Today we’re interviewing Reese Dante whose book covers are all the rage in M/M-landia. As a matter of fact a couple of them were on my Top 25 covers of 2010 and it takes a lot of talent to get just one cover on the list. There is no doubt that Reese is incredibly gifted as an artist, but what’s even better is that from all accounts she’s responsive to the authors whose books she covers, (I think that’s pretty funny) and they are not even her principal clients – the publishers are.
Reese’s cover for One More Soldier won the 2011 EPIC Ariana Award for Best Contemporary Romance Cover last week. Congratulations Reese! EPIC couldn’t have selected a more deserving artist and cover.
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Hello Reese and thank you for coming by. It’s not often that I get to interview artists. I think that I have probably only interviewed four other artists – Anne Cain, Michael Breyette, Paul Richmond, and April Martinez so I’m trying once more to get it right. 🙂 No I’m not name dropping, they drew the short straws.
(Short straw, name dropping…don’t care! Just being named in the same paragraph with these artists is flattering as hell)
Thank you for taking the time to interview the new kid on the block. And thanks to your visitors who are taking a break from their busy day to read it 🙂
To start this interview off on a high note please tell us a bit about Reese and why her life took such a wrong turn. Here’s what I know about you from your website – You have an MBA but you’re a self taught artist. How did that happen? I guess you’re a late bloomer. 🙂 Can you fill in some of the blanks so that we can understand your very direct route to becoming an artist? lol
LOL I don’t do things like the average person, can you tell? 😉
I was the first in my family to get a degree. I finished my BBA and joined the workforce. After my mom passed away, I went back to school some time later to get my MBA. I did it for her. After a few years, I still felt a ‘void’… for lack of a better phrase – I just couldn’t pinpoint what it was.
Art had always been a part of my life but I never thought of it as a career. When I was young, I was told it was a good ‘hobby’ (I was very naïve). I had no idea that art was such a part of me. Sure, I would doodle on every piece of paper that crossed my path, pencil sketch portraits obsessively until every detail matched the photo, but I just never made the connection (again, I was very naïve).
I have a friend who writes poetry. He asked me to design the cover for his book, which I did. Doing his design lifted the door latch. Then, when Leiland asked me to do a cover for him within the same month, well, that threw open the barn doors and all hell broke loose in me. I knew I had finally found what I wanted to do.
Art was something that was always there for me. But I guess “it” was tired of being ignored and finally haunted me until I listened. I’m glad it did 🙂 I’ve never been happier.
You are now the “go-to” artist for authors in a very short period of time and I’m amazed at the fulsome compliments some of them left on this site about you. Most authors hate their book cover artists. Did you pay some of them? Here’s a little of what AJ Llewellyn (US) said about you:
I am an author who had the amazing privilege of working on The Oasis with Reese for Silver Publishing. It was the first time in my career that a cover artist actually read my book (and not just the blurb) and presented me with multiple pic choices for the two male leads. Unbelievable!
She also presented me with multiple backdrops. She finds unusual models and doesn’t use the same images – except the ubiquitous Jimmy Thomas, ahem – and was very excited when I brought gay porn star Samuel Colt to the party, both as a major character in the book, and as a cover model. She totally involved me every step of the way – and Samuel too. The end result is one of my favorite covers. EVER.
I can see why that worked Reese. Every author should bring a porn star when he meets his cover artist. 🙂 So my question is, and I do have a question, do all of the authors who want you to design their book covers get to bring their favourite porn star to the party? Just asking!!
@AJ –I’ll send you the bribe money to your PayPal account 😉
@Wave – If it makes the author happy, they can bring whoever they want to the party 🙂
AJ has a question for you:
I want to ask Reese if she has ever been a writer because she is so considerate and accommodating in a way no other cover artist I have come across has been. She really cares about characters and how we, the author, visualize them.
No, I am not an author. I tend to be very accommodating with the authors when possible. I know there are numerous sacrifices an author makes to get published. So, I want the author to be happy with the end result. They spend so much time pouring themselves into their manuscript, I find it disrespectful to not do the same for the cover. And if I can get the author involved in the process, I do. It personalizes their design. After all, it’s their story.
AJ also wants me to let you know that more books are on the way!
Let’s talk about your art. Artists use different media for their work – some use oils, watercolours, pastels or acrylics, some manipulate stock photos or use computer programs like Photoshop, or even Poser (horrors). What do you use to create the images on book covers that authors kill for? 🙂
I’ve played with different media before working with stock photos and digital art and each have their pros and cons for me. I found I preferred pencil sketching. And I’m especially drawn to pencil portraits.
