I am very pleased to welcome the amazingly talented artist Sharon Tancredi here to DarkFaerieTales.com to talk about her creative process.
You can also visit Sharon around the web here: Website
DFT: Are you trained as an artist?
I did a college art foundation year in London, and then went on to do a BA in Visual Communication Design at university, also in London.
DFT: How long do you generally spend on a project?
That really does depend on the project. I’ve done children’s books, book covers, advertising, packaging and editorial illustration. An editorial illustration can and often needs to be turned around in a day, whereas you will have three months or more to produce illustrations for a children’s book.
DFT: What are some important things to keep in mind when pursuing a career as an Illustrator?
As with any ‘creative occupation’, it’s very tough to turn it into a career. The competition is steep and probably less than 5% of people who set out to become a full-time illustrator actually make that a reality. You have to be quite obsessive about wanting to do it, you have to be passionate about art and illustration generally, and it’s important to look at many creative disciplines, emerge yourself in the world of art, go to exhibitions, keep up with trends and what other successful illustrators are doing, and keep your style fresh and current. Certain illustrative styles come in and out of fashion, and you have to keep moving forward, whilst not losing what makes your style personal and memorable. Also you have to have a thick skin and accept a few hard knocks and rejections along the way!
DFT: Do you have any advice for an artist that is interested in doing book cover work?
Look at what’s popular, what types of styles are being used at the moment. Go to book shops and see what stands out, see what the best sellers are doing. Make sure you approach the right publishers who are likely to commission your type of work. But it isn’t always necessarily about fitting in to what has ‘already been done’ – some publishers like to take risks and do something different. Become familiar with these types of publishers and approach them – but approach them with a bit of knowledge about their titles and where you think your style might fit in with that. And, as with any type of illustration, it’s all about getting seen, so self-promotion is important, getting your work on illustration web sites, getting in awards annuals, and ideally getting an agent who can help you get seen by potential commissioners.
DFT: Are your originals for sale, owned by you or licenced?
As I work digitally there is really no such thing as “an original”, however I do limited edition prints which are available for purchase on my website. There is just a selection available at present, but I can do one-offs of other existing work that doesn’t have a current print-run. All my work is owned and licensed by me. When I produce an illustration for a commission I license that artwork to the commissioner, but retain copyright ownership myself.
DFT: Do you accept private commissions?
Yes, and I have done a few private commissions.
DFT: Is any of your illustration work digital, or is it all analogue?
It is all digital. I did start out as a painter, but found that digital work is much more practical for commercial work. However it wasn’t just a practical decision, I do enjoy producing digital illustration and it is a wonderful medium in and of itself!
DFT: How did you get into doing work as a cover artist?
I think my style lends itself well to book covers, in that it is very decorative with lots of design embellishment. I never sought out to do work for book covers as such – I just do what I do, get seen as much as I can, and then hope what I’m doing attracts commissions! I do particularly enjoy book covers though as there is rarely a defined ‘brief’ as such. You are very much left to your own devices in coming up with your own visual interpretation of a story.
DFT: What process do you use to create a cover? Do you read the book?
It’s definitely important to read the book. You need to get the mood of the story across visually, as well as fleshing out the characters, if the cover requires illustrating one or more characters from the story. And the only way those images can take shape in your mind is to read the story and allow those characters to come to life. In the first instance I supply pencil drawings to the publisher, and after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, ironing out the details, getting the composition right so that it works with the text, you then go to final artwork. Sometimes there is a bit of tweaking post-final artwork, but hopefully most of these details are agreed and finalized at rough stage. The most important thing is conveying a mood, and coming up with something visually arresting that is going to stand out on the shelves and catch people’s eyes!
DFT: Which author would you love to do a book cover for?
At the moment I’m just excited at the prospect of doing more covers for Nicole Peeler’s Jane True series! Jane is a fantastic and exciting character – she’s intelligent, witty, sexy, vulnerable and heroic, so there is so much scope to place her in loads of different scenarios and gradually build on what’s already been done. Hopefully with each adventure and new cover her character will continue to evolve and reveal itself further. She is definitely not just a pretty face!
