I think it is safe to say that when the cover of Cress (Lunar Chronicles #3) by Marissa Meyer was finally revealed a collective gasp occurred. I love the juxtaposition of ‘Rapunzel’ and all her hair sweeping the bottom of the book—just perfect and breath-taking. After getting over my ooh’s and ah’s I thought, who is the artist behind the cover? The artist is Michael O and book covers are just a small sampling of the artwork he’s done.
Process of creating book covers
I think as a general rule, most people don’t know the process of how an artist is chosen or what information they are given prior to creating art for the covers of books. Can you tell us a little bit about what you went through when creating the artwork for Lunar Chronicles?
I was chosen for this job in the same way that work usually comes my way. The publisher, Macmillan, found my portfolio online and asked me to illustrate the covers for this series but there is a twist to this story… I happened to be hiking to the base camp of Mt Everest at the time, which is an area with limited internet availability and work was the last thing on my mind. My agent had sent me an email explaining the project but about a week had gone by before I had a chance to read it. The first cover was already behind schedule so luckily my agent had sent a response to the publisher telling them I was ready and available. The work began the day I got home.
What types of information or reference materials were you given?
I am usually given the latest draft of the book which can either be complete or close to it. It is my job to absorb as much information about the character and scenery as possible to create relevant visuals. Because this book centers around a Rapunzel-like character, the obvious choice for us was to illustrate long braided hair. I created a number of photographic comps for the publisher to choose from and eventually a hair stylist was brought in to create the braid. My job, as I describe it, is to put the icing on the cake by dressing the original photograph to give it a painted effect.
What other books have you done artwork for?
I design movie posters as a full time job so I don’t do a lot of other freelance work. I have also done a few covers for the Tesseracts series by EDGE publishing and I also did a series of covers for James Patterson but they were never used.
Do you ever get to interact directly with the authors about their vision?
There is always a middle man. The amount of input I hear from the author is often dependent on how popular their work is. The more well known the author, the more important their input becomes.
When working on a series do you know it will be multiple books and do you get to plan ahead?
This series in particular releases a new installment around once a year so typically the next book is barely in production by the time I finish the previous. I was aware that there would be 4 book in this series. To me, consistency across the series is important so we decided that the overall tone and dominant red object would continue for each cover throughout the series.
The Lunar Chronicles is very heavy with a science fiction element which works beautifully with a lot of your work. I love the images you’ve created of cyborgs and the beauty and elegance you’ve given them. Are you a big science fiction fan?
I would not call myself a big sci-fi fan. I am more fascinated by the human body and what modifications it may be capable of in the future.
How did you get started developing artwork for book covers?
Having a strong portfolio and an online presence is key. That way companies can find me and get the ball rolling. They can see that my work is photo manipulation and not painting so that’s makes me suited for different types of work. A good business sense and experience in dealing with people is important. Good phone conversational skills and proper grammar in emails can go a long way. If you don’t have these things, you may still get the job but it is likely that the client will not come back.
Some of his gorgeous artwork. Click on the image to see larger
Regarding your process
On your website you go into fascinating detail about your artistic process (even showing the before and after). You explain that you take your own photographs and then convert them using Photoshop to express your vision. When you begin a photo session do you already have the final work in mind or are you inspired by the photos and models themselves?
When I first started developing my style I used professional photos from other photographers for reference. At the time I simply chose images online that inspired me but because my technique involves simply painting over a photo, I ran into copyright issues so I had to abandon that method and begin taking my own photographs. I believe my skill in photography still needs to be sharpened but oddly enough, a simplistic photo makes for a more interesting transition into a piece of art. These days I start with a concept before I choose a model and shot. Since my work is usually focused on strong concepts, I consider this step to be very important. Ideas can come to me at any time and the only thing I need to do is remember to write them down.
Is there anything in particular you would like the viewers of your work to take away from your art?
There are a many great digital artists around the world so in order to help my work stand out, I try and focus on making more than just a visually interesting image. I also try and create a unique concept of something that can’t be seen in the real world. I hope that inspires other artists to create something worth thinking about rather than just something that looks nice.
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