Behind the Book Cover: THE MAGIC OF MELWICK ORCHARD — A Conversation between author Rebecca Caprara and illustrator Laura Diehl

Hello MG Book Village!

First, a confession: I judge books by their covers. It’s true.

I came to writing from a career in architecture, so I am visually hard-wired. Composition, texture, color, scale—all these things matter, whether you’re designing a building or a book. So you can image how excited (but also slightly anxious) I was about the cover art for my debut middle grade novel, THE MAGIC OF MELWICK ORCHARD, coming Sept 1, 2018 with Carolrhoda/Lerner.

The design process can vary widely from publisher to publisher, and sometimes authors have little, if any, input when it comes to cover art. So when my editor invited me to send her early inspiration boards for Melwick, I was thrilled. My editor then brought the files to the Lerner team, and a few months later they selected an artist named Laura Diehl to illustrate the cover.

When I went online to look at Laura’s portfolio, I was blown away! Her luminous work perfectly captured the whimsy and magic of the book. I knew my story was in the best hands, and I couldn’t wait to see what she would dream up.

And guess what? Laura was kind enough to let me interview her for this post—and here she is now!

Rebecca: Hi Laura! Thank you so much for joining us at MG Book Village.

Laura: Thank you, Rebecca! I’m so pleased to be here.

Let’s dive right in. I’m curious—did you draw as a child?

Ever since I could hold a pencil, I’ve been drawing. I used to paper my parent’s dining room walls with my crayon renderings of unicorns, dragons, and fairies. In 2nd grade, our school principal read Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express to my class. It was a lightning bolt moment for me. I became obsessed with the idea of creating magical stories with my art just as Mr. Allsburg had. Many years later, I’ve found my niche in children’s fantasy illustration—with a passion for book covers.

The Polar Express was special for me as well. I still have my childhood copy and I love to read it with my daughters.

Can you share a little about your creative process? How do you connect with the muse?

Much of my inspiration comes from mashing up fantasy with the ordinary world. I also love taking my dogs on a walk around the neighborhood or listening to Studio Ghibli soundtracks.

What is your preferred medium? Do you sketch by hand or digitally? Are there specific tools or programs that you use?

Photoshop! I got my first digital graphics tablet in 1998 when I was in high school. I fell in love with the way I could color, layer, and use light effects digitally. Despite studying acrylics, oils, etc. in college, I prefer using the latest version of Photoshop and a giant XL Wacom Intuos tablet to draw on my computer.

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Laura’s studio.

Some of my favorite pieces in your portfolio include Aegean Princess, Golden Fish, and Dragon Blossom. Which of your paintings are you most proud of and why?

This is a hard question because my favorite tends to be whatever I am currently working on. That said, Aegean Princess has been a fairly recent breakout piece for me. It was a piece that came together very smoothly with a clear vision from the start and I am quite happy with the final effect. Golden Antler is another of my more current favorites, as I feel I really captured that mystical wintery mood I was going for. For a third I would pick Prairie Sea as it is such a personal piece, featuring a fictional version of my siblings on a wild fantasy adventure.

What was your reaction when Lerner asked you to do the cover art for The Magic of Melwick Orchard?

I was quite excited, especially upon learning about the special nature of Melwick’s subject matter and story.

Aww, thank you! What role do you think book covers play in attracting readers? What message should they convey?

Book covers are a tricky beast. Ideally they should convey the soul of a book without giving away the secret. They should entice a reader on a promise that the book can keep.

Can you briefly describe the process of working with the Lerner team to develop the Melwick cover?

My work with Lerner was very collaborative. I was happy that I got to start by reading the manuscript. (Surprisingly, this is not always the case!) From there, I pitched a number of cover concepts to the Art Team, who responded with their own ideas and suggestions. Once we had winnowed our list down to a couple of possible scenes, I sketched a page of small grayscale thumbnail compositions (9 in total). From there, the Art Team and I selected 3 choices that we felt were the strongest. And finally, Lerner chose the final direction for the cover.

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Seeing your designs evolve was fascinating, and I’m so grateful that Lerner allowed me to have some input during the various stages. I did fall in love with one of your earlier concepts—the one with Isa sitting in the chance seedling at night, embraced by the branches, with the moon peeking through. When I learned that wasn’t going to be the final layout, I was bummed. But as soon as I saw the current and final cover, I knew the team had made the right choice. What are your feelings about the final design?

