Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Cover for Hairt Before Dawn or It All Started with a Dog

Hairt Before Dawn written by Grace E. Howell

Cover Art by Alison Davis Lyne

You could say it all started with a dog.....this old mutt of a coon hound called Copper Top.....who was wandering around in our neighborhood, looking for his lost love.

But that wouldn't be exactly right. It really started when I got an email from an old SCBWI friend Grace Howell, who had just finished her novel, Hairt Before Dawn and wanted me to illustrate the cover. We discussed the concept for the cover and Grace sent me the book jacket blurb: 

Darkness hides evil lurking to destroy.

In 1904, the Black Patch Wars set neighbor against neighbor in a violent struggle between tobacco farmers and against big business. Fifteen-year-old Harriette Lindstrom, known as dumb Hairt, is caught up in the conflict. But nothing can stop Hairt—not blindness, ridicule nor shunning, not fire demons nor the evil Mr. Dayton. Determined to prove her worth, she follows the spirit of Maybelle her birth mother and leaves the farm, her adopted family, and her faithful coonhound Mutt. At blind school, her dream becomes a nightmare. Only the song in her heart, her love for the boy with the magic voice, and her strong will can pull her through the burning fires of rejection and isolation to face the guns of the dreaded Night Riders.

So with the concept of showing Hairt holding her arms open for her faithful coonhound Mutt, in place, I pulled some reference photos I had on file. I pulled the pic of our neighborhood coonhound, and one of some local woods in a mysterious dawn light, along with a old family pic from Grace Howell. She had drawn the inspiration of how the main character, Hairt, would look from that photo, and I just loved the image. Here I have just started painting the back lit dawn kissed woods. The soft dawn light would be brushed over the dark trees later.

I painted the cover image at a bit bigger than the required size for the cover, 6 x 9 inches allowing enough “wiggle” room for the printer to comfortably place the title and cover text. 

Now you can see most all the important bits are in place, the woods lit with a soft dawn glow, and a bit of a blueish mist of the loving spirit of Hairt's mother, faithful coonhound Mutt and of course Hairt herself.

Now comes the moment of truth for an illustration, when you remove the tape holding the bristol board down to the rigid board, and see what it all looks like. You can see a small bit of buckling from some juicy acrylic washes....but the bristol board does lay flat in the scanner bed.....whew!

One bit of detail in the cover I particularly like is Hairt's gaze. Hairt is going blind, and she wouldn't see very well in early dawn light....yet knowing Mutt is close.....she turns towards the dog, but gazes right past Mutt. This bitty detail gives a hint to the casual viewer that something is a bit “off” with Hairt to provoke the thought of “what's going on here?”

I really love doing book covers. Talented authors, like Grace Howell, get the fun of writing all the lovely bits of their story using many thousands of words. Us book cover illustrators only get the proverbial “one picture is worth a thousand words”, to render a snapshot of the book. 

Here's a link to the book: 

Here's a link to Grace Howell's webpage: