Cover Artist Series: J Caleb Design
Welcome to One Book Two’s monthly series on cover artists! This month we’re talking
with Jake Clark of J Caleb Design. Welcome, Jake!
Thanks! Let me just say how humbled I am to have been asked to do this interview. You guys have interviewed some cover designers who I get inspiration from and aspire to be as good as one day. To do this interview is definitely a highlight!
Aw, thanks! You came to my attention as a cover artist when we reviewed The Devil’s Mouth by Matt Kincade. I love that cover! Can you tell us a little bit about the thought process you and Matt went through to design it?
I met Matt via reedsy.com and we immediately hit it off. I could tell, just from our initial messages, that he thought along the same lines I did, so I knew a good cover was in the works! Sometimes authors give me a specific direction. Other times I get just a general sense of where to go. Either way works, and this time it was the latter of the two. He mentioned Kill Bill, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and a couple of my illustrated covers (Death Mill Mansion/Taste of Cashews) that caught his eye as works to look at and reference. From there he let me go on my own with the initial concept.
I brainstormed ideas over a couple days and landed on two elements I really wanted to incorporate: a mouth and the main character, Alex. From there it was just execution. I originally planned on the mouth being more of a stylistic mouth made from textures or out of the mountains in the background or something; but as I worked on the concept, I really liked the idea of the point of view being from the inside of an attacking vampire’s mouth. So, I just went with it.
Sometimes, a first proof is just in the ballpark of where a cover needs to go. Other times it’s just a few tweaks away from being completed. That’s where this cover ended up. What you see here (below) as the final version isn’t far off what the original proof looked like. There were a couple rounds of minor tweaks but that’s it.
It’s easily one of my favorite covers.
Boy, those tweaks made all the difference, though! I like the final, with Alex facing forward, much better. I love the idea of the POV being from the vampire’s mouth, but I didn’t even see the mouth until I had looked at the cover a few times. That was a fun discovery to make! So, how did you get started designing book covers?
I’ve always loved reading and I’ve always loved design. I saw a Raymond Swanland cover (below) when I was in college and thought, “This is what I want to do.” I even emailed Mr. Swanland, who replied, encouraging me to go after it!
I finished college with a design degree and went to work at a small print shop. I got into book covers about 5 years ago through some crowdsourcing sites. I bounced around those types of sites for a couple years until I realized how abusive they can be to designers who don’t know any better. So I left.
Fortunately, I had already built up a small, growing clientele which kept me busy. I think my first year I did three or four covers. This year I’ll have done around fifty, give or take a few.
Your book cover portfolio includes a WIDE range of artistic styles—from photography to illustration—appropriate for a wide range of genres, including non-fiction. I particularly love the vintage pulp fiction style of some of your covers, like The Coffeeist Manifesto and Induction. You have great gothic covers, like Romeo & Juliet and great fantasy covers, like One Last Moment of Silence. How did you get to be so versatile, stylistically?
First, thanks for the compliment! Pulp covers are easily my favorite covers to work on. I love looking at pulp book covers, anything from noir to cheesy romance, so getting a chance to work in that style is always fun.
I would attribute my versatility to never really focusing on one style. I’ve always been open to the author’s direction. Early on in my book cover career, I took almost any job that came my way. I still do for the most part! If the author wanted to use photos, I’d do my best to use photos. If they said illustration, I’d do my best to do illustration. Or if the author was open to any styles I’d come up with an idea and go with it no matter the style. I’d give it a shot and it just worked out!
Well, I think it’s paid off. So many book covers in a particular genre, though lovely, start looking the same. Your covers are so different that it catches the eye. Speaking of genres, your portfolio displays a definite leaning toward sci-fi and fantasy. Do you have a favorite genre to work in? To read?
Most assuredly, I am a sci-fi and fantasy buff through and through. That’s easily my favorite genre to work in and to read!
What is your favorite part about working with authors to design book covers?
The most exciting part of the design process for me is reading an author’s initial reaction about a proof. I think this is the case for two reasons. One, I want them to be happy and excited about what they are getting from me. I never want an author to just settle for something I’ve done. So naturally I get pumped about an idea and want them to get pumped as well!
The second reason is because usually the wait for that initial reaction to a first proof is filled with a range of thoughts and emotions for me. My mind is constantly racing wondering if they’ll like it, what they are thinking, maybe they hate it, maybe they love it! So it creates a climatic moment for me. I’ve gotten better about this over time, knowing not all proofs will be stellar out of the gate but still the emotions are hard to shrug off.
Sounds like it’s emotionally gratifying, which is important to have in your work. In addition to book covers, your portfolio contains logos and posters for concerts, movies, plays, and video games. Some of them are hilarious, like the “Cooking Hates Me” logo. What can you tell us about other design services you offer?
Movie posters, concert posters, logos, social media collateral—all kinds of stuff. As my website says, I work at a small print shop, so if it’s printed on paper, chances are I’ve done it before: forms, envelopes, logos, business cards, you name it. Book covers are my bread and butter when it comes to my freelance career, but I’m open to anything.
Well, I have to say, I’m completely impressed by your art. I have a list of new books to check out just from looking through your portfolio! So, how would an author contact you about commissioning art for their books?
Easy peasy, just contact me at my email firstname.lastname@example.org. I usually reply pretty quickly.
Thanks, Jake! I hope we get to post more of your work on One Book Two really soon!