heroine and that is precisely what we all wanted to convey with the covers. The stories are different, Jane is different, and thus so are the covers! And it was great working with an author and art director who both wanted to have a go at breaking the mold! I also think it was a great idea to go with illustration as opposed to photography, as it gives Jane the “other-worldliness” that I think would have been difficult to achieve otherwise.
SWR: What is the difference between a cover designer and a cover illustrator?
SHARON: A cover designer is really an art director. The designer or art director has the vision and then commissions the illustrator to create the image. There is always a bit of collaboration, in that, depending on the project, as an illustrator you are able to make suggestions and have some input in the process. Each job is different and some are far more prescribed than others.
SWR: Who are artists that inspire your work?
SHARON: My inspirations are vast and varied and probably clear to many… I’ve always been inspired by lowbrow/pop surrealism artists like Mark Ryden, Tara McPherson, Ana Bagayan, Femke Hiemstra and many others. I love the wide-eyed innocence of their pretty girls and animals, with that darker undercurrent bubbling away underneath the surface. I also take inspiration from Japanese Manga art, 1950’s packaging design and all things kitsch/retro, and I love the decoration and embellishment you find in Victorian engravings and old illuminated manuscripts.
SWR: If you had the opportunity to create the cover for any book, what would that book be and why?
SHARON: That’s a tough question, far too many to mention! A dream job would be to illustrate a series of Grimm fairytales, as they there is so much opportunity for beautiful images with dark and complex themes… The best cover to illustrate though would be the cover for my own self-written, self-illustrated book, which I’m always trying to find the time to do in between commissions! Watch this space!
LAUREN: Well every designer lusts after a solid backlist. Something that has a little less stress because it’s a rerelease, and you can repackage with a little more freedom to do something as a set and conceptual. I love working at Orbit, they acquire great authors, but we’re only 5 years old in the US, so not much re-releasing to play with (yet). I am ever-jealous of the fabulous projects Coralie Bickford Smith gets to do with Penguin backlist titles, I’d love to do that for fantasy and scifi sets:
SWR: Finally, any hints you can give about upcoming cover art?
SHARON: Can’t give too much away as we’re still working on that! Suffice to say that the cover for the final book in the series will receive the dramatic finale that it deserves!
Special thanks to both Lauren and Sharon for visiting the blog and to Nicole Peeler for a wonderful series. Please take a moment to say hello to them!
Now, tell me what you think about the Jane True covers!