04 May, 2012

Interview with Cover Designer Rich Deas

Hello, everyone! I am super excited about this interview we have today. Most of you lovely readers have not doubt seen the cover to the upcoming release by Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone. I love, love the cover, with its Russian feel and great use of illustration. I did some digging and found that Rich Deas (creative director at Macmillian) was the art director on the project with Jen Wang (whose cover for Into The Woods I love) doing the cover art.  I was a little nervous to approach Rich for this interview but he was so nice and cool and let me pepper him with questions. So check out the interview below with Rich. Please note that this is an extremely picture heavy post (how could it not be?). So it may take awhile to load, but it's worth it. Click on any image to go to see it in larger detail.

Hi, Rich! Thank you so much for hanging out on the blog today and answering our questions. We are big fans of your work. Some of my recent favorites of yours are Cinder, Passenger, and the Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

Most recently I fell in love with the cover you designed for Lee Bardugo’s upcoming release, Shadow and Bone. This is totally one of those books that I would buy based on the cover alone. 

Can you take us through the process of how you designed this cover? Do you start with sketches or work on the computer? How did you decide what elements you wanted to include?

As with most covers I work on, I usually start with rough sketches - just thumbing out thoughts as I read through the manuscript. For Shadow and Bone, I knew from the start that I wanted to try a more graphic approach, something strong and symbolic to match the ancient Russian tone of the story. I referenced quite a bit of old Russian manuscripts, type-treatments, artifacts, etc and created various comps. Well, it was a long road from those initial thoughts to the final cover. A lot of people were involved with this cover. Actually, I should say, a lot of people with very different opinions were involved with this cover (sales, marketing, editorial, author, publisher, etc). I created rough cover comps, on and off, for about 6 months before we all agreed on a direction. Over this period of time, I comped up at least 30 options using different approaches and styles: photographic, iconic, illustrative, type, etc. As you can see in the attached cover jpegs, I used various reference art (for placement only) to create the comps, just to get feedback and approval.

I love the font on the cover, too. Is that something you designed as well?

Once we narrowed down the direction, (Fig 1) I sent the rough comp to the amazingly talented illustrator/ designer Jen Wang. She worked out the lettering and art based on the approved direction. Here are some of her early comps (Fig 2 & 3). Jen did such an incredible job designing and creating a unique look for this wonderful series. I look forward to working with her on the entire series. Please check out her work at dominantprimordialbeast.com.

Fig. 1

Fig. 2 & 3

Is the final version very different than your original concept idea for the cover?

Attached is the initial comp which was used for the galley cover (Fig. 4). This served as a place holder until we found a direction we could all agree on. I'm also attaching a few of the early rough comps to give you better idea of the process.

Fig. 4

Can you tell us a little about how you got started in art and how you ended up designing book covers? Your online bio says that you started drawing at a young age but it wasn’t until college that you decided to commit to the study of drawing and illustration. Up until then was art something that was a part of your everyday life? What made you decide to make a career out it?

I've always had an interest in art. I spent a lot more time doodling in class than actually listening and studying. My entire family seems to have the artistic bug. All my brothers and my father have strong illustration skills. My older brother, Michael Deas is an accomplished illustrator and painter and has been a big inspiration for me. He has worked on many recognizable images including: The Columbia Pictures Logo (yes, girl with torch and clouds), the Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Edger A. Poe stamps, The Interview with a Vampire book cover as well as many Time magazine covers. For me, illustration was something I was always good at. In some ways, I don’t think there were other options for me since it was such a natural fit. In college, I studied graphic design. I thought it would be quicker than illustrating. I didn’t take illustration classes but I tried to incorporate illustration into most of my design projects. My professors weren’t crazy about the approach and pushed for more focus on design and concepts. But for me, I am an illustrator at heart and I like to bring the 2 skills together.

What’s the first book cover you ever designed?

 I can't remember the title off-hand. Irene Gallo, the art director for TOR/Forge books gave me many of my first opportunities in book cover design – thanks, Irene! She is amazing and such a strong supporter of illustration and design.

On average, how many drafts of a cover do you have to do before you settle on the final composition/design? 

I tend to keep going even after a cover has been approved. Time is a dangerous thing for me - the longer I have a cover in my hands, the more I will play with it. But on average, I design at least 5 comps per title.

How long in advance of a book’s publishing date do you need to start on the cover?

To give you a rough idea, we are starting in on our Spring 2013 lists. Covers need to be fairly final at least 6 months in advance to the pub date so that marketing and sales can promote and sell. The production of the book takes about 4-6 months. So about a year from start to finish!

Given the fact that there are so many choices in what to read these days, how important do you think a cover is to a book’s success? 

I think a cover is very important to any book. It’s the unspoken voice promoting the story. There are so many books on the self, so you hope that your cover helps draw some attention and attracts the intended audience.

You’ve done covers for all kinds of books from adult to children’s to YA. Do you have a favorite type of book that you like to design covers for (mystery, dystopian, contemp, etc.)?

I love to design, so I love a title that lends itself to a conceptual or designey approach. Unfortunately, this is not always the preferred approach for the YA market. For quite a few years now, we’ve been looking at a lot of photographic covers with beautiful girls, romance-like poses, floating heads, etc. Look at the bestseller lists on line and you will still see this trend. Some of it looks rather generic. Some are even similar to the Harlequin romance covers of the 80’s, only photographic. I may not be a huge fan of this approach, but mostly because it’s so overdone and commercial. And, I do understand the demand and appeal for this. I think when done right, it can be quite beautiful or appropriate. I’d rather see more variation: illustration, graphic, hand-lettering and conceptual, which is coming back!!!

