Minotaur Art

Oct 25

I almost died on my way to Venice — Death in the Floating City by Tasha Alexander

Death in the Floating City is a a wonderful read, as are all of Tasha Alexander’s books. As austenprose.com said of her:

"Jane Austen spoiled us. Nowadays, it’s difficult to find heroines like Elizabeth Bennet. Luckily, author Tasha Alexander decided to gift the world with a tenacious woman Austen herself would be proud of: Lady Emily Hargreaves."

The visual was created by the amazingly talented designer Elsie Lyons. Elsie and I labored for ages to get this just right. The gorgeous hand lettering (which is stamped in purple foil on the printed jackets) was created by Iskra.

We began by presenting several John Singer Sargent paintings for consideration. Sargent’s painting of Nancy Astor was unanimously selected.

But then week after week, designs kept getting rejected. Eventually we ditched the Nancy Astor painting, reviewing tons of other historical paintings (by Sargent and others) instead.

None of the new images were right either. It was felt that the woman’s pose needed to be less formal, and that she should not be an interior setting. Existing historical portraiture has neither of these attributes. So we needed to create a new painting, but done in the Sargent style.

So we commissioned the extraordinary Aleta Rafton to create a painting. Getting the clothing historically accurate was very important, which Aleta researched.

Aleta works digitally from photographic sources. So the plan was for Aleta to show us the art prior to making it look painterly. There were some details that we wanted changed, but overall we were very pleased.

So Aleta got to work and the results were fantastic. Everyone across the board was absolutely delighted with the results!

Weeks passed, and as people were ‘living with’ the artwork a hesitation and doubt began to grow. The image looked too modern, and it was decided to completely rethink the art.

It can be hard for ‘we artists’ to hear a rejection after so much time and effort has gone into something. But it’s important to remain objective. And upon consideration, the assessment was correct. Secondly, how often do I have a change of opinion regarding my own preliminary designs after ‘living with’ them for a few weeks.

In retrospect, I think that putting her in an outdoor context and giving her a less formal pose were precisely the very things causing Aleta’s painting non-historical. So Elsie reworked the cover using a Sargent painting that had previously been rejected.

 Seeing the painting in context, on a designed cover made all the difference—everyone loved it. But the bottom image was wrong. It needed to be more paintery. We also wanted a more expansive vista of the Grand Canal, and felt that we needed a gondola in the foreground.

We found a photograph that was perfect, and Aleta was able to once again use her magic to add the gondola in the foreground and transform the art into having a historical painting vibe.

I love this newest entry in a delightful series, and I love how they all look together. I hope that the visuals help entice readers to delve into the wonderful world that Tasha Alexander creates—they are truly such enjoyable novels.

Sep 14

How to Survive High School: Death Makes the Cut by Janice Hamrick

Death makes the Cut is Janice Hamrick’s wonderfully entertaining mystery featuring school teacher Jocelyn Shores. These novels are so enjoyable!

I smile every time I see this cover and think of Jocelyn’s predicaments. But I do always feel a a little badly for the reaper in the art—those girls seem so mean : ) .

The other thing that strikes me about the art is how much all high schools seem to look alike. This looks just like the place I went to school.

Ben Perini is the illustrator and he is great at these. We discuss the concept for the scene, he serves up a few options, and aces it (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Have a great weekend everyone, and for those celebrating Rosh Hashana on Monday, a very happy new year to all of you.

Sep 12

How to Create One Design for Two Different Companies: Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason

Outrage is Arnaldur Indridason’s newest book in his stellar ongoing Inspector Erlendur series.

The visual for this book took a very unusual path. This series is published in hardcover by Minotaur. But the paperback editions are published a year later by Picador.

Over the years the Picador paperback covers at right (photographs by Laura Hanifin) have been very different from the Minotaur hardcovers. This is to be expected—after all, the books are being done by two different publishing companies.

In Minotaur, we reviewed our past hardcovers and decided that we wanted a completely new look for the series. But in addition, we found ourselves wishing that the paperbacks and hardcovers both had the same covers as one another.

We decided to try and make it happen for Outrage, the new hardcover, and approached Picador about the prospect. We were very happy to learn that they felt the same.

So I, and the legendary and incredibly amazing Picador Art Director Henry Sene Yee began collaborating on the project (see below).

We were very excited to have a project together. Henry and I informally spend hours talking about design but it’s been years since we have officially had a book together.

Everyone wanted a cohesive series look from one book to the next. So it made sense for the project to be conceptualized, designed, (and presented in meetings) as a series rather than just presenting designs for a single book.

We’d need to see how they functioned as a group visually. So Henry and I felt that he should take the lead by redesigning three of the older Picador titles. Henry hired the very talented Keith Hayes. Over several weeks the project evolved between Henry and Keith. Finally, one day Henry had preliminary designs to share with me.

They were stunning! So arresting, and memorable, and different. I particularly love that the visuals are essentially pure type solutions, and that the background art is abstract.

The covers don’t rely upon understanding the images—ice, vinyl record grooves, and a DNA sequence—which are pulled from the plot. I also love how the typography conceptually pairs with the imagery (fracturing across facets, warbling like sound waves, and slanting forward in a definitive directional movement).

Minotaur loved the look too, so Keith then began work on Outrage, the new hardcover. We talked about the possibility of blood in snow, and here are a few of his preliminary designs.

Overall I loved Keith’s approach. While I liked the energy and motion of the splatters, the execution somehow felt too horror genre, and too expected. I wanted something more subtle and sophisticated, something where you weren’t so immediately certain that the image was blood. I also wanted a monochromatic scheme, like the other designs in the series.

Some small adjustments solved these concerns, which then produced our final cover. I’m so happy with the results of this entire series redesign.

Sep 10

A Swift Illustration: Swift Run by Laura DiSilverio

Laura DiSilverio’s very funny and very charming Swift Run will be coming out soon.

When work on the visual began we knew that we wanted to feature our two lovable main characters Gigi and Charlie, and show that the story finds Gigi traveling to Aspen, Colorado.

Despite having almost no ability at drawing, I created these sketches of them on the ski lift.

I love the one on the left, with Gigi’s weight causing the seat to tilt — but he sketch at right is much better—it has far more danger, and far more fun.

Steven Noble illustrates these covers, and he is always polite enough to not laugh at my terrible sketches. Steve got to work immediately and submitted his sketch (left).

It looked fantastic! But I didn’t like the way that Charlie’s arm was twisted. It looked odd. So I sketched again (right) to show Steve a pose that I preferred. Steve fixed the drawing, and I shared it with others.

Back in our early concept meeting, the publisher and editor had liked the preliminary sketch that I had drawn, but there was a definite tone of doubt and uncertainty in their voices. Clearly this was due to my poor drawing skills, because in contrast, Steve’s sketch was met with enthusiasm.

In seemingly no time, Steve amazingly turned in another great finish. I love when the artwork make me smile in the same way that the book does.

Sep 06

What is Hidden Behind Annamaria Alfieri’s Invisible Country

Hi everyone, I had so many great sketches for Annamaria Alfieri’s INVISIBLE COUNTRY that it was hard to choose. Check it out today on criminalelement.com.