Shelf Candy is a meme hosted by Maria @anightsdreamofbooks. Click the button above to see what other covers are being featured this week.
This week’s Shelf Candy features the beautiful cover for Blood and Feathers by Lou Morgan. The artist is UK-based Simon “Pye” Parr, head designer for Solaris Books. The cover is perfect – the explosion of feathers, the blood splatters for wings, and the the shadowy figure in the center all let you know this is a dark urban fantasy with angels that aren’t necessarily playing harps. It’s a standout cover, so I was excited when Pye agreed to visit the blog and answer some questions about his work, the process for designing the Blood and Feathers cover, and what his motto is for leading a more reflective life.
SWR: When did you know you wanted to become an artist and what were some of the major influences that put you on this path?
The only thing I ever remember wanting to do really is draw things. The ‘things’ have changed over the years, in fact, for a lot of my favourite projects I haven’t done much ‘drawing’ either… still, it feels like the same process to me, which is the important thing. Major early influences were things like The Beano, 2000 AD, Games Workshop, He-Man, Starcom toys, Star Wars, Hokey B movies, that kind of thing. These days I like to think my tastes are a little more sophisticated, but I’m just lying to myself.
SWR: How did you get involved with creating cover art and how long have you been doing it?
When Rebellion founded Abaddon books, I was working as the graphic designer on 2000 AD, and the job of putting the novels together was given to me. Several years after that I took on the design work for Solaris Books too. What started out as just plonking text on other peoples art has slowly changed to helping to write briefs, choosing and giving feedback (along with the editor and publishing manager) on cover commissions, and now having a go at it myself.
I’ve been producing art for covers for about 3-4 years (the stuff that’s actually worth looking at anyway) but I’ve been working with other peoples art and photography for magazines and books for my whole time as a print designer (12ish years).
SWR: Looking at your portfolio, I love the diversity in your work – from very designed graphical treatments to classic looking sci-fi. How would you describe your style and how has it evolved over the years?
I’m not sure the diversity of the things I work on is always a strength tbh. I get very frustrated putting portfolios together because no 2 pieces of work I’ve done match anything else! I sometimes wish I got to do more work in a single vein as I could really give myself a chance to develop something that’s really recognisable as mine, rather than always jumping from one thing to another.
On the other hand, that’s a very stupid thing to moan about – I’ve been really lucky to work on such a wide range of stuff. Not many people get that chance, and I’d be a bit of a dick to whinge too much about it. ‘Oh man, my life’s so hard, I get to spend my days colouring things in, drawing monsters/space/robots and reading comics – can you imagine my constant suffering?’
Anyway – stylewise, I dunno, I suppose I used to try and draw everything, just because I had the opportunity to do so and was over-excited. These days I’ll use any technique I can to make something look half-decent, and I play to my strengths with layout rather than having the most beautiful technique.
SWR: You are a cover artist and a designer. How are these roles different and which do you prefer?
In some ways they’re very similar – you use the same bits of your brain to make things look pretty – but I think, as a designer you have to look at things in a slightly more dispassionate way than an artist does, i.e. your job is to look at something and decide how you can make it better without taking away from it. Working out how to add information into an image without either reducing its’ impact or making your message irrelevant. You can be brutal to a piece of art to make it more punchy in ways that the artist would never consider (or want you to do). This isn’t intended to be disrespectful in any way, you just start to see things as a means to an end, whereas for the artist a lot of the time, the finishing of their picture IS the end, it’s perfect as it is. Quite often they’re right too – but you wouldn’t sell many books or magazines if half the covers in the shop had no words on. I find for example, designing text to go over an image I’ve painted myself to be quite difficult. There’s always little bits in the picture you’re quite proud of that you wont want to hide, but a designer wouldn’t think that way, they’d hack off the bottom of a picture if the text looked better there, or blow up a small part of the image to make a new cover entirely if it was stronger in some way.
I can’t say I prefer doing one over the other though. They’ve become so intrinsically linked in my head I can’t separate them anymore. A picture doesn’t seem finished to me without some typography somewhere, and a bit of type can be a work of art on it’s own. My favourite way to work is a bit half and half, where both parts are done simultaneously and I think about the type when I’m laying out the artwork. That way the art is done with more of a design-perspective and I don’t get all caught up in painting small parts of the picture in beautiful, irrelevant detail that it’s then heartbreaking to cover up. Unfortunately it’s exactly those parts of a picture that make being an artist so satisfying, and you have to care that much about the little things to come up with anything worthwhile.
SWR: What makes a good book cover?
I wish someone would tell me that, I could make a fortune!
I don’t think there’s any right way to come up with a good book cover. Some of my favourites are wildly different in style. If you can get across the feeling or sentiment of a book clearly and quickly, whilst leaving enough mystery for someone to think ‘Hey, that looks cool, what’s going on there and why?’ then you’ve done a good job.
SWR: How did you get involved with the cover art for Blood and Feathers?
