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Thursday, October 20, 2011

TOPIC: Do you judge a book by its cover? (part 1)

Today I'm really excited to welcome a first-timer and incredible artist to my blog.

When the cover of my debut fantasy romance release, VENGEANCE BORN, arrived from my editor in my in-box I think I sat and stared at it for a good ten minutes, ohh'ing and ahh'ing over the incredible artwork, marveling at the details, the various elements that portrayed parts of the story and how spot on the cover model was to Annika, the heroine I'd envisaged (I also shed a few tears).

Long story short, I made inquiries about the cover artist and tracked him down to thank him for doing a wonderful job of the cover. Then promptly asked him if he'd mind being interviewed! :-) So without further ado, here's his intro!

Gene Mollica is a photo-illustrator specializing in fantastical and otherworldly images for the entertainment industry, most frequently for book covers. His work has appeared on the book covers of authors like L.A.Banks, Patricia Briggs, Richelle Mead, and C.E.Murphy, just to name a few.

Creating images that the authors feel translates their original vision and offering a window into that world for the reader is as much fun as he's ever had (in fact, he admits to it being a bit of an obsession!).

Gene, welcome to my blog! It's great you could visit.
So, can you tell us, what is a photo-illustrator? Have you always aspired to be one? 
A photo-illustrator starts with a photo and manipulates or paints over it to create the final illustration. You’re working with lots of images that you shoot yourself and combining them with traditional illustration skills.

I started as a traditional painter and then decided I wanted to do more commercial work in the entertainment industry. It was a change of heart in grad school, wanting to switch from traditional oil paints to doing something more contemporary in digital media. 

On your website I noted quite an impressive list of publishing houses and more than a few familiar paranormal romance book covers amidst your artwork (eg.Patricia Briggs, LA Banks, Richelle Mead, CEMurphy). How did you become involved in designing covers for these books? 
I’m lucky enough to have clients who are art directors at these publishing houses – I’ve built those relationships over the years. The art directors bring me these great projects. 

You created the covers for VENGEANCE BORN (released Feb.7th with Berkley Sensation) and ALLIANCE FORGED (July 2012, Berkley Sensation) - I have to admit I had a bit of a cry at how absolutely stunning they were. Many, many friends and complete strangers have also expressed their awe at the amazing covers.

On the cover of VENGEANCE BORN, the female model was the spitting image of how I imagined the heroine of the story and you'd included elements/features my editor and I had discussed in our cover conference. And ALLIANCE FORGED linked so well in style and design.

So, what's the process you go through once you've been commissioned to design a cover? Do you received a brief on the project? How long does it take you to complete a project? 
I start by peppering my clients with questions about the characters, wardrobe, any specific details.

VENGEANCE BORN finished product
In this case, the art director, Leslie Worrell, is great about giving me the information needed to make a great piece.

Then, I work to gather the props and costumes necessary to bring the character to life.

In your case, I had a gown custom-made by a seamstress named Shirley Forster of Renaissance Sewing, who I’ve been working with for years.

I also had the necklace made by a friend of mine, Travis Conn, who is a metal smith and does excellent work.

Annika's necklace
I choose the model at the same time – I’m glad you thought she was the spitting image of your character, since I thought of her right away when I got the assignment.

Then, the next step is a photo shoot with the model in costume embodying the character.

The trick in the shoot is to light it correctly to create the atmosphere we want to come across on the cover – doing that is something I really enjoy.

I then incorporate an image from that shoot into a digital painting that I create. Start to finish, the whole process takes a few days.

You do a lot of urban fantasy/fantasy/paranormal themed designs - is this a genre where the work is? Or is it something you really enjoy doing? 
I just really enjoy doing it – it’s my favorite, and I’m lucky that there is a lot of work in it.

What's the most interesting aspect of your job? The worst? 
I love the whole thing - the photo shoots, the costume design, the propping and so on. I’m glad I get to work with art directors who really care about the process and getting to a great outcome.