I, too, was attached to the direction with Isa sitting in the loving embrace of the branch and gazing at the moon, as I felt an evocative quantity to the mood in that one (and I love to paint glowing things). Though I would have loved to explore that direction, it was not to be. I do ultimately see the wisdom in going for a brighter, daylit scene, as it provides the bolder qualities needed to catch a reader’s eye at a distance.

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Agreed. And of course, the daytime scene includes that wily squirrel—he’s a fan favorite! One thing I really appreciate about your work is the level of detail you render in each painting. Looking carefully at the Melwick cover, I noticed you perfectly illustrated the glowing blue roots, prismatic light in the canopy, Isa’s wild hair, and even the notch in the squirrel’s left ear. As an author, seeing my words come to life like this is amazing. How did you choose which details to include?

My digital medium allows me to work at very high resolutions and to zoom in to details as close as I wish. Consequently, I have to be careful not to get lost in details that will ultimately be tiny in the final artwork. I would have had a lot of fun painting elements of the ‘come to life’ orchard—but this was a no-no for obvious plot spoiler reasons.

Did you select the fonts for the cover art?

I did not. The text design was the work of Lerner’s talented Designers.

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Let’s spread some book-love, shall we? What are some of your favorite book covers and/or artists?

I read a lot of fantasy, especially middle grade fantasy. I love the elements of wonder that these books capture. A few of my favorite cover artists include Antonio Caparo, Jason Chan, and Erwin Madrid for their detailed yet smartly-composed illustrations.

Yes! I also love Antonio Caparo’s work. I’m a huge fan of MG covers by Vivienne To, Hari & Deepti, Beth White, Gilbert Ford, Lisa Perrin, and well, I could go on and on…

Before we bid our lovely readers adieu, is there anything else you’d like to share?

If folks would like see more of what I’m up to, look for ‘LauraDiehl’ or ‘LauraDiehlArt’ on your favorite social media platform. If you’d like to see my art collected in one place, http://www.LDiehl.com is the spot.

THE MAGIC OF MELWICK ORCHARD is available for pre-order now at Porter Square Books, IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon & more!

Thanks for reading!

~Rebecca & Laura

Interested in learning more about how books get their covers? Head over to the Lerner Blog to read the following posts:

HOW WE JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER: THE COVER DESIGN PROCESS by Trade Art Director Danielle Carnito https://lernerbooks.blog/2018/06/cover-design-approval.html#more-14952

THE ART OF COVER DESIGN: THE DISTURBED GIRL’S DICTIONARY by Designer Lindsey Owens https://lernerbooks.blog/2017/12/disturbed-girls-dictionary-cover-design.html

Caprara_Headshot_2.JPGRebecca Caprara is the author of THE MAGIC OF MELWICK ORCHARD, releasing September 1, 2018 with Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of the Lerner Publishing Group. She graduated from Cornell University and practiced architecture for several years, before shifting her focus from bricks to books. An avid globetrotter, she has traveled to over 50 countries, and has lived in Italy, Singapore, and Canada. She is now growing roots in Massachusetts with her family. 

You can visit her website: www.rebeccacaprara.com and find her on Twitter & Instagram @RebeccaCaprara.

lauradiehl_head shot.jpgLaura Diehl is a freelance fantasy illustrator and visual storyteller who specializes in children’s and middle grade fantasy art. Laura has been an illustrator since 2003, working with clients such as: Routledge, Continuum New York, Pearson Education, David Fulton, and Mattel. Her artwork has appeared on numerous books covers, in magazines, and even an iPad game. Additionally, her artwork has been juried into Spectrum, New Master of Fantasy, won the Illustrators of the Future Grand Prize, and was nominated for a Chesley.

She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting from James Madison University. Laura currently lives in the Washington DC metro area with her spiffy techie husband, and their adorable Sheltie puppies named Zelda and Link.

When Laura is not illustrating, she likes to devour fantasy books, travel the world collecting owls, watch Miyazaki animated films, bake ultimate-double chocolate cookies, and play old-school JRPGs. She’s always looking for new and interesting projects! You can reach her via e-mail at: laura@ldiehl.com

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