For book covers, I’ve primarily focused on manipulating stock photos with Photoshop. No – I don’t use Poser. I prefer actual people or illustrations.
I’m dying to do something original. I have the tools and the desire, but time is kicking my butt. I’ve established a personal goal for myself to do an original piece this year and I will. I’m hard headed that way.
My other question is more directly related to how you interpret your art. Why did you want to design book covers? Is it the thrill of creating something that represents what a story is all about?
I love capturing a story in a picture. Growing up, my walls were covered in movie posters. I’d go to the local movie theatre and video rental places and ask them if I could have the posters they didn’t want anymore. I even had stand-up cardboard movie promos in my room. They’d save it for me rather than throw away their promo stuff. So I had tons of movie posters all over my bedroom walls and door. Literally, I even had them on the ceiling (I figured, why waste a wall). I loved seeing how you could imagine an entire scene or storyline with a picture. I remember being fascinated by that – and that’s what I hope to accomplish – to tease the reader and pique their interest in the story behind the design.
You mentioned on your website that you undertake commissions from time to time. What types of pictures have you done in the past, outside of book covers?
Outside of book covers, I’ve drawn pencil portraits.
A reader, Alaina (US) had this question for you:
I’d definitely like to know Reese’s stance on the extensive and somewhat repetitive use of stock photography in m/m covers. It’s an issue that seems to come up again and again, and a lot of readers seem to get frustrated by seeing the same five or so guys on every cover!
Thanks, Alaina, great question. Sadly, most cover artists have limited resources and budgets. Most of the stock I see (and use) are from microstock sites. They make it affordable and easy to use pictures. And with royalty free licenses, you can typically resuse without rebuying. And believe it or not, there are authors who specifically request ‘that guy on cover X’ or model Y.
For me, it gets exhausting using the same guys – that’s why it’s tempting to crop the face to not show the eyes. It frustrates me to see a guy I’ve used on another design – especially if it’s released the same month. But it happens – to all of us. I’ve come to accept it. However, I try to change the guys a little when I can, eyes, hair, clothing etc to reduce some of the initial shock of seeing the same model. I’ve even done total hair swaps to give the model a different look. Sometimes, the guy looks completely different than the stock shot (yay!). I’m also trying to find a few photographers who are willing to sell stock directly, rather than via a stock agency. But that can get both pricey and time consuming. I’m still relatively new to the industry so I’m trying different things to see what works best.
Larissa (Netherlands) has a question:
I want to know who her muse is and if I can borrow him or her
Hi, Larissa – thanks for the question.
My muse is the manuscript/author. There’s something about each story that inspires the design. Whether it’s the story, the characters, setting, mood or author’s enthusiasm about the book, there’s something there which inspires me.
Amy Lane, another author who is a fan, had this to say –
I know for the Talker cover, she hung out during a Facebook chat and read a teaser for the story in order to get some of the details just perfect (and she did–I was SO tickled to see Brian in the gray T-shirt that he always wore. For me, that was one of the things that just sealed the cover:-)
Reese, what are some other resourceful, inventive things you’ve done to get your cover JUST right? I’ve got to tell you, as a writer, I sure do appreciate every one:-)
Amy, now everyone is going to know I’m a stalker. You weren’t supposed to tell anyone! 🙂
When I get a spec and direct author interaction isn’t an option for whatever reason, I put on my stalker cap and start making the rounds. I search Facebook, blogs, websites, Yahell groups, you name it, I check them out to see if the authors mention anything about the upcoming story. Some do. Others do not. And when they do, I take notes. I see sample photos they post which may have inspired their characters, I see side comments about personal events which may have sparked the storyline, excerpts, etc. Why? Some authors are so excited (or frustrated) filling out a spec they leave out details. Authors know their story better than anyone, it’s in their head. But they don’t necessarily write everything down – and I search for those missing details. If there’s anything there, I try to find it and pull anything which may spark an idea of fill in the blanks or add that little detail which makes the project personal to them.
Ryssa Edwards commented on the site “Reese totally nailed my character the first time when she designed my cover. She’s an amazing artist.”
Thanks, Ryssa 🙂 (you know, I’m going to be broke after handing out all this bribe money)
My question is: When you’re looking for the “right” look for a cover, what part of the Cover Info that authors fill out for our stories helps you the most?
This varies. I read the entire spec and there’s usually something that jumps out at me. I’m the kind of person who reads both the actual words and between the lines. I’m analytical as hell. Mostly, I try to focus on the message, the feeling I get when I read the synopsis, the mood of the story or even a character’s personality which might stand out. But I also look at the author’s requests for their ‘dream cover’ and try to match it as closely as possible.