The only stressful part is the time crunch – sometimes I’ve got to turn these jobs around really quickly. 

When I was developing my own craft of writing there were several authors who inspired and influenced me. Do you have any particular cover artists who inspire you? What sort of impact have they had on you? 
There are a lot of cover artists who inspire me. My original inspiration came from Boris Vallejo and Frank Franzetta. My current inspirations are a lot of my contemporaries.

A well know fantasy artist inspired Gene
(Boris Vallejo picture from this website). 

I’m also very inspired by the aesthetics of genre movies – Underworld was a big one for me.

What do you like doing in your spare time? 
Playing with my brand new (4 month old) daughter, cooking, and gardening. 

I also really enjoy sketching out ideas for costumes and photography.

Gene has sent along some recent work that he's done, folks. Just take a gander at them - aren't they great?!?!

Gene, thanks for giving up your time to be a part of this interview! 
Thanks for having me!

Now for the extra fun part, folks - I'd love to give away a VENGEANCE BORN eco-tote bag (a plug for Gene's great artwork not to mention my book! *grin*).

What do you like seeing on the cover of a book? What draws your eye and tempts you into picking it up?

Share your thoughts by midday, Tuesday 25th Oct. 2011 an your name will go into the draw- winner announced Wednesday 26th Oct. 2011 (open to local and international readers).

For those interested, Gene has some more amazing artwork displayed on his website.


  1. Gorgeous, gorgeous work you have there Gene :)
    Thanks for sharing.

    At the end of the day regardless of the cover its all about the story.....
    however, I am an absolute cover whore and the more gorgeous the cover the more drawn to the book I will be, but thats the whole point of a cover!!!
    Gorgeous man chest and maybe a tattoo or two, I'll buy it!
    Sexy lady in ethereal dress all mysterious and haunting, I'll buy it!
    Super sexy clinch between two gorgeous bodies, I'll buy it!!!
    See....total cover whore!!!!!!

    Anyway thanks for the great interview and giveaway :)


  2. wow that is gorgeous artwork!
    i tend not to like things to be overly graphic on the covers.. i love men with tattoos that dont look overly perfect.. i tend to not like seeing the full woman ( hey i like to imagine myself as the heroine sometimes!) but background and hidden objects are great to have (for example one of deborah cookes covers has a dragon hidden in the background).. i love stuff like that!

  3. Fabulous artwork! Would be such fun to do, but unfortunately I lack the talent.

  4. Gorgeous work, Gene. You are very talented. I totally love Kylie's covers - they have the air of mystery around them.

    I'm not exactly what I look for in a cover, Kylie. I know it when I see it. It has to suit the style of the book, but other than that, a well executed artwork gets me every time.

  5. Wow, what wonderful insight into the cover art process. Thanks Kylie and Gene. And I have to agree with you Kylie, the artwork is amazing.

    As for covers... I like colour and a cover that tells a little bit of the story - so I know what to expect when I open the book. I need the cover to reflect the story (it really irks me when the character or scene on the front doesn't look like the one in my head when I am reading), and I like there to be some level of emotion.

  6. Cath, there is nothing like a great cover eh? And tatts, sigh, I love a good tatt, too (heh heh).

    Alainala, I wonder how many other readers prefer the guy on a romance cover as they also like to imagine themselves in the heroine's shoes? It's a valid point about covers. Have to admit I was surprised to see only Annika on the cover of VENGEANCE BORN but when I discussed this with my editor she pointed out that the story is hers, she goes through the most growth and development, so it stands to reason she features on the cover. I can live with that.

    Ahh, Anita, I so get what you mean about having the character reflect them in the book - I've seen some covers that literally don't fit the physical description of the character and that peeves me no end.

    Thanks for the thumbs up for Gene's artwork, Maggie. He has some great examples on his website if you'd like to look at some more.

    Eleni, isn't it funny how we'll be perusing books in the store or online and that one cover just leaps out and grabs our attention. There's that magical something that pulls you right into picking it up and flipping it over to read the blurb. I love that feeling.

