We caught up with Matthew Land just after the recent publication of The Wall Between Us, featuring his stunning cover illustration and asked him about his process, amongst other things...
What is the first step in the design process when you first receive the brief from your agent and the publisher?
I have worked with Chicken House on two occasions now, and I really like the way they brief their covers. They tend to send me a document which contains a good amount of mood boards/imagery and a summary of the plot and character/place descriptions. Their brilliant designer, Sam Wells, also puts together a rough stick-figure drawing of how the cover could work, in a gentle suggestion way, which is a great starting point. For this project the moodboards showcased a lot of photographs of the Berlin Wall and shaggy cats.
How closely do you work with the Author?
Not especially closely, I know that Dan Smith was given the opportunity to comment on the progress of the book cover, and then any feedback was filtered back to me from the designer and my agent. I know how hard Dan has worked away on the story, that I mainly want to try and create a cover that he is going to like.
Can you tell us a bit about how you interact with the publishing house when working on a fiction project?
All my interactions with the publishing house come via the supportive and encouraging guidance of Caroline, Tamlyn, and more recently Alan over in NY who I’ve had the pleasure of working with on a book that is due out in October. The team at Arena communicates with the publisher on my behalf and vise-versa. I appreciate the work they do to translate feedback that is headed my way into constructive positives that I can work on, mainly so I don’t assume that the publishers are all just having big meetings about how they don’t actually like the work I’ve been doing at all.
Alongside your illustration work you also manage events for the book industry? Do you have a highlight event which stands out?
Very recently I’ve produced my 150th book event in my role as Event Manager at Blackwell’s in Edinburgh, which can be anything from an event with an audience of 70 people in the bookshop to big whopping ones with an audience of 700 people somewhere extra fancy. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some truly inspiring and exceptionally talented authors and hearing them talking all about their books. I think my very favourite event was with Esme Young from The Great British Sewing Bee, because everything about her is cooler than any of us will ever be/experience, and she promised to take me clubbing when I come to London next.
Can you tell us a bit about your illustrative process...and the materials you use.
I began by creating a few rough sample sketches so we could all agree on the best composition for the cover - see below.
I then worked the sketch up to a colour rough so the publishers could have some meetings about how it was all looking before giving me the thumbs-up to commence with the artwork.
I approached the artwork on this one slightly differently, I think because I was stumped for a long time about what colours I was going to use, so rather than waste even more time, I created the artwork in pencil/ink and washes of grey watercolour as you can see here.
I then digitally added and adjusted the colours and shadows; this made it a lot easier to settle on a pallet whilst still retaining the texture of the watercolour.
I then concentrated the colours to manipulate the atmosphere of the artwork before sending all off for Sam to make it look better.
Can you tell us a bit about your working space?
I tend to fill my workspace with unnecessary things, which all start out relatively organised and nice for instagram, before descending into a state of supreme chaos roundabout the middle of the artwork stage. I start out with tidy intentions but I always end up being surrounded by a whole tree worth of paper and several glasses of never-really-completely finished Ribenas.
If you could illustrate the cover for any classic children's book which would you choose?
I’d love to illustrate The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis because they are the ultimate, quintessentially magical adventure stories that helped to inspire a whole genre of children’s fiction.
What did you enjoy reading as a child?
I’ve always read quite a lot, and disappointingly I think I did read more as a child than I fully have time to do now. I really loved any adventure had by The Famous Five from Enid Blyton, The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy, Which Witch by Eva Ibbotson, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, The Borrowers by Mary Norton, and Watership Down by Richard Adams, each and every one are stories I go back to again and again, even at the great age I am now.
If you could work in a shared studio space which 5 illustrators would you like to share with?
It is probably for the best that I don’t share a studio space because know myself well enough to be sure that I wouldn't be able to stop talking and distracting everyone. When I was at university I would pop into the studio every day and talk for five/six full hours and then would catch up with all the work I didn’t get done at home in the evening. However, my dream studio mates would be -
Beatrix Potter, because she is my tip-top hero. I’d like to just sit and watch her paint her delicate landscapes, intricately scientific sketches, and brass-buttoned animal characters. I’d also enjoy her Victorian clothes and hearing all about how many more hundred acres of land she was actively helping to conserve.
Jill Barklem (Brambly Hedge) because, again, I just want to rest my chin on her shoulder and watch her work away on all of her teeny mouse-size details.
Pam Smy, because her work is everything I would ever love mine to be, and I greatly admire the way the narrative of her books flow seamlessly from text to illustration, creating a truly unique reading experience.
Raymond Briggs, mainly because his workspace always looked as though he had similar chaotic amounts of unorganised things that I like, so we could collaborate on our clutter.
Alex T. Smith, because he’s my pal and I think we’d both insist on plenty of biscuit breaks.
Do you listen to anything when working?
I listen to a lot of audiobooks while I work, which helps in my job at the bookshop. I have listened to the full cast recording of His Dark Materials written and read by Philip Pullman so many times that my cassette tapes wore out and I had to subscribe to an audible account. I also listen to the odd podcast, one of my favourites being My Favourite Murder because I love a tale of true crime especially when all of the horrors are contrasted by two funny friends.
Do you have time to sketch for pleasure, where and what do you most like to draw recreationally?
Many thanks to Matthew for answering all of our questions and you can take a look at more of his work over on his online portfolio HERE. Take a look at Nisha's War, Matthew's first book cover for the same author, Dan Smith.