Monday, June 20, 2011

The Book’s Cover: An Interview with Illustrator Gérald Guerlais!

Since I got to reveal my cover on Friday and I'm still SUPER excited about it, I'm declaring this week Cover Blitz Week! First things first: here's a little insight into the man behind the cover art, illustrator extraordinaire Gérald Guerlais.

Sometime in December of 2010, I got an email from my editor with a link to an artist’s work. She wanted to know what I thought of having him do the cover of my book.

The link included work like this:

© 2011 Gerald Guerlais

And this:

© 2011 Gerald Guerlais

So my reaction was something like, ohmygodyesit’samazingpleaselet’sgethim.

Lucky me, Gérald said yes and a few months later, I had an amazing, gorgeous cover that I absolutely love.

Gérald and I had never spoken or met and, yet, I felt like he “got” my book and elevated it 1000% with his whimsical illustration. I wanted to contact him and get the skinny on his process. So, without further ado, here is my e-chat with the amazingly talented Gérald Guerlais (oui, he is French!).

Tell me a little bit about your background. What led you to becoming an illustrator?
I’ve been drawing since an early age. I read many French comics books [as a kid] and the illustrations always had a bigger impact on me. After I graduated high school, I went to an applied arts school in Paris (Ensaama, known as "Olivier de Serres" art school) where I studied visual communication, typography, and advertisements. I naturally focused on illustrations.

Let’s talk about the process you went through to create the cover for The Mapmaker and the Ghost. What happened after you accepted the offer to do it? Did you get a copy of the book to read? Did you get direction from the art director?
I received a summary of the book, describing precisely main characters and atmosphere, and the tones of the story. Then I suggested some compositions and designs to the artistic director. Then we talked; we exchanged ideas through emails. It is a collective process between the illustrator, the art director, and even the marketing team because they have the background in knowing what makes an attractive cover in bookstores. All points of view are welcome. We're on the same boat.

What are you looking for in a story to create a successful illustration for it?
I always try to catch the deep meaning, the spirit behind the words. As soon as you have been caught by a story, visions easily come to your mind. You are inspired.

There are a lot of wonderful elements going on in the cover. Do you have favorite part? Was there one part that was harder to nail than another?
On this cover, the challenge was the large number of characters. You don't want to lose them in the pictures. I also wanted to capture the duality between the groups of kids without Manichean results.

As writers, we go through a pretty extensive editing and revision process with our editors. What is the revision process like for an illustrator?
The chat between art director and illustrator is crucial. We have to make sure we are on the same page, that we are going in the same direction. We use common references. That can be a movie, another book, or pictures. We even sometimes use references just to show a direction we don't want to go in. Depending on the quality of talk, the revision process can be short or long :-)

When an illustrator is selected, he naturally brings his style, visual vocabulary, palettes, tones, etc. So, I would say about 50% of the work has been done when the illustrator has been hired.

But some art directors love to be surprised. There's no predictable recipe.

What are your favorite things to draw?
I would say Nice Monsters. Just because they’re easy for me. You don't have to respect anatomy or specific shapes when you create monsters. I like creating nice monsters with humoristic potential.

© 2011 Gerald Guerlais

What other sort of work do you do besides children’s books illustrations?
I am currently involved in a charity which involves creating an international collective art book with my Japanese friend Daisuke Tsutsumi. We’ve been doing it for about five years and it’s called Sketchtravel. You can have a look at the project by visiting


For more about Gérald, including more of his gorgeous portfolio, check out:

And stay tuned right here all week where I will be showing you early sketches of my cover, talking with amazing Bloomsbury art director Nicole Gastonguay, and even running a little giveaway!


  1. AMAZING work this fella does. He really has a wonderful knack for illustrating a particular mood along with that whimsy. Just fantastic!!!

  2. Amazing work! I wish he would redesign my blog. o_O Congrats on your cover...I love it!