Laura Wächter is the Professional winner of the Book Covers Category. Here, she gives her insights into the creation of her award-winning project.
This project consisted of illustrating the covers of a series of four books by author Annie Ernaux, an award-winning French female writer with strong autobiographical and “feminine” content (feminist, I must say).
It was commissioned by Tusquets Editores and under the Art Direction of Carlos Aranda, who made a somewhat risky bet outside the editorial line, but which I finally think was a success (thanks Carlos for trusting me).
The publishing house was looking for an illustrator that was capable of visually reflecting the mix of sensitivity and rawness that the author has in her texts and has been defined as her personal style. They contacted me because I’ve worked mainly with female characters and harsh or unpleasant topics, using sweet and harmonic scenarios, figures and colours, that most of the time result in a contradictory feeling. I wanted the scenes to be intriguing and subtle; beautiful, but holding that inner tension that would make the viewer feel that “something is not quite right”.
I read the first two books to get a good idea of the personality and inner world of the author. I wanted to make sure I was getting the full emotion from the texts and I could represent every single one of them in an independent image. I also did some additional research on the author and the context of the books to have a general idea on how the clothes and scenarios may look, but I didn’t want historical details to constrain creativity too much.
I mainly used Photoshop and a Wacom tablet, but I also used sketchbooks and pencils in the early stages of the process to organize the concepts and make rough sketches.
I followed the same process for every cover illustration. With the first two books, I read the whole text. With the last two books, I was provided with a pretty good synopsis to work with. I read each book or text focusing on visual ideas I was getting from them (and writing those down, my sketchbook is mostly words!), and later on, I tried to think if any of those could actually be representative of the whole novel. That part of the process (deciding the concept/scene) is probably the one that usually takes longest for me.
Then I made tiny rough sketches to get an idea of what composition would work better, and once that was decided, I went straight to sketch in Photoshop. The feedback process with Carlos was fluid because he’s also a creative person, so the corrections were made fast and it didn’t interrupt the creative flow at any moment in the process.
Every new project brings me challenges because it’s something I’ve never done before, but I’m usually so wrapped up in the process that I can barely remember these kinds of details!
I learned that my ability to handle deep editorial projects including different images in need of a visual coherence is better than I thought.
In my first years as an illustrator, I was always scared of not being able to manage projects with enough visual consistency, or even handle big amounts of information and sum it up in images. I’ve overcome that insecurity through the years and after finishing these covers, I’m really excited and motivated to keep working with books.
I struggle with distractions daily, as probably many creatives do from my generation. Regardless, I remained focused on each illustration during the process, from the time I got the text to the deadline. That level of intense focus and attention comes easily when I’m given freedom and trust as a creative and a professional.
The project was done during the last six months of 2019. The books have 80, 128, 136 and 112 pages.
If I had to do it again, I think I would try to use a brighter white to increase the contrast and make the images more powerful.
I’m probably the one who needs advice here, but I would say… find your own process to focus, stay away from social media (just the right amount to keep your closest ones and your professional account updated), and learn from others (and share your knowledge).
I’m currently working on a personal project illustrating a novel by an older renowned American female writer. I’m extremely excited about it.
I can’t think of “THE” dream commission, but anything related to books, press (newspapers, magazines) and music (records, festival posters, etc) sounds extremely appealing to me.
Favourite thing to draw
People facing backwards in 3/4 perspective.
I’ve had many different studios through the years because I’ve moved around a lot. I’m not yet settled in my dream studio, but I always carry my laptop, Wacom tablet, sketchbooks and other tools when I travel. Of course, my workspace is always better when my alien cat Oxi is there to keep me company.
I feel so honoured to be a winner. It’s really encouraging to be professionally recognized. I’m grateful for every opportunity I’ve had to share my work. Thanks to everybody that believed in me through the years and told me not to give up.