Alanna Rance is a digital artist based in Melbourne, Australia. She is the creator of Imperium Illustrations, an art brand that specialises in cover designs for different types of traditional and digital media.
A lot of us tend to not realise how much cover designs influence us into picking up a book or clicking on a new podcast, but they can be found literally everywhere. This means now more than ever, the designs you pick to represent your brand need to stand out.
Today, Alanna takes us through the process of designing for her unique niche using the Wacom Cintiq 22HD (the predecessor of the new Wacom Cintiq 22).
How did you first get started in digital art? What’s your art background?
My interest in digital art was a natural progression from my love of drawing as I was growing up. Throughout my schooling I would absorb myself in all traditional art classes but when I hit high school and became old enough to be involved in multi-media and design classes, I was introduced to computers and the Adobe software and I became hooked.
As I slowly spent more time practising and got more comfortable with the Adobe software, I merged my love and experience with traditional media such as pencils, watercolour and ink with the sophistication and freedom of digital art and bought myself my first Wacom in 2008, a Wacom Graphire 4.
Creating designs for cover art seems like such a unique area of expertise, what draws you to creating this type of art over others?
After a couple of years freelancing, I decided to specialise in illustrative cover art after receiving valuable advice from a creative mentor Anna Dower, who’s known as the ‘Designer Boss Lady’ on social media. She really teaches the importance to stand out amongst the world’s thousands of illustrators and designers (and also saving your sanity) by having a niche.
So after some deep soul searching and wondering what types of projects give me the greatest pleasure, I had an epiphany. I can’t get enough of stories and in all of its forms – books, podcasts and music.
There was this gut feeling that I was on the right path because I remembered a project, I designed for my VCE Visual Communication’s portfolio which was a series of book covers for each of the seven deadly sins. I intuitively knew that this was something I have always been interested in and would provide me the motivation and creative depth to build upon for a long-term career.
How do you get started on the process of creating cover art for a podcast, book or album? Walk us through your process.
With every project, I really like to connect with my clients by having a one on one, introductory video chat, that way I get to learn what they do and their passions for doing it. Then a project really begins with me sending my clients a welcome kit that contains a questionnaire that provides me with vital information like the project’s description, its tone and genre as well as its target audience.
I also like to request samples of their content (ie. a manuscript, music tracks or podcast episodes) so I can digest and form my own impressions. Then I like to marinate and brain dump what stood out to me, my emotional reactions and any visual imagery that I imagined throughout.
Afterwards I proceed with researching what type of cover design the target audience would respond to so I search the market and explore my client’s competitors and see what’s currently trending like colours, fonts and imagery. I start conceptualising the cover design and narrowing down my strongest ideas that I’ll present to my clients along with annotations explaining my art direction.
My client and I will then collaborate and work towards a design that they’ll grant final approval to which I’ll prepare for print, package and proceed with file handover.
What are the challenges of creating a single piece of art to represent a story, podcast or album?
I’ve found the challenge I’m currently facing the most is finding the balance between designing a cover design that I know my client’s target audience will respond to and one that the client will approve.
Sometimes I’ve had to remind the client that though I may be working for them, they need to remember that their cover design isn’t exactly for them but in fact for their target audience. The endgame is to have my clients’ target audience make a connection with their products to either pick it off the shelf or hit play on their phones.
What are some of things you ask your clients to bring to the table after they have decided to commission you?
At the beginning, I always request my clients to provide me with the correct product specifications such as the book format or whether they’re producing a LP or CD. Through my previous experience in a pre-press department for a signage company, producing seasonal campaigns for store fronts, I understand the critical importance of getting the size of my files correct before I invest my time in creating the design.
You can always scale down your printing, but you can never scale up without disastrous results.
You mention that you’re an avid reader and story lover, how does this come into play when designing for a client?
I feel like my secret weapon is the fact that I’m also a consumer in my clients’ marketplace. It’s like having a finger in both pies – having the perspective of what the consumer wants, as well as the designer’s expertise of how to make effective design to attract said consumer.
How do you approach concepting for a brand? How many concepts do you usually come up with for your clients?
On an A4 piece of paper I like to formulate a type of “recipe” of my client’s product which includes written notes that break down what the project’s about, the target audience and key words. I include any symbols, emotions, colours or themes that stuck out to me while I was in my marinating process.
Along with these key words and annotations, I begin drawing little concepts and exploring what these ideas will look like depending on the project’s product type. I then take a break and come back to my concepts with fresh eyes and strategically select the 3 strongest concepts to present to my client.
What’s your favourite part of your art process?
The inner nerd in me really likes the research phase and brainstorming a one-of-a-kind concept. It brings me back to when I was studying Literature in VCE and reminds me of my enjoyment when we were deconstructing and analysing something to reveal its inner message, the author’s purpose and the consumer’s reaction. My other favourite moment is seeing my cover art together with the product template and its corresponding typography, barcodes and such. I get a rush of excitement that my art will soon be on a real product for someone to enjoy.
If you could redesign a cover for any piece of media in history, what would that be?
I think it would have to be something that I already physically own and cherish so I would feel like it’d be such an honour to have the chance to put my own spin on it. I think it would be a toss-up between Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which I studied in Year 11 Literature or any James Herbert novel because he’s my favourite author who I see as being seriously underrated and if my cover design can create more fans then…bazinga!
Do you have a favourite project that you’ve worked on?
The project I’m most proud of would be my adaptation of Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings Trilogy which I used to showcase to my ability to produce cover art for book series. I selected Tolkien’s trilogy for both my admiration and enjoyment of his work but also kind of a way to pay homage.
Not only was this project a creative challenge because of the fact I had to create a cohesive design across the trilogy but it inadvertently became a great experience that strengthened my skills and increased my confidence. I was so determined to create a concept that was uniquely my own and bridge the space between high fantasy and sophisticated, modern design.
However, the type of projects I find surprisingly enjoyable are actually podcast covers. Album art and especially book cover design can be a labour of love and an in-depth process so I’ve found that podcast covers can break up the pace and be quite fun, punchy projects that can reinvigorate my creativity.
What Wacom device do you use to create your illustrations and how does your Wacom device fit into your workflow?
I’m currently using my beloved Wacom Cintiq 22HD (the predecessor of the new Wacom Cintiq 22) which I use everyday for many reasons. When I’m not actually drawing with it then I’m using it as a second monitor which usually has too many windows and tabs open.
If you could go back in time, what’s one piece of advice you wish you could tell yourself when you were getting started?
For the love of God Alanna, if you’re stuck on something simply Google it or find a knowledgeable community and don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’ve taught myself loads just from typing it into Google, or watching tutorials; that is the one thing I’ve enjoyed most about technology, help can be found if you simply search for it.
If you’re truly stuck I always refer back to my ‘Designer Boss Lady’ community on social media where my fellow creatives are always happy point me in the right direction.
Lastly, do you have any advice for anyone who’s looking to change their career and pursue something in digital art?
The one piece of advice I’m really connecting to lately and I don’t know whether that’s because I’m getting old and leaving my twenties behind but if you never give up then you can never say you failed, so what I’m essentially saying is keep practicing.
No matter what product you’re using to create with, if you continue spending the hours practicing, experimenting and refining your technique then you can only continue to grow and improve.