Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Presenting the HAUNTED cover: Interview with Cathleen Elliott Part 3

Well, this is it! Our last installment of my interview with girl genius cover artist Cathleen Elliott. Thank you Cathleen, for taking time to answer all my questions, share your work secrets and super secret raw images. And thanks to all my peeps at Sourcebooks for finding and hiring Cathleen to create the Dreaming Anastasia and Haunted covers! I could drag this out, but I won't. Without further ado, here's the rest of what Cathleen said. And at the end - don't cheat by scrolling down early!! -- you get to see my new love - the HAUNTED cover. It's totally dreamy. I am in huge cover love. Hope you are, too. Let me know what you think!!

5. As you know, I adore my Dreaming Anastasia cover and I’m in awe of the upcoming Haunted cover as well. Can you “lift the veil” a little on the DA cover? Tell us where the images came from?

I searched long and hard for just the right girl, in just the right dress, doing just the right thing, at the right age. Sometimes that’s no simple task. When photo shoots are not possible, I search and search. Then, I make lots of edits trying to create what I see in my head. The cover actually has 3 found images. The girl in the foreground, the guy in the background and a picture of a lit match I found.

Here are the raw images that were used to create the dreaming Anastasia cover:

© Jon Feingersh ©Mordolff © Elisa Lazo de Valdez
( Joy's note: Here I must interject - the real Ethan is quite the real life hottie, eh? Whoa!)
When it came time to design Haunted, I got lucky!!! I saw that the same photographer had a really relevant image of the same girl for me to use again! The girl in the lavender dress! I was very happy to keep Anne as the same girl!

This design was so gratifying to me. It was one of those covers I literally sat back and teared up. Not to sound cheesy, but it’s what happens when my gut tells me “I got it right”. I always have to submit 3 designs. I sat back and thought, “How will I do more?” “This IS it”. I don’t always get that feeling, but when I do I pray the publisher will agree with me!!

Here are the raw images that were used to create the Haunted cover:,, © Elisa Lazo de Valdez © Zena Holloway


The titling is treated the same as Dreaming Anastasia to create a uniform look to the series. I wanted this cover to feel “under water”. The woman in the back is supposed to be the “Sea Nymph” whispering, singing, or luring Anne. Anne is again being carried into another world. This time she is floating, being captured and tangled up by the Sea Nymph’s tale... (or her hair as it literally seems)

I feel like the two covers go well together. In a series I try to make the covers look very related. At the same time they can’t be so similar that the reader feels like it’s going to be the same story! Here the elements relate Anne in the foreground and the Nymph is now the mystical figure in the background. The hair takes the place of the smoke. I feel like I always have to be creative and strategic. Which are not always skills that go together! It’s two parts of my brain working at once. Neither hindering the other.

6. What about fonts and spacing? Explain how they fit into your whole artistic process.

I was heavily trained in typography as most designers are. I find type to be a balancing act of function and a support to the main theme. I tend to be a little safe, erring on the side of legibility rather than concept. However, I admire those designers that really push it and manage to preserve it’s functionality!

7. Where do you work? Any special routine? Music? Coffee? Magic art fairies?

I work at home in my office. I worked in an office in NYC for many years, but I quit my job as an Art Director to stay home and raise my kids. I like working at home. It keeps me from obsessing too much about being a “Mom” or being a “Designer”. My kids like to watch me work and love to go to the store and pick up the cover they saw on my computer screen. Unfortunately, Since my days are so busy with a 2 and 4 year old, I’m known for waking up at 2am and working through the night until 7am when my kids wake. I have no family near me and no hired help. My husband works long hours in the city, but he’s great at taking the kids on the weekend and allowing me some work-time! It can be a little brutal, but I love what I do and this way of working won’t be forever. I consider Claire (almost 5) and Cole (almost 3) my little inspirational fairies. They are THE most important things to me in life. At the end of my life I prefer to hear “You are the best Mom” from my children than to ever hear “You are the best designer.” If I can manage both, great! It doesn’t mean I don’t put 110% into my work, it means I put everything into being a Mom also. When I have to choose, “Mom” wins. I imagine I’ll look back in a few years and not know how I did it through 2 pregnancies and rasing toddlers. I do hope it affords me keeping my career! My biggest inspirations are life based NOT design based. So, I live life and keep designing. And yes, music is absolutely necessary!

