Have you ever seen a book cover that is so absolutely stunning you just need to drop everything and stare at it for a while? And then you lowkey consider getting it tattooed in your body in some format, because it’s just that gorgeous? It can’t just be us…
Well readers, Elana K. Arnold’s Damsel has one of those book covers. The story is a boldly dark, originally feminist fairy tale in which a damsel is saved by a prince from the lair of a dragon… only to learn that, in the palace she’s now expected to graciously call home, even worse dangers lie ahead. The cover, like the novel itself, is breathtakingly beautiful, and every time we look at it, we seem to notice a new detail. OBVIOUSLY, we had to know more.
Luckily enough, we were able to get in contact with the amazing artists and designers involved in creating the cover and got to ask them a few questions about the process.
In conversation with us below are Alison Donalty, an Executive Director of Design from the team at HarperCollins, speaking on behalf of herself and Michelle Taormina, a Senior Designer from the design team at HarperCollins, and Nik Ainley, the Associate Design Director and Head of CG Department at the design agency VAULT49, speaking on behalf of the team that brought this cover to life! But first, please feast your eyes on the hypnotizing video below:
Damsel: Beyond the cover design
WITH ALISON DONALTY & NIK AINLEY
Q: How did you come up with this concept?
Alison: Elana Arnold wrote a beautiful, lush story so rich in detail and magnificent visuals–from the opening pages, we were so inspired! A designer’s dream manuscript.
Throughout the book, our heroine Ama pushes conventional boundaries and challenges her place as a Damsel. At one point, she finds her way into the castle’s bowels and meets the resident glassblower, who allows her to try her hand at his craft. In one scene in particular, she creates a magnificent sculpture which lead us to imagine the cover featuring a glass sculpture. Glass is so unique in its molten beginnings through its evolution into a delicate object one might hold in their hand, it seemed an interesting visual parallel to Ama’s journey.
We also researched historic glass, particularly the work of Leopold Blaschka at the Corning Museum of Glass. His stunning work helped up articulate to the team what the finished product might look like.
Q: Vault49, what was your team’s inspiration for the cover?
Nik: Michelle really set the scene for us for this dark fairy tale. She describes how the heroine looks to glass blowing as a means of coping in her new life at the castle and provided us with a list of objects that have significance for the main character throughout the book.
Q: The cover is so beautiful, and there are some specific, intricate details included on it. Were there other concepts, or was this the first?
Alison: Like so many of our books, we often develop 2 or 3 options to present to the team. In this case, Michelle created many comps with an eye on talented portrait photographers whose work includes images of beautiful girls in custom dresses with an exotic location as a backdrop. However that direction, when presented next to the glass concept, felt too expected. We were thrilled to be able to work in this never-before-seen direction!
Q: How did you know Vault49 would be the perfect team to bring the art to life?
Alison: The team at Vault49 are beyond talented. They are a CGI studio that we love to work with because they are collaborative and bring boundless excitement, creative energy and attention-to-detail to all their pieces. We knew that they would breathe life into Michelle’s in-house comp, and their finish is exactly as we imagined.
Q: And how did Vault49 go about working on this book cover? Was it a solo effort, or a team effort?
Nik: Vault49 has worked on several book covers for Harper Collins as well as other book covers for publishers like Random House, Scholastic, Disney and Macmillan. Book covers are a wonderful way for the designers at Vault49 to have fun and experiment with different illustration techniques as the concepts for each cover are so diverse. They also provide great opportunities for collaboration amongst the team, for example in this cover we had one designer craft the type, another illustrating the sketches and a couple of CG designers building the final illustration.
Q: What are your favorite elements of the cover?
Alison: It would be difficult to pull specific things out as favorites elements, but one fun thing to mention is that there are many Easter eggs hidden within the glass. We hope readers will discover them! The dramatic lighting adds an intense mood to the cover, but is especially effective on the title, you really can sense the heat of the molten glass. Michelle is our designer who most loves dragons, which makes the dragon tail a real stand-out for her!
Nik: Our favorite would probably be the dragon’s tail. Not only was it fun to sculpt, but it feels like an unexpected element amongst the foliage.