Illustrating A Book Cover Quickly

Millie Ho Illustration Book Cover
I recently illustrated the book cover for Marie Marshall’s The Everywhen Angels, which is now publishedThe novel paints a compelling picture of adolescence, complete with supernatural elements, questionable alliances, fantastic adventures, and a narrative that isn’t afraid to ask difficult questions.

My self-imposed deadline for submitting the book cover was within two weeks, which will allow the publisher to roll out the novel before Christmas. While I had completed quicker work in the past, illustrating for a client stipulated more planning and parameters.

1. Tackle the most difficult components of the illustration first.

Luckily for me, Marie’s excellent descriptions made it immediately clear to me what she wanted. Even before I finished the novel, I had a good overview of the characters’ physical appearances, motivations, and personality traits. Preliminary character portraits were completed within a day to remove the most time-consuming components—facial expressions—out of the backlog.

Millie Ho Character Sketches

Character sketches.

2. Start the digital illustration and ignore neatness.

After scanning the drawing, I opened up Sketchbook Pro and started colouring like a madwoman. Naturally, I started with the faces and reviewed photographs (thank you Google Images) for shading and skin tones. This conveniently takes care of the visual elements that require constant referencing, which are bottlenecks in the creative process.

MIllie Ho Illustration Process

Starting the digital illustration framework.

3. Start revising the finer details.

It’s close to the end of the first week, which means that it’s time for plastic surgery. Sometimes a revision means altering the space between the eyes by a few pixels. Other times, entire facial chunks are deleted. I used Photoshop for each Frankensteinian iteration. It’s one of the miracles of the digital age.

Millie Ho Girl Digital Illustration

Sculpting the face.

4. Revise, again.

There’s no formula to revision. You simply revise and revise again until the result is close to your ideal. The nose was the trickiest to revise because of its precise shadows. Highlighting was also interesting. An artist once told me that white should never be used to highlight skin because it’ll look artificial. The best highlighting colour, he said, was light yellow ochre because nothing in real life is “ever that brilliant”. In total, revision took 5 more days—the longest step in the entire illustration process.

Millie Ho Nose Illustration

The nose takes form. The smile widens.

5. Finalize the digital illustration.

It’s a good idea to step away from the computer for a day or two to distance yourself from the work. Rip subjectivity to shreds. When you see the illustration again, you’ll have a fresh pair of eyes to assess all the areas you’ve missed or need to leave alone. And trust me, some areas are much better left alone.

Millie Ho Book Cover Illustrator
The most important part of this process was open communication. While the author is the boss, her requirements act as a skeleton for the illustrator’s creative interpretation. It’s still your vision at the end of the day. So relax, take a deep breath, and let your pen take care of the rest.

23 thoughts on “Illustrating A Book Cover Quickly

  1. kvennarad says:

    From a distance, I watched all this happening, looking at the preliminary sketches you emailed. I knew that you had the skill to produce something as near to what I had in my imagination as makes little difference, and that when the final illustration arrived it would be what I wanted plus something uniquely yours. I wasn’t disappointed. From my point of view, I proposed such tweaks as I felt were necessary without trying to muscle in on your creativity, and you responded. The end result was Angela, Ashe, and Charlie on the front cover.

    At present only the eBook is published. Amazon will carry a paperback edition soon, hopefully. If the book takes off in a big way there may even be a commercial print run. We’ll see. But the main thing is a finished work of art, textual and visual, and we can be proud of that.

    That takes care of ‘The Everywhen Angels’. As for ‘From My Cold, Undead Hand’, what do you think – graphic novel potential? 🙂

    • Millie Ho says:

      The invitation to improvise and customize was definitely there, and much appreciated. It’s always rewarding to be supplementing a talented writer’s work.

      ‘From My Cold, Undead Hand’:
      Good story?
      Visceral as heck?
      Graphic novel potential?

      Check, check, and check.

  2. steve says:

    My goodness! and i thought applying lipstick on a city bus was a miracle. This is something else with or without the rush. Congratulations Millie and thank you for sharing the great news!

  3. Jacqui Murray says:

    This is fascinating. I just attended a conference where people talked about how they created their graphics for ed products. Got me thinking… Is Sketchbook Pro your drawing platform of choice or one of many you use?

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