Behind the scenes of Gastronauts, part 4: final cover illustration

My new book Gastronauts is out now in bookstores and online.

Today I’m taking you behind the scenes to show you how I illustrated the front cover.

Step 1: cover design

Here’s my final rough:

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Behind the scenes of Gastronauts, part 3: cover design

My new book Gastronauts is out now in bookstores and online.

Today I’m taking you behind the scenes to show you how I designed the robots and vehicles in the story.

Quick recap: Sally Tinker is the world’s foremost inventor under the age of twelve. In Gastronauts, Sally’s baby brother Joe swallows her latest invention. So Sally and her friend Charli shrink themselves down in a tiny submarine and journey into Joe’s body.

Here’s how I designed the cover.

Step 1: really bad first sketches

Sometimes you get the cover idea pretty quickly and clearly from the start.

This was not one of those times.

I struggled with this a lot at first; I couldn’t figure out how to show the reader that Sally and Charli were inside a sub, inside Joe, and make Sally and Charli big enough so that they were recognisable, without being too big that the scale stopped being anatomically correct.

None of these ideas really work, but I’ve included them here to show you how a cover design process can go. There are usually lots of rejected, fairly ordinary ideas.

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Designing the cover for ‘My Dead Bunny’


One of my favourite parts of illustrating a book is helping to design the cover – you get to sum up the whole story in one image.

Here’s how the cover for My Dead Bunny came about.

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Creating the Cover Part 3- final colours

Over the last two weeks I’ve talked about the initial designs and how Cate and I refined those designs. Now- here’s how I coloured it in.

I started off doing all the shading in light brown, just as I did for all the internal pages. This helps me see from the start where the light sources will be. (For those digitally minded, the light brown layers are actually a dark brown colour, but set to 40% opacity. As I’m using Corel Painter, I’ve set the layer mode to Gel rather than the standard Photoshop choice of Multiply- Gel seems to let the colours interact the way they would do if they were watercolour paint. I’ve found it produces richer colours).

Here’s the brown tones (what I’ve called the ‘sepia layer’) half done.


And the sepia layer completed. If I can see a sense of depth in the picture at this stage, then I know that it’s all going to look okay once the colours are completed.


Next up was the background colours. The sky and cloud tones are very important as they contribute greatly to the effect of light.

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Creating the Cover, Part 2- refining the design with Cate

In last Tuesday’s post I showed the first tiny sketches for the cover. I also showed you a mockup I sent to Cate for feedback- here it is if you missed it.


She had a good look at it, and emailed me back to say that it looked like the different parts of the cover were competing for attention. If they were rearranged a bit it might look more balanced. She also said that brown generally doesn’t look good on a cover, so she switched the border to blue. She fiddled around with the different elements and sent the cover back to me, looking like this:


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Creating the Cover, Part 1- initial designs

Hi everyone,

I’m going to run you through the process we took to design the cover. I’ll split it into three parts- initial design; refining the design with Cate; and final colour.

So- initial design… Norm and I started by looking at the posters for epic adventure movies- things like Lord of The Rings, Star Wars, Indiana Jones – and of course, Viking films. Adventure films all have a similar ‘design dialogue’- features that set them apart from other movie posters, and make us think adventure without realising it. There are often many characters shown on the poster- the heroes, the villains- and maybe an important scene from the film, or a creature, or a vehicle of some sort. Characters are all sorts of different sizes, with the main characters towards the front and secondary characters smaller and more faded towards the back. Often you will just have a character’s head shown. They will often brandish their weapons. There is dramatic lighting. Etc. Posters for comedies don’t look like this. Posters for horror films don’t look like this. Posters for thrillers or ‘chick flicks’ or romantic comedies don’t look like this- they’re all features found on adventure films. And it doesn’t whether the film is set in Middle Earth or Norway or Nazi Germany or A Galaxy Far, Far Away- if it’s an adventure film, that’s how the poster seems to look.

Seeing as this picture book is a bit of an epic saga, Norm and I thought it would be good to follow the design dialogue of the adventure movie posters for our cover. Here’s the first thumbnails sketches I drew- they were very small, each only 3 or 4 cm across.

20101214-cover-sketchesCate liked the look of these and asked me to draw up a larger rough. Here’s what I came up with- this was my first sketch for the front cover:


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