Today I am extremely thrilled and honored to introduce to you the cover artist of Crazy, Richard Tuschman, who has graciously taken time out from his busy schedule to answer a few questions.
LP: Welcome, Richard! Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to choose a career in art.
RT: I grew up in the 1960’s in a leafy suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Perhaps not surprisingly, as a child I liked to draw a lot, at first mostly sports heroes, then later as a teenager, pretty embarrassing portraits of rock musicians. I also loved looking through my parents’ and grandparents’ photo albums. Perhaps this explains my strong connection to the early-mid twentieth century time period. My father was a businessman, and though my mom took up painting later in life, as a child I did not have any “art” role models. I was fortunate to have a high school art teacher who was very encouraging, and by the time I entered college at the University of Michigan in 1974, I knew I wanted to spend my life making art. I spent one semester in Liberal Arts, after which I transferred to the art school there, and that was it.
LP: When I first peeked on your website shortly after Eerdmans told me you would be doing my cover, I was ecstatic to see your Hopper Meditations because, as you know, I mention Hopper in my book and he happens to be one of my all-time favorites. I’ve been dying to know if that was a fluke, or if it had any effect on your selection to do my book jacket.
RT: While the reference to Hopper certainly did not hurt, I would have wanted to work on the jacket anyway, because I loved the story. But the fact that you love Hopper, as I do, probably means that we both see things a certain way. Though his pictures are very quiet and understated, there is a lot of emotion and humanity just beneath the surface. I would imagine you would more or less agree with that.
LP: You use digital imaging in your Hopper Meditations and in much of your work. Tell us about the process involved.
RT: Let me give you a little history first. I have always been interested in blending photography with other media. When I was in art school, before there were computers, I did a lot of photo-etching and photo lithography. I also did a lot of mixed media pieces that combined painting and photography. One of my first jobs when I moved to New York, after art school, was working in an architectural supply store. Inspired by the model-making materials there, I began making small diorama constructions that resembled miniature stage sets. They also made use of painting and collage. By the late 1980s I was supporting myself as a graphic designer, creating print promotions for HBO. It was there that I was introduced to computer graphics and the Macintosh. When the first version of Photoshop was introduced in 1990, it changed my life. Right away, I loved that I could seamlessly blend scanned painted textures, personal photographs, and all manner of found scraps and printed materials, with complete control over opacity, contrast, and color.
I quickly developed a working method that felt very analogous to painting and printmaking. Instead of applying layer upon layer of paint, I am continually adding and re-working layers of images, colors, and textures; trying different opacities and blending strategies. I use a stylus and a pressure sensitive tablet so it feels very intuitive.
For the Hopper series, the majority of my time is spent building and photographing the physical miniature sets, as opposed to trying to create them in Photoshop. Still, the end result would be impossible without the control and flexibility that the digital process offers. The sequence goes like this: first I build the diorama to nail down the setting and the light source in the scene (usually window light), so that I know how to pose and light the live model. Then I will photograph the live model. This usually takes a full day, with lots of posing and lighting variations, along with a few wardrobe changes. This way I have some options, and enough raw material for several montages. Next, I will photograph the diorama, doing the best I can to match the lighting to that of the live model photos. I use little wood mannequins as stand-ins for the live models which makes the job easier. Once I think I have the lighting right, I will remove the mannequin so that I have an empty room, properly lit, in which to insert the image of the live model in Photoshop. Photoshop gives amazing control when I blend the live model with the miniature room, so that I can exactly match the sharpness, grain, color, and contrast convincingly. I will also retouch some of the seams and imperfections in the diorama, play with the colors, and carefully paint the necessary shadows.
LP: Did you use a form of digital imaging on Crazy, or a totally different process? And I know how many revisions I’ve done as the author. Did you hit upon the present image right away, or were there many preliminary sketches before deciding which way to go?
RT: For the Crazy cover, I actually used the same method as for the Hopper images, combining a miniature table top scene with a live model, along with a couple of existing photos. The bridge is a railroad model I purchased and painted, and the water I made with acrylic glossy medium and paint. The pelican is a stock photo, and the sky is from my personal archive. The girl I photographed in my studio, then I put everything together in Photoshop. I did a bunch of sketches, but I always liked this one best. I love working on projects that need to convey some emotional weight, so as you might imagine, I really loved working on this! (Note: click on picture to zoom in).