KZ Snow said “I’ve been blessed with some stunning covers and, as a result, am in total fangirl awe of talented artists. Reese is one of them, although I’ve never had the honor of working with her.”
THANK YOU 🙂
KZ I’m curious about which publishers she’s worked with, as well as what techniques she draws upon to achieve the effects she’s after
I’m the Art Director at Silver Publishing but I also do freelance work for Dreamspinner Press and self published authors. There are a few other publishers I’d love to work with as well.
I try to do different techniques for different pieces. Some designs involve texturing while others are clear and crisp. I find the use of textures especially effective with certain themes and time periods. Lighting and coloring are very important to convey a mood. I’ve also used other techniques for painted appearances on a few occasions.
KZ And…does she prefer working in traditional media (watercolors, oils, pastels, etc.) or using electronic manipulation, which has become an art form in its own right?
I appreciate this question. Although I’ve used traditional media and enjoy pencil sketching, I agree, electronic manipulation has become an art form in its own right. I’ve seen comments from some who think photo manipulation doesn’t take talent. I respectfully disagree. I believe a talent for art comes in many forms. If a design makes you think, feel something or inspires you, then it is art. Regardless of what was used or how it was accomplished.
KZ And…does she feel comfortable naming other artists whose work she admires?
I’m honoured to be in the same industry with talented artists as the ones already mentioned, to name a few. They each bring something different to the genre and I would be foolish if I didn’t say that was admirable.
Specific artists…Michael Breyette’s work has a realistic style I absolutely love and his ability to capture an emotion (not just a pretty face) is amazing. Feimo has an extraordinary ability to do illustrations. I love the simplicity of Patrick Nagel’s work. MC Escher fascinates me. I can go on forever.
Before we continue with the love-in from the authors 🙂 I would like to ask another question:
A few cover artists are working with different publishers, Bruno Gmünder for one. Is publishing your pictures something you’re considering? I’m not sure how many pictures you would require to have a volume of your work published, but you sure seem to have enough to me.
I’d definitely be interested in doing something like this in the future if people like my original work.
When did you really decide to go for it in terms of your second career as a cover artist, and was it difficult to make a name for yourself? What was the first cover that you had published? I love your Talker covers – I think they’re stunning. How did you come up with the concept, outside of reading the story and lurking on Facebook chats.?
My first published cover was my friend’s poetry book (it’s got girl parts LOL). My first M/M cover was Leiland Dale’s Paul’s D’Marco.
Leiland kept ‘putting my name out there’ every chance he had. Both he and my designs did all the advertising for me. I suck at self-promotion. I am still stunned when I get a spec from an author who specifically requests me. I smile like a dork when I get an email from, dare I say, a ‘fan’. I’ve received squees, thank yous, wows, and more, it’s all surreal. It truly is a blessing to be able to do this kind of work and have people enjoy my designs. I’m happy.
Talker gets people talking. 😉 Thank you!
For Talker, I received the spec and Amy provided the models pics to use which inspired each character. There were changes to both of their appearances which I completed based on the info in her spec and details gathered from her Facebook appearance on the DSP page. The story was a character piece so both guys had to be on the cover.
With tattoos, I like to get them right. And, well, I felt a little pressure with this one because Amy’s designs were usually drawn. We went back and forth a little to make sure the tat design was accurate. Luckily, the Art Director over at DSP (Mara) is a real sweetheart and didn’t mind being the middleman. As far as positioning, Brian is always on Tate’s right in the story so it made sense to have him appear this way on the cover as well.
In the end, Talker is probably one of my most ‘talked about’ designs. You either like it or it shocks the hell out of you. Regardless, it catches your attention and it’s relevant to the story. In a sea of many books, it’s good to have a design which jumps out at you and causes you to take a second look.
Scarlet Hyacinth (Romania) another author said “Like AJ, I’ve had the incredible luck to work with Reese at Silver Publishing. To have an artist so involved in the process of cover making was a very novel and exciting experience for me. Every time I look at my two (so far) covers from her, I know she puts a lot of heart and dedication into what she does.
My question for her is: Is there any particular type of cover you enjoy to design more than others? That is, which genre do you like the most: contemporary, paranormal, fantasy, horror?
Thank you, Scarlet!
I would say it’s more a preference to content rather than genre. I enjoy simpler designs. I’m always concerned with the final product delivering the intended message and a cluttered design can be overwhelming. I also enjoy designs where I’m given more liberty to explore different options and get creative rather than being given a long strict list of elements which must be included in the design.
Lily Sawyer (US) “I have had the honor of working with Reese for my Catch of the Day story, and was amazed at how she brought my merman to life.”
