Friday, April 12, 2013

The Making of a Cover - With Artist Keith Draws

It all begins with an idea...or, in my case, a total lack thereof!

As a final treat in the Serving Time discovery blog tour, I have the pleasure of having Keith Draws (the awesome artist who did my cover) show you the steps involved in creating a professional book cover.

With just a short list of my likes and dislikes, accompanied by a grueling summary of Serving Time (sorry about that, Keith!) and even a PDF copy of the manuscript, Keith was able to combine the major ideas of the novel into this fabulous piece of art.

But how did Keith go from the gibberish in my emails, to the artwork you see above?

In many complicated steps, I can assure you! How about having Keith himself tell us all about it?

Over to you, Keith!

First of all, I read the brief sent by Nadine, then went on to read the book. As I read the book I made notes with consideration to the information already supplied by Nadine. From there I went on to write down ideas. Basically, this was a lot of notes about the key elements, what I thought the story was about, and plot, and underlying themes.

I sat down and started connecting ideas and eliminating others. Eventually, I felt I had all the information I could work with, and so opened Manga Studio to begin sketching.

The first thing I did was apply a template of Golden Sections in order to help me create a balanced layout. I feel that since this worked so well for Leonardo DaVinci and many other wonderful artists it's probably the best way to work. After sketching for a while, I had eliminated even more elements and had selected what I felt were the core images I could use and laid them out in a relevant composition.

I ended up taking an image of Time, the starship the main character is travelling in, the Earth, and of course, the universe. Since Time is said to be watching over the characters and influencing their actions throughout the book, I decided to make her a part of the surrounding universe so that it would appear that wherever the characters travel they cannot avoid her influence, hence her hand caressing the starship.

Once I had a pleasing layout (this was just for the front at this point), I decided to add the title and the author's name and sent this initial idea over to Nadine for discussion. Now it was quite possible I was going in completely the wrong direction so I needed to be sure. This is the layout that I sent.

Overall, Nadine was pleased with the layout and made a few suggestions, including  “Time's eyes... They're literally ALL black with stars,” as well as a few pointers on how Time should look, the view of the Earth: “A space ship can approach a planet from any angle. Since the main characters are from western Europe, maybe the Earth could be shown from that angle, and maybe a little tilted”, and the design of the starship, which I hadn't really thought about at that point and had just scribbled something quickly for the layout. The text needed re thinking but right now I felt that wasn't too important, since the core of this cover is the image.

Now I had confirmation that my layout was working I moved on to the next stage. The first thing I did was design the starship Pascagoula. I made a few quick sketches based on the description on the novel and then used these as a basis to create a 3D model. I do create 3D for a lot of my work because I can use the models as reference for the final paintings, adjusting lighting, angles, etc. much faster than just sketching. Here is the model:

I then went on to make models of Time and the Earth and put a layout together in 3D:

Here I started to think about the back and spine so I made a quick render and began painting a more revised layout including those elements. Nadine had also asked if I could include the demon Nybbas from on the back and so I made a quick sketch, unfortunately I failed to check his description and so it didn't really look like him.  Here I also spent a little time on the revised typography, keeping it simple as Nadine had requested.

At that point I also had the idea of creating Time's hair out of a nebula and so I did that too.

Nadine really liked this but was unhappy with the demon, so she pointed me to the description and I tried again.

You probably noticed by now that with each change I have also worked up the image a little more and more.

Anyway, at this point we decided to leave the demon off since he was just overcomplicating the cover and I worked up the image to the final piece you see today:

Thank you for walking us through the creation of that cover, Keith! I am impressed with all the thought and work you put into your projects. Guys, isn't he amazing?

Now I have some questions for you.

How long have you been a cover artist?
Apart from book covers, what other artwork have you done?

These are interesting questions and I'll answer them as one with a quick bio since they are connected.

