I’ve been blessed to work with fantastic illustrators and art directors on my novels from my very first one. THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST is my debut novel, but it was also the middle-grade debut of illustrator Justin Hernandez. The book also had a fantastic art director at Simon & Schuster, Laurent Linn, who’s also an illustrator and writer. I was in awe of what they came up with, so when I found out they were partnering again for ARROW, I was thrilled. And once again, they did not let me down, from the dramatic cover to the gorgeous backcover and even the birds that fly across every page. I’m amazed how illustrators can turn a novel into a single illustration for a bookcover, so I wanted to pick Justin’s brain about how he created the wonderful artwork for these books. Here’s what he said:
Thanks for joining me, Justin! When you read THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, what were your first thoughts in regards to your illustration?
I kinda tore through the manuscript for THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST in almost one sitting—I had to know what was going to happen. What struck me immediately was the mood/atmosphere of the book. Especially the way we first meet the boy when he wakes up on the beach, and just, the kind of dreaminess in which everything unfurls from there. My first thoughts were how to capture this feeling and have hints of the conflict/themes with the Beast. It also helps… I don’t quite know how to put it, but it’s easy to feel what you are passionate about in the story, which helped craft how to approach the art. I was really excited by the story and ended up doing a bunch of cover roughs. LOL
How did you collaborate with Simon & Schuster art director Laurent Linn on the cover and interior art for that novel?
First thing I have to say is Laurent is really great to work with. He’s very encouraging and good about giving you some suggestions/guides/an idea of how the title might work in the space, and then letting you run with it. The whole process felt very collaborative and free at the same time. It was easy to have a back and forth on ideas and get the best out of the art.
I love the fun touch of the changing icons in the chapter header design. How did these come about?
I can’t quite remember how that came about. 🙂 I just know we both liked the idea of there being a framing element of the branches and it seemed like it would be cool to have the spot pieces change in and out while still being a part of the whole. I also just really like decorative/art nouveau styled things and was happy to have a chance to put some of that in here.
This was your first novel to illustrate. How was this different from your other projects?
It really was different in that it was illustrating a novel. Up until that point I had worked mostly in videogames (with some small spot pieces for a couple of tabletop rpgs). The age range on these was also a bit older than the audience for middle-grade fiction. It was really cool to be able to approach something in my own art style. With games especially, you’re often working from a set style guide or house style for the project. But this also made it a little trickier. I wasn’t super familiar with the publishing process, but Laurent made the whole thing really easy.
I’m thrilled that you and Laurent teamed up again for ARROW. What were your initial thoughts when you read this story?
A bunch of my initial thoughts were along the lines: ‘Oh! I need to draw this! No wait, this! And this!’ Again, there was a lot of striking imagery in the book. (I did end up reading the manuscript all in one go this time. LOL) I was immediately drawn into the story and Arrow’s journey and felt invested in what is happening in this forest. The story is really engaging and has this cool way of unfurling into something larger while still having an intimate focus on the characters. As with THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, there was something very lived in about the world you crafted.
That’s so wonderful to hear! ARROW almost has two covers, with gorgeous artwork on the front and the back of the book. How did you decide which parts of the story would be featured and where?
Thank you! We initially were only thinking about the front cover. We knew we wanted Arrow and Curly to be featured prominently and for there to be hints of the bigger elements in the story. When I did the roughs, I ended up approaching it a bit like a movie poster.
Laurent then came up with the idea to feature the Mother Tree on the back cover—which I really liked since she is so important and we weren’t able to fit her onto the front. We really wanted to capture her scale in relation to everything else.
I love the illustration details in the interior pages of ARROW, with the birds and the chapter headings. What inspired those?
With the chapter headings, I was thinking of what else Arrow has seen the he might carve. It was inspired by the animals featured in the jungle. I also really wanted them to have a feeling similar to pictographs and ancient carvings.
Oh! I hadn’t seen the birds before. I think they’re from the back cover (I had put them in to help convey how big the Mother Tree is). Laurent is great utilizing different elements from the art, mixing them into the design of the book.
That’s wonderful! The birds help illustrate a crucial part of the story, so I love that they’re in the book. What are you working on now?
Currently I’ve been doing a mix of freelance illustration at the moment, but I’m most I’m excited to be working on a horror/adventure middle-grade graphic novel pitch with my wife—based on our webcomic NO SUCH THING.
Ooh, I’m looking forward to that. Thank you so much, Justin!
Readers, what do you think of these sketches? Isn’t it amazing to see how the artwork evolves? I’m always fascinated by how artists like Justin create. Have you designed a bookcover? How would you work on it?