Cover Reveal for ‘Dog Ears’ and interview with the illustrator and designer Pip Johnson

Questions about Dog Ears cover for Pip Johnson (@purelimejuice on twitter). Pip – I first met you in your role as Marketing Manager at Bounce Sales and Marketing, but soon discovered that you had designed beautiful covers for books like Pippa Goodhart’s ‘Finding Fortune.’    fortune I already knew and loved Pippa’s book and admired the cover, so I was excited when I learnt you were designing the cover for ‘Girl with a White Dog’, using Serena Rocca’s illustration to create a beautiful image. Image I love the cover of ‘Girl with a White Dog’ so much I am very excited you have designed the cover and the inside layout for my next Catnip book, ‘Dog Ears’ (out May 7th 2015) First of all, Pip, can I ask you a bit about yourself? What did you study at school and college and how did you get to work in marketing AND cover design? At school my best subjects were art (in particular drawing), music and drama. After school I went to do a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at Wimbledon School of Art, and then I studied Fine Art at Oxford Brookes University. Whilst working as a bookseller at Ottakars Bookstore in Clapham Junction I collaborated on a friend’s feature film project called Nine Tenths (a fantasy film for children) as production designer/concept artist, slowly building up my portfolio and returning to my original love of illustration. I started working on other illustration/design projects, mostly posters and logos, and also became a specialist children’s bookseller – I then fell completely in love with children’s books and in 2006 I started working at Bounce Sales and Marketing (the sales and marketing agency for children’s publishers) where I work now as Publicity and Marketing Director. I’ve always had a passion for book cover design, and in 2011 I plucked up the courage to ask Non Pratt, former commissioning editor at Catnip, if I could try designing a cover for her. Non asked me to work on concepts for a book by Berlie Doherty that Catnip was republishing called The Famous Adventures of Jack (it had been available before with a different publisher, but it had been out of print for several years). I was very, very excited about this and worked on several concepts before coming up with a fun wraparound design (when the book is turned over the design continues round to the front/back) with Jack sitting in the beanstalk on the front with a hint of a giant in the background, and the giant appearing in full on the back looming behind everything, with other elements from the story in perching on bean stalk branches. The design was then illustrated by the amazing Steven Wood which made it spring to life, everyone loved the cover (including Berlie Doherty thank goodness) and since then I haven’t stopped! You have designed the cover for my new novel for 9-12 year olds ‘Dog Ears’ and I’d love to know more about the process. What’s the starting point for you when you have to design a book cover? Do you feel you need to know the story well in order to design the cover? I’m always supplied with a detailed cover design brief by Liz Bankes the editor at Catnip, which includes the target audience for the book, the age range, and initial ideas from Liz and the sales/marketing department at Bounce on what to include on the cover, as well as a synopsis. I really like to read the book as well though before I start designing, to get a good feel for the story/atmosphere. The reason for this is, as a reader, when I look for my next book to read it’s usually the feeling I get from looking at the cover – a hint at the kind of atmosphere in the book… that makes me decide if I want to pick something up, flip it over to read the synopsis, and potentially buy or borrow it. I always think about this reader/buyer perspective when coming up with the concepts for a cover. I make lots of notes and sketches whilst reading the manuscript, and try to work out what the feeling of the story is – then I pin the best of these up in front of me at my desk so I never lose sight of them. After a cover’s been around the sales and marketing department and feedback’s been received from buyers, it can be very handy to be able to refer to these notes as a cover can go through so many changes. Image Image 1 Image 2 Image 3 Image 4 What sort of source material did you use? Once the final cover concept had been chosen (from three different approaches as shown above in some early rough sketches) of Anna and Timmy sitting next to each other and then approved by the editorial, sales and marketing teams and shown to head office buyers for their opinions, I started work on the final illustration and design, looking at lots of images of Golden Retrievers on the internet for Timmy the dog, and I asked my friend Sian to model for me as Anna – as it’s quite hard to draw a human figure sitting in a particular position from imagination (especially when they’re leaning so there’s a bend in their posture or sitting cross legged!). Timmy and Anna are shown as best buddies facing