Interview with Tony Mauro, Illustrator and Graphic Designer
Welcome back to our series on book cover artists. Today we get to talk with the fabulous Tony Mauro! Tony is one of the big names in fantasy art whose career spans the country, from the movie industry on the West Coast to the book industry on the East Coast. He creates the covers for many of our favorite series, including my very favorite, Jennifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin series.
Welcome, Tony. Thanks for talking with us.
Thank YOU! Happy to be here.
In this series so far, we’ve talked with artists who do all digital illustration and artists who do photo composite work. What technique do you use for your art?
My work is a combination of both. I was a traditional airbrush illustrator for the early part of my illustration career, so taking those traditional skills and techniques and applying them to the computer came pretty naturally for me. I have a photo studio in my house where I’ll shoot a very basic photograph to capture the pose and expressions. Then paint over it on the computer adding all of the effects and environment that the piece calls for.
How did you get your start as an artist in general, and then get into fantasy book cover art? Did you have a “big break?”
I’ve been drawing since I was a child and was one of the lucky few people that always knew exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up. My father is an artist so I grew up in a very creative household.
A few years after graduating from art school I decided to sell everything I owned and move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in move poster design. I was fortunate enough to get some great opportunities out there doing just that and spent 11 years in the motion picture industry designing movie posters. Eventually I was beginning to get a little burned out on that scene and lifestyle, so I decided to move back to my home town of Buffalo, NY and try my luck as a freelancer. For the first few years I continued to do movie work from my home with all of my clients still being in Los Angeles.
I had started doing fantasy art on the side because it was a genre that always gave me a lot of inspiration as a kid when I was learning to draw and paint. I had entered a few pieces into the Spectrum Fantastic Art world wide competition where all of the chosen pieces are featured in an annual book. The pieces of mine that were selected caught the attention of an art director at Penguin Publishing and the rest as they say was history! The book work very quickly took over my entire business.
Do you still do any work on movie posters and fantasy art, or is it all book covers now?
The book covers represent 95% of my business, but I still work on films from time to time. The fantasy art has always been a side thing for me just to have a creative outlet to do whatever I want. I’ve found that having an outlet like that really helps to keep from burning out, like I mentioned earlier. Like any job it can start to get a little monotonous, so to be able to create a piece that does’t have any client to please or product to sell is a nice break.
What types of clients do you work with? Just the bigger publishers and companies, or do you work with smaller firms and independents? If you work with smaller companies and independents, how would someone get in touch with you to commission some work?
Right now the major publishing houses are keeping me very busy, and I have several art directors that I work with at each of them so it’s pretty rare that I work on smaller independent projects; but it does happen from time to time depending on my schedule and the project. My website has all of my contact info and is always the best way to reach me: www.tonymauroillustration.com
Your gallery seems to be focused mostly on fantasy, sci-fi, or horror, but I did see what looked like a book cover for a romance. Do you work in all genres? Do you have a favorite genre to work in?
I do work in all genres which is why I love this job so much. Every project is totally different and I’ve found different clients think of me for different things. Paranormal romance has definitely been the genre that most people think of me for. The main reason for that is my fantasy art was the thing that caught the attention of the art directors in the first place so they’ve kept me in that arena. I can’t really say I have a favorite because they’re all fun to work on for different reasons.
Some of the images in your gallery show just the art and some show the treatment (title and other text on the cover). Do you work on the treatments for some of your projects yourself?
Yes, that is one of the things that I’ve always felt helped me to stand out among the others out there doing covers. If you look in my movie poster section those are all my title treatments with the exception of maybe one or two. So when I started doing book covers I was able to show my comps with text on them which not all cover artists do. I still have a few art directors that like to do their own type but 70% of the time they are my designs.
What kinds of thoughts go into creating the cover of a book? What kinds of discussions do you have with cover designers or authors about the art you create for books?
It usually starts with a creative brief from the art director giving me a loose outline of what they are looking to see and a short synopsis of the book. I’ll usually follow that up with a phone call to discuss the overall tone and details to make sure we’re on the same page. The longer you work with people, the more trust is formed and those briefs get shorter and shorter. Also because most of what I do is for a series after the first book the series look has been established and I can just follow that path for the following books.
Do you read the books for which you create the cover? See the movies for which you create posters?
I used to read every book I did the cover for, which was really great because I love to read and it really is the best way to approach the project. But, my work load has gotten so heavy there just aren’t enough hours in the day to read them all.
