Cover Me In Roses
The process of making a cover
With the I Am series, I have to do the covers way in advance of the work on the actual book. In most cases, I slip in the design and execution while I’m working on a previous book. In this case, I worked on the I Am Frida Kahlo cover while I was still working on I Am Ben Franklin. This cover was done a year ago in March of 2020.
With most of these subjects, when I start out I don’t know a ton about the historical figure. Mostly general knowledge stuff, which works well because the cover should be a very iconic shot. Maybe I read a little if I don’t know the subject well, or look up images of them to get a feel for who that icon was. When we get inside the book, we get to see the person behind the icon. In Frida’s case, I knew she dressed in bright colors, in traditional clothes and was a painter. So, I looked at a bunch of her paintings as well.
Then, what I do is draw up small sketches of the cover ideas to share with Brad, our awesome publisher, Lauri Hornik, and Jason Henry, our amazing designer. We all discuss them to see which captures the character the best, but also works with all the other covers in the line.
The designs are rough and in this case, I did 8 designs. She was a painter, and mostly painted herself, I noticed she painted these leaves all the time and she had lots of animals, both in her paintings and in real life. So, I tried putting them in. I even did an idea of having it just be a cover of a painting of her. Very meta. Then in a couple, I added these roses as a decorative object like she would do. Finally, a big part of who she was, was her home, Casa Azul—the Blue House. So, I thought we might put her in front of a blue wall.
The choice was made that the last one was the most iconic. I would move the monkey onto her shoulder and have the cat sleeping. I’d add a couple butterflies from her work and the roses. I sized the image up to fit comfortably within the trade dress.
Then, I got to work on the pencils. I tightened things up and sent it in for approvals.
They all liked it and it was onto inks. At this point, let me say that “pencils” and “inks” are just terms I use carried over from when I drew mostly on paper with real pencils and in real ink. These days I work on a Wacom Cintiq—an electronic drawing tablet connected to my iMac. I use a stylus, working in a program called Clip Studio Paint and, to be honest, I work very much like I did with pen and paper. The benefit, though is, I can make changes much easier(This will come into play in a little bit). I can scale things up, delete things, add things, move things around much easier than if I were working on a physical object. In essence, it saves me time.
Once the inks are set, I send it in for approval and then get to color. I color in Photoshop, but these days I’m considering coloring in Clip Studio Paint. I’ve become such a creature of habit though, I haven’t taken the leap away from Photoshop yet.
As you can see, I colored the wall behind her blue, like her home, but we all felt like something was missing. For such a vibrant and complex person, the cover seemed a little sparse. So, we went back to some of the original designs and decided to use those big leaves in her paintings. This meant going back to the inks and adding them in. See? If I did this on paper, I’d have to start all over again from the beginning. This way, I could add in the leaves and just update things.
Much better. We brightened up the colors a bit and Jason added in the trade dress and we were home-free.
So, that’s pretty much the iconic Frida. Her unibrow, her slight mustache, the animals, the paint, etc. Then I start my research and she becomes more real for me. I watched documentaries, read books, looked at her art, even watched the Salma Hayek movie. The real Frida was such an interesting and complex person. She was a painter when women were told they couldn’t be, she pushed gender norms, she created almost a confessional form of art, she was in lifelong pain, but continued to live her best life. She was an amazing person. When I research all these figures, I fall in love at some level with them and it was no different here. She was one of a kind!
The book comes out March 9th and I hope you pick up a copy and learn more about our 23rd historical figure. Just click on the picture below:
Thanks for reading! Catch you next month!