As soon as Orca sent me a copy of the cover for Button Hill, I became an instant Serena Malyon fan. Serena is the artist / illustrator Orca hired to develop the artwork for the cover and jacket. Dekker and Riley seemed to have jumped out of the book the way I imagined them, and landed right on the cover.
Initially what I loved about the artwork was how Serena incorporated so many of my favourite characters and places from the book. For me it has the feel of a map, one you can follow to tell a story. One reader at a school told me she liked to go back and forth between reading each chapter and then looking at the cover as she discovered new people and places. I think that’s the sign of a compelling cover: it helps the reader navigate the story, and provide a dimension to the story the reader might not have found on his or her own.
I was always curious about how an artist goes about creating a book cover, so I asked Serena about her creative process in coming up with the Button Hill cover. Here’s what she had to say:
Michael: what are the steps that go into creating the artwork for a book cover like Button Hill?
1. The book publisher gives me the story to read. They tell me what sort of cover they’re looking for, in this case, Orca really wanted a cover that showed both dayside and nightside.
2. Reading the book is always a lot of fun. I really pay attention to descriptions of the characters and places, because I’ll have to draw them later. I also have to pay close attention to the story to make sure that the cover really represents the book. Once I’ve read the book and start making little drawings of what the cover could look like. I usually make 10-20 different drawings for each artwork!
3. Once I have a drawing that the publisher and I both like, I get to start painting. I work out what colours the cover should be by experimenting with different coloured paints. For Button Hill, I wanted to show bright, happy colours on Dayside and dark, creepy colours in Nightside to show how scary it is.
4. Once everything is figured out, I make the drawing really big and start painting! It takes me a few days to get the painting done. Then I scan it into my computer and edit it to make it look better. Sometimes I have to change things for the publisher, so working on the computer helps save me time. Then its done!
Michael: So many readers have told me that the characters and places you represented on the cover look just the way they imagined them in the story. I wondered if you had a favourite character in the book that you responded to as a reader? What was it that drew you to this character?
Serena: Dekker is probably my favourite character. I really liked how his character grew from an annoying older brother to a hero with big responsibilities. His dedication to his sister is something that I relate to as well, as I have a younger sister and would gladly face the beasts of Nightside for her.
Michael: What I loved about the cover was how you incorporated so many of the key places that Dekker and Riley go to into the artwork. Looking at the cover now, I feel like the cover describes the journey they go on, but in a visual way. I know you’ve read extensively in the mythology / fairy tale / adventure genres, and done a lot of (really cool) illustrations inspired by these stories. I wondered if there were any places in the Button Hill story that reminded you of other places you have illustrated in the past?
Serena: That question is a tricky one. I’ve never read a book with a fantasy world quite like Nightside. Usually the books I’ve read stick to creepy castles or haunted houses, but Nightside had a little bit of everything. I wish I could have added more to the illustration, but I kept making it too crowded! I also wanted to have the 7-11 in the illustration but, you know, copyright issues. It didn’t really remind me of many places I’ve painted in the past, and I found that really fun.
Michael: I’m writing the sequel to Button Hill now. What would you like to see happen in the next part of the story?
Serena: Ooh, in the next part of the story? I’d love to see more adventures with Harper. And, if I remember correctly, they opened the train station at the end of the book, right? I think the possibility of venturing even further into death is really intriguing.
On Serena’s own blog, she created a step-by-step photo journal of her creation of another book-related piece: The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman. if you’re interested in seeing how a book can become art, you should definitely check out these progress shots – very cool – I love the overlapping perspectives and fragmentation of the landscape in some of these. Here’s one of my favorites:
If you liked the cover of Button Hill as much as I did, you should check out the rest of Serena Malyon’s work here.