When working on movies, we are very often working on the posters while they are still filming. So, we start by reading the script before we ever start concepts. Usually you can read the script in roughly the same amount of time as it takes to watch the film, so it’s only a couple hours.
The other major difference between movies and books is the process itself. When I was doing movie posters, the studios would look at up to 300 posters before choosing one and that process was usually 3-6 months on one film. They’d hire 2 or 3 design firms to work on the same film and each firm would deliver 100 concepts or so. So, it was incredibly competitive and draining for the designers. Things have changed now and the budgets have been drawn back, so it’s a little different these days.
Wow! 300 poster options? That’s crazy! Which projects have been your favorites? Which were easy to create? Hardest to create?
This is always such a tough question to answer because every project has its challenges. I honestly don’t think any one of them stick out in my head as the hardest or the easiest.
Sometimes my favorite cover is the one that never got chosen. I always deliver 2 or 3 different designs for the client to chose from and it’s just not always your favorite that gets picked. Right now I’m working on rebranding Stephen King’s entire library so that has been really fun and exciting to work on. I’ve done 15 of his books so far and have 6 more on my plate right now so those will all be hitting the stores soon. I definitely have some favorites in there 😉
Is there a way to get prints of some of your work? I see your When Darkness Falls calendar, a calendar of your artwork, wasn’t available this year.
I can have prints made of any images in my fantasy art or book cover section of my website. I make them to order so they are available in any size you like and are always signed by me. I can’t sell prints of any of the movie posters because those are the property of the movie studios.
Unfortunately after, 10 years, 2015 was the last year of the When Darkness Falls calendar. There is always the possibility I’ll sign up with another publisher to produce calendars of my work again but for now I’m taking a little break from that to focus on my book cover work.
You mentioned that the movie posters are property of the studios, but do you own the rights to your book cover art?
I retain all of the rights to my artwork when working in the book industry. That’s how I have been able to feature some of the book covers in my calendar every year and am able to sell prints.
You mentioned that the fantasy art was work you did for yourself. Does it end up being used for anything?
The fantasy art was used in my calendar every year for the last ten years. Honestly though the beauty of the fantasy art for me was that it didn’t necessarily have to get used for anything. It was just art for art’s sake. Earlier in my career I did a lot of comic book and pop culture conventions where I’d have a booth in the artist alley section and sell prints of my artwork.
Boobs and female bodies feature prominently in your fantasy art in particular. Do you ever get flack, or praise, for the way women are portrayed in your art?
THERE IT IS!!!! LOL Just kidding 😉
I can honestly say that I’ve never gotten any flack for that. The one thing you’ll notice with almost all of my fantasy art is the women are total ass kickers and are always portrayed as strong and powerful. Sure, they may be using all of the tools at their disposal to distract or lure their prey, but they never play the victim. It seems that boobs and fantasy art almost always go hand in hand, so I don’t think seeing a sexy woman in a fantasy art piece ever really surprises anyone. Lol! I will say that for some of the book covers, I’ve been asked to tone down the characters’ sexuality a bit, but that’s usually just a body type thing or a slight outfit alteration.
Who is your favorite artist?
I have so many favorites, some you might expect some you may not. As far as who inspired me most as a child when I was learning it was definitely Norman Rockwell, Boris Valejo and Drew Struzan. As far as contemporary artists go I really like Brom, Justin Sweet and Craig Elliott, to name a few. But, like I said, there are sooo many great artists.
Your covers mostly feature people or human-like characters (angels, mermaids, etc.). Have you had much of a chance to create creatures? What has been or would be your favorite creature to illustrate?
I am not a creature guy at all. I think the most important thing as an artist is to know your limitations. There are so many artists out there that do incredible creatures and I am certainly not one of them lol. In the rare case that I need a creature or a dragon for a piece I will collaborate with one of my artist friends that is better suited for that element in the piece. For example one of my favorite pieces from last year was titled Mind Magic for author Eileen Wilks. It featured a girl squaring off with a dragon from the book so I collaborated with one of my best friends and really talented artist Matt Robinson up in Northern California to help me out with the dragon for that piece.
If you could put yourself in one of your covers, what would it look like and what would be its epic title?
Oh boy…I’m not even going there. I’m very comfortable on my side of the camera. I’ll leave the modeling to the pros. 🙂