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 artist 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’m featuring the cover for Vicki Pettersson’s The Taken, the first in a new series called Celestial Blues. Since the book has not been released, I actually tweeted the author to learn the name of the cover artist – Larry Rostant. He is a UK-based illustrator/photographer who has probably done a majority of the covers that you know and love. Rostant has done cover art for Pettersson, Stephen King, George RR Martin, Anne Bishop, and Jacqueline Carey to name a few.
WHY I LOVE THIS COVER:
It’s beautiful. I saw this cover floating around the blogosphere and I knew I had to read the book. That let’s you know the cover did it’s job – it caught my eye and got me interested. I love the fact that it has a period feel to it. In fact, when I first saw it, I thought it was a UF set in the 1950’s. When I read the synopsis and found out it wasn’t, I was even more intrigued.
The model is beautiful, your eye goes to her immediately. I love how she is full of color but the background is desaturated. And the best thing? Those smoke wings. I had to look at it twice to fully get it. And I like that. It was a brilliant choice.
Please welcome Larry Rostant to the blog!
SWR: Larry, you’ve worked on covers for Stephen King, George RR Martin, and other big names in the field. Can you tell us a bit about how you got into the world of cover design?
I did a degree in graphic design, specializing in illustration. And when I left college, I was an advertising illustrator. In those days, I used to be an airbrush illustrator. Then along came Photoshop and I transferred to doing all of my work on Photoshop because the way it works is quite similar to airbrush, and it was quite an easy transition for me to make. So I transferred over to doing Photoshop, and because of that my work became more and more realistic. And so it’s ended up being almost photographic now. I got into book covers because I found that book covers gave me much more creativity in that I was able to just be given the manuscript and I was given free range to decide what I would like to do on the cover, which is how I now work. So I had complete creative control which is much more rewarding than in advertising where basically you are told what to do. I decided book covers are much more interesting to me. So I started working in book covers, and it grew, and grew, and grew. That is I how I ended up where I am now.
SWR: The one thing I was surprised to learn in all my interviews with cover artists is that you actually have very little contact with the author. It’s mainly the publisher’s art department and the cover artist that communicate on the design. What exactly is the working relationship between the Art Director and the Cover Artist?
Well, that’s very interesting, because I think that is sort of changing over time in that when I initially started doing book covers it was very much the Art Director had a vision because they understood the marketing involved in the book. So they had a vision of what was currently selling. And therefore the Art Director would come up with a concept. They would then brief the illustrator. And they would have gotten to know these illustrators over years, or through agents or whatever. So they had a group of illustrators that they liked working for them, or whose work they liked. That’s how I started out.
But what then has changed, I suppose, is as you become better known as an illustrator, quite often the Art Director will say to you, “Well, we like what you’ve done on these other covers, what can you think of to do on our cover? What can you bring that’s new to this cover?” And I’ve luckily gotten to the position where a lot of Art Directors, not always, but often, they’ll say to me, “We just like what you do, what could you suggest that would work well on this cover?” And it’s my job as an illustrator to know what is currently selling. And a lot of that has to do with popular culture of the moment. All the Twilight books, and then the films, and all the vampire stuff. When all that started, the look of the film posters, and the television series, and all of that affects the popular culture, and therefore, your covers need to tap into that. They need to look like that. So it’s about knowing what’s popular across culture. All things. Film, Television, Art. Everything, basically. It’s knowing what the zeitgeist is at the moment, tapping into that, and then reproducing that for a book cover.
SWR: How did you get involved with the Vicki Peterson cover specifically? Was this one of those cases where the Art Director said, “What do you want to do with it?”
No, with this one, they knew exactly what they wanted on this cover. With this one, I don’t think it’s only the Art Director. But it’s the Art Director and the Editor that work very closely together on these covers. They are a team I think. And I think it’s the editor who had a very strong view of what she wanted to see, and then talked that through the Art Director. They then came to me because I had done lots of work for them in the past for lots of different authors. And they said, “This is the vision we want to bring forward.” But then again, it taps into all those things that are currently popular. I understand the way that the color and the lighting are done on the “Twilight” posters – the fact that this is a noir-ish cover, so we need to borrow a bit from the film noir posters, and what those films look like. So, bringing together all those things. They had their vision, and talked to me, and said “This is the sort of thing we want. What do you think?” And I reinterpreted it with my own sort of spin on it, as it were.
SWR: Well, I love it! I love the smoky outline of the wings in the background. I thought that was fantastic. It’s a beautiful cover.
There was some debate from the art department whether that looked obviously like wings. There was some discussion about whether they should be a bit more obviously wings. But I quite like them, it’s sort of subtle. I didn’t want it to be too obvious. I think next time, if there’s another one in that serious, I’ll have to make them a little more obvious.
Sometimes I like to do things a bit more subtly than the Art Director would want. And they’ll come back to me and say, “Well, we like it, but for our readership, we need to make that point a bit more obvious.”
SWR: I loved the subtlety of it. I don’t think it needed to be obvious. I thought it was great.
