Behind the Cover Art-Reese Dante
How often have you seen this comment by readers? “I was drawn to the book because of the beautiful cover.” Or sometimes, you see this. “The story was great, but I almost didn’t pick it up because of the ugly cover!”
Writers labor over a manuscript for weeks, months, and sometimes, years. Once it’s accepted by a publisher, their “baby” goes through several processes before it finally hits the shelves. One of the most stressful of these steps is choosing a book cover. First, you have to decide which artist will be able to bring your vision to life. Do you want it drawn or Photoshopped? Do you have a preference for colors? Should there be nudity, or should we take a more subtle approach? What type of background did you envision? What do your main characters look like? Did you wish to convey passionate love or not? The questions are endless, and most writers provide more information than necessary. It takes a skilled artist to sift through the jumble of words and pull out the key elements of the story to create the perfect cover to showcase our work.
Join me in acknowledging the men and women who provide their expertise to make our cover art the best it can be. Other than the initial round of applause when a book releases, they don’t get enough kudos, and I'm hoping to change that. Each month I’m going to showcase a new cover artist to give them the online time they deserve. It’ll also serve as an opportunity for you, the reader, writer, publisher, and aspiring artist, to pick their brain. Feel free to comment and ask questions. At the end of each month, one winner will be drawn from the list of visitors to win a $25.00 gift certificate from Dreamspinner Press.
It is my pleasure to present Reese Dante as my second featured cover artist. I've had the honor to work with her on two of my novels, Taste and Momentos: Mick's Journey and it was a pleasure from start to finish. Here are the list of questions Reese was gracious enough to answer for me.
What credentials would one need to get into the business of cover art?
First, thank you for taking the time to interview me :) and thanks to everyone who is taking the time to read this. As far as necessary credentials, this varies based on who is responding to the question. Some will claim a formal art education is a requirement while others seek years of experience. In my opinion, a sampling of work provides a quick overview of the artist’s sense of style and creativity. My portfolio and the early design awards for those covers provided me with sufficient basis to build my client list and contact publishers for future work.
How did you get your start?
I have a friend who writes poetry and he asked me to design the cover for his book. That was officially my first book cover project. Literally, within two weeks of completing the design, I’m chatting with a friend of mine, Leiland, who was ready to publish his first m/m romance story and needed a cover. He asked if I was interested. I couldn’t jump on it fast enough. It was a great creative outlet for me and I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time. He went on to write more books and I went on to design more covers for him. After a few months, he somehow convinced me to come out of the designing closet and offer to design covers for others. I did and here I am now :)
Is this a full-time job or do you wear several hats like most of us?
I’m very blessed to have enough work to focus on design full-time. After spending endless years in a high stress office day job, I’m incredibly thankful to have the opportunity to finally do something I love so much.
"The difference between a great design and a lousy one is in the meshing of the thousand details that either fit or don’t, and the spirit of the passionate intellect that has tied them together, or tried.” I came across this quote recently and thought of you. The thing that struck me the first time we worked together on a book cover was your attention to detail. Care to expand on that?
Thank you :) That’s an amazing quote. My biggest pet peeve: when the cover doesn’t match the character in the story. To avoid this, I make it a point of trying to gather as much detail as possible. I’m extraordinarily picky about my work and my attention to detail can be a bit overwhelming. I often joke with my authors regarding my ‘interrogation’. If there’s a tattoo, I want details regarding where it’s located, how far it extends, colors, styling, etc. If there’s a necklace, I need to know what type, metal, pendant, etc. If hairstyle is important, I usually request a sample image. If I’m tattooing foreign words, you bet I’ve researched endlessly to ensure I’m not adding some symbol that is offensive. I’d hate to accidentally flip off someone in a foreign language. There is a method to my madness. I believe the details, however subtle, will bring the character and story to life in the design.
One of my characters in Taste had an armful of ink and I automatically asked if you’d be available to do the cover. What is it about tattoos that appeal to you?
First, thank you for writing Taste. That was my first color tattoo design I’ve actually received an email from a reader who wanted to get a tattoo sleeve to match. I was incredibly flattered. Tattoos, aside from being hot as hell, are a form of expression. I think that might be part of the appeal, they are like a design within a design when they’re on cover art. They fascinate me :) so I enjoy spending the time on the detail, especially the larger or complex pieces. I go beyond superimposing a design onto the model’s skin. That works for really small tattoos, but, IMO, the larger ones tend to look flat if you do this. I tinker endlessly to make it look natural. If the muscle/arm flexes, then the tattoo will shift as if it were actually on his skin. Sometimes, the details are so small and probably overlooked by most, but I’m picky as hell about my work. In my mind, if you look at the design and think the tattoo was part of the original model’s image, then it worked.
Is there any request you’ve ever received that was particularly challenging?
I think designs where I tackle something new ‘to me’ is a welcomed challenge – my first tattoo, my first angel, etc. It’s also one of the most exciting things about working on cover art – the ability to try something new and learn along the way.
Let’s talk about stock shots. I’m not crazy about them because I don’t like seeing the image of one my characters on another cover. Is there anyway to get around that?
Sadly, most cover artists have limited resources and budgets. Most of the stock I see (and use) are from microstock sites because they make it affordable to use images in cover projects. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil. However, I try to change the guys up a little when I can so the models look a little different – anything from small details to full head or hair swaps. I also work with photographers when possible to purchase and/or license images. However, this can get rather pricey and can be restrictive regarding usage.
Are you committed to a specific publisher or can anyone hire you?
I am a freelance artist and I’m grateful to have relationships with several publishers at this time. I am the Art Director at Silver Publishing and do freelance work for both Dreamspinnner Press and Riptide. Additionally, I take freelance work from self-published authors and other types of projects when time permits.
Do you have a “wish list” for writers, i.e. how can we make your job easier?
Two things: information and creative freedom. Information is critical. Unfortunately, due to the amount of covers I complete, I don’t get a chance to read the stories before I design the cover. I rely on the cover spec and the mild interrogation I conduct via an email exchange (when permitted) to get a better handle on the characters, plot, mood and other details. Sometimes, an author will give me a specific concept for a design. This is often helpful in providing direction regarding the author’s preference. However, when the specific idea is a requirement, this usually hinders creativity. I tend to work best when I’m given the information then set free to create the design.
Awards are always gratifying, but some mean more than others. Would you like to share any you’ve received that you’re especially proud of?
As cheesy as this might sound, an author’s squee when they get a design they feel is perfect for their story is probably the most gratifying. To me, that type of appreciation is always rewarding. As far as actual ‘awards’ recognized in the genre and industry, I’ve received a few accolades I’m especially proud of. I think the most notable would be the two Rainbow Awards because they are voted by authors, readers, and peers – as were the LRC Best Cover Artist and Best Cover awards. The EPIC Ariana Awards gave me two pretty plaques I’m able to display in my office that still make me smile. Placing twice in the Annual Cover Café also made me especially proud since they consider cover art from digital and mass market presses across all genres.
How would one get in touch with you?
I can be reached via my website “Contact Me” page, Facebook or Twitter. Don’t be shy, I do respond.
rdante [at] reesedante [dot] com