Going UnderCOVER With Artist Tony Mauro
As readers, we rely on authors to create a story that will keep us interested, keep us engaged, and keep us coming back for more. But no matter how awesome the story may be, we won’t get to the first page if we don’t pick the book up off the shelf (or click on the link, for those of you so inclined). The “make or break” moment, when the book either catches the attention of the reader or not, falls on the shoulders of cover artists.
One of the most respected and recognizable cover artists in the UF and paranormal genres these days is Tony Mauro. You may have spotted a few of his more recent creations…
The cover of a book has to give an immediate snapshot of the feel and direction of the book. It has to be something that will not only attract your attention, but make you want to know more. The “more” is where the story comes in. Tony manages to pull it off in all his creations.
I’ve always been fascinated with fantasy art (my all time favorites are Julie Bell and Boris Vallejo, and Amy Brown), and I’ve come to really appreciate the artistry and skill required to create beautiful, effective book covers. Tony was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his inspiration and process.
How many projects do you generally have going at once? Do you have clients lined up, or do you have days or weeks with no deadlines?
I’m usually booked out for at least a month. I usually have 3 or 4 projects going on at one time. I’ll try and get all of the photoshoots out of the way at once and then break up the next couple weeks to actually create the artwork. I usually get 3 weeks to a month from my client to create a cover, so if I have 4 books to do in the next month I’ll block out 1 week for each piece so I can focus on one project at a time.
There are times of the year where I can go a week or 2 without a project but I’m usually so busy all year round that I welcome the breaks. You’ve got to learn to enjoy the down time when it’s there and not stress that the phone isn’t going to ring again.
Have you ever been working on a project and realized that you’re not getting the feel you want and have to redesign?
Sure, it happens. Sometimes you can have an image in your head and it just simply doesn’t come together when you try and build it on the computer. There can be any number of reasons for this but the more time you spend fighting a design the less likely it will come together. It’s been my experience that the best designs usually come together pretty quick and just feel right through the whole process.
What kind of research do you do into the story of a book before you start a cover design? Do you read the whole book, or just get a summary?
The best case scenario is always to be able to read the entire book before starting a new project. I’ll have a notebook next to me while I’m reading and I’ll jot down little details about the characters or places that I think are relevant enough to be included on the cover. There can also be a moment in the story that hits you when you read it as a “cover moment”. Unfortunately I don’t always have the time to read the entire book so I will get a detailed synopsis or summary from the publisher that is usually enough to get you into the book enough to get a feel for the setting or character.
Can you show us a progression? Sketch concept – original photos – original compilation before artwork – stages of artwork – finished product.
I don’t have any full on progressions to show you because I’d need to save off jpegs as I’m building to show the progress but I can show you some before and afters to give you an idea of what I’m starting with.
Who are some of your favorite artists? (in any field or genre)
I have many favorites for many different reasons but the biggest influences for me are Norman Rockwell, JC Lyndecker, Brom and Boris Vallejo to name a few. I visited the Norman Rockwell museum a few years ago and was completely inspired by his ability to tell a story with such a simple image. The small details in his paintings are what tell the story and its incredible when you really take note of it. There are so many incredible artists out there. I’m constantly coming across new people that just blow me away with how they execute a concept.
Have you ever seen a cover or poster and said “I wish I had done that”? Can you tell us which one? What did you love about it?
I can’t think of anything off hand that I wish I did but I can tell you I’m usually drawn to the simple more iconic solutions. I’ve always liked clean, simple design. Less is more. For example from a design standpoint the Twilight series of book covers are really beautifully done. I know how difficult it is to get a design that simple pushed through the approval process. More often than not the best pieces or the ones you are most proud of anyway end up on the cutting room floor.
Can you tell us about any of the projects you’re working on now?
I have several projects going on right now but unfortunately I can’t really talk about them. I try to stay very tight lipped about what’s on the drawing board because I work with several different publishers that are technically in competition with each other and I would never jeopardize those relationships by revealing a book that they have coming out before they are ready to do so. This is a left over reflex from working in the movie industry where everything in development was very secretive and all of the artists often had to sign confidentiality agreements holding them personally liable for any info or images that may get leaked to the public or the other studios as a result of their own negligence. I will send a jpeg to the models of the final product so that they can see it but I also remind them not to post the image online anywhere until the publisher releases the image.
Have you ever done a collaboration with another artist? If so, how did that process work? If not, is that something you would ever consider?
I haven’t ever done a collaboration before and I think most artists would tell you the same thing. It would have to be a really unique situation to get involved in something like that. I do all of my own photography so that is really the only place where I could see collaborating with someone. If there was a photographer that was really doing something unique and I wanted to start with one of their photos as my base to build off of then I could see doing something like that.
On the other hand I collaborate with an art director, editor and publisher on each and every project. We discuss camera angles, colors, textures as well as marketing strategy and where this book will land in the market place. So while the art itself is entirely up to me the elements and over all feel of the piece is always a collaboration.
How do you decide on the models for your designs? Do you generally work with the same models over and over?
At the beginning of a project I usually get a detailed description of the main character to be depicted on the cover from the publisher/author. At that point I’ll start looking for a model that fits that description and that I feel can pull off the attitude that is necessary for that character. I do use the same models over and over simply because they’re very good at what they do and a good model can become any character they need to.
I’m sure you’ve noticed a lot of covers crop off the face of the models so I can get away with using the same models for different books because you won’t see their face on the book anyway. The reason for the cropping is we like to let the reader draw their own conclusion of what the main character looks like. I think when most people read a book they have someone in mind that they think the main character looks like. That is a huge part of the experience and you don’t to spoil the picture that readers imagination has created.
What kind of relationship do you generally have with the authors of books you create covers for?
You may be surprised to hear that I actually have very limited interaction with the authors themselves through the process. My main contact and more importantly the person responsible for hiring is me is the art director at the publishing house. I’ll often get an email from the author after the cover is complete letting me know that they were happy with the cover and to say thank you. That’s always really nice to hear because I know for myself I’m always hoping that I’m seeing the setting or the character the same way that the author is.
Many writers regret that they don’t have enough time to read once they become professional authors. Do you have time to create for yourself, just for fun? Or does all your available time go to your paid work?
I’ve always been a firm believer in always making time for personal work. As an artist you are always at risk of burning out on what you’re doing. I think having those side projects that are just for you, no client, no product to sell just art for arts sake are huge in keeping yourself from burning out. It’s funny that the answer to not burning out from work is by doing more work. For me that’s my fantasy art. I do it mainly on evenings and weekends and like I said earlier it’s the one time that I truly get to do what I want to do. I have a publisher that I put out a calendar with every year of my fantasy art. I’m on my 6th year of the calendar and it’s been a lot of fun because whenever something pops into my head or maybe even a book cover piece that didn’t get chosen for whatever reason comes along I can make it into a calendar piece and get it out there.
What a fantastic little peek into the world of a fantasy cover artist! Thank you, so much, to Tony for taking the time to chat about how he does things. You can see more of Tony’s artwork (book covers, posters, and fantasy art), and order prints HERE. And you can find him on Facebook HERE. If you have any questions about the anything above, or anything related to the craft at all, Tony will be stopping by a few times throughout the day to check for comments and questions. Ask away!!
So… here’s my question to all of you… what’s your favorite book cover lately?? Share a link in the comments below (or a small image), along with your name and email address, for a chance to win a Tony Mauro print of your choice!!! Winner will be announced tomorrow.
**** contest is over… Congratulations to Lisa! ****
Thank you all for entering!