  7. Gene, I have to say that VB is the best book cover I have EVER seen, and I'm dreadfully jealous of Kylie. The lengths you've gone to in order to make the cover/model/clothing appropriate to the book are inspiring. I **so** wish I wrote fantasy now!

    Kylie, thanks for this interview. Colour me a bright and rapidly increasing green!

  8. All I can say Kylie is that you have two awesome book covers. The most recent book cover to catch my eye is The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma.
    I tried to include a picture of it but no luck.

    And Gene's web site is amazing.

  9. You could fantasy a whirl, Gracie! :-) Hey, don't you have your own living-&-breathing fantasy warrior living with you? *grin*

    Gemma, thanks for dropping by and for the compliments on VB & AF. I googled THE MAP OF TIME and wow, what a fascinating & intriguing cover, so much detail. I can see why you like it.

  10. Thank you for a great interview, Kylie and Gene. I'm fascinated by the whole process and the amount of detail that goes into each cover to make it so unique and individual. As for what appeals to me on a book cover, well VB drew me in right away :-) I love the cover to give me a feel for the story itself. Can't beat that as far as I'm concerned!!

  11. Hi
    I go for color first. That's always pulls me in in the first instance. Then I look at the cover. I adore VB cover. The cover alone makes me want to read the book. Of course I want to read the book because it's Kylie's also, but the cover is a taster of what's inside.

  12. Christina, I know you've been blessed by the cover gods - FORBIDDEN and CAPTIVE are incredible pieces. I loved the amount of detail in FORBIDDEN.

    Aren't colors powerful, Rowena? Early next month I actually have a blog post coming up that looks at the features that grab my eye in a cover. You'll recognise some of the covers in the post. :-)

  13. Thanks Kylie and Gene. What a fabulous interview. I imagined that cover artists used existing photos and played around to get what they wanted. How absolutely brilliant that they design the photo they want - complete with costumes and jewellery. That's awesome. I love learning something new :) And I LOVE your covers.


  14. Kylie thanks for snagging Gene for an interview, very insightful!! And Gene - I totally love Kylie's covers! =))
    I must confess to being a really visual person too and so covers obviously draw me. I also like a cover to reflect what's in a book (Eleni can bow down for that too) to give me clues before having to read the blurb.

  15. Gene is a distant cousin of mine and I had no idea of his amazing talent!!
    His artwork is brilliant and every personal connection of it has meaning
    and the cover draws you into wanting to read the story!!!

  16. Very stunning cover! I love that you have featured a cover artist, and a talented one at that. When it comes to choosing books to read I admit covers do factor in, after all they are the first thing that capture my attention. I love the blend of colors and the "feel" of it. I looked at the other covers and those are amazing as well. Wow!

  17. It was fun interviewing Gene, not to mention fascinating to see how the process worked. I now see his art work on some of the books in my genre and blurt out "oh, that's a Gene cover!". :-)

  18. What great cover art Gene! And Kylie congrats on such a beautiful book. Thanks for sharing this process with us.

  19. Gene, what an amazing talent you have! The passion you have for your craft is clearly visible in your artwork.

    What struck me most about the covers for Vengeance Born and Alliance Forged were how alive the characters were.

    In Alliance Forged it was his eyes that got my attention and held it until I'd added it on my list of books to order.

    In Vengeance Born, she beckons you to discover her secrets with the necklace and tattoo teasers. Great job!!

    Kylie, you are truly blessed. Thanks for this great interview.

  20. Juanita, I love that the characters of VB & AF pulled you in the way they did. Gene did a great job of planting the hints in the pictures - you're right about the amulet and genetic body markings. They're great teasers. :-)

  21. What a great inside look at cover creation. I have to admit I was surprised to learn that the costumes and jewelry were custom made for the shoot. So many times we see just stock images...can't tell you how disappointing it is to see character(s) on more that one cover.