Cover designs and illustrations are especially important for children’s books. It is really important for children to learn visual and textual languages at the same time. Very young children are mainly attracted by the visual. As they grow older, it’s the story that becomes more gripping. But these days, especially in the digital world, the two belong together.
I always loved to look at illustrations of books I was reading. My favourites were May Gibbs’ Gumnut Babies and the Big Bad Banksia Man. These beautifully hand-drawn and hand-coloured pictures gripped my imagination, even more than the stories did. I have no doubt that May Gibbs’ books were the inspiration for my own desire to write books for children about the natural world and its living creatures.
Everyone knows how important a front cover is for a book. When books are published in digital form, as with Amazon Kindle, the cover is especially important because the purchaser doesn’t get to actually see and feel the book. Once the manuscript of the Priceless Princess was looking like a real story at last, I started to think about the book cover.
I am also a keen artist and photographer, and for a short time I thought about doing it myself. At first sight, it seemed like a good idea. Technically it has become easier every day, as new automated cover services appear, including Amazon’s own. If you want someone else to do it there are lots of more-or-less professional graphic designers and illustrators who offer to design covers for various prices, ranging from super cheap to pretty expensive. There is a limited choice of styles though and a sameness to a lot of them.
This is especially so for children’s books, many of which seem to have simple line drawings and cartoon-like faces with some clumsy lettering. It’s hard to get a sense from the covers of what is going on in the books. Most of them don’t look very appealing.
I needed a visual concept for Princess Sophie. My granddaughter Lulu is very blonde with blue eyes and pink skin. Pretty much what you would expect for a Princess. She helped me write the story, but didn’t seem quite right as a model for the central character. These days she is a brilliant artist and graphic designer in her own right.
Another grand-daughter, Lulu’s cousin Lily, has bright red hair and eyes that are sometimes brown and sometimes green. Lily is six years older than Lulu and I hadn’t had so much to do with her when he was young as they lived far away. But I thought she would be a great role model for the Priceless Princess and so I started looking for images which matched my concept, without using actual photographs of her. I found a digital image I liked very much but the creator never responded to my Facebook requests and I could not track him down. But his image gave me the idea I wanted to develop. It wasn’t just the look of the face and hair, but the costume and stance as well. She looked like a very brave an enterprising young girl, just what I wanted. No droopy spangles for her!
Although I originally thought I would just have an e-book version of the Priceless Princess, I soon decided that it would be good to have a paperback as well. Children can share a printed book with their friends, pass it around, show each other the illustrations they like. One person can read from the book while another is using their e-book reader somewhere else. Not everybody wants children’s fingerprints (and worse) all over their Kindle screens, but at the same time might not be ready to buy the child a Kindle just for them. Above all, printed books are much more sociable than screens.
After much searching through people and companies offering book cover services I came across the remarkable illustrations by Keith Draws. Keith mostly works on SF and Fantasy titles. Even his covers for straightforward adventure stories have an element of edginess and a catchy quality which appealed to me. I especially liked his cover illustration for fantasy adventure story Argel: Planet of Refuge (below). So many books for children in this age-group don’t reflect the visual elements commonly encountered today, instead preserving an older visual style as if children are still living in the twentieth century.
I contacted him for a quote and he told me what he could do for me and how the process would work. Keith lives in another country, far away from Australia, but thanks to the Internet everything could be done at a distance. I began collecting images I liked which more-or-less resembled the ideas I had in mind for the story and Keith set to work to make the cover. It only took a couple of versions and what he came up with was so much better than I could have even imagined. We discussed some internal illustrations – children’s chapter books usually have a few drawings – and from that emerged more ideas and images and concepts which I sent him, from which he did the fantastic black and white illustrations in the book.
It was a great experience, working with an artist of such responsiveness and intelligence. It gave me a whole new perspective on the capacities of digital art.
I can’t thank Keith enough for his patience and assistance, including with internal design and layout. Creating books for the new world of digital publishing is so engrossing and challenging, not for the faint-hearted, although it is getting easier all the time. And I especially want to thank Keith’s two daughters to whom he read the story. They said they loved it even though English is not their first language. They especially loved the flying pony.
Visit Keith’s WordPress site here