Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

Illustrators can be a Writer’s Best Friend – Guest Blog from Vonnie Winslow Crist

Written By: Tracy - Mar• 27•12

Most writers do not illustrate their own work. They rely on magazine editors, art directors, and/or the publisher to select the artist who will interpret their words. More often than not, the author won’t see the art to be used with their story or on the cover of their book until after it’s been printed. And they rarely meet the illustrator. In fact, many publishers discourage communication between writer and illustrator, because they want the artist to bring an untainted vision to the project. And that’s scary for the author. But take it from an illustrator – we’re nervous, too!

In the case of a magazine cover, the cover artist usually isn’t representing any particular story in the issue. Rather, she has painted (or rendered using another media) an image that represents the theme of the magazine. Magazine covers are often done on-spec, with ample space left uncluttered for the title of the publication and the names of the featured authors. If the cover illustration “matches” your story in a magazine – it’s usually a lucky coincidence!

Interior artwork is a different story. Although an appropriately-themed illustration done in the magazine’s preferred illustration size might be bought, more likely, the artist is given a piece of writing to interpret. Art directors and editors encourage artists to select a visually exciting image from the narrative to illustrate. Easy, right? Not always. The illustration needs to represent characters and action from the story, it needs to lure the readers into the tale, and it shouldn’t give away the ending. A good illustrator is a writer’s best friend, because well-done art can entice readers to take a look at a story.

Book covers are tricky. Unless you’ve been contracted by an author who’s self-publishing, it’s unlikely the artist will communicate with the writer. Instead, you often get a summary from the art director along with the size needed: the front cover, a portion of the front cover, or a wrap around image. Wrap around images are the most challenging since the painting is really split into two. It needs to appear “complete” when a reader looks at the front or back cover.

Recently, one of my watercolors ended up being used for 2 front covers. The editor of “Scifaikuest” wanted to use a portion of the right half of the painting for her cover. The editor at Cold Moon Press liked the left half of the painting for the cover of an eShort (though she wanted the image a little pinker). I scanned the painting, split it in two, adjusted the tint of the left half – and ta-dum – 2 covers. I’d still like to see the painting reproduced as one image – a calendar page perhaps!

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In the case of my book, “The Greener Forest,” the front and back cover paintings, though connected in theme and color, are 2 separate pieces of artwork. Why? I wanted the front and back covers to look like they were part of a handmade journal.


The cover for my next book, “Owl Light,” (due out from Cold Moon Press in late spring 2012) is a wrap around mixed water media painting. You can see that I’m beginning to tell a story with the artwork. The vivid colors and simplified image would also be appropriate for a children’s picture book. Picture books are the genre where an illustrator most needs to fill in the details in someone else’s story with artwork. Written for younger readers, a picture book’s text is less than 1,000 words. Usually – much less than 1,000 words. So the art is a part of the narrative.


Illustrators want to do a good job. They want to please the editor, writer, and readers. They use their talent and imagination to add another dimension to someone else’s words. If you’re given a chance to communicate with your illustrator – make suggestions, mention dislikes, and remember that she is a professional who’s doing her best to make your story even better by adding intriguing visual images.

Vonnie Winslow Crist is the author of “The Greener Forest,” a collection of fantasy short stories in which the world of Faerie collides with our workaday world: Visit her at or

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