Anatomy of a Book Cover

DSCF0802 - Version 4

What’s a good way to avoid cleaning for Passover, you ask? How about posting photos of the progress of my book cover?

Originally, I started with the idea of my protagonist, Raphael Sinclair, silhouetted in the fog beneath the trees. This occurs twice in the novel; once in the pet cemetery of Portia Ballard’s Newport estate, and once towards the end. It’s a beautiful and eerie image, no question. It’s also used on dozens of books.

So how would I make it my own?

The Eureka Moment came as I navigated the traffic along Route 4, driving my kids to school after they missed the bus. As we passed thousands of winter-blackened trees, the answer popped in my head like a bubble. I would hide icons and vignettes from the story in the tangled branches.

This part was a blast. The only challenge is to see that they don’t leap out at you at first glance. I want to preserve the mystery–I want the images to wait for you in the dark.

But no matter how beautiful this painting looks at 11″ X 14″, I have to face the reality of the internet. This cover has to be compelling when it is an inch high on a computer screen. To that end, I photograph it at every stage, reduce it, stare at the screen until my eyes water. How does it look at fifty percent? Twenty-five? Fifteen?

While it dries, before I glaze on the next layer of paint, I obsessively prowl through fonts. I can stay up all night doing this, and in fact, I do. My favorite site is

Oh, fonts, how I love you, your seductive curves, your thicks and thins, your arches and peaks and swashes. Which letterforms will go best with my art work, I wonder? Is script too hard to read? What about drop shadows and inlines? Do I want it to look antiqued? All Caps? Serif or sans-serif? Which ones look good in red? Which font says Underpainting like no other?

That still remains to be seen, to be selected only after the cover illustration is finished. But it won’t stop me from looking.

underpainting trees 001

closeup of underpainting


sketch 3

new underpainting sketch, silo in trees 001


2 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Book Cover

Add yours

    1. Thanks, Mike! Yes, a lot of thought and work. People think of art as kind of a natural thing, and to some extent it is, but to get the most out of your talent, you have to be aware of what you’re doing. You have to work with composition, and color, and texture, knowing what objects you want to bring to the front and which you want to bury in the background. An artist guides the viewer’s eye around the picture plane. It’s a lot like writing a book!

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