Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 16, 2019

Two Art Directors in Action: How and Why Part Two

Two Art Directors in Action: The How and Why Part 2 by Dr. Mira Reisberg and Andrea Miller – Click here to read part One.

  1. The Typographic Process

Andrea: So THIS is really where I feel my job as a designer begins; since at my job I often only see the sketches, rather than thumbnails, I want to be sure that everything is fitting well. A lot of artists will submit sketches to me with placeholder type, and I find this is really great since I know they’re thinking about where the words will go- that saves me a lot of trouble! That said, sometimes the placement isn’t ideal, so I really adore when I get a set of sketches WITH type and without it. This is because I create dummies using the sketches that are delivered to me. I will mock up a few spreads with different font choices, generally about three, and those are sent to the editor for review and approval. Once we’ve picked a font that really captures the tone of the book, I lay out the entire thing, sometimes having to do small edits to the sketches so that they are adjusted to allow for the text. That dummy, once approved in-house, is sent back to the artist so that they can either make revised sketches for us to see and confirm, or so they can head into final art! Hand-lettering is more and more prevalent lately, and I LOVE that. My one bit of advice is that whether it’s the designer or the artist creating that lettering, it’s imperative to have it provided as a separate layer that can be toggled on and off in the computer. Always be thinking ahead to foreign editions! Having English words embedded into the artwork makes it a lot harder for translators who want to publish your book in, say, Korean or French.

  1. Full Size Color Art

Mira: next up is the full-size color art. Around this time, I ask the illustrator(s) to do some cover thumbnails and if they haven’t done front and back matter to do sketches for those too. Color can make or break a book. Some illustrators like a more muted palette, which I see as being more sophisticated and cool. Lisa Goldberg and Heather Bell are both currently illustrating books that I’m editing and art directing who favor more muted palettes.

Lisa Goldberg – Sadie’s Shabbat Stories. Written by Melissa Stoller.

Heather Bell – Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader. Written by Jolene Guitérrez.

Sandie Sonke and Sandra Steen Bartholomew use more vibrant palettes while Saki Tanaka, Sarah Momo Romero and Anika use a combination. Some of my favorite color combinations are those used by Chantelle and Burgen Thorne in The Real Farmer in the Dell, which are very retro looking, and John Seckman’s art for Jurassic Rat written by Eleanor Ann Peterson. I rarely make color suggestions except occasionally to warm it up if the story warrants it or to create more figure ground contrast between the characters and the backgrounds so we know what to focus on.

Sandie Sonke – Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush. Written by Melissa Stoller.

Sandy Steen Bartholomew – Ready! Set! GOrilla! Written by Melissa Stoller

Sarah Momo Romero Wake Up Little Bat


Chantelle and Burgen Thorne – The Real Farmer in the Dell. Written by Sandra Sutter.

John Seckman – Jurassic Rat. Written by Eleanor Ann Peterson

Before leaving my section on color, I want to mention the use of white space, which is something I love. Here’s a great example in Tisha Almas’s illustrations for I’ve Got a Cow Called Maureen, written by Erin leClerc.

Andrea, what are your feelings about color and helping illustrators use it effectively?


When I hire an illustrator, I generally have a feeling for what their palette might be based on their portfolio. Granted, if the book calls for something really unique, I’ll call that out in the sketch stage. I find that sketches, even when just line art, are where we should be doing a lot of the “thinking” about the illustration. What the values, the lighting, the mood are—those are things that we’ll want to have in mind at the outset. So, when we go to final art, nobody wants to have an unpleasant surprise where the finals look nothing like what we were anticipating and THAT is where that first test spread or piece at the outset really counts. Color, I think, is what really makes a book unique and what ties the mood all together. Establishing a palette early on is imperative; and color studies are your friend! Kim Smith, an incredible illustrator who I was so lucky to work with on three books a while ago, was phenomenal at this. She would submit sample pieces in sometimes three different palettes so that we could refine and discuss before finishing the rest of the interior. It made things go SO smoothly down the road.