I’d like to know how Reese got started in art and what was one of the hardest covers she’s had to come up with for a story?
Thanks, Lily !
“Art” has always been there for me. But it was Leiland’s cover art which put my name out there and got me started in this industry.
As far as the hardest cover(s) I’ve had to work on, that’s a tough question. I think each design has some element which adds complexity to the final piece. So some designs might take a little more time to complete, but that doesn’t mean they are the most difficult. So it’s a little tough for me to pinpoint which is the hardest cover.
Liia Ann White commented “I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with Reese for my first ever book cover for Elora’s Match. I couldn’t have been happier with the cover she came up with. The only thing I changed was the colour of the text – everything else was absolutely perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better cover artist! Reese is a true artist and so incredibly talented, she’s just amazing.”
I would love to know what her favourite cover to create has been?
Thank you Liia 🙂
Now this question is going to get me in trouble. Spank you Liia for asking it! (and Wave for including it) LOL
I can’t pick ONE favourite. I like each of the designs I create for different reasons and there’s a little bit of me in each of my projects. It could be the author, the story, elements of the piece, or the overall experience. There are also designs which allow me to explore new techniques, an original element, or those which simply happen at a time in my life when I needed the creative outlet to get thru something in RL. So many are favourites whether the author knows it or not.
I have a question to dampen this love-in. Have you ever submitted a cover that the client (publisher) hated and refused to pay for? If that ever happened to you (I just can’t imagine a scenario like this) how would you normally handle such a situation? Draw a picture of said publisher with horns and a big mole on her face with hair growing from it and publish that on the ‘net? Lol
LMAO! No, I wouldn’t do that. Thankfully I’ve never had a client refuse to pay because they’ve hated a design.
Can it happen? Of course it can. Art is subjective. You can’t please everyone. When it happens, I’ll ask for some direction and prepare another set of designs with the new info. If we ultimately can’t come to an agreement, then we move on to the next project. If the pattern repeats with the client, then maybe it’s just not a good match.
The guys in the hot tub want to know if they could do a spread for you and would you like private sessions with each one? Which brings me to this question Do you use live models for some of your covers? If so where do they live? 🙂
I WISH I used live models. On second thought, not sure I’d get any work done. LOL But why don’t you send your guys over and let’s find out 😉
Which male celebrity would you like to paint? Would your answer be the same if I added the word “nekkid”? 🙂
Oh hell woman! How can I pick ONE male celebrity. That’s just cruel! I love lists – so how about a short one (in no particular order LOL)…
Joe Manganiello – he screams alpha. Me likey.
Eric Dane – he’s alpha and a playful smart ass. Love that combo.
Jensen Ackles – it’s Jensen, hellllo. He’s been a hottie for me since I first saw him on Dark Angel.
Ian Somerhalder – some of the most beautiful eyes I’ve seen in a while.
Nekkid, dressed, partially dressed, don’t care. I’ve got an imagination and I’m not afraid to use it 😉
I love your cover for A Prophecy of Destiny – I think it’s outstanding and it’s probably on my list for this year’s Top 25 covers. How did you come up with that particular concept?
For APOD, I was able to read the manuscript beforehand and Leiland gave me total creative freedom. There were two things which stood out to me – the personalities of each of the characters, and the overall mood. It was somber (because of what’s happening in the beginning) yet hopeful (because of the prophecy). So I wanted it to be a dark piece, but still have some light in the design other than just the moonlight for a paranormal cover – so I added the gold flares at the bottom. I tried to find the models who best matched my image of each of the characters (more the personality than the visual) and made the necessary trait adjustments to each. I added the moon and token wolf for the quick paranormal identifiers. Finally, the prophecy is critical to the series, so I included the text within both characters since it’s what brings them together.
I have tons more questions for you but I will only ask one more. I hear that you have quite the potty mouth. Did that ever get you into trouble in a work situation? I’m sure it must have so give us the short version. Lol
LMAO I’m going to beat the crap out of Leiland – it’s all his fault you’re asking me this question!
The “sailor” comes out to play when he’s comfortable or pissed. Otherwise, I can keep it professional and do. I don’t want to scare off my clients or have them feel disrespected in any way.
Thank you Reese. I really appreciate the time and hope you liked the questions. I’m quite partial to a few of them especially the one about bringing your own porn star to a photo shoot. How did that go? AJ never said.
Thanks so much for interviewing me 🙂 (and for the readers who are still hanging on, thank you!)
As far as AJ and his porn star…well, I will say Samuel graced us with some clothing in his photo. He wore a tie.
Reese Dante’s Contact Information
email: rdante [at] reesedante [dot] com