For the launch of The Fourth Sage at the end of June, I thought I’d sit down with the people closely involved in its production. I’m starting with Lawrence Mann, illustrator and cover designer who, besides drawing and creating mind blowing book covers, drew the map for the story. If you haven’t checked out his website, you must. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to have met him. And that’s the beauty of the indie publishing community: there he is, somewhere in a studio in the UK, drawing away and I somehow get hold of his name. We started emailing back and forth and he agreed to draw a map for the book.
SB: Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. I know you’re very busy and I appreciate you taking the time.
LM: It’s a pleasure. I’m always more than happy to talk illustration.
SB: When was the first time you realized you wanted to be an illustrator? Was it a gradual process or did it hit you one day and you knew that this is what you wanted to do?
LM: Some kids can draw. It’s just a natural talent. I was lucky enough to have people around me who noticed that skill and pushed me in the right direction very early on. I was taught three-point-perspective when I was nine years old at junior school by one of my teachers. I’ve drawn every day of my life and became a professional illustrator at the age of 17 when I graduated Art College. Later, I went into advertising because I wanted more of a mental challenge, which was great. I worked my way up the ranks and winning a few awards along the way. Now I’ve chosen to focus once again on my first love – illustration. And the skills I learned in advertising really helped me to realize that the illustrations I create are a marketing tool for my clients and not just pretty pictures.
SB: First love, you’ll always come back to it one way or another ;-). I saw on your site that you work in Photoshop. What kind of mediums do you use? Do you draw by hand first and then scan it? For example, you did the cover for Immagica, which is incredible, in my opinion. Do you start with a sketch or do you begin with an existing image? Can you walk me through the process a bit?
LM: When working on a book cover, I’ll start by talking to the author in detail about the book and it’s themes rather than just what’s going to go on the cover. As often as possible, I’ll ask to read the book or at least sections of it that might help me in me quest to make readers pluck it from the shelf.
I ask the author or Art Director involved to supply me with reference images once we’ve selected the perfect scene from the manuscript to depict. Sometimes they know exactly what they want on the cover and sometimes I’m able to make suggestions, aimed at the books target audience, that might help sales. I always feel that the cover should tell a story that makes the reader want to know what happens next and that’s why I’ll often suggest specific scenes.
Only after talking all of this through properly and gathering enough reference material will I start my detailed sketching, which these days I do straight away on the computer with my trusty Wacom Cintiq. It’s a 22″ drawing tablet with a screen built in that allows me paint and draw effortlessly. I do use Photoshop but recently I’ve been exploring the possibilities of Corel Painter which looks absolutely amazing I have to say.
Once the sketches are complete and we’ve ironed out the finer detailed and made any changes, usually small thanks to the prep work, I’ll start in on the polished piece.
SB: Do you have a specific time of day where you do your best work? Do you listen to music or do you need quiet?
LM: I mostly paint from the time I wake up until the time I go to sleep every day of the week. I have to be forced to do everything else. I prefer to work at night like a lot of others I’ve spoken to but I’m not sure why. I just seem to get more done.
I don’t draw while watching TV or listen to music. I do however love listening to audio books while working. If I can, I’ll convert the manuscripts I get into audio-files and play those while I paint. Sometimes I’ll have heard the book six or seven times over by the time I’ve completed the cover. It’s brilliant. You have to put up with the computerized voice but the one I use is pretty sophisticated and I don’t mind it at all. I know many cover artists don’t get to read the books so this really helps me to create a piece that is in tune with the tone of the book. That way, the reader won’t be disappointed.
SB: I love the idea of listening to the book while you draw. That’s brilliant and should get you really deep into the story. For this next question, allow yourself to dream. What would be your ideal situation? Who would you love to have for a client? Would you like to write a book about illustration or would you like to be art director on the next Peter Jackson movie? What are some of the more lofty dreams you hold?
LM: Haha. That’s a great question! Having been an illustrator who’s already gone away to do other things and then come back, I can safely say that there’s no place quite like home. A rOtring pencil in one hand and sketchbook in the other (when I’m not locked in my studio). My dream job however would be to illustrate the cover for my favorite book of course; John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids – Published by Penguin. I have six copies of the book including a much loved first edition and a brilliantly illustrated Folio copy which was given to me by an author whose book I illustrated the cover of. That is the reason I love illustrating book covers. Because it means so much to the people involved. When you do a good job, clients, writers, editors, they say thank you and they mean it. Once the job is finished you have this physical object in your hand with your name on it and if you put in that extra bit of time then maybe you even get a thank you in the acknowledgements too. I’d say that’s why publishing is a dream job for me, or any illustrator!
SB: What do you like to do outside of work? What are some of your favorite places you hang out? Any hobbies besides illustration? You have a secret talent for baking apple pie? Tell me a little bit about you outside of work.
LM: Erm… well, I like to draw. Other stuff that I’ve not been commissioned to draw I mean. I do occasionally sculpt things out of wood which is fun but that’s very rarely. Mainly I just draw and paint. As for places that I like to hang out, I do go out occasionally for a break, to get away from it all and stop staring at my screen. I go to life drawing sessions a few times a month. It’s a great way to unwind while at the same time, sharpening my skills. I know what you’re thinking and yes, I’ve been told it before. Unless you like drawing, I’m not much fun to be around!
SB: Hey, I doubt that last point very much. You seem like a fun guy to hang out with. Is there anything you’re currently working on that you would like to share with us?
LM: I’ve got a really nice piece that I finished a month ago. I’m dying to show it off to the world but I can’t because I’m waiting for client feedback. I’ve got some other work too but I can’t show any of that off at the moment either. It’s a shame but that’s the way it works sometimes. All very top secret. Hopefully I’ll be able to show something real soon though. A German publishing company is just about to print a tutorial I’ve written about my art and my work has also made the cover of the book – So that’s great. It should hit the shelves in a month or two. Even if I won’t be able to read a word of it.
SB: That’s great! I’d love to read it, Lawrence. Hey, it was awesome chatting with you. Any final thoughts you might have, feel free to share.
LM: ‘I’ll send you a copy when it’s released! Make sure to track me down on Twitter & LinkedIn as well as Facebook. I get all of my work through word of mouth so social media is important. That’s why doing tutorials is such a great way to get my name out there. I can’t wait to read The Fourth Sage. I have a shelf here in the studio with a copy of every book I’ve ever worked on. It’s a long shelf with some really great books on it! Yours will be a welcome addition. There’s also a space on the door which would be great for a brass plaque.’
SB: Thanks, Lawrence. Much success in the future. I’m sure our paths will cross again soon.