Welcome to this month’s series on cover artists! Clarissa Yeo of Yocla Designs is a cover illustrator and designer. You’ve seen her covers on books by Bella Forrest, Rebecca Chastain, J. R. Rain, Kate Danley, Celia Kyle, Garrett Robinson, S.L. Saboviec, and more.
Welcome, Clarissa. Thanks for talking with us.
Thanks for allowing me this opportunity!
How did you get your start as a book cover illustrator and designer?
My aunt owns a graphic design firm and I always looked up to her as a child. I went online and found a book cover design community in the fanfiction forums of Wattpad. We formed little groups and opened ‘shops’ in those forums. Eventually I thought, “I need to start charging people for this.” My ego got inflated with how many covers I was doing, but my earlier covers really weren’t all that good. I cringe when I look back. But hey, fake it till you make it, right? Some days I still feel like I’m faking it. It’s that artist self-doubt thing.
After some encouragement from family, I decided to do book covers part-time before entering university. It became a full-time thing because I simply couldn’t give it up. I ended up quitting college twice (first law school then design school) to do this full-time instead. I haven’t regretted doing so, yet.
According to your website, your expertise is in “creative photomanipulation.” Do you use all stock photography or do you use any custom photography?
It’s all stock, unfortunately. Eventually I want to start taking my own photos, but I live in Asia, so models are hard to find (unless people eventually start writing Asians as main characters). Taking photos is kind of cost-prohibitive. Models, equipment, costumes, venues—they all cost pretty pennies. And I know that most authors don’t make that much of a profit on books, especially if they are just starting out. It’s tough to swallow the cost of a $1000 book cover on top of the cost of editing, so stock images are a nice option since it keeps costs down.
I have a DIY lightbox which I use to take objects sometimes, though. I’ve made some cameos in hand-form on some book covers, haha. The right hand poses are so difficult to find!
What is the biggest challenge of using stock photography? Limited number of good images? Reuse of popular images (see our Pinterest board for the Hoodie Hottie)? Maintaining consistency of a character across series covers?
Admittedly, I’ve used the Hoodie Hottie before, haha. These days I try to avoid those images I easily recognize though, even if they are the easy way out. If I use them, I change their posture or faces to make them harder to recognize and give them a more unique feel. I used to have problems with character consistency. After mastering the art of the face swap, there’s little problem. Once you mix-and-match faces and bodies, the options start to become limitless.
The main problem I have, though, is that stock photography tends to look more stiff. Artists borrow from real life, which has so much amazing gesture in the poses. So, for me, mimicking that while trying to mix-and-match body parts is rather tricky. Much easier if I have a model and ask her to just jump around more, rather than wonder if that hand looks natural with that torso.
I can’t even imagine how much work it takes just to find the images that will fit together like your illustration above, let alone the skill it takes to then make them match!
What kinds of thoughts go into creating the cover of a book? What kinds of discussions do you have with authors about the art you create for books?
I have a form which I’m comfortable with. It lists out all the important parts required for the books and helps pluck out the visual information required for a cool/accurate book cover. I’ll research the market first to see what trends are popular, and I’ll also look at some other art forms to see if I can get any ideas from there. I draw a lot of inspiration from concept art, movies, and games.
I’ll usually ask the author to also give me some examples of covers they think suit their book/genre, to see what their expectations are and what styles they’re aiming for. It’s quite difficult to design what the author wants without knowing what they’re expecting, so I think this is essential.
If the cover is in a more open-ended genre, or if the author wants to stray from the tropes of the genre (although I wouldn’t recommend it because people like to buy what is familiar to them), I will do some quick, albeit slightly difficult to understand, thumbnail sketches and see if the author likes the ideas. 🙂
It is so interesting that you recommend NOT straying from the tropes of the genre. It’s not hard to notice that book covers in a genre all start to look similar, and sometimes I find that sad. BUT, those are the very covers that attract my attention. I had a list of books to buy just from browsing your portfolio!
Your gallery includes art for a wide number of genres and styles, and they all look so amazingly professional! How did you build such a wide repertoire of styles?
I don’t think I have a style. I think it’s just understanding the art fundamentals and the tools. Once you have color theory, anatomy, composition, perspective, typography, etc . etc., down, and have a good grasp on photoshop/illustrator it’s easier to use them to achieve whatever look you want. I’m still working on it, though, haha. Book covers take up so much time that I don’t have enough spare time to sharpen my fundamentals.