I was born in Manchester UK in 1962. After leaving school in 1978 I attended Rochdale College of Art and from there went on to work for “Creative Artists”, an advertising agency based in Manchester, as a Junior visualizer. Soon I moved on to various advertising agencies primarily as a Graphic Designer, Illustrator, and Photo Editor. I worked through the ranks, eventually becoming Production Director of “Promedia”, one of the leading advertising agencies in Manchester at the time. This first part of my career spanned about 25 years. I learned a great deal about all areas of the business and had the opportunity to successfully work on many groundbreaking projects with many well-known brands.

After working in upper-management for some years, I began to sorely miss the hands-on side of the business and so decided to try my hand at the relatively new field of 3D and animation; I found this much more satisfying.

About 6 years ago I relocated to Mexico and set up a small studio to cater for a very diverse range of clients, including “McGee” (a broad based construction company and multi-disciplined specialist based in London), and “Catalyst Pictures” (based in Manchester, they produce animation, web sites, e-learning, games and widgets for agencies and direct clients including the BBC). I also supplied 3D and graphics for many design studios and advertising agencies as well as an alternative rock band “Twelve Foot Ninja” from Australia who later hired me on to create a 72 page graphic novel. Working on that graphic novel shifted my focus to illustration and especially cover artwork, so I began to offer reduced rates to independent authors. I have enjoyed creating these covers since October 2012 when I began, and have netted just over 50 covers for very satisfied authors in a very wide variety of genres and styles since. Recently I relocated to Texas.

How many hours does an ebook cover generally take you?

It varies but on average I'd say about 24 working hours (3 Days). But that doesn't include the reading and  notes.

Do you keep count of how many ebook covers you've done so far?

Every cover I've done since October can be seen on my Wordpress site and right now it’s just over 50 covers, though I have done other illustration projects as well.

What do you enjoy drawing most?

I like to create things that we don't see in our everyday life, so it’s unlikely you will ever see me produce a still life unless it’s part of something else. I suppose I began drawing because of exactly this. It was my way to pretend. I remember my mother used to get really upset with me as a child because I always destroyed my drawings. It wasn't deliberate, though. I remember I used to draw a lot of World War 2 fighter planes, and as I drew I'd have this whole story going on, I'd be voicing the pilots, navigators and the enemies too.

Suddenly, my plane would arrive over the attack zone and at this point I would draw in the landscape below (with gun emplacements etc.) and enemy planes. My plane would shoot down a few of the enemy planes and to indicate this I drew explosions over them and then smoke trails snaking down to earth. Eventually my own plane got shot down so I'd draw where the bullets hit the fuselage and then the engine and then the ensuing explosion and smoke. This of course meant that the page ended up completely destroyed, covered in a mass of scribbles. My mother never had anything but scribbles to put on the fridge.

Fortunately, these days I stop before I get to that point.

Do you have a favorite genre or motif?

While I enjoy working on science fiction, fantasy, and horror I am not exclusively in love with those genres. In fact more than I enjoy any particular genre, I love the challenge of creating a cover that works kind of like a movie trailer. It captures the viewers’ interest and generates the desire to see more. So that is pretty much genre independent, and I have to say that one of my favorite cover creations is actually for a cook book and was primarily an exercise in typography (another love of mine):

Is there anything you hate having to draw (or something you enjoy less or find particularly difficult)?

I don't find drawing one thing any more difficult than another, but some things can be more time consuming, such as drawing mounds of long hair, which if I'm honest can be a bit annoying for me, but being something of a perfectionist I still keep on drawing away at it until it looks something like how I imagine it should.

As far as I am concerned, though, there is nothing I am afraid to draw. It’s just a matter of looking at the world around me; if I can draw one thing I can draw another.

And finally, where can we contact you?

Well, you can email me keithdraws (at) gmail (dot) com or message me on Facebook.

Thank you so very much, Keith, for the post and the interview. Now, all you authors in need of a cover, what are you waiting for? You've found your guy!


  1. I just had to stop by and see what your cover will look like. It's fantastic!

  2. Wow! Awesome cover and awesome interview, guys! Is your book available on Amazon, Nadine? And if I'm ever in need of a cover artist, I will definitely keep Keith in mind.

    This is all levels of splendid!


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