Monday, March 19, 2012

Lucky Luis: Children's Book Cover Step-By-Step

I'm really excited to share the latest book that I illustrated, LUCKY LUIS, which was written by the great Gary Soto. It came out on March 1st. It's a story of a little league baseball player that develops a superstitious routine before playing each game. 

Many do not know, but Gary Soto actually gave me some of my first illustration work out of college. This was back when I was working on my comic, Pablo's Inferno and desperately trying to find work in the field that I studied: Illustration. Gary enlisted a friend and I to illustrate covers for a special series of Chicano 'zines, The Chicano Chapbook Series, which was a huge honor to take part of. Gary edited, funded, and distributed these books on his own, in hopes of trying to get more exposure to up and coming writers.  I always thought that this was an amazing way of giving back, Gary himself being a legendary Chicano writer, and taking steps himself to introducing emerging writers. Fast forward 15 years later and our amazing editor matches us up by coincidence to work on the same book! I hope you'll give this book a chance, I'm very proud of it and the opportunity to work with Gary again, after all these years.

I've always enjoyed seeing what goes into making a painting or an illustration by other artist's tutorials, so I thought I'd attempt one myself. I've always meant to do one, but this was the first time that I remembered and had a camera handy. Let's start with the sketch.

The first steps in the process of doing the cover for LUCKY LUIS, was coming up with different sketches and different ideas. I even played with a baseball-type logo for the title in these sketches.

Another cover sketch that was similar to the final cover, but not as exciting.

 I sent them to my editor at Putnam and she suggested we go with this one of  Luis reaching for the ball, in a forced perspective shot. This was the original loose sketch that I submitted and I was asked to flip it. The reason for flipping it was to have it read more clear and have the action happen from left to right- good suggestion!

Here's the sketch flipped and ready to transfer onto the canvas. A little backstory is that these characters were supposed to be regular kids, but my editor suggested we try animals. I chose rabbits to play up the LUCK and superstitious qualities, to reinforced the story.

Next, I add a sepia- colored wash over the canvas to kill the white of the canvas and serve as my underpainting. I pick a canvas big enough to leave room on each side for the bleed, so it can get cropped later.

Once dry, I transfer the drawing with carbon paper onto the now sepia-colored canvas. 

I had a color copy nearby of another illustration in the book to serve as a guide to the colors and also the setting. This scene takes place towards the end of the story, so I wanted to use the same family members, bleacher stand, trees, clouds, etc. for the cover. 

Here we are a few steps ahead. You can start to see the background take shape. I'm using mostly Liquitex acrylics and some Golden brand paints. I purposely use a canvas over just an illustration board, to try and keep the texture to reproduce with the final printing. Also, just a side note: I highly recommend the paint palette/container seen on the right. It's called Sta-Wet Premeir Palette by Masterson and if you use any acrylics, this thing keeps your paints moist while you paint and lasts for days when sealed. It has kept me from wasting paint/money and keep colors that I mix, fresh! 

Here's one more step.  It's getting closer at this point.  The spectators just need to be added along with some details.  For the spectators I try not to add any real dark colors to push them back. All the darks are kept for Luis to make him pop in the foreground.

Here it is, everything seems in place, now.

(Here's a close-up detail)

That wasn't the best step-by-step, but hopefully an okay first attempt. I would get in the zone sometimes while I was painting, and forget to take pictures! Well, thanks for reading and don't forget to pick-up or check-out LUCKY LUIS from the library! Thanks everyone! If I missed anything or you have any questions about process, please ask in the comments section.


  1. This is great, thanks for sharing.

    One question I have is in regards to the title on the final cover. It fits really good, with that one rabbit's ear covering a part of the 'S' in 'Luis'. Did you have an idea of what the final title would look like? And did you yourself design the whole cover, art as well as graphics?

  2. I've just found your blog and It has been such a pleasure to discover your work. Truely inspirational. Thanks for sharing!!

  3. Awesome, thank you Rhode !

  4. Javier-Good question, thank you. Usually it's the designer that handles the title logo and placement. Early on, I tried a few logos that I felt were in the spirit of the book. I'm not sure if it helped in the end, but I'm very happy with the title logo and also the little touches that you noticed.

    Javo- Thanks for the kind words and thanks for visiting!

    Sho- Thank YOU!

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