DFT: Do you think book covers can have a positive/negative impact on the sales of a book?
I suppose at the end of the day it’s all subjective – what some people love, others will be really turned off by. I think Orbit was really brave to take a new direction with Nicole’s books, and do something that hadn’t really been done yet with urban fantasy novels. And also brave to go with something that, in the first instance, did receive some knee-jerk negative responses. It’s easy to go with the flow, just re-hash what’s already been done and therefore proven ‘safe’ within an established genre. But sometimes you have to take a few risks if you want to try and possibly appeal to new readers who perhaps up until that point haven’t explored urban fantasy literature. Whenever you do something ‘different’ you’re bound to get a bit of flak at first, as a lot of people just want ‘more of the same thing’, more of what they’re used to. But it takes a clever and forward-thinking art director to sit through all the initial hyperbole and keep the faith in the risks they decided to take with commissioning something that was a bit ‘different’.
DFT: Do you feel that a cover should accurately reflect the characters inside the book?
Again, an accurate refection of a character is a completely subjective thing. I suppose if there was no illustration of Jane on the covers of Tempest Rising or Tracking the Tempest, it would be left up to each reader to create their own visual interpretation in their mind of Jane. And most likely if you asked each and every reader to draw a picture of Jane after they’d read the book, each would come up with something quite different. But I do think it is important that the character that you create succeeds at embodying that character as ‘honestly’ as possible. You have to capture that character in some real way, that is consistent with the personality that comes across in the writing. You have to see some sort of personality in that face, which can be achieved with very subtle things – eyes, expression, etc. Ideally that character has to appear, at the very least, ‘interesting’. Hopefully their look will captivate you in some way, and make you want to know their story. When I read Tempest Rising, I saw “Jane” very clearly, immediately. And I think that only an extremely talented writer can succeed at fleshing out a character so instantly in your mind. I’m sure we’ve all read books in the past where the character remains vague and nondescript to us visually throughout, because the writing just simply isn’t as strong as it could be.
DFT: Do you have any upcoming book covers being released?
I have nothing in the pipelines at the moment book-cover wise outside of the Jane True series. I’m doing a lot of editorial illustration right now, and some children’s book stuff. With self-employed illustration things change from day to day, and I don’t even know what I’m going to be working on next month at this moment! That’s one of the exciting aspects of what I do.
DFT: Do you have any current projects that you would like to tell us about?
(See above.) There is nothing I’m currently working on that I wish to “shout about” as such. I shall probably be receiving the manuscript for the third Jane True book soon, so can’t wait to get started on it.
DFT: What is your favorite fairy tale? Why?
I remember in the early 60’s there was this stop-frame animated film based on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. I was utterly captivated by this as a child and still watch the DVD every Christmas. I was so moved by the plight of the rejected toys on the Island of Misfit Toys. The ‘train with square wheels’ and the ‘boat that couldn’t stay afloat’, amongst others… I thought it was just a beautiful paradigm on the idea that everyone deserves to be loved despite their ‘handicaps and abnormalities’, and that being different is something to be celebrated rather than ridiculed and rejected, which is really the message of the entire story. The most humane lesson that we could ever hope to pass on to our children!
DFT: What do you like to read for pleasure?
All sorts! I read a lot of social history stuff. I’ve always been particularly interested in anything that documents the personal and day-to-day lives of ordinary people in previous centuries. I sometimes like reading the ‘dark’ side of social history, and am currently reading a book all about crime and vice in 18th and 19th Century Britain (I am American but have been living in the UK for 25 years). I had never read urban fantasy until I read Nicole’s books, and can’t wait to read more! I love the idea of mixing contemporary characters and settings with other worldly fantasy. I read novels – there’s a British writer called Ian McEwan who is a favorite of mine. And I read lots of books and magazines on art and illustration.
DFT: Sharon – thanks so much for taking the time to stop by.
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