feature follow-up: cover designer tony sahara

A little over a week ago, I wrote a Cell Coverage post featuring the likes of this brilliant cover:

After receiving a lot of positive feedback on the design, I got in touch with author Madeleine George, who happily shared with me the name of Looks’ designer: the one and only Tony Sahara. After sending a brief, preliminary email to Tony explaining the positive feedback the cover had received, he responded with a tidbit of information that caught me completely off-guard: Looks’ paperback cover almost never came to be.

To make a long story short, after several !!!!!’s on my part, Tony agreed to answer a few questions to shed some light on Looks’ cover design, and how exactly it came to fruition.

TCG: What was your design process like for Looks? Can you describe the journey it took from hardcover to paperback?

TS: Designing the hardcover cover was the main journey, trying out different design approaches until we arrived at the final silver and dark-pink design. For paperback, the design with the red line art against white background was revisited (it was originally considered for the hardcover), and accepted.

As for the initial design process, I tried several ways:

  • There is this memorable scene in the book where you have a pile of candy wrappers blown in the wind. I thought about some type-driven design using those fonts used for the candy packages. But it didn’t really represent the story.
  • I tried with a photograph, but it’s challenging to find the right photographic approach when you’re trying to represent two unusually sized characters—one very large and one very thin. But I explored the possibility. Like Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, I still feel like there should be a trick to use a photo of a girl whose size is not typical in a cute and iconic way.
  • I came up with the red line art. Using illustrations instead of photos was ultimately a more successful way to represent these two unusual characters. With the elongated shadows, I could present the size difference of the two characters, too. I hoped that the minimalism would pose some sophisticated appeal to viewers.  As I mentioned above, this design was ultimately not chosen for the hardcover, but we were able to use it for the paperback edition of the book.
  • I was asked to modify the illustrations, so they would clearly look like realistic people. I did some versions with more graphic elements around the two girls, but we ended up with plain background. However, we did use silver ink to make it look special. This is how the hardcover cover was designed.

TCG: Looks definitely stands out as a departure from the other book covers you’ve designed. How would you describe your particular type of artistry?

TS: The LOOKS cover happened to be very conceptual, but whether I create complicated Photoshop art or not, I try to make book covers that are convey a concept instantly, with no explanation needed. Many cover images are created based on description of characters or settings, but I usually read the whole manuscript and try to find the core inspiration of each author and its drama. It’s hard to achieve one visual that is true to the story and appealing to viewers, but that’s the challenge and fun part of my job.

TCG: What are 3 of your favorite cover designs you’ve done?

TS: All the covers posted on my website are the final published design, but all are not the way I wanted 100% since a cover is a collaborative endeavor involving not only the designer but the art director, editor, publisher, as well as people from the sales and marketing divisions. Given all of those opinions, the covers I design don’t always come out as I personally would have preferred.

However, the three covers I chose to share with you from my web site ended up exactly the way I wanted them:


  • LOOKS – It’s a different kind of book. I’m happy with how I pulled off the final design. Ms. George is such a talented author, and I just wish her best of luck in the future.
  • DREAM FACTORY – On this cover, we got to use foil, embossing, and flocking which is highly unusual, and Kindle never can give you that! I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to design this physical object.
  • EONA – Every time I create Photoshop illustrations, I try to improve upon them by learning from past mistakes I may have made. EONA is the latest one that’s coming out. In terms of art and design, it’s my best as of today.

Tony, thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your story of how Looks came to be. I really love it when high-concept cover art shines in young adult lit. For more information on Tony’s work, check out his online portfolio.

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6 thoughts on “feature follow-up: cover designer tony sahara

  1. I’m in love with the Looks cover, but the candywrappers sound very interesting too. Great interview!

  2. I love these designs, Tony. Thank you for sharing your insight with us. When Looks was posted, I had no clue that you also did Eona. That is one of my absolute favorite 2011 covers so far and I can’t wait to see it in person. Earlier today, I actually ordered a copy of Looks thanks to this blog and that awesome art! 🙂

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