Wednesday, July 02, 2014

House of Anansi A-List Book Series

I recently completed a long term project for House of Anansi to illustrate their annual "A-List" selection of books, reprinting canadian literature classics.  Previous illustrators chosen for the series included Jillian Tamaki, Genevieve Simms and Mathieu Lavoie, so it was a great honour to be included amongst those names.

My assignment was to create new cover illustrations for this year's selection of 5 books, which you can see below.  They were all very interesting and enjoyable reads and I was given a lot of freedom to create the images as I saw fit.  I decided to try a different approach for each book, rather than go for a homogenous look, as the cover design template would already impose some continuity and structure to the book design.

Needless to say, I had a lot of fun with this project, and it was a very artistically rewarding and challenging experience.  The covers were drawn in a variety of mediums, including digital, watercolour and coloured inks -- sometimes all of those in one image.

For those interested in seeing the process, here's a quick walkthrough of how I drew one the of covers, for Marian Engel's The Honeyman Festival.  

The first step, obviously, was to read all the books.  Thankfully, Anansi was gracious enough to give me a long deadline so that I could read each book in depth.  Here's a snapshot of the pile of manuscripts they sent along:

During and after reading each manuscript, I wrote down notes and impressions, which would aid me in coming up with a concept for the visual.  Sometimes I would review those notes and try and cull them down to the main points to make a "mind map" of ideas.  Here is my sheet of ideas from the Honeyman Festival: 

I find that writing helps me to organize my visual ideas, and gives me a few clear paths to investigate as I go about the process of thumbnailing and coming up with a concept for the cover.  The thumbnailing part though, really is the most important, and it's when I try out a lot of different visual ideas, seeing if anything "hooks" me and gives me something to develop further.  I tend to give myself free reign here to try out anything without worrying about success or failure.  Here are some of the many quick thumbnails I did for the Honeyman Festival:

As you can see, my ideas slowly developed until I arrived at the image at the very bottom of that photo.  I took that and scanned it and developed it further digitally until I created this rough, which I submitted to House of Anansi for review:

After approval by the art director, I then proceeded to work out the details such as anatomy and lighting to make a final cover.  I wanted to retain a lot of the energy and roughness of the sketch, while at the same time polishing it up just enough -- a tough balancing act.  Hence, for this one, I drew a variety of final ink drawings and picked the best one for the cover.  Here's a photo of the batch:

The one I went with ultimately was the second one in the bottom row.  I scanned it and added some colour, texture and processing in photoshop, and the final cover was complete.

Thanks for reading this long process post, and thanks again to House of Anansi for the great assignment.