Artist Cristina Pagnoncelli Breaks Out the Inks for We Set the Dark on Fire

Cristina Pagnoncelli is a visual artist and designer from Brazil currently based in Curitiba. Here in her own words she details for us how she created the stunning cover for We Set the Dark on Fire.

In December of 2017 I was hired by HarperCollins - one of the largest publishers in the world and the English language - to do lettering for the cover of a new book by a young writer. I read the book's digital preview and quickly devoured the 304 pages. I fell in love with the history - which is fanciful but parallels very closely with our current society (machismo, xenophobia and class conflict). Only after absorbing the whole plot, I set out for visual research. The briefing asked to bring some Mexican / Spanish character to the lettering since the story is about immigrant characters.


Handwritten lettering process with paper, pencil, vegetable ink and black pen.


Below are the presentation boards in 3 rounds. First, draft with the first ideas. Subsequently, the title underwent a minor change, which generated the need for a new study and redesign of the elements. Finally, a study of color and an aesthetic proposal with an irregular trait with the appearance of 'papel picado' - used in colored flags in Mexico.


Author Tehlor Kay Mejia had this to say about the first book in her fantasy duology:

We Set the Dark on Fire is about a lot of things, but the central theme is rebellion. It’s about what happens when you realize the people making decisions for you don’t acknowledge your humanity or respect it. The line where ‘I can tolerate this to stay safe’ becomes ‘let’s burn it all down.’

“I was nervous to see the cover, of course, because I had such a clear idea of what I wanted it to communicate. But the moment I saw Cristina’s pencil sketch, I knew without a doubt she was the right person for the job. Cristina’s style is so dynamic, her murals and prints and street art are just humming and crackling with revolution. She managed to capture that spirit, along with the exact right amount of cultural influence, and I’m so thrilled that this image will be people’s first introduction to Dani and her story.”


The final lettering delivered to the designer responsible for the project.

Final cover


Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.