Cover Design

Cover Design with an illustrator

For those interested in learning how the illustration process goes, I sat down with my own illustrator and had him outline his process. As he does I will offer my point-of-view where necessary.

Before Jon begins below I will say that Jon and I met on a forum of If you are in the market for someone and do not know where to find them, a simple web search could do wonders. I was looking for illustrators that had reasonable rates and would be easy to work with. I found Jon and we began to discuss the process.  

Creating the cover

Like all covers, the process begins with a discussion. The first thing I always like to do when starting a new cover project is to understand what the cover is all about and to gather any ideas the author has in mind for what they would like to see on their cover.

Tommy and I had already had several discussions about the Rogue’s Phoenix series, so I had a general idea of the type of thing that might be required. Still, it was a good opportunity to reconfirm some of the details of the cover. What style was Tommy looking for? What overall effect did we want to achieve? Did he have any ideas for who or what should be shown on the cover?

(I knew that I wanted to implement a Phoenix emblem that would carry over to each book in the series. This would be similar to how Dragonlance Books would always have the design at the top of the book to let you know where the book was located. As for the cover art, I was forced to think about it. I had to either give some ideas or let the illustrator run with it. If you do not know what you want then you are going to have to be open minded. A great example of this would be with Cataclysm. I truly went into that series without a great idea of what I wanted and Jon and I spent time to develop a direction. More on this a little later.)

After the initial discussion, I drew out some very rough thumbnail sketches of the cover. This stage is always a tricky one, particularly if I am working with a new client. The aim of these sketches is to roughly map out ideas for the cover, to give an overall sense of the sort of composition that could be used. But at the same time, they are very rough scribbles, and I sometimes wonder whether new clients worry that they have just hired someone who appears to have lost the ability to draw!

Luckily, Tommy and I have worked together before and we had already agreed on a style for the cover illustrations, so I didn’t have to convince him that I could actually draw and I was free to play with overall mood and colour.

( I will add here that the images provided were very simple and juvenile. They were there in give a simple idea of the layout and flow only. This is not anything near the final project. I would encourage you to have faith in the illustrator beyond this stage.)

Developing the design

From the initial sketch ideas, Tommy chose the options he wanted to explore further and I started to develop them into more fully-realised illustrations.

Because books one and two of the Rogue’s Phoenix series were ready for their cover art, I was in the fortunate position of being able to develop the look of the series with both compositions in mind. Most of the time, when working on a series, there are a number of decisions to which you commit on the first book and then need to stick with for the rest of the covers. Working on both books simultaneously gave me the opportunity to set those series “rules”, knowing they would work well for both covers.

We had chosen to develop designs that featured key characters from each novel. It was important to understand more about those characters so Tommy prepared descriptions for me, allowing me to match my illustrations to the characters as they appear inside the books.

This stage of the process is the perfect time to assess the illustration, to see if it is working and to check that everything is as it should be. It is a lot easier to change things at this stage, rather than when the full illustration is completed.

In this case, the cover for book one was working well, but we tried a few different ideas for the characters on the cover of book two. The aim was to find a composition that correctly reflected the relationship between the characters, while also remaining suitably dramatic. It also gave me the opportunity to get the clothing and armour looking correct, before committing it to (digital) paint.

(At this stage I was able to make changes to the stance of the characters or change their facial expressions. It was important to see where the image would go and use this time to save time later. If I saw something that I did not like I made notes here.)

The illustration

Starting from the agreed drawings, I developed the designs into fully-realised illustrations. I mostly work digitally, using Photoshop to create digital paintings. In this case, I was able to produce the full illustration in one go; sometimes it is appropriate to complete black and white line work first, with colour added afterwards (a process we use on Tommy’s other series of books, The Divide).

With both covers being developed simultaneously, I was able to make sure there was consistency in the paintings, not only in the positions of the main characters, but also in some of the background elements. For example, the roofline of the buildings from book two follows a similar path to the direction of the dragon’s wing on book one, and the curve of the dragon’s neck is echoed in the clouds at the top of book two.

There are also a couple of simple rules that I tend to stick to when creating a book cover (if appropriate – it’s also useful to break the rules from time-to-time).

The rule of thirds is one such rule: dividing the cover into three and placing important elements on the lines of division. We also like to look at images from top left to the bottom right so I try to place elements so they support that way of viewing the image. Note how the characters to the right are lower than those on the left, so your eye travels more easily from one to the other as your gaze descends diagonally down the page.

The cover design

The illustration itself is only part of the process of creating a cover. Tommy and I had first spoken about Rogue’s Phoenix several months before and I knew that there would be the need to create a series logo as part of the design process. To that end, whenever inspiration had struck, I had jotted down design ideas on scraps of paper. When it came to begin in earnest, I already had several ideas that I liked the look of.

Once again, it was a process of rough sketches, followed by refinement into a final design.

Then there was the matter of fonts to consider. The first book that Tommy commissioned me to work on was Cataclysm, book one in Tommy’s series The Divide. Back then, when deciding on a font choice for Tommy’s author name, we had in mind that there was a strong possibility that we would be working together again on Rogue’s Phoenix one day down the line. That forethought has paid off, as we were able to select a typeface that could work across a number of books in a number of genres. Reusing the same font and cover position also brands all of Tommy’s books so that they are immediately identifiable as part of the same body of work.

With the author typeface set (and tweaked to give it a “fantasy” look), we worked out the right look for the title and the best font to use. Adding all of those elements together (the illustration, the logo, the author name, and the title text), we had our first look at the finished covers.

It’s not over till it’s over

This is not quite the end of the process, however. Tommy required two files from me: one for his ebook, which consisted of just the front cover image, and one for his paperback, which included a spine and back cover text.

Tommy prepared the blurb for his back cover and I assembled it all into a full-wrap paperback design.

I also prepared a 3D mockup version of the cover, which can be useful for publicising the book before the actual, hold it in your hands, printed-on-paper, 3D version arrives from the printers.

And that is it. The end of the process. Until the next book!

With more books in the pipeline, I am looking forward to working with Tommy again very soon.


If you need any help with illustration, Jon has been great to work with. His work speaks for itself and his fees are reasonable. He has been great with communication and is easy to talk to with the issues and concerns along the way (Although there were not too many.)

For more on Jon and to see some of his work, check him out at

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