Jeff Miller is the Art Director for Faceout Studio and has specialized in book cover design for over 11 years. Here he details his process for designing the enchanting cover of Nadine Brandes’s Romanov.
The cover for Romanov actually came together more quickly than expected. Some cover projects just present themselves that way. You immediately get the creative juices flowing and have imagery and/or art in mind that propels you in overdrive. There’s almost a good anxiety that takes place where you’re desperate to see things come together. That was the case here.
The publisher had art directed me to try a concept using some sort of Russian folk art since this novel is based on the Romanov family. I had done lots of research on Russian folk art, and had a lot of visuals that I wanted to test out. But instead of exhausting those efforts, I had one pattern in particular that caught my eye and that I gravitated to first (it’s what you see on the final cover). The pattern was slightly more unique than some types of traditional Russian folk patterns, and I loved that it had a “weaving” quality to it. I started by introducing the title by overlapping parts of the pattern on top to mimic and play up the weaving quality even further. Sometimes simple integration can do wonders.
After getting the title to a good place, I had also gathered stock illustration to comp with that could represent the main character and setting. Both were important to convey on the cover. My initial plan was to use the stock illustration as placeholders that could ultimately be custom illustrated later. However the stock art worked incredibly well with some tweaks, color shifts, and custom edits on my end. I would love to say that I custom illustrate everything I design, but that’s not always necessary or even feasible. I sometimes find that the challenge can be a matter of taking existing art and marrying it together with lots of other elements. It’s maybe not as glorious, but it’s a necessity when I typically work on over a 100 cover projects a year. Quality and quantity pushes you to develop lots of skills that exist outside of custom illustration, photography, etc.. Discernment is one, and hopefully I used it well here. I almost looked at this design as a puzzle I needed to create and then solve. I also ended up making additions to the pattern, including lots of dots that fade out from the title. Those dots served as a way to make the cover look more mysterious. That, and they added a textural quality that slightly broke-up the pattern as is. I liked that.
My initial versions of the final cover were much brighter in color. I was also trying to mimic the color palettes of traditional Russian folk art. But after having additional conversations with the publisher, we agreed that it would look stunning to treat certain parts of the cover with a foil stamp. We received the green light to move forward with that treatment, so the color palette changed significantly to allow the foil stamp to pop. I also ended up having to add in a tagline, so certain parts of the pattern and placement of the author name moved around.
What was exciting about the approved design was that it was my favorite from the beginning. The studio I work for, Faceout Studio, typically presents at least 3 unique designs on every project. My other work was more photographic, mysterious, and almost surreal. It focused on other concepts/visuals from the story that the publisher directed me to. A train played a big part in the story, and so did a little bit of magic.
Yet we had to be careful with magic. We didn’t want it playing too big of a role on the cover to possibly diminish the depth of the story. We also spoke about Russian architecture to give the reader an immediate sense of place. Although I liked aspects of each of my other directions, I felt the approved design was a perfect blend of setting, character representation, mystery, suspense, and all with a little bit of magic mixed in.
Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.