When the Butterflies Came - Process

When the Butterflies Came Final wraparound cover

I wanted to share the wraparound illustration for When the Butterflies Came, and thought this would also be a good opportunity to share my process for anyone interested.

Even though this is a wraparound, and I'll need to illustrate the back cover, most of my sketches addressed the front cover first. My brief was simple- a girl with long dark hair, standing on a beach as a swarm of butterflies flew all around her.
Secret Crappy Thumbnails

These are from my first round of very quick, rough thumbnails. I don't send these to the client, because they are too rough to really tell what's going on. I probably do 5-20 of these for a cover, as many or as few as it takes to figure out what I want. Sometimes I immediately know what I want to do for a cover, and sometimes I have to wrestle it until a composition makes sense.

After I know the composition I want, I do some drawings of the characters. In this case, there's only one character, and I draw a variety of outfits since I'm not sure how she should be dressed. The anatomy is still not perfect on these, but since I'll be scanning them and moving into Photoshop anyway, I just need a general idea to keep going.

I scan in my rough thumbnails and paint quick backgrounds in Photoshop. I decided to give the client a dressy version and a casual clothes version. For the extra 5th sketch at the bottom- This is a rare case where I neglect process entirely and just draw a composition I like until it works. I didn't thumbnail, didn't sketch her character out first, just fooled around in Photoshop and liked the result. As luck would have it, that's the thumbnail the client picked.

(Maybe that's why I don't do process posts, sometimes a ironclad process is best, but for me, the freedom to be spontaneous sometimes yields the best results.)
So, the art director has chosen that bottom sketch, but asked for a more panoramic beach vista. At this point, I need to start thinking about the back cover as well. I rework the composition and start painting. I also gather a lot of reference for lighting, figures, color, butterflies, dresses, etc. I have all of that open on my second monitor while I work, so I can quickly check it out if I'm stumped.

This is the first pass at color that I send to the art director. You can see the faint black lines that indicate the bleed and crop marks. I also have a layer in my file that I turn on to black out everything but the front cover so I can see exactly how it'll end up being cropped.

At this point, it's a lot of fine tuning. I think the butterflies look flat, and the cover is overall too pastel. I add some contrast in the lighting, and adding a light/dark side to the butterflies helps them feel more dimensional. Right before we wrap up, we decide to give the character a haircut, so now she has bangs. And with that, we're at a final cover.

Then, it's a lot of waiting until the cover appears online, and eventually in stores. It's always a thrill to see something get out of my studio and into the world. I look forward to seeing this one in stores early next year. Thanks!


Unknown said...

Love this cover! Great color palette and composition. Thanks for sharing some steps. I always love seeing process shots from other illustrators! =)

Sarah Laurence said...

Nice cover! It was interesting to see inside your process. I'm here from a link from Kimberly.

Sarah Watts said...

This is awesome Erin! Your work is magical;)

Sarah Watts said...
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Erin McGuire said...

Thank you everyone! Glad you like the cover :)

Amanda said...

I love your style! And seeing the process and all the different thumbnail options is always so much fun.