LP: What is the first step in the process of matching an illustrator to an author’s work? Do you read the book and decide whether to take it on or turn it down, or are you hired and then assigned the book?
RT: As with the Crazy cover, it is usually the publisher’s art director who will approach the illustrator who’s style they think is a good match for the project. In my experience, their instincts are usually on target, and I rarely turn jobs down because I think they are a bad fit, though it happens occasionally. I will base my decision on the art director’s brief, but after I have accepted the job, I always prefer to read the manuscript if it is available, because I really want to immerse myself in the subject matter. Unfortunately, many times the manuscript is not available for the artist to read, so I only have a synopsis and some provided reference. I think this puts everyone at a disadvantage, because then it becomes a bit of a hit-or-miss guessing game.
LP: I’ve always been mystified about why the author and illustrator are not “invited” to discuss the cover. As the illustrator, what benefits and/or drawbacks would you envision if you had an option to have the author’s input. You won’t hurt my feelings either way!
RT: On almost all of the covers I work on the authors have some degree of input, and sometimes the right to approve or reject, and I think this is fair. I always want the author to be happy, because I want to think of the finished work as a collaboration, and I like to think of my work as serving the author’s purpose, rather than just pretty packaging to sell a product. That said, in terms of process, it probably is best that in most cases the art director acts as the intermediary, since it is he or she who is responsible for tying all of the visuals together.
LP: I have a confession to make. I was confused when I first saw the cover, because it was not the bridge I have in my head, which is based on a real bridge. Then after it was explained to me that it was a conceptual bridge, I was in awe of that brilliant idea and totally in love with it (as have been many others!) Did Eerdmans “encourage” a conceptual picture or was that totally your interpretation?
RT: Eerdmans gave me total freedom, which is how I most like to work. Usually there is a good preliminary discussion just to make sure I am not headed off in the wrong direction, but I take responsibility for the “conceptual” bridge. Truth be told, in this case they probably did a better job of selling you on the “conceptual” bridge than I would have. Had I known you envisioned a different bridge, I probably would have tried to create that bridge. But I like this bridge, especially the way the title works with the arch. I also wanted a bridge where you could see some details of the girl, the bridge itself, and the water below.
LP: You’ve done a number of book covers, including the 2011 Newbery winner, Moon Over Manifest. I’m sure that one stands out in your mind as a favorite. Can you share a little about that process?
RT: It is funny you should mention that cover, because that is one of my favorites, and the process for that image was very different from what I have just been describing. The publisher, Random House, knew exactly what they wanted on that cover (the 12 year old protagonist walking down a railroad track), so I had very little freedom, I suppose. But in this case it did not feel at all stifling, because even if I had not been assigned that cover, it is an image I would have wanted to make anyway. Also, in relation to a lot of my other work, there is very little digital manipulation involved, mostly just some subtle textures and color enhancement to the original photograph. I was fortunate to have found the perfect 12 year old model, who was the daughter of friends of mine. I remember one of the most time consuming parts of that project was “distressing” the brand new overalls so that they looked sufficiently “depression-era” worn. The story took place in Kansas, and at the time of the assignment I was living in Florida, where I took the photograph. Fortunately, Florida was flat enough to be a convincing stand-in, though I think I had to digitally remove a palm tree or two.
LP: You don’t just do book covers. Can you tell us a little about some of your other projects?
RT: I am working on a new series that is set in Poland during the late 1920s to early ’30s, pre-World War II, pre-Holocaust. The architecture there, and some family history, really inspired me. Kraków, the city where my wife grew up, survived World War II intact. It is a beautiful old city, and many of the buildings are from the Renaissance period or even much earlier than that.
This series uses the same “diorama” technique as the Hopper series, but I’m hoping to imply a more connected narrative from image to image, though still ultimately open ended. It will also feature an expanded cast of characters.
LP: I know that I have a whole new appreciation of book covers and their creators, and as a debut author, I could not be more thrilled to be able to say Richard Tuschman did my cover. Thank you, Richard!
Congratulations to Miriam Franklin who won the drawing for the swag packet from Tara Dairman, author of All Four Stars, featured on last week’s blog.