When Dyhlen approached me to illustrate and design their book cover I was so excited to sink my teeth into it, especially being my first cover for a commercial novel. My excitement increased even more so when I discovered how diverse and colourful the story was. Sometimes ideas don’t come easily for projects which is completely normal, we’ve all experienced the frustration of creative block. But on this occasion the creative freedom I’d been given for the project with Dhylen made me feel like there was nothing we couldn’t try creating. The story surrounds a range of different relationships, and includes a wide variety of LGBTQ+ characters as well which I think is so important to normalise and include in the commercial world and in literature. The thing connecting them all together, love.
Dhylen provided a quote about what motivated them to write the story which you can see below which made me feel even more passionate about creating a cover that did it justice.
My mind was reeling with potential ideas and experiments having read the synopsis for the book, thinking of the hooks we could play off creatively in the cover. But I didn’t want to jump straight into making the cover on this. Occasionally I have just gone straight into working on the final cover and it has felt right, but the first thing I usually do is sketch out all the ideas both good and bad to get them out of my head.
After I have brain dumped everything I can think of, I looked at the themes between the covers and why I did them, then chose the strongest out of the categories and sent them over to Dyhlen for approval. They loved all of the routes and encouraged me to develop whichever I felt the strongest, which put me in a great position. The three routes included: The diner theme, as this is an integral setting in the beginning of the story. The flower theme, as I felt this reflected the nature of the book, how it surrounds a romantic relationship rather than just casual or sexual - there are also key moments in the book which involve exchanges of flowers. Finally, the date theme, which focuses on the actual dates they go on and trying to reference them in some way as this is a major part of the storyline.
Exploring the stronger covers enabled me to start putting the cover together with more form. I began to take elements that were working and create them physically rather than on my iPad, which the roughs were drawn in. The variety and quality of brushes available on the iPad is high and is great to use, but I don’t think you can beat the texture and feel of something drawn by hand that isn’t automated - especially for print when you will see and feel the details that are missed in a digital brush.
So I got my inks and paints out and started to experiment. I made a few tests using different mediums and tools but found ink and graphite captured the feel I was going for. The next stage I got to might look like I went a bit psycho with so many sheets of paper. I illustrated every idea I thought it worth taking further so that I could edit them in photoshop and arrange them to see if they would work. I did all of these in one messy day.
After taking high res images of all the illustrations, I edited them in photoshop and started putting the artwork together, combining various pieces of type with different illustrations and seeing which fitted the best. This resulted in almost 40 different variations of the cover to choose from. However I felt there was still more I needed to experiment with. I really wanted to try out a ketchup and mustard cover - this was the idea I was most uncertain about, as an image I think it could be fun and have a strong link to the story (as the main characters first meet in a diner), but I was unsure if it would look as effective as the front cover printed. And deep down I preferred the covers I had spent more time on.
So I ordered some squeezy sauce bottles from Amazon, and bought a plate, some mustard & ketchup from Tesco. Kindly my other half let me use his kitchen floor for the photo shoot, as at lunchtime it is very well lit with a soft natural light. Normally I would control the light a lot more using set lights and light diffusers but I wanted the image to not look overly posed - and when there is a perfect natural light why waste it? As I was working with my Nikon D3200 & Macro lens, I knew the quality of the image would be crisp.
To start with, the mustard and ketchup was hard to control and didn’t work the way I wanted it to, which I had suspected to be disappointed by. But a few more tries later and I started to become fixated on making it work the best it could even if I wouldn’t use it. Every time I arranged the titles on the plate I noted to myself what I wanted to change the next time I tried it, before washing the plate clean and trying again. I didn’t want to photoshop the words together later as I think sometimes it can look more natural nailing the piece all in one. I also didn’t want it to be perfect, I like the quirks of something that has been created by hand but with consideration.
I also tried writing the titles or blurb on a napkin to reference one of the characters asking out the other main character in the diner. I decided against this as it wasn’t bold or strong enough as an image when compared to the other ideas. Another similar thought was to print the list of dates on a receipt or write them on a how can we improve card, but again I didn’t feel these lived up to the bold & brave way I wanted the cover to reflect the story.
So eventually my ideas were out on paper (or napkins and plates). After much thought I narrowed the covers down to 3 final illustrations. The cover Dhylen was instantly drawn to was the ketchup & mustard cover which at first I was surprised by, but agreed with. I had put everything I could into all three so I was happy whichever were taken forward. We questioned whether we could use the yellow of the flower cover for the background of the ketchup one but there was just too much yellow with the type, and the colour that complimented the colours the best was the pink. With the two main colours of the title being primary colours, I found that the common colour that complimented them both the best was a tone of orange or a pink, and the pink made them stand out the most. To help me decide what colour matches would be the best for the colour scheme I used coloors which was really useful.
Now the front cover had been chosen, I began putting the blurb and spine together. I didn’t want all of the book to have photographed objects for the sake of it just because the front cover used this. I tried designing the back as the receipt from the diner that the main character serves at, but felt this was a bit cold when I wanted it to feel more emotive. I asked Dhylen if there were any quotes from the book that stood out to them and the one they chose I felt was perfect to write on the blurb which you can see below. I felt the quote with the illustration of the three flowers gave a good idea of what the book is about. The three flowers illustration features through the book as spot illustration for the pages introducing every chapter as well.
The whole book was a pleasure to work on, especially with such a diverse and joyful story that Dhylen had written. The process was made all the better by Dhylen’s enthusiasm and open mindedness with the ideas I had. Overall my first cover for a commercial novel was one of my favourite projects to have worked on so far! If you would like to get in touch about any enquiries, let’s chat!