Monday, July 12, 2010

Artist & Illustrator for Lost Island Smugglers, Holly Heisey

So much attention is given to the author, when a new book is released. However, many times it's the cover that draws in potential readers, or turns them away.

Following is an interview with Holly Heisey, the artist and illustrator for my new book, Lost Island Smugglers, which will be released on August 1st.

It’s often said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” However, in this case, I hope people will be drawn to the cover of my new book. Explain your initial thoughts as you approached this project.

I've always been drawn to vibrant covers that seem to come alive with the story. That's what I wanted to do for Lost Island Smugglers--give the readers a slice of the action so they'd have to know more.

A writer sees images and words in his head. When you approach an art project for the first time, what are some of the elements that you see, before you begin painting or drawing?

This depends on if the drawing is from my imagination, or based on a story I've written or read. If it's from imagination, I'll often sit down and either start randomly doodling with a pen or painting bold colors until shapes start to emerge and I have an idea of what the drawing could be. Art from stories is a little different. When I'm reading, a concrete image in the words will jump out at me, and I'll scribble down a very loose sketch. I rarely deviate far from my original "flash image." If it's strong enough for me to see in living color, it's strong enough to paint.

Explain the different steps you took in producing the cover art for Lost Island Smugglers.

I knew the cover for Lost Island Smugglers should be centered around the storm, which was the most exciting and action-packed part of the story, so when I read the manuscript, I paid close attention to the details to find just the right image to start with. Once I got my image and scribbled it down, I went on the web and found dozens of pictures of catamarans, storms, wavy seas, stormy skies--anything and everything that would help me make the painting as realistic as possible. Then, with my reference in hand, I scanned my original tiny sketch into the computer, blew it up to the size of a cover in Photoshop, and started to digitally paint over it with shapes and forms in shades of gray. It helps to start with gray so I can get the lighting right without having to worry about the color. Once I had a good idea of what it would look like in gray, I started painting over it in color. Like a writer has first, second, and third drafts and so on, every time I went over the painting again, I tightened the shapes, put in more details, made everything more accurate. Finally, I adjusted all the colors in Photoshop and put the finished painting into the design for the book cover.

Authors talk about facing writer’s block, where it seems impossible to go forward with a writing project at times. Does an artist ever experience this sort of creative block? And if so, how do they get past it?

A lot of artists are very much like writers in that they are visual storytellers. If I can't find the right story to tell with my art, I will get blocked. A lot of times I get past this by looking at paintings by artists I love. It's so inspiring and freeing just to appreciate art at its best that it often gives me the idea I need to keep going. Good books and movies will do that, too. It's all a big creative melting pot!

What would you say was your biggest challenge in creating the artwork for this book cover?

My biggest challenge for this cover was painting the waves. I've never been out on the sea and certainly not in a storm, so I had to pour over many paintings and photos of waves in storms until I got my painting to just where I liked it.

You also did some pen-in-ink illustrations for the interior of the book. Could you talk about those, how you approached each subject, and any other details that readers might find interesting?

When doing interior illustrations, I want the pictures to tell as much story as if there were no words in the book at all. When I was reading, I was always on the lookout for big, exciting, pivotal scenes to turn into a visual story. When I got a clear idea, I'd scribble down a quick drawing, scan it in, and then digitally draw over top of it like with the cover. From there, I printed out the bigger drawing, took tracing paper and went over each drawing again and again until I got it right. Then, I inked the drawings with pens and a brush and scanned them back into the computer for the finishing touches.

Could you tell us about your art training, background, experience, and some of your other work/projects?

I was fortunate enough to have a great private art teacher while I was growing up, and I trained with her for seven years in pastels and watercolor until she "graduated" me. I learned all my foundation in fine art from her, and had some fantastic opportunities like having drawings commissioned for a national cookbook while I was still in middle school. I don't do pastel paintings anymore because I developed an allergy to the chalks, but I've been training myself to paint on the computer, and most of my artwork is digital now, although a lot of it still emulates the style of traditional work. I recently had five weeks training with the great school The Art Department, which broadened my horizons even more, and I'm excited for what I will do in the future.

Is there one piece of artwork you’ve done in the past that you are the most proud of and why?

I don't know if there's any I'd say I'm most proud of. I learn so much with each painting that they're all special to me in some way. I can look at my paintings and say, "Here's where I learned how to handle textures," or "Here's where I learned how to paint with colored pencils." In that sense, every piece of work is a badge of accomplishment to me. I can say about the Lost Island Smugglers painting, "Here's where I learned how to paint the sea!"

What are your hopes and dreams for your art in the future?

I really love telling stories with my art. I hope to hone my skills enough to do illustrations for the top science fiction and fantasy books and magazines. I'd also love to do concept art for movies--that would be just amazing.

Many people what to know how they can break into the writing and publishing field. How would you advise young people who are interested in a career in art?

The first step in anything creative is just lots of practice. Lots of doing it and finding things out as you go. Look all over the internet--sites like and are a great place to start--and find what kind of art you really like, and then study the paintings to find out how the artists did it. Study the lives of artists and how their lives influenced their work. Take art courses online and buy art books and look at everything, study everything, and draw. You will never regret honing your drawing skills, and they will always serve you, again and again. And while you're at all this, plug into groups of area artists and online forums like,,, and where you can get and give feedback from other artists and gain contacts in the industry while you go. You don't have to go to an expensive art school to succeed in the art industry, you just need a passion to grow in your art and a constantly improving portfolio.

Please list the links where people can learn more about you.

My personal website is:

My portfolio is at:

And you can follow updates on my art on my Facebook fan page at:!/pages/Holly-Heisey-Artist/119051711443606  

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Thanks, Max, for having me on your blog. I had a blast and learned a lot while doing the illustrations for Lost Island Smugglers, and I hope they enrich the book and make it as much fun to read as I had fun doing it!

Port Younder Press on Youtube:


Anonymous said...

Holly, you did a terrific job on Max's cover--it's an eye-grabber!

Max, good interview, terrific questions! I wish you tons of good luck and God's grace with your books!

Victor Travison said...

This cover makes me want to read the book. I love action adventures, even if they are meant for younger audiences. The image of a boat tossed in rough waters is just the ticket. Great job, Holly!

Now if my finances would cooperate ...

~ VT

Victor Travison said...

Oh, and Max, didn't mean to leave you out. Thanks for featuring Holly on your blog. She's been a friend of mine since I joined, and I'm happy she's being lauded like this. I'll buy your book as soon as I can.

~ VT

Janalyn Voigt said...

I love that cover, Holly. Thanks for an insightful interview, Max.

Holly Heisey said...

Thanks, y'all! I can't wait till the book comes out. :D