Happy new year, everyone! Y’know, a week later. Man, it’s a good thing I didn’t put “Be timely about things/Get my act together” as a bullet point on my 2012 resolutions list, because a) that sounds incredibly boring and b) my real resolutions of “learning a new language” and “sending more letters and postcards” took up all the space on my sheet, especially when I wrote them in gigantic letters.
Today’s interview is embarrassingly overdue. For those of you who weren’t aware, I’ve been a bit absent as of late, but for now I’m back in the cover-lovin-artist-diggin’ driver’s seat. And when I say “for now,” I mean until I get distracted by some new TV show or fun nail polish color. Or leave the country again.
But! Today’s post is about the incredibly talented illustrator, Hugh D’Andrade. I became enamored with his work when I discovered he was responsible for the paperback cover art for Dust City which came out back in September:
And out of the kindness of his heart, Hugh let me badger him with a slew of questions. Welcome, Hugh!
TCG: The original hardcover artwork for Dust City has a completely different feel next to its paperback counterpart. What was it like working with the team over at Razorbill? Were you able to read Dust City prior to working on the illustration? What kind of direction were you working with?
HA: I did read the book. Usually, when I get a jacket assignment, I get a copy of the book from the publisher. If I don’t like the book, I won’t bother reading the entire thing, I may just skim it. In the case of Paul Weston’s book Dust City, I devoured the book quickly, and loved every minute of it. It’s such a fun, amazing, interesting book, with a fascinating combination of fairy tale icons with contemporary political reality.
The cover of the hardback was perfectly nice, but didn’t really reflect the hipness and noir cartoonish-ness of the book. I think the publishers wanted to try something new with the paperback, so they called me.
Razorbill is actually a division of Penguin Young Readers, and I worked with Natalie Sousa there. She had really good ideas, and gave some really good direction that I think resulted in some great changes to my initial ideas. Working with a good art director is like that — it’s a collaboration that pushes you in a positive direction.
Did you find any part of DC’s design process particularly challenging?
The thing about working with publishers is that you often have to wait a long time for feedback, since so many people’s voices have to be consulted and synthesized. Sometimes that loses a little momentum. But I think that’s just the nature of the industry!
The second cover seems to show an alternate point of view. I haven’t read the novel yet, but it seems as though the paperback focuses more on Henry’s character, and the hardcover focuses on the threat of his father in the gritty city. What type of story did you intend to tell on the illustrated cover?
I really wanted to focus on Henry, who is a young wolf who has a good heart but appears dangerous and menacing to people around him. I think a lot of young guys can relate to being misunderstood in this way.
My neighborhood — San Francisco’s Mission district — is full of young kids of all ethnicities. They lumber around with their backpacks and hooded sweatshirts, looking cool and dangerous, though if you talk to them you find they are mostly pretty sweet kids. I wanted Henry to have that feel, so I made sure he had a hooded sweatshirt and looked pretty big, but with a semi-sweet face.
Henry runs quite a bit in the story, so of course he had to be running on the cover. Turns out it’s a bit tricky to draw an anthropomorphized wolf running, but I think I pulled it off. If you look carefully, there’s a swirl inside his pupil, which alludes to his confused state through much of the story.
Do you have a particular methodology when it comes to illustrating on commission, or does it constantly evolve? How does it compare to when you’re creating art for yourself?
I always draw small thumbnails first. Lots of them! Thumbnails, in case you don’t know, are small quick sketches, maybe 1 or 2 inches tall, done quickly for concept and composition. I draw on scraps of paper, envelopes in particular, and just plain copy paper. This way I don’t worry about the image sticking around in my sketchbook. Most of these go straight into the recycling bin.
After drawing dozens of these, I’ll find one that speaks to me. I blow that up in the computer, re-draw it a couple times, and submit some versions to the publisher. Usually I send them 3 full concept ideas, they choose a direction, and then we refine that with a few more rounds.
Funny that you ask about my process for my own personal work. It’s identical! However, that wasn’t always the case. I used to consider myself a fine artist (I studied this at school), and back then my process was simply to attack an oversized canvas and make a mess. This illustrator’s process works great, in my opinion, and when I teach I make sure my students use this practice.
Where does your artistic inspiration come from? What other artists’ work do you admire?
I have so many sources of inspiration! I love folk arts of all kinds — early American folk art in particular, but also Mexican traditions and other cultures around the world.
I love street art, and I’m always photographing things I see around town. I love old pulp fiction paperback novels. I love the rock poster tradition of the ’60s, as well as what that tradition has developed into since the ’90s.
I look at a lot of contemporary illustration and fine art. I like anything that is well drawn but not too slick, that tells a story, that involves the reader, and that makes use of good design and typography.
It’s really hard to not fall in love with your artwork when you’re browsing your website and blog. I’ve fallen pretty hard, I’ve gotta admit. There’s fantastical and whimsy and beauty and wonder ingrained into every illustration. How would you personally describe your artistry?
Oh, thank you! I love hearing that. I have a hard time when I’m put on the spot to come up with a brief description. I want my work to be fun, accessible, hand drawn, strange, goofy, elegant. Also: useful, clever, delightful, energetic, curious.
You’ve illustrated cover art for some pretty iconic works of literature. From beautiful jackets like Carroll’s Alice to Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird to Speare’s The Sign of the Beaver, and even newer pieces like Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm. What kind of pressures come with creating something new for beloved, classic work?
Funny you should ask. Yes, for To Kill a Mockingbird I did feel quite a bit of pressure! I loved that book as a child, and only a few years ago re-read it with my book group, and loved it all over again. It’s just a truly great American classic. Aside from the important moral and political message it delivers about the nature of racism and social change, it also has a strange, lingering beauty. It evokes a time and place in such a powerful way. I don’t know how Harper Lee did this, and I don’t know why this is her only book.
I had to set all that aside and just treat this as a job, in order to get started. I didn’t watch the movie, because I didn’t want that visualization affecting me. And I tried not to look at the other classic covers, but actually I had no choice. I had to look at the one that was the famous, silhouette cover, since this was what the publisher wanted to evoke without ripping it off in any way.
(Do check out Hugh’s post about the cover art on his blog, too!)
With the other books, I do feel pressure, but I’ve gotten pretty good at just using that as a kind of cattle prod to get me to chain myself to the drawing table. All jobs come with pressures. There are deadlines, the fact that many people will see the work, the desire to make something long lasting and valuable, the fear of failure. Par for the course, I guess!
Are there any covers out there that have grabbed your attention, or, in your opinion, have stood the test of time? What kind of cover art captures your attention?
I love old book covers that were printed on cloth using limited color palettes and traditional printing techniques, the type of stuff you find that was printed from the early 20th century to the 1950s or ’60s. This is one reason I have enjoyed working with Sterling Press, the publishers of Barnes & Noble’s classics that I did Alice in Wonderland and To Kill a Mockingbird with. They print on leather using foils and beautiful embossing. It’s really a pleasure.
I also love all contemporary book covers. One of my favorite ways to spend an hour is to peruse a bookstore, just looking at the covers. I’m guilty of judging books by their covers! In particular, I love the iconic hand drawn typography of book designer Jon Gray, who did the lovely Jonathan Safran Foer covers, and others.
Thank you so much for the interview, Hugh! Next time I’m in San Francisco, I will be stalking your art shows and I’m pretty sure my bank account will be pretty pissed at me afterwards.