the world together, and I remember talking to my dog Solly when I was a child, just like that, so I did use my imagination as well. Did the process differ from doing the cover for ‘Girl With a White Dog’ and if so how? Yes it was quite different. For Girl With a White Dog, I had a very strong initial feeling for how the cover would look and this hardly changed from the initial concept to how it is now – there would be a forest with a path and a girl and a white dog. The only differences were that the original design featured the old fashioned looking girl from one of the mystery photographs in the book, but we decided it would be more appealing for potential readers (children aged 10+) to show a girl in contemporary clothing so we decided it should be the main character Jessie on the cover. Also, because I wasn’t illustrating this cover, it was a much easier job, as I only had to design the concept/layout and brief another illustrator! Non (who was the main editor for GWWD) had discovered the illustrator Serena Rocca whose style suited the feeling of the story so well – in particular the mystery/fairy tale parallel element, and we were head over heals when she said she was available to work with us. After that it was a case of finalizing the palette – Serena worked up the cover in four colourways – and we chose the foresty green, then deciding what Jessie would wear, getting Snowy looking just right and working up the hand-lettered text which I did. It was wonderful to work with Serena, who is Italian and even though she lives and works in Rome and we still haven’t met in person – it really felt like she was one of the GWWD team with us right from the beginning. As a designer, do you try to make some sort of link between the feel of covers of different books by the same author? I think it is important to make a link, but it really depends on the book/story itself as to how it is designed – as readers will be drawn to how the book looks, and this depends so much on what kind of story it is. It was important that the cover for ‘Dog Ears’  appealed to younger readers and that the lightness of the cover brought out the hopeful feel of the story, which centres very much on friendship and family relationships. Do you also make decisions about how the book is laid out inside, the typeset etc? What influences those decisions? I’ve worked on internal layouts for picture books as well as books for first time readers from 5+ as well as for the middle grade age range. As well as the font reflecting the feel of the story/voice of the narrator, the size of the font/how many lines there are on a page and the depth of the indents really depends on the reading age of the intended reader. For younger readers in particular it’s important that the letters are easily recognisable – that the ‘a’ looks like the letter they might have learnt to read and write at school like this ‘a’ – is just one example. Generally speaking it’s very important that the text is easy to read for any age range, Barrington Stoke have some very interesting points about this and that nothing interrupts the flow of reading (whilst text should be fully justified so the lines of text are of equal length, there should be no big gaps causing ‘rivers’ of white space down the page). There is so much more I could say about designing the inside pages! What are the similarities and differences between your two jobs? Is it difficult combining them? Although there are some similarities, the marketing and publicity work I do for Catnip/Bounce feels quite separate and different to the design work, it’s very much like having two hats – I’m sure I’m using a different part of my brain for each and this makes it possible to do both without there being much conflict, but the two also complement each other very well. For example I’d compare designing covers to marketing in that the intended reader as well as the chooser, as often it is an adult choosing the book for a child, is always very much in mind. Also, the blurb for the back of the book is often written by the editor and marketing team together – and in a way it’s the designer’s job to create a visual representation of the blurb. As I work very closely with Liz Bankes the editor on the marketing and publicity for Catnip books, there’s a very strong link here. Generally speaking, I feel lucky to be able to do both as that’s probably quite rare, and it’s been really, really satisfying to see such a good book fly (like GWWD!) having been part of that as both designer and marketing/pr person. Thank you so much, Pip, for sharing with me the process behind designing and illustrating a cover! Thank you very much for interviewing me. I’ve loved working on your books. And now… (drum roll) Here is the lovely cover for my next book ‘Dog Ears’! 3&keywords=Dog+Ears Image 5


One thought on “Cover Reveal for ‘Dog Ears’ and interview with the illustrator and designer Pip Johnson

  1. virginiamoffatt April 9, 2015 at 8:07 pm Reply

    Wonderful interview, wonderful cover, wonderful book!

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