Welcome to another Cover Art Spotlight post here on Always Trust In Books. I love this series and I appreciate the opportunity to share great artwork with you all. Today I have Leo Nickolls here answering questions about his work for so many great authors and publishers such as Neil Gaiman and Harper Collins. Leo’s work as you can see is vivid, striking and captures the tone of a book perfectly. I was ecstatic when he agreed to take part in the series; it is a privilege to share his work with you all. Thanks for stopping by to check out another outstanding artist!
Interview with Leo Nickolls
Can you start off by telling us a bit about yourself?
I’m a graphic designer/illustrator based in norwich! Specialising in book covers and the occasional other non-book shaped thing…
Could you share a few details about your career as a designer/artist?
I started out in-house (after graduating from Norwich University of the Arts) at two publishing houses, Headline and HarperCollins (the Fourth Estate/literary part) as a junior designer on a freelance contract, until after about a month working in-house solely for HarperCollins for half the week and doing freelance work at home the rest. After about four-five years of doing that I became too busy to work both in London and Norwich and decided to go it alone completely. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since!
Where do you draw inspiration from when you set out to design a piece?
All sorts of places really, it depends on the brief I get sent through. A lot of the time I try to imagine how I would do a book cover if I approached it as an alternative film poster, and these days I take a lot of inspiration from concept art for films, just because I find the skill that goes into making those kinds of pieces extraordinary. But really, the inspiration is kind of given to you on the brief in terms of the style of cover you’re going to need to make, what sort of market the book is looking to enter, and comparable cover styles that the story will suit etc…
Could you give us a brief overview of how you plan/approach a cover design?
Truth be told, I’m quite scattershot in how I design something, but normally it will start with picture research (both for photographic and illustrative covers). If the cover is illustrative, then I start with fairly broad sketching (as in quite broad brush strokes) to get a sense of colour palette, composition and how the type will sit amongst it. If it’s photographic then its a case of roughly ‘photo-bashing’ a composition together, almost like collage work in Photoshop! After I’ve nailed on-screen roughly what I’m envisaging in my head, then I’ll go into the finer details and flesh out what hopefully with be the final design.
Are there any artists or illustrators that you look up to or influence your work?
Jon Gray (gray318), David Pearson, Jo Walker, Anna Morrison, Julian Humphries, Jon Pelham, Jo Thomson, Olly Moss, Ian McQue, James Jean, Mike Mitchell, countless other concept artists…. too many to mention really!
Are you open to any sort of artistic project?
Within reason! I have to find it stimulating if nothing else, I learnt a while ago that taking jobs purely for money is counter-intuitive, even if your workload is quiet and you’re worried about money, because the end result won’t be something you’re proud of or will want to show on your portfolio as an asset…
What sort of challenges do you face as an artist in this industry?
Project lead times (they can stretch on for a long time sometimes, at the behest of the publishers schedule), the pressure to make a book cover readable on amazon at the the size of a thumbnail, sales and marketing can sometimes compromise a distinctive design, and of course chasing late invoices!
Have you got any projects going on at the moment that you could give some insights on?
A Young Adult fantasy series about a magical chinese shadow puppet theatre! It needs a mix of photographic and illustration at the moment, and I’m still in the early stages of sketching it out/responding to feedback. And another very different Young Adult series which is all illustrative by a street poet author. So graffiti/hip-hop influences there mainly. Two quite opposite ends of the young adult spectrum…
Do you have a particular favourite Cover Art design you have done so far?
I don’t have a favourite book cover, cos that changes every year/couple of months, depending on how pleased I am with a design! But as a piece of work, I illustrated a print to raise funds last year for my son’s little brother based on Star Wars and Adventure Time, that’s my favourite. Probably for personal reasons as much as professional pride…
What is the best part about being an artist in your opinion?
It’s definitely not a suit and tie office job, which I’m very grateful for. And within reason, if you’re self-employed, your work timetable is very flexible.
When your not hard at work, is there a non-artistic hobby you like to do to let off steam?
Play guitar, piano, computer games, watch films, cook! And I like to illustrate on my downtime too.
Have you recently read a book or article that you would recommend to me and the readers of this post?
I did a cover the other for a book called Shtum, which is a wonderful story. And I hear the North Water is a very good read too…
A huge thank you to Leo for taking the time to share some insights into his work. You have all no doubt seen his work at some point and it is my aim to bring artists forward to see their inspirations. I am so grateful to be able to put together a series like this for you all to enjoy. Thank you all for stopping by and please come back for more cover art posts in the future.