The Process of Process: Sammy Keyes Book Cover for Random House

I just finished up another pair of front and back book cover illustrations for the latest in the Sammy Keyes series by author Wendelin Van Draanen. Sammy Keyes is sort of your modern Nancy Drew. She is always getting herself into trouble while solving mysteries. She’s precocious, smart and a little bit edgy. This will be my sixth or seventh cover for this series. It has been a pleasure to work with the folks at Random House over the past several years, and I really like the characters and story lines in the Sammy Keyes books.

The name of this book is The Wedding Crasher. Here is the story synopsis and initial book cover concept from my art director:

In The Wedding Crasher,  Sammy is a (reluctant) bridesmaid and she brings down a crook who loves Harleys. So, we thought it would be comical to show Sammy in her big poofy lavendar bridesmaid dress, riding a Harley hog (perhaps like she’s late for the wedding— going fast, dress billowing out behind her…).

A few details to keep in mind:
• Sammy is 13 years old. Not big, so she’d look small on the motorcycle
• The bike should be really macho
• The bridesmaid’s dress is described as: “lacy, lavender, short puffy sleeves, long puffy skirt, big puffy bow” —very fairytale princessy/fairy godmother-like
• If Sammy’s feet show, then she should be wearing her trademark high-top Converse sneakers
• Plus, we want to keep Sammy mysterious, so let’s have her wear a full helmet, so we avoid showing her face

So, I started with the image of Sammy, a 13 year old girl, screaming by on a gnarly motorcycle, late to a wedding.  I hadn’t yet read the manuscript, but I had this scenario to work with, along with another incident in the book describing a dead rat wearing a dog collar and tag which reads, “Die Dude.” So you see, this is an interesting assignment with little to go on except for the guidance of the art director.

Here is my initial sketch of Sammy on a motorcycle in a full helmet, carrying a bridesmaid’s bouquet of flowers. I drew the sketch on a WACOM tablet.

The designers also wanted to see some rats.  This is the really fun part  for me. I enjoy developing characters.

My art director reviewed the preliminary sketches and wrote back a few days later,

In terms of the cover, the author is now having reservations about showing Sammy, even though most of her face is hidden. That being the case, we’d like to try a new angle. Instead, we’d like to feature a biker dude holding a very girly bouquet—someone who looks like he’s a wedding crasher. Some key features we thought would be funny to include are: classic biker—big burly guy, helmet with goggles on top, do-rag, leather jacket, and a bouquet with some frilly lace attached. There’s no facial description, so please go with whatever you feel fits.

No problem! But I needed to do some research on big, burly biker dudes.  This guy was perfect!

Can you see the resemblance!?  I did a couple versions, one using my WACOM stylus and the second one with a traditional dip pen and India ink.

Since I had the green light to proceed with the rat, I imported the line art into Adobe Illustrator, Live-traced it and added color.

The art director chose the second drawing of the biker dude. So, like the rat, I imported it, converted to a vector file and colored it in Illustrator.

The art director felt the tattoos and some of my color choices made the art a bit too dark. She also wanted to emphasize that the flowers were supposed to be a wedding bouquet, and needed me to make the bouquet more “girly-girly” to really contrast with the burly biker.

I took my original line art, removed the tatts from the biker dude and redrew the bouquet. I also recolored the goggles and bandana as requested by my art director.  Here is the final art.

This assignment was super fun to do. I had great people to work with and I look forward to seeing The Wedding Crasher soon on the shelf at Powell’s.

12 Responses to “The Process of Process: Sammy Keyes Book Cover for Random House”

  1. Bucky says:

    Karl, this is an awesome post with awesome artwork and insight into the whole process! Thanks so much for sharing and congrats on these wonderful assignments!

  2. Mikey P says:

    What a fantastic project and it sure looks like you had fun–great Illus’s and characters. One minor point and I’m being real anal here–biker photo–looks like the V twin is an old Shovelhead. Illustration–looks like it’s the newer Evo engine. But what the heck, it’s all great stuff.
    Love it.
    Cheers Karl
    Mikey P

  3. It is wonderful…. Great artwork….

  4. Hello Karl
    Great artwork as usual. I am glad to get to “meet” the creator of the covers for Wendelin’s work. I love her books and especially her characters, as I can tell you do too.

  5. Lucy says:

    i’ve always wondered who did the artwork for the Sammy Keyes series, and now i know! just wanted to let you know that i think the artwork is amazing, with just the right amount of humor that a sammy keyes series would require. thanks so much for making me smile everytime i pick up my SK books!

  6. Caradith Craven says:

    I really enjoyed reading this blog and finding out about the process you went through to create the latest Sammy Keyes cover. I love the concept of the biker holding the wedding bouquet–very creative. The covers of the books are fun and creative…just like the characters and storylines in Wendelin’s books. Thanks so much for sharing.

  7. Emma says:

    There are few things I am obsessed with in life but Sammy Keyes is one of them. I’d just like to thank you for making the books even more enjoyable, I couldn’t imagine reading Sammy Keyes without a cover (it would be kind of strange actually).
    Gracias, (thank you in Spanish, I’m not sure why)

  8. Steph says:

    Wow, this was actually really interesting to, like, get a look at the whole process. That’s really cool and pretty amazing art. Good work! 🙂

  9. Ryan says:

    Thanks! I really enjoyed reading about how cover art is created! Thanks for “covering” the topic! =)

    — Ryan

  10. kingsly says:

    I love all of your sammy keyes covers! great job!

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