Sweetly by Jackson Pearce: Cover Artist Spotlight

Posted August 22, 2011 by Sara | Novel Novice 1 Comment


We adore the covers for both Sweetly and its companion novel Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce. And one thing that’s really cool about these covers is that Little Brown actually hired an artist to create them specifically for these books.

The artist team behind the gorgeous covers for Sweetly and Sisters Red is known as strawberryluna! Their art is a combination of design and screenprinting. Aside from creating their own original art, they’ve also been hired to do design work for others — including, besides Little Brown, musicians such as Death Cab for Cutie, Bright Eyes, and Sara Bareilles.

We sat down with one-half of strawberryluna, Allison, to find out about the work she & her husband create!

I love the style of design/screenprinting in your artwork! Tell us a bit about the process and how it works. Where do you find your inspirations?

Silkscreen printing! One of my favorite subjects. So, in terms of the process, it’s an intense, very labor heavy mixture of old-fashioned and new-fangled techniques. The older ones have barely changed since the 1800’s, and really one could go back ten centuries to China where screenprinting is thought to have originated and still recognize very similar techniques to make prints. There is also a lot of work that happens well before you even get to the printing stage.

Essentially, though the process is different for every silkscreen artist, the basics are roughly the same, as ultimately you are trying to make a stencil for ink to pass through onto paper (for printmaking) or a t-shirt, etc.

1. Create a design of one or more colors.

2. Separate each color onto it’s own film positive or transparency either by hand or with a computer program such as Photoshop or Illustrator (I prefer the latter).

The screenprinting process

3. “Burn” that separated image, again one for each color, onto your screen, these days most screenprinting processes involve a photo-emulsion coating on the screens that allows the image to be transferred to the screen thus creating a stencil. By exposing your film positive and an emulsion-coated screen to a light source, you are making the stencil. Once your screen is fully exposed, you hose the screen down and the areas where your film positive covered the emulsion coated screen rinse away, leaving you with a perfect stencil for that one color. Have a design with more than one color? Do it all again for each color!

4. Once your screen is dry, it’s finally time to print. Phew! Using a squeegee, you pull ink across the stencil in your screen, transferring ink to the item you are printing on below, one print and one color at time color in a series of consecutive layers. If I am working on a 3-color poster in an edition of 100 that is red, pink, and grey, I would print the red onto 100 sheets of paper, then print pink 100 times, and then print the grey areas 100 times. I actually print all by hand too; you can’t get a whole lot more old-fashioned than that.

It’s a funny way to think about color and design because it’s very methodical, repetitive and broken out into pieces in terms of color, unlike painting or more straightforward illustration techniques. I definitely find myself influenced by two seemingly irreconcilable worlds: Nature and the very representational, almost anti-realistic illustration styles of the late 1950’s through the early 1970’s. I love that I can look at a beautiful, extremely textural and complicated real life forest, or an elephant, and then reduce all of those bits of color variations, shapes and textures into exceedingly simple shapes by rejecting realism as illustrators of the past did so playfully to make a completely new scene. Does it look like what my eye sees? No. But, I sometimes wish that my actual real world surroundings could look so abstract and mod. I love the flatness of screenprinting, where layering inks over each other can create a (very) faux-depth that’s impossible to get from other mediums.

(See more photos from strawberryluna’s screenpriting process here!)

A print using the "overlay" technique, to show off different layers of color

What are your favorite type of pieces to create?

We really love working on just about anything if it’s fun, truth be told. Aside from book jackets, we also illustrate and design art prints, rock posters, t-shirts and I dabble in textile design patterns too. Art prints are really freeing to design and print for sure, as you are making something exactly as you wish without any changes imposed from a client. However, I also think that they are the hardest pieces to work on as well. Whenever we’re working on a rock poster, book cover, CD art, and other commissioned pieces there is a problem to solve that has been presented for you. Namely, create a visual component of that band’s music or that book’s story in a way that communicates something to the viewer. That initial challenge is great and you already have a starting point at the blank page stage. When you are sitting down to start a new art print, that is a piece that is not for anyone else’s approval, it can be really daunting because you’re constantly asking “Why?” about every aspect of the layout during the creation process. We try to invest a narrative into every piece that we design, even if it’s not abundantly clear to the viewer what the tale is, I think it’s important to have that storyline in your head as an artist so that things fit together properly.

Tell us a little about what went into designing the covers for SISTERS RED and SWEETLY. How did you get started? Were there any alternate designs you considered first?

An early design for the "Sisters Red" cover

Funny enough, one day right out of the blue, a Creative Director from Little, Brown & Co. (Jackson Pearce’s publisher) to design the cover for Sisters Red, and that was one of the most thrilling client calls I’ve ever had. She had seen our work in a book about Gig Posters and rock poster artists. The Creative Director Tracy & I talked extensively throughout the entire process, which probably took about 2 months in total. We definitely did many alternate illustrations before reaching the cover you see now. I’d say we worked on a good 10-12 different illustrations, with revisions to a few of those, and many revisions to the final version before all was said and done. It was a great experience and I definitely learned a lot along the way and had a lot of fun working on the Sisters Red cover. We’re really happy with how it turned out in the end too, and we still have people contacting us after seeing the Sisters Red Cover.

For Sweetly, we were re-hired to do the cover and started working on it pretty quickly with a tighter deadline but under a different Creative Director. I think for that one we began with about 6 or 7 illustrations according to the CDs direction. We were about 6 weeks into that process when she let us know that they were going in another direction. We were definitely bummed! As it turns out, the final Sweetly cover looks very much like one of our first comps, so I can only assume that we were not that far off base after all, which is great. Though, of course I wish that we had been able to complete that cover design and have 2 covers for Jackson Pearce and Little, Brown under our belts officially. Naturally!

Jackson’s next book in this series is a twist on the Little Mermaid story. Assuming you guys will also create the cover for that book (FATHOMLESS), do you have any ideas of what you’d want it to look like?

I love Jackson’s work, and being a huge fan of fairy & folk tales (I seriously read old collections of them for fun), it’s been wonderful working on the covers for her books. I feel a real kinship to the feel of her stories. At this point, I’m not sure if we are working on Fathomless or not, though I would jump at the chance in a heartbeat. We’ll just have to see! If we aren’t the cover illustrators, I certainly hope that it is someone who can do her story justice as we’ve tried to do.

A Death Cab for Cutie poster designed by strawberryluna

Where else can people see your artwork and how can they get their hands on it?

The World Wide Web! I have a website with a selection of our design work (definitely including Sisters Red!), rock posters and art prints here and I also maintain an Etsy shop too!

Anything else you’d like to tell us? Here’s your chance!

Do something fun every day. Make sure not to sweat the small stuff. And be kind. It makes the world that much lovelier and brighter.

Thanks so much for the opportunity to talk with the Novel Novice readers and chat about our work and Jackson Pearce’s novels.

And thanks to Allison at strawberryluna for chatting with us!

Here are a few of my favorite pieces from their work:

For the comments: Have you checked out strawberryluna’s work? Any favorites?

Sara | Novel Novice
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One response to “Sweetly by Jackson Pearce: Cover Artist Spotlight

  1. Love Strawberry Luna! My fav, but really, it’s just so hard to love one more than the other is the sell-out Going to See My Baby bicycle poster. It’s just care-free + happy! Then again, a lot of Strawberry Luna work has that vibe. Thanks for the sneak peek.

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