You’ve been raving about the covers for The Bride Wore Blue and Twice a Bride, and rightly so.
Do I have a fun surprise for you!
Today’s guest isn’t an author. But as a Senior Designer at WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, Kelly Howard is a key member of my publishing team.
MONA: Kelly, thanks so much for joining us on Hindsight today. We’d like to hear about your journey as an artist. Who most influenced your pursuit of art?
KELLY: I was born in Buena Park, California as the second child in a family of four children. When I was four years old, my parents became missionaries to Taiwan. I lived there for seven years. While I was in the seventh grade, my mother was diagnosed with cance. We stayed in California while she sought treatment. Unfortunately, she passed away in my fourteenth year.
I spent a lot of my life in transition. We moved a lot and my interests changed as often as my circumstances did. As a child, my creative talents were mostly apparent in music. As soon as I was big enough to hop up on a piano seat, I could just play. My mother, who also played, was key in setting me up with lessons and finding places for me to play. When she passed away, I lost the motivation to keep working at music.
MONA: You definitely have many life experiences that feed into your art.
KELLY: I took my first art class in high school. The teacher saw talent and encouraged me to continue. I focused on fine art and even won a scholarship to an art school in Georgia. However, the tuition was ten times the amount of the scholarship, and seemed far too steep for a career in Fine Art. At the time, Commercial Art seemed too boxed in and intimidating. Ironically, I decided to become a hairstylist instead.
MONA: Yay for perceptive art teachers! Somehow it’s encouraging to hear about the circuitous routes other people have taken on their personal journeys.
KELLY: After about eight years as a hairstylist, I’d had enough of standing on my feet for long hours, working for people who expected miracles (My scissors did not have magical properties), and not using my artistic abilities to their full potential.
In search of something different, I went to Pikes Peak Community College and took the assessment tests that determined what type of Career would be good for me. According to the results, I should either be a graphic designer or a lab technician. I am notoriously clumsy and not very detail oriented. Clearly, Design was the better choice.
MONA: Wow, graphic designer or a lab technician? Those seem like polar opposites.
What education and training experience brought you to your current position at WaterBrook Multnomah?
KELLY: I did a year at Pikes Peak Community College then landed a job with a photographer working as his sales associate and photo retouch specialist.
When I had progressed as far as I could at the photography studio, I took a job with WaterBrook as the administrative assistant to the Production and Art departments in hopes that it might turn into a design position in the future. The job was not creative at first but it was a foot in the door.
MONA: You’ve worked at WaterBrook Multnomah for eight years. How did you adanve from Administrative Assistant to Senior Designer?
KELLY: Mark Ford, my supervisor on the Art side, recognized my interest and talent for design. He encouraged me to try all aspects of the cover design process. He taught me everything I know. After designing my first cover, I was hooked.
Mark was very honest with me and told me that if I ever wanted the official title of Designer, I would need a degree. So I went back to school. This time I went to Colorado Technical University and received an Associates degree in Visual Communications.
I worked for about three years for both departments at WaterBrook as an assistant, went to night school full-time, and took on almost a full load of design projects. I even did my internship at Waterbrook with Mark Ford overseeing the process. When I turned in my portfolio, the Director of the Visual Communications Department was so impressed that she kept it to show as an example. I was lucky. Not many students are able to find on the job training with actual published projects, and with someone willing to mentor.
In 2006, we acquired Multnomah. In that year, I was promoted to designer full time under Mark Ford.
MONA: What is the mental and artistic process for designing the book cover for a novel?
KELLY: We work a lot as a team here. We often joke that our covers are designed by a committee. I think that we balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We brainstorm a lot before we start our own individual processes. In our team of three, I am the only female. Because, I have an inside track to the female mind, I often work on a lot of the women’s fiction.
I start each project differently. Sometimes listing ideas on paper, sketching, or just searching online for images. But perhaps uniquely, I work from a place of emotion rather than from a specific starting point. When I played piano as a kid, I never knew exactly what I was going to play or how it would sound. My fingers moved on the keyboard based on what I was feeling. I design very much the same way. I am never sure where the notes will go. I just start playing until it comes together in something recognizable as a melody.
MONA: Wow…loved that imageery. You’re an artist, and a poet!
Kelly, what mediums are used most in cover design for today’s marketplace?
KELLY: Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and Quark are the key programs we work with. I also often use a Wacom tablet so that I can draw with a pen rather than a mouse. This helps me create more illustrative looks. And of late, I have been doing my own photography.
MONA: What is your typical focus when thinking about the imagery for a cover?
KELLY: The setting, character, and theme all work together to create a mood, so I don’t always focus on just one aspect. I often have just a feeling in mind, and I start searching and playing around until I see the mood I am looking for. I sometimes find stock photos that inspire me or will work for a portion of the whole image. Other times I focus on the character and the mood I want her to portray. I often prefer to photograph a model myself because when I am looking through the lens, I often find what I am looking for. It can be hard for me to explain to someone else what that is.
MONA: Kelly, you designed the covers for The Bride Wore Blue and Twice a Bride. What can you tell us about the design process for The Bride Wore Blue and/or Twice a Bride?
KELLY: For these covers, I found great images already created. One from a photographer in London (The Bride Wore Blue) and the other was a stock photo (Twice a Bride).
Both images were not exactly right, so I did a lot of manipulation in Photoshop. I used my Wacom tablet and painted on top of the photos to blend and paint the entire images to give them an illustrative quality. I often combine several elements into one finished cover. Twice a Bride had at least four images that I collaged, and then painted. See the before pieces attached.
MONA: What advice do you have for aspiring graphic designers and book cover artists?
KELLY: Be passionate and always keep searching. When you seek, the doors will eventually open but you have to keep looking.
MONA: Kelly, we so appreciate the time you’ve taken to give us a glimpse into your world of book cover design. Regardless of how well-written a book might be, a weak cover can keep it on shelves or warehouses. The careful work you do is critical. Thank you!
In closing, do you have a Bible verse that especially inspires you as an artist?
KELLY: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” Jeremiah 29:11
Things have never turned out as I planned, but every road I have been down has led me to a unique place where God has been able to use my talents. Each experience has taught me something new that I have been able to use on the next path.
What intrigued you most in Kelly’s journey or in learning about the design process for book covers?