Artist and illustrator Harry Goldhawk tells me how a book cover goes from a few words on a brief, through different rough concepts, to a final finished book cover.
You can pre-order The Crow Folk and get a free art print signed by myself and Harry here.
You can buy Harry’s art at: https://www.papiopress.co.uk
Hello, folks, Book covers, let’s talk about book covers. If you’ve ever wondered how a book cover comes about, the process of it, all the ins and outs, how it goes from just a few words in a brief to something like this… Ooh! This is the video for you. I’m going to be talking to Harry Goldhawk, the artist who did the front cover for my book, The Crow Folk, about the process that he goes through. Absolutely fascinating stuff. But before that, I want to say a big thank you to anyone who’s watched these videos, liked, commented, spread the word, told their friends. Thank you for that. We’re coming to the end of a very strange year. I’m recording this on Christmas Eve Eve, if that’s a thing. And a couple of days after the solstice, the dark days are behind us. There are brighter days ahead. If you’re in the northern hemisphere,that is anyway. So, yes. Thank you and Merry Christmas. A happy and prosperous New Year. But before that, here’s my chat
with Harry Goldhawk.
Harry Goldhawk, How are you, sir.
How are you? How do we find you on this lovely day?
I’m very good, thank you. How are you?
I’m tickety boo. Thank you for asking. What we’re going to do today, We’re going to talk through the whole process from soup to nuts. From the first brief of cover art, through the rough compositions, to the finished artwork. So how does it start for you? I presume you get you get a brief from the designer. Who is Matt Johnson at Simon & Schuster. Is that your first contact?
Yes, my first contact was from Matt Johnson. He sent a brief over to me just with an outline, asked me if I was interested. So I got a synopsis of the book itself, what they would like me to illustrate and whether I was keen, really, along with the timeline, whether I could fit that and the budget.
Excellent stuff. And the synopsis. I mean, how much does that sway you? And I’m not I’m not fishing for compliments here. I’m just wondering what kind of book… because you may think, it’s not my kind of book I might not get this. Does that have any bearing on whether or not you take on a project?
It definitely does sway me. If it’s something along the lines of fantasy and with magical elements. I’m definitely a lot more interested in that. So as soon as I got this through, I was very keen. I mean, as you can see from all the roughs that I’ve done, I just wanted to make sure I explored all the options. So I was I was very excited about the project overall. Yeah, wonderful.
And what’s the first… Once you’ve got this brief, which I presume is essentially is it a one page document? So you’ve got that synopsis. You’ve got an idea of who the lead character is and some of the situations in the story. What’s your process and do you start sketching ideas immediately?
I’m not really one for sketching. My tutors hated it at college, but I, I definitely do struggle with sketching ideas down. Initially, I start writing. I write down the themes, I write down the elements that I think I think of the colours that I might use. And then I usually start with a few thumbnails, just rough compositions that kind of thing. And then I have a bad habit of jumping straight into final artwork because it’s quite nice for things to look polished. It’s a terrible habit and one I’m working on, as you can see from the roughs that they are a little finalized, but I just enjoy seeing a final product.
Let’s, uh, let’s have a look at these “roughs”, let’s put that in air quotes, because brace yourself, viewers, because these are these are anything but rough. And so let’s let’s just bring up the first one here. So and this, as you can see, very, very different to the well, the colour the colours are there, aren’t they? But we’re seeing Faye’s face here. We’ve got the moon in her glasses, there where her eyes would be. Where did where did this come from and how long would something like that take you to put together?
So this was the the initial brief. The initial brief was to illustrate the outline of a girl say, and within that silhouette of the illustration of rural Kent. So, rolling hills, the woods, possibly the Scarecrow and the Spitfires and then the the other note that they added was that they wanted it, at first glance, to appear normal. And, although that magic is a theme throughout the book, to not show anything physically magical and to instead convey that feeling of magic through the colours or another way. So for me, that feeling of golden hour, the hour where the sun is setting or rising is such a magical time of the day. And that is something that I was trying to capture in this. Just that gorgeous light. And in terms of the timeline. I’m not sure. A few hours, I would say.
Wow, that is just amazing. OK, well that’s that’s that’s terrific. So that was your first “rough”. And then with that with this and the colours. What was interesting is the colours have stayed all the way through. So this is a slightly updated rough version where we see more birds around the edges here.
