One of the joys of independent publishing is finding a cover designer who “gets” your work. Samantha Hennessy at SAMANTHA HENNESSY DESIGN is the IT GIRL for me. Her cover for my latest novel THE DEW THAT GOES EARLY AWAY is a lush, velvety dream (I’ve had people at book fairs gush over it).
A designer who listens to your vague ideas and improves upon them to create works of art is a rare find. By the third novel I really had no idea what I wanted. I gave Sam the title (and maybe a brief synopsis of the manuscript) and before long the cover arrived in my inbox. I didn’t make a single change to it (it helped that she’d designed my other two books and had a great feel for the series).
Enjoy part one of this interview with the very talented SAMANTHA HENNESSY:
Tell us about your book cover design process. What inspires you?
With the cover designs for THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES, I borrowed inspiration from Adrienne’s blog header and created designs where past meets present. I wanted the covers to feel modern while still keeping with the spirit of historical fiction.
With WEARY OF RUNNING, the first cover I worked on, I started with the torn and old photograph of the cadets. At first I considered cleanly cropping the edges but realized those rough edges I had first thought of as a nuisance could be used as a charming design element! The torn edges added texture and brought in a little of the bright teal color to break up the sepia tones of the front cover. It also acted as a transitional element to connect the spine and the front cover through color.
Design work is problem solving. As a designer I make incongruous bits and pieces or ideas fit together, often times by reconsidering those bit and pieces that at first seemed a problem.
With the second cover I designed, THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD, I started out with a scan of a photograph of the actual house on Tenafly Road. The scan’s quality wasn’t great, so I knew I would have to modify it in some way to make it workable. After playing around for a bit with the photo, I finally settled on a halftone filter for the scan.
Halftone is a printing process originally used in newspapers – think of the little dots you see that make up comic strips or newsprint letters. It’s a rudimentary way to print, and applying the halftone filter maintained the photo’s vintage sensibilities, while the bright magenta and contrasting pastel yellow color added a bit of freshness that the original scan needed. Color relationships are what I focus on the most in my designs, and I love trying to figure out how I can use color to create mood, interest and movement.
THE DEW THAT GOES EARLY AWAY cover is special to me because I used my own photograph for the art. The photo was inspired by Alexa Meade’s work. Her paintings are unusual because Meade paints right on top of a real person, sitting at a real table, and applies exaggerated shadows and highlights straight onto these unique “canvases.” It’s very meta. And everyone knows that anything can be art as long as its meta!
One of her paintings – or to be exact – a photograph of a person she painted on top of, was a woman half-submerged in opaque, white liquid. The photo was captured just as the woman’s painted face met the water and started to run.
I was brainstorming ideas for cover art for the third novel in my apartment, looking at a bouquet of flowers in a vase. I knew the title of the third novel (The Dew That Goes Early Away) and that it was a story about lost innocence. That conjured in my mind images of dew drops on flowers and the transience of nature and life.
Alexa Meade popped into my head. I quickly filled a plastic bin with water, added a cup of milk, dropped in some daubs of red and blue paint, swirled everything around, and floated the now beheaded flowers on top. My favorite part of the photograph is the white flower on the top right corner of the cover that has a couple red-paint dew drops on its petals.
What is your favorite part of book cover design? Your least favorite part?
I mentioned that the third book was special to me because I used my own art, but my least favorite part of cover design is choosing the right art. Looking at those flowers and trying to figure out what to do with them – for a couple of moments there – felt torturous. Choosing the right art is stressful, but once I settle on it manipulating things like fonts and layout feels meditative in comparison. I’ve spent what might be considered an obsessive amount of time getting the kerning just right (kerning is the spacing between letters). I’m fascinated by typography and experimenting with different fonts to best represent the personality of the design.
You work independently. Have you ever considered working in traditional publishing or do you prefer the indie world? What would be your dream set-up artistically?
I do enjoy working on projects independently but definitely want the direction that an agency provides. While studying art in college, I always found that the projects I became most invested in and enjoyed the most where the projects I was forced to do, that initially seemed completely incompatible with my artistic style and voice. The assignments I started off dreading were the ones I often had such fondness for in the end.
Having complete artistic control without the intervention of mentors and colleagues can feel narcissistic if I’m not self-evaluating my work properly. And that’s a hard thing to do! Sometimes when I look back on old projects I wish I had someone there at the time to tell me that the work wasn’t fully “there” yet. I love having that dialogue between artists. Hearing criticism in the moment can make me feel defensive, red-faced, and like my identity as an artist is just a huge sham! But then I get over my pride, and I’m a better artist for it.
Do you listen to music while working? Does it influence your designs?
I don’t listen to music much while working but I do listen to podcasts. Music can be distracting for me because stopping to skip a song or to choose a new artist breaks my concentration. Podcasts on the other hand, especially long-form narratives, are so immersive and wonderful in their storytelling. Audio as a medium, I think, is superior to visual media in a lot of different ways. That might sound strange coming from a visual artist! I just really respect the art. In another world where I was a talented writer, that would be my dream job. Audio allows the listener to build their own visuals and fill in the story using memories and personal experiences. It’s magical. Two shows I will recommend are 99% Invisible and Criminal. The former is a show about design, but it’s not just for designers. Give it a chance. The latter is a riveting true-crime-esque podcast that I love even more for the illustrations made for each episode by Julienne Alexander. Visuals complimenting audio is up there in my list of things I love.
Do you come from a creative family?
My grandmother is a STAINED GLASS ARTIST and owns a studio in Jersey City. She’s done stain glass work for a number of churches and synagogues around the area, and she restores glass as well. My childhood home is decorated with her stained glass projects and I grew up admiring her work.
YOU CAN FIND MORE OF SAMANTHA’S WORK AT SAMANTHA HENNESSY DESIGN