An Illustrator’s Perspective: A Story’s Start Begins at the Cover

I’m an illustrator, and I’m also a shopper. When I’m working on an illustration I find it best to keep my shopper’s hat on too.

For me, the shopper, there are three places that start the story: the front cover, the back cover and the first few pages. When I’m sifting through a sea of books, looking for good reading, these are three elements that help me with my selection. As an illustrator, I don’t have any say about the second two, but the front cover requires both my shopping and artistic expertise.

From a shopper’s and illustrator’s perspective, the front cover is an important story starter. The challenge for the illustrator is to attract the shopper’s attention while telling something about story.

A dominant color is an effective way to attract the shopper’s attention. Is there one color that expresses the mood of the story? I also like to consider color trends. Is there a fashionable color out right now that would be appropriate for the story or target audience?

Another way to attract the customer is by including a human element. For me, the shopper, I feel an instant connection when an expressive face is peering at me. When I look at the cover and see someone happy, sad, worried, etc., I want to know why the character feels that way and will investigate by reading the first few pages.

The next criteria in my book selection process is the storytelling that appears on the cover. The cover art is like an appetizer, a tiny morsel of the delicious story inside. I want to relate to the character from the very beginning, therefore the artwork needs to show something interesting or reveal an aspect of the conflict without giving away the resolution.

When I’ve completed a book I’ve enjoyed reading, the illustrator in me likes to go back and analyze the cover art. Did the artist have an intimate understanding of the characters and story? What elements did the artist employ to intrigue the reader’s interest?

As a shopper and illustrator, the story’s start (the cover) is a great way for me to end the story. When the story is good and the artwork is strong, I feel a greater connection to the characters than when I started. It’s as if I’m looking at a photo of someone I care about. It’s very satisfying.

Contributed by Veronica Walsh, children’s book illustrator


3 responses to “An Illustrator’s Perspective: A Story’s Start Begins at the Cover

  1. gloriastockstill

    Veronica, great insight from the illustrators side. I had never thought much about the things you mentioned. I’ll be more attentive the next time I look at a book. Thanks!


  2. marilyn donahue

    Veronica, I really relate to your “shopping” by studying the front and back covers and the first few pages. A good front cover can entice me to open up the book, and I almost always stand there in the store sampling a few pages before I buy. Thanks for giving us the illustrator’s perspective on this!

  3. Shirley Shibley

    How interesting to read your approach to a book! Sometimes I’m jealous of a good illustrator because I feel people might just want to “read’ the pictures and not pay attention to the words, but they should complement each other, shouldn’t they?

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