Yes. That was the one that was presented at the final cover meeting. So before that, the notes were maybe remove some of the stars from the outside and switch them with crows, which aesthetically I thought was a very good note. That helped definitely. But once they presented the at the meeting, it was deemed too Young as it’s a book for adults, which at the time I was a little disappointed with, but I was ecstatic to be given another shot with it. And Matt came back to me and just said, it’s the silhouette that’s making it look a bit too young. So how about we scrap the silhouette, make the illustration full bleed, and bring it out edge-to-edge and we’ll see how that looks instead.
There are some other ideas here, which I’m going to I’m going to run through. I’d like to know where they came in the process as well.
We’ve got this version here, which is which shows sort of a full length illustration of Faye with a crow.
Was that something you worked with before you showed it to Simon & Schuster or is that something that came out of conversations that you had with them?
No, no, no conversations. So bear in mind, I hadn’t read the book, so I was just going by the the synopsis that I had. I did at the same time that I did the profile of Faye’s face. And I just wanted to make sure it explored a few of the different silhouettes that we could do. But as you can see, with a full body silhouette, there’s only so much detail you can fit within it. It is sort of lost a bit, which is why I don’t think any of those got used.
And this… There’s another one here. Let me bring this up. You say you’ve not read the book, but there is a scene in the book almost exactly like this, which is just uncanny. And again, you’ve got the placing of the…
Really?! I was guessing
Crescent moon right where her heart is as well. So, again, that’s just that’s just uncanny. But this idea. That the silhouette, that the character made it too young, is that something you find helps make a distinction between adult and children’s novels because adult novels tend to be more design led, whereas children’s novels, you tend to like to see the characters on the cover, don’t you?
Yeah, they are they generally are a bit more character-led. Yeah. I mean, in honesty, I haven’t illustrated too many adult novels so as an area I’m looking to to do more of these.
Okay. And then we come to… Very, very close to the actual final image. Now this is… I don’t think I saw this version. I think I saw the version afterwards. But yeah. To talk us through this one.
Yes. So that was what I worked on immediately after getting the feedback to make it full bleed edge-to-edge. I was just thinking of alternative ways, you know, alternative ways of presenting it, essentially. And I felt like the creepy woods needed to be a bigger part of it. So to make that frame the illustration, rather than being in the middle distance at this point, this is my bad habit of things being finalized. So I sent this over to Matt, just to get his opinion of it before I took it any further and I said I think it needs something like a focal point, like a village or something else in the centre there, let me know what you think about that. And he responded. He showed it to his editor and they agreed, but they gave me the green light to go ahead and take that final.
This is almost final. But you’ve got a couple of things. And this is this is the version that I was first shown which was blew me away, which I absolutely loved. There’s a little bicycle highlighted down there because I said, wouldn’t it be great if we had Faye on her bicycle cycling either away or towards the village, which looks amazing. Also up here, we’ve got… Well, would you like to explain yourself, Harry? What’s going on here with this buttock?
Yes, that was something that I just didn’t see whilst I was drawing it. And when I read the note, I thought, what are you talking about? And then I came back to it and I showed my wife as well. And we were just howling because it does it does look very bum-like.
Well, we could talk about, the psychological factors behind this for hours, I suspect. But we haven’t got that much time. But yeah, that’s amazing. And what’s this little tick over here? We lost a crow on the left hand side as well.
No, I think there was a… Yeah, I think there was a crow there, which they removed and asked me to remove. So that was the third final tweak. So, yeah, that was a relatively easy tweak to make. Yeah.
Hi, folks. Just a quick note to say that if you’re loving Harry’s art as much as I am, you can get a signed print of The Crow Folk cover art just like this one signed by me in the top left hand corner and Harry signing it in the bottom there. When you preorder the book from Cole’s Books, there are only 200 of these signed by myself and Harry and they’re exclusive to Coles. I’ll pop a link in the description. Get yours while stocks last. Back to the show.
Let’s cut to the actual finished final cover art here and see what that looks like, because it has to has to roll over the spine. So this is the finished article. And folks, you can see the village there, which gives it that focal point. You can see Faye on her bicycle. So, yeah. And the framing. It’s only when you see it in that context that you see the framing and the way the wood kind of moves in from the edges. It’s just wonderful. And I’ve got to tell you, I guarantee this… I’ve had so many comments from people on the cover art. This is what’s selling the book. This is what’s making such a difference. I did hear that a certain high street retailer doubled their order after seeing the cover art.