Of course, because I don’t work on any one style I’m not super amazing at anyone of them. But I get versatility in return.
For example, some artists are very adept at environments, but are bad with characters. Or some can give you the most detailed hand-lettered type ever, but if you ask them to work with images, they’re blegh. I can work with everything but if I compare myself to these artists in their respective fields, I’ll lose out.
Do you have a favorite genre to work in as an artist? Or to read for pleasure?
It honestly just depends on my mood. It used to be urban fantasy, but now I’m starting to miss doing some apocalyptic stuff because I haven’t gotten a lot of those ever since urban got popular. And if I start doing more apocalyptic stuff, I know I’ll miss urban fantasy after a while. Some days I prefer to do more type/editorial stuff rather than a lot of photomanipulation. A recent one I did required me to make a bunch of concept-artish environments. That was quite challenging but I’d also say refreshing.
I’d say I’m the most comfortable with stuffs requiring more photo edits, etc, rather than those very simple advertorial layouts (I’m pretty bad with advertorial stuffs, in comparison to those people in the graphic design firm I share space with).
Reading for pleasure? Fantasy for sure. Brandon Sanderson is king, though I’ve ran out of his books to read. I can’t say that fantasy is my favorite genre to work in because images are so hard to find for them. Then again, creating cool environments with images, or problem-solving how to make the characters look fantasy can be fun, too.
Those Matt Larkin covers are amazing! Do you also do the treatments (title/author text, series name, back cover text) of your book covers? How do you decide on fonts and other graphic elements to use?
Yep! I do. It’s very important for a successful book cover.
What fonts and graphic elements to use… well that’s a loaded question. I don’t think I can properly explain that in an interview. It’s an entire university module! But basic tips are: keep it simple, not using more than 3 fonts (unless you know what you’re doing); variation is key, and try to use small plus big texts together to make the cover more interesting to the eye; look at what other people in the same genre are using and try to fit the market; and try to think of fonts as an image rather than words, that’ll allow you to become more daring with how you treat it.
You offer premade covers on your website. Can you tell us about those? How would an author use those?
I don’t work on my pre-mades a lot these days, haha. I sometimes update it with rejected mock ups that look nice, but didn’t fit the spec. It used to be a way for me to fill up my spare time when orders were low, but these days I don’t get much no-order time if any at all, which I’m very thankful for. They’re straightforward so I’m not sure what to say. Just send me an email with the pre-made of choice, title, author name and subtitle (which I highly recommend solely because big and small text makes the typography interesting), and I’ll send a preview + invoice. And once the invoice is paid, I’ll send in the hi-res.
Do you work only with independent authors or do you work with publishers as well? What services do you offer and how would an author go about contacting you?
I’ve worked with small publishers. I’m still waiting for some big publishing house in New York to contact me. It’s about time. Ha! Just kidding. Don’t think I’m good enough yet, but someday I will be.
I offer the usual services. Book covers, eBook and paperback. If you want a hardcover copy you’ll have to give me the right specs/template. Facebook banners and the like. Audiobook covers, and anything related to books whatsoever.
Some of my clients come to me and ask me if I can design their company logos. Haha, please don’t. I’m okay with logos for books, but I’m not so fluent in the design language for corporate stuffs. You’re probably better off finding someone who specializes in logos for that.
Do you read the books for which you create the cover?
Oh, no. I design about 3 covers a day, not including weekends. If I must read the books before creating the covers, I wouldn’t be able to keep up. And honestly, sometimes when I’m shopping for books to read, I avoid the ones which I’ve done the covers for, ha. It kind of destroys the magic, you know? Plus, my clients give me spoilers in the form I send over.
Which projects have been your favorites? Which were easy to create? Hardest to create?
I honestly can’t remember. I’ve done so many. But strangely enough, the covers which take little time and come out smoothly tend to be the best ones. Spending more time on a cover doesn’t necessarily result in the best cover. The most time-consuming ones usually end up uglier because I struggle with them, instead of spending all my time going ‘aw yas this is going to be awesome!’ So, these days, if a mock up starts to feel out of my comfort zone, and I spend too much time trying to fix whatever is already broken, I discard it and try a new one that works better.
I think your work is great, and I’ve certainly bought books because of your covers. Thanks so much for taking time to talk with us, Clarissa!
Once again, thanks for giving me the opportunity for this interview! I really appreciate it.
Contact Clarissa and view her portfolio via her webpage: http://yocladesigns.com/.