What’s a cover of yours that you had a lot of fun working on?

 I enjoyed working on Into The Wild Nerd Yonder, Girl Stolen, Hole In My Life, and Once. They are fairly simple but have a strong graphic and conceptual look. I do enjoy adding and experimenting the silk-screened or hand-lettered look.

I read that you’re very inspired by concert and theater poster design. That’s really cool. Can you tell us who some of your favorite musicians are and who you’re listening to now? 

I love listening, talking and arguing music. It's probably my greatest obsession. Here's are some of me all-time favorites: 

EELs - Mark Everett is a genius. I’ve spent many hours listening o them as I design and illustrate. 
The National – I am ready to retire and follow them on tour for the rest of my years. 
Interpol - I can still listen to Turn On Your Bright 24/7. 
Pj Harvey - She kicks arse. Sigor Ros - Incredible. 
Radiohead - What more needs to be said! 
Modest Mouse – Not all good music has to be depressing and based on traditional tuning. 
Band of Horses – Sweet, sweet sound! 
Pearl Jam - Yes, I said Pearl Jam. 

 Listening to now: Tamaryn Zola Jesus American Analog Set The Stone Roses Japandroids 

It looks like artistic talent runs in your family. Your brother, Michael Deas, is also a very talented artist. He designs postage stamps which is fantastic. I am one of those people who still sends snail mail and I appreciate a good stamp. Have you and he ever collaborated on a project? If not, do you ever have plans to? 

I guess it’s in the blood. My father and all my brothers are pretty quick with a pencil, brush, or mouse. My brother Michael is an amazing artist and painter. I am lucky to have grown up watching him work. As a kid, I used to pose for some of his paintings. I actually made it on the cover of a few books. . . destiny!?! We have worked on a couple of projects together: Hell House by Richard Matheson, he illustrated and I designed. Also, he helped with my first picture book, 10 Fat Turkeys. I kind of just dove into the book without any painting experience. Mike gave me tips along the way and also helped on a couple of the spreads.

Are there any recent book covers out there that you’ve been impressed with or have really caught your eye? 

The Other Life 
The Watch That Ends The Night 

Some random questions we like to ask: 

If you could go back in time (and not mess with the space time continuum), what would you tell your younger self? 

Do what interests you most, and care less about what others think. 

Favorite movie snack? 

The Cherry Coke and bucket-o-popcorn combo–super-sized, please. 

If you weren’t an artist, what would you be? 

Marine biologist. 

Cake or pie and what kind? 

hmmm. . . Do you consider the Brownie, cake? There's really nothing better than a hot brownie cooked to perfection. 

Last book read? 

Well, I mostly read manuscripts which doesn’t allow much free time. Thankfully, I like what we publish. I recently read the follow ups to: Cinder, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, the final book in the Jenna Fox trilogy. All as good or better than the first!!! 

Favorite movie(s)? 

The Great Escape 
Blade Runner 
Big Fish 

And last question. What are you currently working on (that you can talk about) and/or what’s up next for you? 

Have you read The Adoration of Jenna Fox? I just finished the manuscript for book 3 and it's pretty awesome! I love this series so I am excited to work on book 3. That's another cool aspect of this job, I get to read the stories before the rest of the world. So, I have some pretty good secrets that I cannot share or reveal. Also, I recently finished my second picture book, Cock-A-Doodle Dance. It goes on sale May 15! I don't get the chance to illustrate much these days so it's really fun to work on a picture book and see the art come to life. 

Thank you, Rich, for stopping by. You’re awesome and we look forward to seeing more beautiful covers from you. :)

To see more of Rich's work, visit his website
Click here to pre-order his new book, Cock-A-Doodle Dance! out May 15, 2012.
And don't forget that Shadow and Bone by Lee Burdugo comes out on June 5, 2012.


  1. Woah, I LOVE this post, in all it's eye candy greatness!
    Not to mention a peek into the book designing world! Shadow and Bone is one of the most epic covers I've seen this year (definitely kept me from getting the book mixed up with the other blood/bone/shadow books going around the blogosphere!), and I loved the interview!

    And I am glad the cover became what it did, because that was my favorite out of the comps. *o*
    I want your job, Rich Deas. No, seriously, I want it.

    Lilian @ A Novel Toybox

    1. thanks, lilian! we had so much fun doing this interview and yes, totally epic! it's going to stand out on my shelves when it finally gets here. i think we should all stalk rich now... :)

  2. What a great interview! So wonderful to get to know Rich better :) And I'd never seen most of those comps!!

    1. thanks, leigh! i was surprised by how many comps there were. while they are all great, i love the final design the best. can't wait to read it!

  3. Oh wow! I LOVED seeing all the comps/different version he did! Thanks for doing such a fantastic interview! I'm having serious cover lust over EVERYTHING!

    1. me, too, vanessa. thanks for visiting!

  4. What a fascinating interview! I loved seeing all of the different comps that led to the striking final cover. And it's cool to see a gallery of all the covers he's done. Great taste in music too! Cinder is a favorite of mine too and I admit I'm a bit envious Rich has read the sequel :)

    1. thanks, lucy! trust me, i am totally jealous, too.

  5. Umm... wow!! I never knew an illustrator would create so many covers!!