I think Lou, the author, liked my cover for Regicide by Nicholas Royle, which I’d done a few months before and asked Jon at Solaris if I could do hers too – which was wonderful of her. It’s really nice to know that people you’ve never met (at the time) are aware of your work and appreciate it. Sometimes once you’ve sent a book off to the printers you feel you might as well have fired it into the sun for all the customer feedback you’re aware of.
SWR: Had you read the manuscript prior to creating the art, and, if not, what kind of direction did you get from the publisher? What was the single most important thing you wanted to convey in the cover?
I’ve worked on hardly any books where the manuscript has been finished when I start the artwork! I generally get to chat to author about what they want though, which I think is important, and I’ll read a synopsis or chapter breakdown. This is a better way to work I think, as you can get a feel or theme for the whole book rather than concentrating on a single character or scene.
Lou (and Solaris) were very keen to avoid a ‘hunky brooding angel/vampire guy’ style cover and come up with something a bit different. I suppose that’s why they asked me to do it, as there’s loads of artists who are far better than me at that kind of photoreal stuff anyway. We really wanted to hint at an urban fantasy setting, but avoid any romance crap like the plague.
SWR: I love the explosion of feathers and the wings made of blood, which is unexpected. What was your approach or process to creating the cover and what were the challenges in creating it?
The first thing I did was bang out as many different roughs as I could for Lou and the Solaris guys to check out. They brief was pretty loose so I wanted to get a clearer idea of what they liked quite quickly. I thought early on that it would be cool to swap the most obvious elements around, so have wings made of blood not feathers, but then I spent a long time working out how to do the angel’s body. I was thinking it would be cool to actually make a whole figure from feathers and have it fading out to a feathery black mess in places, but then I saw Joey Hifi’s cover for Blackbirds (which is awesome) and thought it’d be far too similar. It knocked my faith in the concept for a little while, as I had a hard time thinking of how I could do something as cool as that without looking like a rip-off. I’ve got to thank Lou here really, ‘cos just as I was really getting into a state about the whole thing, thinking about starting from scratch, she convinced me to stop being an idiot and just get on with it. From the start she was very enthusiastic about the rough that turned into the final cover and I’m glad we stuck with it. In the end I think the main thing that was annoying me (apart from how to paint the angel and at what size) turned out to be the type straight across the middle of the page – as soon as I moved it the whole thing started to work a lot better.
The feathers in the image were all done digitally in illustrator and photoshop, but the angel and all the textures were done in red ink with a brush and a straw then added afterwards. I had quite a fun morning blowing blood splats all over my studio ’til i got the right shape.
SWR: If you were given the opportunity to create the cover for any one book, past or present, what would that book be and why?
Frank Herbert’s Dune. Unlike most people it was the movie that made me read the books – I watched it as a kid and have always loved it. Since then of course I love the book just as much, but the pictures in my head will always be informed by the film. I’d like to try and break that and come up with an interpretation of my own. Also (with some exceptions), a lot of the Dune covers have been utter crap. It’d be nice to see if I could come up with something to do it justice.
SWR: What side projects, passion projects, or upcoming cover art would you like to share with us?
I’ve do a lot of quite big oil paintings of cars, some of which are for sale at the moment in my local pub – unfortunately because of that I don’t have any decent pictures of them, so here is an image that I did for 2000 AD as part of the ‘Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos’ teaser campaign for CBR (comic book resources) a few months back. It was meant to go on a tshirt but that got canned and nobody ever got to see it!
SWR: Finally, I am a Game of Thrones fanatic. Every family has a motto – the Starks have “Winter is Coming,” the Lannisters have “Hear me roar.” What is the Pye motto?
Ha! I’d like to say it’d be something badass, profound or interesting, but unfortunately I think “Leave it ’til tomorrow” says everything you need to know about me…
And just for fun, the Pivot quiz…
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
‘Piece’, specifically when used to describe music or art. Gah! Just typing it annoys me.
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Music, cars, countryside. Beer. All at the same time obviously.
What turns you off?
Public transport. tv adverts, tescos.
What is your favorite curse word?
Twat! it’s nicely percussive, but not so vulgar that you can’t use it inoffensively.
What sound or noise do you love?
My wife laughing at the telly or radio or something when I’m busy working upstairs. It reminds me there’s something going on in the world beside what I’m doing, and also slightly assuages the guilt I feel for ignoring her existence for days at a time.
What sound or noise do you hate?
Any random repetitive one that I can’t place. This drives me nuts and I cant think about anything else till I find out what it is and sort it out – like in the car when you get a rattle, or when you’re lying in bed and can hear a drip coming off the roof.
Also: the voice of that bloke who does the voiceovers in the breaks between shows on BBC one in the evening. He sounds like he’s constantly happy and smiling which winds me up.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
What profession would you not like to do?
Anything involving customer service.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
‘Yes, your great grandma is here, and no she doesn’t know about all that stuff you looked at on the internet.’
SWR: Thanks for coming by the blog, Pye!
You can find Blood and Feathers at the following links
(and it’s worth getting the paperback just to see this cover):
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