Friday, November 04, 2011

Sometimes You CAN Judge a Book by its Cover.

It's my pleasure to introduce a gifted and talented artist who produces the interior design and covers of the books at Comfort Publishing. His name is Reed Karriker, and Reed has been responsible for the artwork on three of my books now.
You’ve been at Comfort Publishing for a short time. Could you talk about your work experience prior to that, and some of the projects you’ve been doing since joining Comfort?

Before joining Comfort Publishing, I worked for a travel publication called Where® magazine for 8 ½ years. I came in as a freelance artist to design vector-based maps for them, and after six months or so they hired me full-time to design ads for the magazines. Over the years I worked my way up the design food chain from Ad Designer to Associate Art Director to Art Director, eventually designing covers and editorial content exclusively. Since joining Comfort Publishing, I’ve had the opportunity to do the same sort of work, just in a different way and on a different scale. Designing book covers requires a different skill set in terms of marketability, which gives me an opportunity to tap into my creativity.

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, or consider before you begin to paint or draw?

It is very similar for me as an artist. Often when I read a synopsis or cover description, an image of the cover will form in my mind. I consider several elements of the subject matter (central focus, location, mood/tone, plot points) and balance their importance with regard to the composition. I translate what I imagine to the computer/sketch pad and massage the image until it feels successful, as it pertains to the story.

Explain the different steps you took in producing the cover art for When the Lights Go Out.
In books, there is sometimes a key scene where the different parts of the story come together before the climax of the story. These scenes hold a tremendous level of anticipation when read, and similarly when created as an image. When the Lights Go Out had the perfect scene for this: the boys hiding in the bushes, waiting to surprise the bad guys as they attempt to escape. As a cover image, it needed to feel dangerous and almost a little scary, to enhance that anticipation. To do this, I chose the perspective of the boys, with the viewer peering over their shoulders from their hiding place, directly in the path of the oncoming truck. The details in the mid-ground (chain-link fence, army barracks) set the location of the abandoned army base. In order to draw the viewer into the illustration, I used visual cues (the sloping roofs of the barracks, forming a “v” and pulling the eye to the center) and areas of high contrast (orange explosion against the deep blue night sky, bright white lights of the headlights and helicopter spotlights) to create a strong, central focal point. I repeated the orange on the title to really make it stand out against the black and give the cover a nice balance of color. And there you have it.

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

The biggest challenge was pulling together the many different separate components (the boys, bushes, fence, gravel, truck, barracks, explosions, helicopters, sky) and reworking them as a composite image that appears as though it was originally one piece of art.

You've also done cover artwork for additional Comfort Publishing projects. Can you tell us more about those?

Like with When the Lights Go Out, I try to identify and extract that “key scene” for each of them. In the case with Legend of the White Wolf, an element of the story (the painting) provided me with excellent subject matter for the cover. In some cases, location can be the simplest and strongest of images, as with Terror at Wolf Lake.

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? What experiences have you had with this?

Artists definitely get creatively “blocked” at times. The key to beating it for me is to remain flexible and don’t lock yourself into something that just isn’t working. For the cover of He Heard Hannah, I tried everything, from a siren to a heart monitor, to an ambulance, even a dispatcher’s headset. All of those things fit the subject matter of the story, but did not have the visual impact to grab a viewer. In the end, I used a portrait of the little girl in the story on the cover, and instantly I knew I’d found my cover image. Not only is she important to the story, her endearing smile is enough to get anyone to stop and take a second look at the book on a store shelf.

How do you know when you've found the best solution for an art project or assignment?

Sometimes there is an “ah ha” moment, when you just know you’ve got it. Most often, though, I collaborate with co-workers and my artist peers. It helps to have someone not directly involved with a creative project point out things you can’t see because you are working so closely with it. Their fresh perspective helps me iron out the things that don’t necessarily work well and tighten up the piece.