That’s what I think! And that’s exactly what I’ll argue back with them. I’ll say “Well, come on. Let’s make it interesting for the reader.” So they’ll take one look, and don’t notice it, and take one look again, and then see something. So you get those layers of interest throughout the cover. So, I’m always trying to add those in. And to bring new things to the party. To say, why don’t we try this, and why don’t we do that. But then, I guess their view is, we’ve got to sell this in a mass market. We want everyone to get it every single time. So they’re pushing in the other direction. And I’m pushing in one direction. And then, between us, we come up with the cover.
I know this art director very well. We’ve worked together for a long time. I have a lot of respect for him, and the editor. So there’s never an argument about it. It’s just about, I’ve got my style, and they’ve got theirs. And it’s about meeting in the middle.
At the end of the day, quite frankly, it’s their say that goes. I respect what they think, and, hopefully, they respect what I bring.
SWR: What did you think was the one key aspect that needed to be conveyed on this particular cover?
For this cover, we were going for dark but also sexy. The model I found, I was very pleased with her. I’ve used her a few times and I thought she’d be perfect for this. So it’s got to be this overall dark, intriguing feel. But also be attractive, and sexy in a certain way.
SWR: I noticed, looking over your website and past covers, that it seems a lot of your work has period detail. Even in The Taken cover, when I first saw it, I thought maybe it was series set in the 1950’s. What’s the key to achieving that level of authenticity?
I do covers for all different genres of books. So, I do a lot of period fiction and romantic period fiction whereby we have to have fairly authentic costuming. I do historical fiction where the costuming has got to be absolutely accurate. And everything in between. I do action and adventure. I don’t just do book covers. I also do games, and advertising, and other things as well. So getting the right costuming is never a problem.
They did talk me through the influences for this. They liked the Dita Von Teese-type look, and Betty Page slightly. We actually shot two different dresses on the model to have a choice of what was right for her. And with him as well, he had to have that right. The book is meant to look like a noir-ish book even though it’s a contemporary book.
SWR: I know that the main character is supposed to be into the Rock-a-billy lifestyle and I think the model looked perfect.
She’s great. I’ve used her before a number of times, and I thought she’d be perfect. And she was.
SWR: How would you describe your style?
I think I interpret what is currently attractive to people, and then I reproduce it for book covers. And I have different styles for every kind of genre. Every genre has got its own look, and I will reproduce whatever is appropriate for that genre. A lot of my influences come from film posters, I would say. I spend a lot of time watching films. The lighting and styling of films. I watch all big films that come out. Lots, and lots, and lots of films. I watch four or five films a week. Even if they’re rubbish, its just to learn about the lighting and what’s currently interesting in styling. What do monsters look like? What do vampires wear? How are they lit?
So my style is based on that.
SWR: That gets to my next question. I was going to ask where you draw your inspiration. So would it be fair to say you draw your inspiration from film?
Not only film. I look at a lot of photographers. I love photography, and I love illustrators. So I look at them. I look at fine artists. I’ll go to the National Gallery and look at Caravaggio. It’s about being interested in all aspects of art, really. They all feed in to the final thing. If I go down into the underground, I spend just as long looking at all the pictures and posters and things just getting to where I need to get.
SWR: How do you think the e-book revolution has impacted cover design?
It’s having an effect on publishing. I think it now has about 20 percent of the market. I’m not sure. I only work for the mass market. For the hardback, the paperback, and the print market. And then they reuse my covers on the e-books. I give them permission to use them on the e-books. I’ve never been commissioned specifically to do an e-book. Because so far, there isn’t any budget for that. The budgets are quite small. But the way I look at it is if a new author comes along and releases a book, they’ve got to market it somehow. What a book jacket is, is the marketing, the advertising for that product. Attached to that product. And unique to that product. It’s a fantastic sort of thing. A new author, how else are they going to market their product, if they don’t have a cover?
I don’t think the publishing world quite yet knows the answer to that. And I think everyone is looking around wondering what is going to happen. I don’t think they’ve quite got there yet. I don’t see how we can do without a cover. Even if it’s not attached to the physical book. Even if all publishing in the future is digital, it’s still going to need some sort of marketing device. It might be that the new marketing device is a film. A short little moving film. I’m interested in doing that. So maybe the book jacket stops being a physical printed thing, and becomes a little film, or a little animation that does the marketing for the book.
It’s an exciting time to be an illustrator or a photographer. I’m not sure what I am at the moment. Whether I’m a photographer or an illustrator, I’m not sure. But it’s a good time to be it. It’s an interesting time to be in the business.
SWR: Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
I generally produce about three book covers a week. So there’s always work coming on, and I’m always booked up several months in advance. But editors don’t really like me talking about it. They don’t like me mentioning it until they’ve been out. But there’s lots of work coming on. Lots of it, very interesting. I’m excited about the idea of doing motion for something. A couple of big authors, two very big authors, I’ve just done their covers. I can’t tell you about them yet. But they are looking good.
Special thanks to Larry for taking time out to speak with me! Please take a moment to visit his site. You won’t be disappointed. His work is very cinematic and his site features some beautiful imagery.
please visit Vicki Pettersson to learn more about The Taken, the first book in her new Celestial Blues series, due for release on June 12, 2012!
Now, let’s get to reading!