Illustrator Gaia Alessi joins forces with debut author, Laila Riffat, creating an adventure packed cover treatment for Aliya to the Infinite City published on 1st February, by Chicken House.
With her impeccable talent for character creation, Gaia has perfectly captured the spirit of Aliya to The Infinite City. She's a huge fan of myths, legends, and mythical beasts so she was the perfect creative fit for this project. With a sprinkling of magic and a warm Egyptian inspired colour palette she has really created something special. We love the sense of movement, and the use of geometric tiled patterns to set the scene and encapsulating the essence of Laila’s story and the adventures about to unfold. If you have a taste for adventure and enjoy action-packed tales featuring time-travel, parallel dimensions, flying carpets AND magical creatures, then this is the book for you. We are certain that this book is sure to ignite the imaginations of readers even before the first page is turned.
Gaia took some time out to tell us a bit more about this project and her illustrative career.
Aliya To The Infinite City is my first proper cover, professionally speaking and it has been a great experience. Like most illustrators I've done personal projects designing covers for my favourite books, but making a cover for an actual publisher has been an altogether different game. Way more exciting! It was very intense! I believe I was given a good amount of creative freedom and I learned to work with increased focus.
Thankfully there was quite a lot of dialogue with both the publisher and the designer and that exchange was very rich and helpful. I received a brilliantly put together brief that contained enough extracts from the manuscript to allow me to imbue my characters with substance. It also had a mood board which was rich enough to suggest a specific setting but still allowed me space and opportunity to imagine and populate the world with my own creations.
The most intense exchanges with the publisher and the art director/designer where during the pencil rough stage and the colour rough stage. At those stages we really decided what was crucial to include, how the characters should look and what colours would suit the book best and could make it sing. Those stages really do require intense focus, quick responses and the ability to be flexible.
Book covers have to work really hard to grab and keep people’s attention on busy bookshelves (and also on busy website pages!) while also being true to the story, the author and the readers, so there is very little space for error or indulgence. That is something all the people involved in the production at Chicken House knew very well and I have been very fortunate to have worked with such a fabulous team.
Do you have three top tips on creating characters and character design?
I rarely have a vision, so I make a list of important features and attributes about the character; I play with simple shapes, chosen and arranged to suit the character in question; I exaggerate proportions to give the design more expression in line with the core emotions the character mostly embodies and then I tweak things to achieve a clear, distinguishable silhouette. I think a lot about how the character would move and why and start drawing them performing different gestures to add weight and substance to their actions.
So to sum it up, when inspiration falters and the Muse is silent: make lists of words, simplify shapes, exaggerate proportions, clarify silhouette and build a gesture repertoire that feels fitting to the character.
That’s more than three tips, but I would add another one, be patient: it takes many iterations to design a character you are satisfied with.
Did you enjoy creating the beautiful colour pallette for this cover?
I love, LOVE, working with colour and exploring palettes. I get completely sidetracked when I start thinking about colours and how they push/pull the artwork in different directions. I enjoy colour like kids enjoy candy and squirrels nuts. I try really hard to self-regulate and not offer clients a gazillion colour options…
Which three pieces of advice would you give newly graduated illustrators?
Design! Always, continuously, obsessively… in your head, whenever you look at stuff, make notes on sizes, weight, proportions, shadows. And if you can, jot it down, on paper, on a note in your phone. Make note of good design and bad design they are equally important. And also notice where neither is at work and things in the world are just put together out of non premeditated cumulation or superimposition. In no time you’ll have built an enormous reference library in your head…so long Pinterest!
Don’t be precious, do away with details, explore the limits of simplification. When you simplify things, ask yourself where/when do they loose integrity, shape, meaning and try to work on that limit. To me that is where the interesting stuff happens. Your clients will always ask you for more definition, more detail so you will get plenty of exercise on that front. Take care to nurture the opposite.
And lastly the most important advice is actually not mine. I was given it possibly during a lecture, but sadly I don’t remember who gave it to me. The faded piece of paper I jotted it down is still taped to the wall facing my desk, right in my sightline. I still find it as useful today as I first did. And here it goes: "before you pitch your idea, make sure that people understand the same question that you will be answering."
What are you working on next? (unless it's top secret!)
Aren’t all forthcoming projects top secret? There is another cover (in this series) I’m finishing up. The book is another corker, this time I was given a manuscript to read and it was a real pleasure! And now that I know the territory I have relaxed and really enjoyed the process.
And then I am majorly invested in a retelling of a myth, or perhaps it's better to say that I am telling the bit of the story the myth never told, I’m taking huge liberties…so yes I’m both writing and illustrating! Exciting you ask? Well… that is a way of seeing it…I’m having minor panic attacks almost daily about being able to pull this thing off but I love my characters and the team at the publisher are the best at shoring my doubts and I think with their help I’ll steer my ship into harbour safely to deliver an enjoyable tale that will keep you and your children well entertained in the very near future.
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