Q & A with Illustrator, Tim Jessell

 DogDiariesGingerI’d like to welcome my illustrator, Tim Jessell to Dog Reads for a special interview on the artist’s perspective in creating books for children. Tim has done many book covers that feature dogs. I am especially fond of his Dog Diaries covers, as well as for Lara’s Gift.

What is your step-by-step process from start to finish for creating your cover art?

DogDiariesBuddyI start usually w/ a very rough thumbnail, working out basic composition ideas/problems. This is often done on a post-it note size piece of paper. I then digitally sketch it out more refined in Photoshop w/ a Wacom tablet (Intuos 4). How tight the sketch is at this stage depends on the subject matter and how much of the concept from the art director is already “nailed down”. Obviously, sketching digitally it makes it much easier to nudge elements around (and size) in this stage.


Upon pencil sketch approval, I begin finished art. I rarely do an initial color study as guide (same when I worked traditionally). I paint as traditionally as I can on the computer, considering I was “analog” for quite some time before going digital around 2001 – I call my approach “tradigital”. The pencil sketch floats on a layer above the painted background(eventually dropping it “into” the painting). I paint the background first, working “forward” in the image as I go, w/ the main focal point (figures/dogs/aliens, etc.) coming last. After I’ve “said something” to the entire piece, then I build up the detail, again, usually from background to foreground.


One can see my digital watercolor/pastel method here.

Digital oil painting style here.

How long does it take you to create your cover art?

Usually 3-5 days. Often long hours. I work late into most nights and most weekends. Friends and acquaintances maybe envious of my self employed life style(?), but many would balk at the actual hours I put in weekly (and no one still pays me while on vacation, ever. I don’t take many)

How do you come up with the cover art design? How much freedom do you have? What role does the publisher’s art director have?

AmorakLongHowlIt can vary quite a bit. Sometimes it is already very much laid out for me, and I am merely the “executer” of the plan. Other times, they want to see a few rough sketches as the publisher is not quite sure which direction is best. I will also get assignments where they only require certain elements and I am responsible for all the details of pulling it together (hey, it’s all details in my world) ;)), AmorakCoverand many times they will let me pick from several concepts they have in mind. I will of course interject any ideas that I think will help improve the image. It can be very much a team effort. Just like in sports, a good team produces good results. It all works for me as I really do enjoy the variety between the “just paint this” to “whatever you think is best” spectrum.


How much research goes into the dogs that you create?

A lot, especially if they are actual historical canine figures.AUWChristmasCard1

How do you find your dog models? 

Like most modern day illustrators the internet is a wealth of visual reference for the artist. Say I’m painting a husky from straight on, but I need to see the the bottom of the paws and/or how the feet are working… I find what I’m looking for, but it’s from a German Shepherd image. This happens all the time w/ illustrators – we are “Dr. Frankenstein” when it comes to visual reference

ReadingStreetParachuteWriters constantly revise their work before it gets published, how many revisions do you do on average before your cover art is finalized?

Most often, not any. I’m good that way (smile). Seriously, most of the time elements are already figured out in the pencil stage, and if I execute the painting stage well there are usually no changes. But sometimes there are minor tweaks in color, a face here or there.

ReadingStreet06BackcoverWhat do you enjoy most about creating cover art?

Creating a scene/world from a blank white rectangle…. and the feeling as if I could step inside that “world”.

What is your biggest challenge creating cover art? And how do you overcome it?

 DogNewspaperPage466_467It is often human faces, characters age, etc. As illustrators will tell you, editors, etc. can be more fussy or have a preconceived notion about a figure’s face (personal taste). It can be very subjective when it comes to painting a 12 year old girl, for example. Look at casting in TV or movies. The high schoolers usually look like they could’ve graduated college! Or I’m thinking a true 12 year old (that’s a moving target!), yet the editor sees them more like a 9 year old in their mind’s eye – just very subjective… and that can create issues w/ the artist responsible for all the actual nitty gritty visual details, not just descriptions on a page.

… but the true daily challenge is really creating work that I am proud of. I imagine it’s like being a song writer. Not all are gonna be hits, but one strives for it anyway.

DogDaysOfSummerThriftyWhat kind of training does one generally need to design book covers?

Love books, read books – beginning in childhood. Draw, draw, draw. The painting, lighting, color will come later.*

How did you break into children’s books?

When I was 6 years old, lying on my bed room floor drawing the further adventures of Max from “Where the Wild Things Are”, by Maurice Sendak… I certainly thought I was breaking into it then. 😉 I’m kidding, but then again… I’m not! There was no line between fine art and illustration then, or now for me.

stacks_image_43What advice would you give young people (or adults!) interested in a career designing book covers?

Same advice as above… and study art history as one pursues and education in graphic design/illustration. It’s all part of “speaking the language” – the better ones “vocabulary”, after all. Be constantly on the look for inspiration. It seems I can never turn off my illustrators eye for light and shadow in the daily(mundane?) world around me. I love “Magic Hour” – the hour before sunset. Sky and cloud shapes are a constant marvel. For designers, study the top and historic typographers/font designers – a world unto itself.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

They must be a great group of folks – aficionados of dogs and books – ” ‘Nuff said”(to quote Stan Lee). Thanks!2652_75819288271_8225894_n

For more information about Tim Jessell or a look at his art, please click here or here.

13549_199404373271_4170477_nHere are my kids and Kuma (puppy Shiba Inu, male and 16 year old Boris – Siberian Husky. He died at 17! Very very old for a Husky).

 Thank you so much for joining us today at Dog Reads, Tim Jessell! I look forward to seeing more of your work on books for kids. And a HUGE thanks for creating such a lovely cover for Lara’s Gift! I only get sincere compliments and raves.


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All materials © 2018 Annemarie O'Brien. Web site by Websy Daisy. Illustration © 2013 by Tim Jessell