Under the Covers: Ken Dawson from Creative Covers
In this series of interviews, we meet those good folk who illustrate and design our book covers. Who are they? How do they work? What makes a successful cover, as far as they’re concerned? What’s it like, working with other creatives? For the #indieauthors out there, perhaps these interviews will act as an introduction to the person who designs your next book! I’m starting the series with the amazing artist who has designed my latest covers. Ken Dawson from Creative Covers. Apart from being incredibly talented (said through clenched teeth, I’ve always wanted to be able to draw!), Ken is a friendly guy too. We quickly found we were on the same wavelength. So, let’s find out more. 1. Tell us a little about yourself Ken. Your background, the work you do etc.
Hi Phil! Thank you for this! 😊 Well, I’ve been a book cover designer now for over ten years, and a graphic designer for over twenty. Currently I live in Lytham St. Annes in the North West of England and when I’m not designing I’m hiking in the Lake District.
2. On your website you talk about your own writing. Does it help, being a writer as well as an artist? I think so. Marrying up images and text is much easier if there’s good communication between me and the author. So not only do I understand what most authors are going through getting their work published having written my own books, but feel I can effectively communicate what I’m trying to achieve with the cover.
3. Looking through your gallery of book covers, you see such a diversity of genres. Do you find any genre to be easier or harder to work in?
Firstly I adore working on all genres, and each present their own challenges. But I will be honest, some are tougher at times than others. For instance, a complicated sci-fi spaceship scene is much harder than say a simple watercolour painting for a cozy mystery. Just due to the level of detail usually required.
4. Our working relationship began with my “mood board” of ideas. I included covers I thought captured some of the elements I wanted on my cover. How do you prefer to work with an author? What is the ideal approach?
I will say the mood board is very helpful! It helps set the tone of what is required, and what the author is looking for. However, I won’t say they are essential, for some authors have no idea what they would like for a cover, and insist I come up with a host of ideas to look at. I can’t say I have a preference for a way on working with an author. I feel as along as we communicate efficiently and they are honest about what they like and don’t like, we will achieve the end result and a fantastic cover.
5. You’ve used the phrase of ‘seeing’ the idea of what I’ve been looking for. Is this how you work? Do you get a clearly defined visual image in your head?
I suppose sometimes I do. Sometimes straight away I know exactly what I want to create. Other times I need a bit of brainstorming. I’ll sketch layouts, look for inspiration in the same genre, and even listen to music and soundtracks relating to the material to get the ideas flowing.
6. One artist I spoke to talked about certain colours being ‘on trend’. (Blue and orange apparently?) Do you find that colours work this way? Or is the colour defined by the book?
Haha! A simple google of ‘blue/orange film posters’ will show you how popular this combination is. But then again these are timeless complimentary colours and when used correctly can be very effective. I do think the book itself defines the colours though. We’re not trying to convey the story as such on the cover, but moreover the emotions of the tale. Readers aren’t usually searching for a particular tale, they’re usually searching to feel a certain way. They want to get lost in a good romance, adventure, comedy, or thriller. So we aim to appeal to those feelings. For instance reds and blacks can obviously signify horror. Bright luminous colours tend to lend themselves to comedy or satire. Project the emotions behind the book and you’re on your way to a great complimentary cover that garners interest.
7. Let’s talk fonts. When I first started out as an author, I quickly learned how important they are to a cover. How they help define the genre and tone. Tell us how you go about choosing the best fonts.
So over the years I’ve amassed and purchased thousands of fonts. So many, that it becomes time-consuming to search through them all. There’s a great website called Wordmark.it which displays all the fonts on your computer and lets you quickly scroll and select candidates for the wording. Of course, like all designers I have my favourites. Mine will forever be Trajan.
8. What images work best for fantasy novels? Is its swords or monsters or strange landscapes? What kind of “ingredients” do you get asked to include? If, in fact, you do!
Again this all depends on the story at hand. Big landscapes can work well as they signify a journey (pretty much a staple of fantasy novels). But you have to do something that stands out in a sea of other covers. Not too complicated is always best as a lot of people will see the cover as a thumbnail, and as such a strong design is often a simple one rather than one crammed full of elements.
9. Books you’ve designed have won awards; your work was highlighted. This must give you such a boost! Is there a consistent feature of a book cover that gets noticed in this way? Or is it down to the cover accurately reflecting the book?
Thank you. I think entering the competitions helps, haha! Personally I’ve not entered a competition myself, but it’s the authors themselves who do it. Again clear, strong designs appear to do the best. Something that grabs the eye. Strangely the ones that win awards tend to be symmetrical. Our eyes adore symmetry so I feel that has a part to play. Awkwardly two of my clients recently entered the same competition. One came first, the other came third. Out of 250 covers entered it was certainly an ego boost, haha!
10. Recent events in publishing have drawn our attention to the impact of Artificial Intelligence. Tell us what your thoughts are on this topic.
AI has been a particular concern for all artists and designers. You’re seeing incredible artists who have spent their lives honing their skills, only to be outdone by someone simply typing a few words into a generator. Not only that, but it uses existing copyrighted work to make up the artificial images. As much as we were all disheartened by the appearance of AI art, it’s here to stay, and I’ve learned to accept it. I refuse to use AI artwork in my covers for I feel the author is paying me to create the work, not use a machine to do it for me.
AI is going to impact a lot of jobs, not only designers, but the world as a whole – some for good and some for bad. We just need to roll with the times.
11. You work with traditional publishers as well as self-published authors. Do you find their requirements to be similar or different?
I’ve found that publishers tend to brainstorm ideas with the author themselves (sometimes just themselves!) then come to me with a firm idea they would like to see. I will of course throw my own ideas into the mix and make suggestions as required to which they are open to. But apart from that, the process generally is the same, and I’m grateful to have built some good friendships in the industry.
12. Finally, how about giving us some links so we can see your amazing book covers.
My website is www.ccovers.co.uk , and my socials are:
Facebook: @ccoverskendawson Instragram: @creativecovers81
Once again thank you for having me!