Nick Castle is the design artist behind many urban fantasy covers, such as Spellcrackers.com series by Suzanne McLeod, Mercedes Thompson series by Patricia briggs, Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, and of course Kitty Norville series by Carrie Vaughn. As this is Kitty month, I thought it would be fun to learn how covers come into being, and Nick was kind enough to write about the process.
So please give Nick a warm welcome…
I was commissioned to repackage the Kitty series by Carrie Vaughn in 2007 by Lucie Stericker, the art director at Orion Books. I seem to remember that the initial brief was fairly open but the main objective was to produce a set of photographic based covers that were stylish and striking. I was provided with a comprehensive brief which told me who the books should appeal to and who were the comparable authors in this market. This information is vital as it is useful to see how other designers have approached a similar brief and also to make sure that your covers look different from any others out there already.
The first stage of the design process is when I come up with a selection of different cover visuals and present them to the publisher. Each of these designs demonstrated a different way of depicting the central character in an appropriate surrounding. For each of these designs I came up with a different style of typography for the title and author. As each of the titles began with the word Kitty I was keen to come up with a distinctive lettering style and so create a kind of Kitty logo that would be clearly seen on each of the covers. These designs are shown at a cover meeting where representatives for the editorial, sales and marketing look at the designs and discuss them. When they had decided on a design they all liked I was told to go to the nest stage, finding a suitable Kitty.
Early alternative cover designs with different lettering styles
Right from the beginning we decided that the best way to approach these covers was to commission a photoshoot of a model who would represent Kitty. I suggested we work with a photographer I had used before called Sorted (www.sorted.tv
) who I knew was very good at photographing people in a studio. Our first task was to cast a model so we approached a number of agencies and gave them a specific description of the character, once we had selected a suitable girl we booked the shoot.
As we planned to provide enough different images of the Kitty character to package the whole backlist and any new titles we needed to make the model look different in each photograph. We achieved this by working with a stylist who was able to supply a selection of different outfits including belts, boots and jewelry. We also used a hair and make-up artist who was able to change the look of the model for each different outfit, some times the hair would be tied back, sometimes more loose. We also worked out a whole series of positions for the model to adopt so again it would help each cover to look different. I attended the shoot which was a long day but we came away with a good choice of images, well over a thousand in fact.
Back in the studio I set about putting together the different backgrounds for each cover, luckily each of the books is set in a different place so I began by looking for library images to represent each of the locations. Once I had the backgrounds I went about selecting alternative Kitty images for each cover and giving each cover its own colour, again to help make them look different.
I find that when designing a set of covers like this it helps to do as many as possible together so that you can lay them all out together and make sure you have a broad selection of model poses, outfits and background images and colours.
When all the elements are put into place the cover designs go back to an approval meeting at the publishers and hopefully are approved before going off to be printed as finished covers.
Nick Castle started his career as an in-house designer at HarperCollins Publishers. After 9 years, he joined Orion Books as an Art Director. Since 2000, Nick has been freelance, specializing in book publishing, corporate identity and advertising. He has extensive experience of commissioning photography and illustration and taking projects from concept stage through to finished artwork. www.nickcastledesign.com