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

I’ve always been an artist. Since I was able to pick up a crayon, I was drawing/coloring in my free time (and even sometimes when I probably shouldn’t have been). I pursued art in school. I eventually matriculated at Appalachian State University from 1997-2001 and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design. I wasn’t able to get a design job right off the bat, however. Walmart paid the bills for six months until I was able to find work at a print shop running a small, out-dated printing press. I was horrible at it! From there I worked with a staffing agency that places artists into part-time or freelance positions until I stumbled over a job in Charlotte, NC designing maps for Where® magazine. I spent 8 ½ years designing ads and editorial for magazines and travel books until I was able to find my new position as Art Director at Comfort Publishing. I guess the moral of the story is, you can’t always start off at the top; sometimes you have to work your way there. I try to be charitable with my natural ability as often as I can, so I provide design work for my wife’s elementary school when they need a poster or an award, and annually I paint faces and draw caricatures for Relay for Life.

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

The first cover of my book-publishing career was a piece I did pro-bono for a struggling young writer. He needed a complete front-to-back cover design in a pinch and I agreed to do it for an artist credit. It was called The Descendant: Mary’s Song, and gave me a chance to really let me creative talent shine. I was very happy with the end result, as was the author. I’m a tactile guy, and being able to hold a book in my hand with my artwork on the cover was a big deal for me.

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

I’d like to explore animation and movies at some point. I love movies as much as I love books. The ability to escape reality, even for a short time, and find yourself in another world really feeds my creative spirit. I’d like to work with Art Directors and Set Designers to design and create the characters, places and things in the movies I have come to enjoy so much. Also, animation seems to best fit my skill set as an illustrator, and I’d like to try my hand at it to see what I could accomplish.

Many people want 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 or illustration?

Stick to your interests and immerse yourself in them. As a boy, I loved to draw and read books. As I grew older, I read more books and magazines, and drew whenever I had a chance. I soon discovered comic books, where art is a significant part of what makes them successful, and absorbed the diverse styles and techniques I found in them. The more I experienced, the more I learned, and I incorporated much of it into my artwork. My personal training is just as important as my professional training, and I am constantly finding new things in books, magazines and movies to expand my creativity and imagination.

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

Please keep in mind these links are under construction, but I plan on updating them soon!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Nothing can take the place of experience. No job is too big or too small, too beyond you or too beneath you. Everything you do adds to your character, to who you are. I designed T-shirts in middle school, designed ads and logos in high school; I even applied my creativity to pricing signs I created while working at Walmart. Don’t miss an opportunity to grow as an artist.

And finally, you introduced my wife and me to a cherry-flavored, carbonated soft drink called Cheerwine. We’re hooked. We even brought back three cases to share with our kids, after our visit to your place in North Carolina. Is there a link where readers can find more information about Cheerwine? And could you also tell them what you know about this unique drink?

I grew up drinking Cheerwine. It is made in Salisbury, NC, close to where I live. My grandfather told me it was served in a little soda shop there, and folks used to come from all over the county to get a taste. It’s best when served in a tall glass of ice, but even better when you chill it, pour it into a glass and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a Cheerwine float. Definitely one of my favorite Southern sweet treats!


Unknown said...

Great interview! I love Reed's work! He's done a great job on your books!

I'm so glad he was led to try out a picture of my daughter for the cover of He Heard Hannah. Not only is it PERFECT for the book and visually just "right" for the cover design - but that's my little sweetie, and knowing those who never got to meet her can at least behold her adorable face, delights her mommy's heart.

I enjoyed reading your post and am very curious about Cheerwine. Will have to check that out! :)

I enjoyed popping by!

Cheryl Linn Martin said...

Great interview, Max!

I love Reed's cover art. Can't wait to see what he does with mine!!!! : )

max said...

I'm sure it'll be great, Cheryl.

max said...

Thank you Lynnette. I hope your book does very well. We liked the Cheerwine a lot. It's a little like Dr. Pepper.