Harry, I do owe you a drink at some point at least a drink or at least a lunch or something. So I…
I’ll have to take you up on that offer.
When the world gets back on its feet. But that’s amazing. How long did the process take from that first brief to to this
here? From start to finish.
So yeah, I designed this all on my iPad with an iPad Pro with the Apple pencil. And the app that I use tracks my time that I use. I checked the other night and in total it was around about thirty hours from start to finish.
And of course you’ll be working all sorts of–
Yeah, I’m not sure if that’s too much or too–
I mean I was going to say, is that kind of the average or is that, is that kind of, you know… Like you say you like to, you like to, to make stuff look finished, even your roughs look really, really finished. So I suspect you’re putting a lot of time in there, aren’t you?
I do.I do like to put a lot of time into it. Yeah. It depends on what kind of illustrator you are. I’m sure there are plenty of amazing illustrators that could do it in less time, but I definitely like to take my time with my illustrations.
Well, I for one am very, very grateful for it. What software are you using? So you’re doing this on an iPad? You’re using an Apple pencil. What’s the software that you’re using to create this?
An amazing piece of software called Procreate. It’s made by an amazing group in Australia who regularly update it its a serious competitor for Photoshop. At the moment, I think it is one of the most popular pieces of software for iPad users.
Wonderful. And if you’re talking, if you’re saying it’s like Photoshop, are you working in layers to allow you to add things in layers and compare before and after and that sort of thing?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It does work in layers, so there’s quite a few in this one and you can group all the layers together. So from a convenience perspective, it’s fantastic, really. It’s very convenient. And also having… Being at home with a toddler, it means I can draw I don’t just have to be at my desk, I can be anywhere.
That’s fantastic. What other stuff are you…? Because I’ve we just got our Christmas Radio Times and I’m looking at the Christmas Radio Times and there are banners across the top. I’m thinking that’s a familiar looking style. You’re doing the banners for the Christmas Radio Times! How did that come about?
That came about through my amazing agent, the Artworks. There are a few different illustrators that are also signed by the Artworks that did a few of the illustrations within this year’s Radio Times. So I was just… I’m just very fortunate to be represented by them and have them championing my artwork.
I mean, for me, that’s that must be that feels like an incredible honour. That’s that’s like up there with an exhibition at the National Gallery or something that is part of that as part of a British institution, isn’t it? You know, I think listeners outside of the UK might not understand this, but it’s fantastic. Huge. Congratulations on that. I’m telling everyone I know, you know, it’s so… I’m so delighted. Okay, so that’s cool. I’ve got two more books in this series. Could you kindly come back and do the other two as well, please? Harry, please. Please.
I think I might be able to squeeze them in.
Yeah, very much. Thank you very, very much.
And the other thing is you also you do all kinds of…
I’d be delighted.
Oh, thank you. You do all kinds of artwork that we can buy online. You even do hats. I got one of your hats for my daughter for her birthday, and she’s absolutely delighted with it. She wears it all the time, even indoors. Where can we where can we find all this stuff, Harry? Where can we track you down?
So I run a lifestyle brand with my wife called Papio Press. So we sell a lot of stationery and other illustrated goods, hats and art prints. And you can find that all on PapioPress.co.uk. So that’s PapioPress.co.uk.
Wonderful stuff, folks. I’ll put a link in the description below so you can find that nice and easily. And if you’re looking for a unique gift, absolutely gorgeous. Wonderful stuff. Harry, thank you so much for this. This has been it’s been absolutely fascinating because it’s… Speaking as someone who managed to fail A-level Art… I’m always fascinated by the the artistic process, particularly with new technology in the way it works and that sort of thing. So thank you for your amazing artwork. Like I said, it really has made all the difference to the book, and I think will continue to do so.
And I’m delighted to if you can come back for books two and three, maybe we can talk about those then.
That sounds amazing. I would love to come back for more. I really would. I was ecstatic to draw this cover. And I was so pleased when you mentioned that you signed on for two more books. So I’m excited to see how they turn up.
Thank you so much, Harry, and speak to you again soon.
Thank you very much Mark, take care.