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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Creating the Cover for The Key and the Flame by Claire M. Caterer + A giveaway!

Thanks to Sara for hosting me today here on The Hiding Spot! She asked me to talk about one of the most fun parts of the publishing journey: the creation of the cover. Today, freelance artist Karl Kwasny is here to talk with me about how he created this gorgeous image.

Don't forget to enter win a signed copy of The Key and the Flame at the end of this post!

Karl, I’m in awe of people who can so completely capture a mood in a single image. I was thrilled when Art Director Michael McCartney at Simon & Schuster commissioned you to create my cover! How does that come about?
I think it has a lot to do with developing good working relationships with art directors. I'm not sure exactly how Michael found me, but if you do good work and are pleasant to work with, word seems to get around.
When my editor asked if I had ideas about the cover concept, I was flummoxed. Uhhhh ... something to do with trees? Some kids?  How do you approach a project like this, Karl?
It depends on the project. Often, art directors will prefer to leave the brief quite open so the artist can develop his own ideas of what the cover should look like. Other times, as with this cover, the brief is a little bit tighter. Neither approach is necessarily better than the other, and having a tighter brief generally makes the process a little easier. I usually submit a series of little thumbnail doodles in order to work out what direction I should be taking it in. Then I refine a single sketch, fix it up in Photoshop, print it out, tape it to the back of some watercolor paper, and start working on it.
What was the idea you were aiming to convey for this project?
The art director wanted the three kids to be standing around the portal, looking inside. My original version didn't have any of the lighting effects, and the portal itself contained a little glimpse of the fantasy world within. I didn't have a particular image in mind when working on it, but I wanted to convey a certain sense of amazement, I suppose. See here.
When I first saw the sketch, I almost couldn’t breathe. It sounds corny, but for the first time my work was starting to look like a real book. The lettering is beautiful, and I especially liked that Holly and Ben are exchanging looks while Everett gazes off at the castle. It was a perfect beginning.
This was a fun project without many snags. It took a little while to work out the ideal poses for the kids, I seem to remember. Aside from that, I don't recall any real challenges. See here.
After a few tweaks—making Ben a little chubbier, putting some glasses on Holly—Karl added the colors:
See here!
... and then the light! I saw the final image in March 2012:

Karl also created a spot illustration of Áedán, the Golden Salamander that Holly befriends in the story:

He even added his marvelous typography to the title page of the book:

and the spine:

The finished cover conveyed the perfect mix of magic and mystery that I wanted for The Key & the Flame. And best of all, it’s an image that compels readers to open the book! Karl, what are you working on now? And where can we see more of your fantastic illustrations?
I've got several covers in the works at the moment, and am working on ten interior illustrations for a middle-grade book. You can find my work at or I'm planning to do a big overhaul of my site this year once my workload calms down a little bit.

Thanks so much for talking to me, Karl, and my very heartfelt thanks to you, Michael McCartney, and everyone at Margaret K. McElderry who helped create such a lovely-looking package. In August 2013, look to see Karl’s work in Claire Legrand’s upcoming book for middle-grade readers, The Year of Shadows.

Win It!" rel="nofollow">a Rafflecopter giveaway

Claire is also gabbing via podcast with The Girls in the Stacks today. Head on over and listen in! Tomorrow, she shares with The Book Muncher what she’s learned about the publishing biz. Get the full blog tour schedule right here.
Find out more about Claire:
Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads / Amazon


All images copyright Karl Kwasny. Used with permission. Not to be reproduced or reused in any form without express permission from copyright holder.


  1. This one looks fantastic! Such a gem, I hope the plot is as good as the artwork!

  2. It's lovely to read the process of creating a book cover.

    Thanks for sharing!


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