8. When you’re not working/designing what else do you do? What should we know about Cathleen Elliott?

I paint, I knit, I cook and do Yoga. Food is something I love to share. Cooking is right up there with making books. I like to see smiles on people’s faces. Despite all my work, my family enjoys a home-made meal almost every night! My daughter and I also bake together regularly. I’ve done yoga for 12 years, because it keeps me centered. I need to be able to “hear myself” if that makes sense. Yoga reminds me to listen to what’s going on in the inside and keeps me from getting swept away with all that goes on “outside!”. It reminds me that I care deeply about being a good person. What good is my work if no one likes me or wants to work with me? It is also, very much like design for me. It requires visualization, constant micro-adjustments (physical) and extreme internal focus. Like in Yoga class, I don’t “look around” at what everyone else is doing or put pressure on myself to “be” anywhere. I like to be “me” and I strive to be “present” in every moment.

9. For those aspiring artists out there, any advice?

I would say, work hard and never lose faith in yourself. I truly believe determination is 95% of ability. I would also say “never be satisfied”. In my opinion, when I’m satisfied, there is nothing left to do! This world, for me, is about evolving and enjoying the ride along the way. Not necessarily having to be “somewhere” or trying be “someone else”. Don’t get caught up in that. Just do your job! Don’t ever think you’re better than anyone else. It’s a useless and invalid emotion in my opinion. It will keep you from learning lessons in the most unexpected places! Design is a competitive, hard, career. It is demanding and I truly believe you have to love it or you will never survive! So love it! Try not to get negative or weighed down by people and their opinions, what other people
are doing, or about limitations of the project. Enjoy it! Always make the best of it and you’ll be amazed at how few problems and limitations there really are! See it all as a opportunity. Be happy with wherever it takes you! Otherwise, why do it? You’ll be set up for failure if you predetermine outcomes. Or you’ll get bogged down and stifled by road blocks. Always be respectful of your clients and colleagues. Always! Always react to criticism with a genuinely open mind. Only defend/stick up for yourself and your ideas when absolutely necessary! These things will serve you well! I believe bad attitudes and bad behavior will show up in your work, no matter how you try to hide it. A positive state of mind is key!

10. Anything else about cover design or about you and your business or life story that you’d like my readers to know?

I remember being told in an interview when I was 26 that I should quit design. I remember being shocked, trying to hold back tears and failing. The guy said “I feel like I should save the design world from one more bad designer”. He told me “If you ever get anywhere, it’s because you have a nice smile. Not because you can design.” Looking him right in the eye, trying to stay strong... I cried, right there. I walked home through NYC feeling completely demolished and humiliated. How would I ever work again? I was crushed. I got home and thought I would never feel happy. No sooner did the tears stop when I sat up with a new determination! I have never looked to anyone to validate or make me! So, why would I allow anyone to break me!! From that day, I have moved forward. Through amazing ups and extremely challenging downs. Most importantly, I sure am proud! I didn’t give a man, who knew nothing about me, the power to stop me from doing what I love. I am known as a person that is almost “too nice.” But I’ll tell you, now, when it comes to standing up for myself, or defending my honest hard work, I’ll be fair and I’ll demand “fairness.” I’ll stand strong and tall for myself when needed. I’m never mean, but I won’t give people the power to take things from me, unfairly.

So, that was my biggest lesson. In this world some people will love and praise me. Some people will judge and misunderstand me. Not only can I not control that, but it’s all those amazingly different opinions that make the world go round! Even the ones that don’t support me. So be it! In a career that depends on so much outside approval, I have learned that when it comes to me, what I choose to do, and my deepest intentions, it is all about what my heart tells me. That’s the voice I trust. That’s the voice that drives me and my work and keeps me moving forward, doing my best.

Thank you so much, for asking me to share my thoughts. It’s a true pleasure to work on your books! I hope this has been informative.
Cathleen - you are total awesomness!! I get teared up each time I read about how you didn't give up. And isn't it amazing that the HAUNTED cover came about so perfectly? I'd say it was all meant to be.
So speak up, readers! Let Cathleen know how much you adore her work!!
Til next time...


Julie said...

That is such an amazing story, Cathleen! Very powerful.

I also LOVE the cover. I was extremely excited for this before, but now I'm going to be tortured waiting for Haunted! I love that the colors aren't following the usual black trend either.


Caitlin said...

I love the cover!!! It's so beautiful! I can't wait to read Huanted!!!

Lauren said...

What a great interview! It was truly interesting to find out more about Cathleen and her job. And I love the cover of HAUNTED. It's spectacular! :)

criticalcrass said...

i dig it! great work!

Anonymous said...

"Very cool!" says the girl.


Jessica Kennedy said...

I love that it stayed in sync with the first book.

Posting on my blog as soon as you email me back. Or Twitter, cause I did both. :)

Vonna said...


Mystery Robin said...

I am so happy to have found your blog from the blueboards. Those covers are truly beautiful, and I always love hearing how they are made.

I write at home with a 2 and 4 year old (and 9 year old) and I can really relate to everything she said about working and being a mom. ;)