Under the Cover: The Art of Running Away
12 May 2022
It's time to take another deep dive into one of our favourite recent projects, and this time, we're bringing you something a little different - a close look at what makes a stand-out cover! The Art of Running Away is the debut novel from Sabrina Kleckner, and when we were approached via Jolly Fish Publishing to pair her story with an illustrator for the cover, we think we came up with a winning combination!
Ana Bidault's modern, colourful style was perfect for this middle grade story, which deals with strong characters and some complicated relationships, and her carefully considered composition reveals some hints at events through the narrative, too. Let's chat with Sabrina first to get a bit of a background on the process of searching for an illustrator to realise her vision! So, Sabrina, was there anything you were specifically looking for in terms of style for your first novel's all-important cover?
Sabrina (author): There is a big emphasis on art in The Art of Running Away, so something that was important to me in terms of the cover was the colors. I wanted them to pop and look striking on a shelf, while also conveying the mood of the story. My publisher gave me a portfolio of illustrators to look through, and Ana's work immediately stood out to me. I loved how bold and eye-catching her pieces were, particularly in regard to the colors, and I had a great feeling that she'd be able to produce something amazing for my book!
A selection of Ana's portfolio pieces showing her affinity with colour and composition, which led to her being chosen for this project!
Ana was so pleased to be chosen to work on this commission, and we felt her art would strike the perfect tone for the book! Maisie, the main character, is absolutely art obsessed, and it's a huge part of her life in the story. So Ana, has your love of drawing been a lifelong passion too?
Ana (illustrator): Yes, definitely! Drawing has always been my "special talent". I was very little when I started gifting drawings, I used to fold the sheets of paper so many times they turned into tiny packages that I gifted proudly to my mum. At some point, I started to create characters and drew them in the corners of my school notebooks, until some teacher complained and I decided to buy sketchbooks, which I still have despite all the times I moved cities. I remember vividly standing in front of a bookshop's window and being so drawn to book covers, like the Généalogie d'une sorcière by Benjamin Lacombe. I guess my love for illustration started at the same time as my love for books, I felt I could draw myself into my favorite stories. Now, as an adult, I feel it's my magic connection to that little girl who was so creative and imaginative.
So Maisie and Ana certainly share a talent and a love of art! The characters and their relationships with each other are such a strong theme within the book. Sabrina, when briefing the cover artwork, was there anything crucial you wanted to include to really convey that theme, or the characters themselves?
Sabrina: I really wanted Maisie's essence as a character to shine through. She's quite outgoing and mischievous, as well as extremely passionate about art. I think Ana really captured that in this illustration, and I especially love Maisie's facial expression—there's a look in her eyes like she knows she's doing something wrong and is enjoying the thrill of it!
It was the first cover artwork that Ana created, which was exciting for her! As a debut author, how did you find the process of working with a designer and illustrator on the cover art, and feeding back on various versions?
Sabrina: Working with Ana and Jolly Fish on the cover art was one of my favorite parts of the publishing process. Authors don't always get a lot of say on their cover, but I was allowed to be very involved, which was wonderful! I liked the thought of depicting Maisie painting in her brother's room with London visible through the window, and I was so pleasantly surprised when Ana ran with that idea.
Something that blew me away about working with Ana was how much detail she included in the illustration. For example, she added a statue of liberty snow globe on Calum's shelf to show his ties to New York, as well as a page from his web comic taped to the wall. There are also paintings of birds on the bed that I didn't even realize had significance until Ana mentioned she included them because Maisie draws birds in the story. It meant a lot to me that she read the manuscript and considered all the elements with such care.
Ana, it's your first published cover art - congratulations! How did you approach the work, and what was the process like for you?
Ana: Thank you! I'm so proud to be an official book illustrator! As a book lover, I want to approach book illustration from the place of the reader. That's why I wanted to read the book before I started sketching, because I love how all the little details start to make sense after the end. That's what I tried to do with The Art of Running Away, I wanted to create a cover that was interesting before starting to read it, but even more after, when you revisit it and understand, for example, why there's a snow globe with the Statue of Liberty in a hidden corner. The process was so much fun! I believe I understood what the author expected and I was given a lot of freedom, so I got to get creative with it.
There were a few different versions of the cover, with varying colour palettes and details, before the team arrived at the final cover piece. Was there any particular mood you wanted to convey to reflect the book's themes?
Ana: The Art of Running Away is a story about family secrets, self discovery and art. There's a little bit of darkness at the beginning that the characters get to face, art playing a fundamental role because it has the power to unite and heal people. The author wanted to portray these two sides to the story, the one that's a little dark and the one that's more colorful, thanks to Maisie's love and creativity. I loved the idea and worked on a few options, because the second idea might be better than the first one and dark doesn't always mean black!
Ana's initial sketches, and an alternative colour option for the cover
We love all the tiny details you added to paint a picture of the characters, and the dynamic pose of Maisie on the front! What was your favourite part to illustrate?
Ana: I enjoyed drawing every part of this cover but I enjoyed hiding the easter eggs the most. I loved thinking how fun it would be for the readers to find them. I had fun drawing Maisie as well, because she's the most colorful part and because I took my own reference photos standing on my bed, trying different poses. It was a challenge! When I dreamed about becoming a book illustrator I didn't imagine the job description included modeling and climbing into furniture!
Sabrina, do you have a favourite detail that Ana added to the cover?
Sabrina: Maisie is the main character in The Art of Running Away, but her brother Calum is also very important. The cover features Maisie in Calum's room, but I wanted to find a way to bring him more physically into the illustration. Ana did that by adding in the photograph on the shelf of Calum and his boyfriend, which I think is a great detail! I also love how the colorful background behind the title looks like spray paint, since street art plays a big role in the story.
So Ana, how did it feel to have the finished book in your hands finally?
Ana: It felt like making my childhood dream come true! I like to imagine I travel in time and tell little Ana that she made it, how happy she would be! Growing up I didn't believe I could make it as a book illustrator, especially living in South America. I gave up my childhood dream and studied "safer" careers like Graphic Design, which has been very enriching to my illustration career but wasn't so effective in getting me my dream job. I lost my way a little bit but I'm so glad to say I found my way back and worked hard to make little Ana proud.
We hope you enjoyed finding out a bit more about this project, and a big thanks to Ana and Sabrina for their contributions! You can find out more about the book and how to purchase it here!
Dusan Lakicevic did an outstanding job illustrating my book. He dutifully followed detailed art specifications and magnificently portrayed a diverse cast of characters. He also created the exciting scenes necessary to draw in and support developing readers. Having worked with dozens of illustrators in educational publishing, I’m happy to attest to Dusan’s engaging style and impressive artistic talent. He’s one of the best!Ann Gianola - Author of The Stolen Pharaoh for Delta Publishing UK