Some of Kim Smith’s books.

Cover Art and Front and Back Matter

Mira: Cover art is critical in selling a book. It needs to be high contrast so that when it’s seen from a distance or reduced to 1 inch for a magazine or newspaper the image and text can be easily read. Bold type, often using what is known as display fonts are favored here and the cover will have a wraparound jacket or not. There are so many things that go into making a good cover, so I’m going to ask Andrea to talk about this as I’ve already shows some of the Spork covers I’ve worked on with former students.

Andrea: Covers are one of the most difficult things to do well with ANY sort of book! There are multiple layers of approval that every cover needs to go through in-house at the publisher; the art director, editor and author need to be happy with a sketch first, and then that sketch needs to be approved by Marketing, Sales, and the Publisher! And we go through it all over again once the final art is in. So, the main thing I like to do is to give people options- when we ask for cover sketches, we like to see 3 to 5 different unique directions. And even once a direction is approved, I might present 2 or 3 type variations, either in different fonts or colors. If a concept is tied to being a wrap-around jacket, that will also be submitted for approval so that any important details or fun elements that help sell the story aren’t missed by the gatekeepers who might be looking for it.

Front and Back Matter

Mira: Front and back matter includes the end sheets holding the hardback cardboard cover together with the interior, half title, and full title if there is one, and the back page which may include author and illustrator bios, credits, Congress in Publication info, printer and publisher information and dedications. Or this page might include back matter with further information about the story, in which case all the other information would go somewhere in the front matter. Other things that must be attended to are a very legible spine plus copyright and a sales barcode that the publisher takes care of. At this point, the show is over for the art director and the publisher takes care of marketing, printing, and getting that beautiful book out in the world. Andrea do you have any final comments for our readers here?

Gael Abary – Crow Spirit. Written by Debra Bartsch. Full title with Front Matter

Back Matter with supporting factual info

Crow Spirit is so exquisitely beautiful, I had to include a spread.


All of these fun details you mentioned are where I feel like I get to really play around as a designer, and when you have a great relationship with your illustrator, you get something REALLY special. A good example- an illustrated nonfiction picture book I worked on this past year called All In a Drop had the sweetest detail on the title page! Illustrator Vivien Mildenberger gave the great sketch suggestion of making the HMH logo into little microbes, as the book was about a scientist who studied microbiology. I loved it, and those microbes ended up being featured all over the spine and as a pattern on the cover as well!


Anywhere you can give little details is appreciated by those readers and people who dig deep into each element of the book. Overall advice? Get plenty of rest! Be kind to your wrist when you draw, and allow your ideas time to marinate and develop. The more you explore concepts, the more you can find out problem areas and iron out issues that are harder to tackle when you’re in the middle of the final painting, collage, etc. And above all else- be flexible! There are so many minds that collaborate to make a book, so embracing that community of thinkers and creators is key to making something that everyone is proud of.

Bios: Mira Reisberg and Andrea Miller are two art directors who love stories, art making, nurturing others in their careers, and having fun. They live on opposite sides of the United States with their respective partners and cats. Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, once a year they get together to do something wonderful – training very beginning to award-winning illustrators how to make marketable contemporary art and children’s book illustrations for kids. So far, they’ve been very successful. Their 2019 course, the Craft and Business of Illustrating Children’s Books (including board books, picture books, chapter books, illustrated middle grade novels, and graphic novels) starts November 4 for five delicious mentored weeks, plus an extra instant access bonus week. They would love for you to join them: All of the illustrators from Mira’s posts are former illustration students who she has had the honor of continuing to work with. Currently there’s a $100.00 discount (the discounted course cost for a critique with Mira or Andrea) with this case sensitive code 2019ArLove and scholarships are available here:

Thank for Mira and Andrea for sharing this in-depth discussion. Good job!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Wow, what a great post! Tons of info here. Thank you to all!


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