Comfort & Joy — ‘ a journey’

It’s definitely not too early to post this Christmassy book by Kristin Hannah — after the weekend we’ve had and the weeks we’re about to have, I thought we needed an unashamedly seasonal bit of work!

I started this book cover in February this year, before the ‘first’ lockdown when Christmas seemed a lovely recent memory rather than an imminent but uncertain event. Such is the nature of Christmas-related projects — I can be working on those eighteen months ahead sometimes — but when I was making this cover I had NO idea, of course, that we’d all be anxiously waiting to see what shape Christmas would be this year.

This one’s also a good example of a cover that went through a great many versions before the final was approved. In fact, the project was finally finished in May, while we were deep but freakishly sunny mid-lockdown, the talk was still of banana bread and clapping, and I was still running to the local graveyard to do my workout!

Art director Derek was keen for a brand new look for Kristin’s books, which are mega-bestsellers. The author had seen a cover of mine that she’d liked (‘Nightbird’ by Alice Hoffman) so we started there — a rich surround of wintery foliage revealing a cosy-looking house in the centre.

The work was done as pencil sketches on A2 paper — my plan was to really ink these in in quite some detail:

To this I added some colour, with a hand-made ink sky (captured on camera):

Now, this was pretty much exactly what the author wanted. It’s actually quite unusual for an author to have so much say in a book — but I think because of her status as a high-seller, with a strong reader profile, this writer was allowed to have more input. However this sketch was quickly set aside for a more toned-down foliage-based approach — no flowers (which had all been chosen for their geographical and seasonal relevance), just foliage. So we tried that approach instead.

And the house? Less grand, please! So we tested out how that might look, in a quick all-green rough:

wasn’t the right look either — so Derek and I discussed some branch-only approaches. Just green, and just the branches of a pine tree — a few branches:

A few branches — painstakingly drawn one needle at a time in Procreate — and in the blazing sunshine!

And then Full Branch Action. Note how the house has changed from the first one, too:

After drawing gazillions of individual pine branches, I learned that the author still wasn’t keen. I don’t think she was being ornery deliberately; she just knew what she liked — but when she saw it! And…she hadn’t seen it yet.

So we tried a more graphic approach, reducing the branches to mere silhouettes, more like a framing device.

This one I loved — although only loosely indicated here, it was easy too picture a holographic foil on the tips of these frozen branch tips, and a spot varnish for the moon:

But. These weren’t right. And I can’t remember exactly HOW we got to the final version, but all went quite for a couple of weeks, before ‘Overwhelmingly Patient Art Director Derek’ sent me another piece of my previous work, and told me the author rather liked this one now, instead (my work for Bareminerals’ Christmas make-up range):

And off we went again! Again using Procreate to sketch and do final, with the art then brought into Illustrator for careful vectorising, we got to an outcome Kristin liked. My little house survived for one rough more, but my lettering didn’t:

And by the time we got to ‘Final-Final-Final’, the house had gone too. And my blue-ink sky was made red, with the simple magic of Photoshop, of course!

I can’t wait to see this in the flesh as I understand there’s gold foil action, and that’s going to look extremely Christmassy. It’s one of those jobs where the roughs took me hours and hours, with all the pine needles (all those ‘bastard pine needles’ as they were being called at the time) with the final art taking me a morning to complete — but that’s how it works sometimes. My record for rejected roughs remains at 47 — forty-seven different, individual cover ideas for a single book, NONE of them used in the end (they used a stock photo) — and this was nowhere near that, so that record is safe…for now.

And it was worth it (it almost always is) because Kristin says on her Instagram account that ‘for the first time, she really loves the cover’ on this novella. My work here is done!

I’ve saved every sketch, original bit of art and rough because you ever know — they might not have been Kristin’s cup of egg nog, but they could be someone else’s. Recycling, you know!

‘Comfort & Joy’ is published by Ballantyne, part of Penguin Randomhouse, and you can buy a copy here.

Artist + illustrator of over 800 books and owner of the same amount of pens. Enough to write you a picture AND paint you a story. inkymole.com / inkstagram.ink