At a trade show a librarian once said to us “Definitely judge a book by its cover, there is a lot of time and energy put into that cover.” Today, The Lizard Lady illustrator Veronica V. Jones shares her process of creating the cover for this true story.
One of the more exciting (and sometimes nerve-wracking) parts of my job as a children’s book illustrator can be coming up with the book cover. That’s because there’s a lot that a book cover has to do if it’s doing a good job. In a world where there’s so much competing for a customer’s attention, book covers not only have to be pretty, but they have to grab someone’s attention, just long enough that they pick up the book. Book covers have to hint at the story inside, communicating that it’s worth a reader’s time and attention. Practically, they also have to convey information about the book like the title and author, even when shrunk down to the size of a thumbnail. That’s a lot of pressure!
By the time I begin to work on a book cover, I’ve already worked on the character designs and the rough sketches for the story, so I’m pretty familiar with how the characters look. The story in The Lizard Lady is based on real life researcher Nicole Angeli and her work with the critically endangered St. Croix ground lizard, so I wanted to make sure the cover focused on the relationship between Nicole and a lizard. Luckily, I had a lot of good photo references Nicole had sent in!
A lot of the pictures showed Nicole holding a little lizard in her hand so that seemed like a great start for the cover. I started sketching using the photos as a guide and soon came up with an idea. I would use foreshortening, a drawing technique that allows you to create the illusion of an object receding strongly into the distance, so as to focus on the lizard in detail in the Lizard Lady’s hands. In the cover of the Lizard Lady, the hands with the lizard appear to be very much closer because they are so much larger, and the arms are shortened.
Once I had a good sketch, I had to plan out where the title and author credit text would go on the cover. The title text needs to be legible even when the cover is small like in an online store. I also had to come up with background elements that would help frame the title. Luckily, St. Croix has a wonderful variety of foliage to draw from!
Painting the cover was the next step. I wanted the colors to suggest the bright sunlight on the verdant island of St. Croix, so I focused on bright greens for the plants and shading the Lizard lady with reds and oranges. Yellow seemed like a great choice for the title text as it’s both sunny and matched Lizard Lady’s hair. After turning in the artwork for feedback, editor Donna German suggested we flip the composition, keeping the reader’s eye movement going from left to right and encouraging people to open the book. This turned out to be the perfect finishing touch!
Thanks Veronica for sharing your process! Check out The Lizard Lady at Arbordalepublishing.com!