Friday, April 8, 2011

Case of the UC #3

In 2007 I was commissioned by Scholastic from New York to do three book covers for the Unicorn Chronicles (UC) book series, written  by Bruce Coville. Because of the certain reasons, the first cover that I had to do was the cover for the third book (UC #3). The cover concept that I got from the publisher was quite clear, and because I felt very confident about it, I did not make the rough sketch  first, as I usually do, but went immediately to Amsterdam and rented a few costumes and props. Then I arranged a photo session with a daughter of a friend of mine, who was to pose for the main character from the book,  a girl  called Cara ( by the way, this character had to be depicted on all three book covers). They lived in a city north of Amsterdam. So I took the train, went there, did the photo session and quickly headed back home. I was eager to begin the work on the cover as soon as possible. Back in my studio, and still full of self-confidence, I started to work on the detailed preliminary drawing. A few days later I presented the drawing to the publisher. After a portion of waiting I finally got the answer from the art director – they did not like the tree. And because the tree was a very  important part of the scene, they asked me to do another drawing.
I was a bit surprised by their reaction. The next day, just before starting the work on the new drawing, I noticed that a big chunk of my self-confidence was missing. However I did another detailed drawing. This time they liked it and the composition was approved.

After two-three weeks of intense labor the painting was  finished. I was pleased with the results and regained my self-confidence. I sent the image of the finished cover to the publisher and set down to wait for their answer.

The whole week has passed by but I did not get any response from the art director. Strange, I thought, they usually react relatively quickly. After another few days without the publisher’s answer I started to worry. About two weeks after I sent the image of the finished cover I got the answer from them – “ Although the cover is nicely painted, we do have a little problem with it”, was their response. “ You will have to repaint the girl. We think that she has not the right physiognomy, she is a bit short and a little too fat. She’s not the type of the girl we are looking for. But, because we already approved the sketch, we will pay you an additional amount for repainting the cover…”

I was shocked, angry, sad…At first I could not understand what they were talking about. What was wrong with the girl…? I liked how I had painted her. There were some details that I was really pleased with. Now, it has to go away. I had to remove the nicest part of the painting. I lost my “compass” and my self-confidence was shattered into thousand pieces. The fact that I was to be paid extra money for the additional work gave me a good feeling, but that feeling quickly evaporated as soon as I looked at the painted girl that had to be removed from the painting, forever.
Suddenly I got an ingenious idea ( at least I thought it was ingenious at that moment): I thought, I am going to paint another girl on the separate sheet of paper and then put the pieces together in Photoshop. In this way I would satisfy the publisher’s wishes, and at the same time keep the actual painting unchanged. So, I went to another friend, who lived in Amsterdam, and made a few photos of her daughter. When the new version of Cara was finished I showed it to the publisher. “ No! Her expression is still not good enough. She is not charismatic enough. Do it again, please”, was their reaction.

Well, this time, I thought, I would have to be smarter. So, I used a photo of a young gill from a glossy magazine and repainted  Cara’s head.  “ Sorry, this one is also not good”, the publisher replied.

I became desperate. I did not know what to do. Above all, I did not know what they actually wanted me to do with that …bleep…girl. The deadline was quickly approaching, and I still had to paint another two covers. Fortunately the publisher came with a solution.  They suggested to find a model in New York, do the photo shooting  for all three covers on the basis of my sketches, and then send me the photos. I agreed because I thought that this must be the real solution to this embarrassing problem, and hopefully the end of my book cover nightmare.
After a week or two, maybe three, I received the photos. This time I repainted the original painting. The first version of Cara that bravely stood its ground for so long, was scratched off from the surface of the painting and a new Cara emerged. When it was finished I was pleasantly surprised with the results. I liked the new painting better. The publisher was quite pleased too, and my piggy bank was grunting with pleasure.

Happy end!


  1. Wow, that sounds like a really tiresome nightmare!
    However, I do think that the final girl and costume, turned out better than the first ones.

    First time I'm commenting here, but I've been following your inspiring blog from the beginning. Take care.

  2. WOW! It is nice to hear that this happens to big time profesionals like you too! I have had si,ilar situations and felt the same as you about my work being rejected when I thought it was perfectly fine For the record, I think your first version was the best! The finished cover girl looks so common and model like!

  3. I think the simple blue cloak is better for the over all composition then the orange flowing one. Also I think the blue plays nicely with the sky in the background.

  4. Great post Peter! Interesting to see all the different versions. The last one makes it obvious they were after a 'movie star' type look. But getting to that point sounds like it was a nightmare. (And haven't we all had jobs like that!) To be honest I probably do like the last one better. She looks a bit older and the glow around her head adds to that charisma they were after. But all of them are great.

  5. There are qualities I love about all of them!
    I guess just count yourself lucky that you had a client that paid you for all the extra work you did. That never happens to me :(

    Brilliant work!

  6. Thank you guys for all your comments! I know that all of us have our own taste and preferences, but it is always useful to hear all these different opinions and points of view on the same piece. It helps me reconsider my judgments about my own work, which is a healthy thing.

    And, yes I was lucky, not only because they paid me extra money for the additional work, but also because it was the first time that I had to repaint a significant and important part of the painting.

  7. Thank you for sharing your process with this one, Petar. It's always frustrating when someone paying you doesn't like what you've done and you have to change your original vision, but I must say the final looks just as good as your original.

    Your original has a warm feeling about it with a girl at just the right age to feel wonder at Unicorns. Your final is a bit cooler, more sedate, with a girl that is just right to defend the Unicorns. Two different and equally well-executed ideas. I love 'em both!

  8. I think I like the first one the best. It has much more life to it imo :)

  9. holy moly
    such an ordeal! my heart leans towards yours, even though it is an old story by now.
    As always your use of light wins my eyes attention. and that glowing planet behind the wonderful tree is amazing, well everything about each piece is wonderful.

  10. Hi Petar,
    I've been there before too! Some of my Y.A. covers have went through similar processes of post-corrections. It's kind of frustrating at the beginning but if you have a good Art Director leading the job you realize that he or she was right, that generally the Art Directors have a point of view wider than ours and their understanding of the publishing industry can teach us a thing or two.
    Sometimes the request doesn't even comes from the Art Director at all but from the Sales or Marketing Department. They can say "Ok, the image is gorgeous but it wont sale" so the Art Director has to return to his/her desktop, write us an apology and figure it out how to sort this new problem.
    Anyway, in my opinion your cover is brilliant in any of the stages and the last version is my favorite.
    Thanks so much for sharing the process and for giving us another of your beautiful line works.

  11. Whew! That sounds like a stressful one! I have to say though, the finished product turned out great. It's tough when the AD has an image in their mind of the face they want. You could have painted 30 and still not found it.

    BTW, I love that tree. Do you still have the first version?

  12. Thank you guys for your friendly and generous comments. It seems that all of you can identify with this book cover situation. It is obvious that many illustrators have the same kind of experience when it comes to dealing with art directors and publishers.

    Antonio – You are right, In the case of this book cover it was the Marketing Department who suggested that the first version of the cover would probably not sell, because of the inappropriate expression of the girl.

    Jesse – I repainted the girl only, so there is only one version of the painting, and the original is in a private collection.