Sunday, March 11, 2012

Interview With Cover Artist Darla Tagrin: The facts & science fiction

[caption id="attachment_754" align="alignleft" width="153" caption=""Door Into Dreams""][/caption]

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but for plenty of readers that’s how the initial connection is made and the cover for The Ninth Step would never have come together so beautifully without the right artist. I nearly gave up my search until one day I happened upon a blog post about cover art. It wasn’t information I hadn’t read a hundred times before and I was only skimming until my eye caught on a comment that had been left by an artist Darla Tagrin. She did book cover art, she said, and gave a link to one of her paintings as an example of her work. It was titled "Door Into Dreams" and the moment I clicked through and saw it, I was entranced. The painting said everything to me about my experience of books, how they have opened doors for me, how they have brought light into and out of my mind. The message as I engaged with the painting went even deeper, unfolding in layers, but that is a discussion for another post! Suffice to say that I felt intuitively that Darla and I would be able to work together on the cover for my novel.

[caption id="attachment_742" align="alignright" width="140" caption="Free download through midnight PST tonight!"][/caption]

Within a very short time, she brought the vision I had in mind to life. She gave it color and an intensity and impact that went beyond my expectation. Plus, my cover, from an original oil painting, is a beautiful work of art that will remain unique. Of course I highly recommend her, but I’m going to step aside now so she can talk a little about who she is and how she works.

Darla, thank you so much for stopping by today. Perhaps we should begin by learning a bit about your background i.e.: When did you first know you wanted to pursue painting? Art study? Organizations you belong to. Have you always worked in oil?

I grew up in a very small town in western New York.  I always liked drawing; you can draw anything you want, any way you want; and if you do it enough you will get better at it.  No grownups needed!

We had art as part of our classes in those days, and I was lucky enough to have a very good art teacher in high school who had us all do quick figure studies of each other.  I went to a small private college in Erie, PA, and studied art and psychology (I know, strange combination.) Unfortunately, that was in the late ‘70’s when figurative art and illustration was looked down upon; I refer to that era as the “drip and splatter” period.  I didn’t learn much painting technique, but I did learn how to develop ideas into visual art.

I really started painting just after I got married. My husband Larry and I used to go to science fiction conventions, and he persuaded me to put some of my old art into the convention arts shows. Much to my surprise, it started selling! I would recommend going to one of these SF conventions for any artist or writer of science fiction/fantasy if you can; there are usually lots of workshops by professionals, and opportunities to display your art (you must rent a panel and sign up ahead of time.)

I did interior illustrations for Tomorrow magazine before it went completely online, and maps and illustrations for Carole Douglas’ Irene Adler mystery series.  (I met her and Algis Budrys, the Tomorrow editor, at SF conventions.) Those illustrations were mostly in pen and ink and scratchboard. I’ve done quite a few portraits of people and their pets, in oil and colored pencil. I like oils because you can blend and layer them, and they don’t change color when they dry as much as acrylics do. Colored pencil and scratchboard are good for detailed portraits, but they take as much time or more to do than oils.

I’ve taken lessons and workshops in painting off and on over the years.  I live near Washington, DC and there are more art groups, shows and opportunities than I can take advantage of now. I do the newsletter for our local arts group, the Gaithersburg Fine Arts Association.

Where do you go and/or what do you do for inspiration?

I go for a walk with my little digital camera, look at my art books and magazines or go to the library to look at different ones, but the best inspiration is going to a gallery or art exhibit to see other people’s art. I usually get several ideas on different ways to approach a painting. One thing to do is to look at something that you really like, try to figure out exactly what it is that you like about it, and paint that element or apply it to something different.

What draws you to the design of book covers?

I always wanted to do illustration because I loved books so much, and I have little talent for writing. It’s very satisfying to work through the themes and events in the story and translate them to a visual scene that will make someone want to read the book, but not give away the story. Just like with writing, there are a lot of underpinnings and design elements that are not obvious in the final product.

Can you describe a bit about how you like to work with an author on their project? (In my case you read the manuscript and we discussed some ideas. You did a series of sketches.) 

Usually I will read the story and do a lot of preliminary sketches, send a couple of the most successful ones to the author, editor or art department head, and make any changes that are suggested. After the sketch is approved, I do the actual painting.  Years ago, I would send the actual illustration, but now I just send a high-resolution scan. I don’t paint the lettering; I do it in Photoshop on the scanned file, or the book designer will do it.

How quickly can an author expect to have a finished cover?

Usually three or four weeks after the sketch is approved.  I prefer to have a deadline date to work to.

What about the cost? Do you have a set fee or does it vary with the individual project? 

The fee varies on what the job is; for an ebook cover, it would be about $150 (prices may change in the future!) For a printed book, the price may be more than that because the actual painting would probably have to be larger. That is for the use of the cover image for the book and publicity purposes; the actual painting and copyright to it remain with the artist.

Where can authors needing cover art reach you? Website/email address?

My web site is still under construction; you can reach me at If you send me an email, I will send you a link to the site when it is up.

I'll post the link here as well. In closing, I just want to add that Darla is a wonderful artist, thoughtful, patient and intuitive, and lovely to work with.


  1. Lovely cover and lovely interview with Darla! I really enjoyed working with her on my Irene Adler novel maps, which are far more artistic than plain street maps, being illustrated with 19th century landmarks.

  2. Thank you, for stopping by, Carole. Darla brought so much more to my cover than I could have hoped for!

  3. I agree with Carole, it's a wonderful cover and the interview was great! Thanks for sharing it :)

  4. Thank you, Kerri, for stopping by. I love that Ninth's cover is an original work of art. So glad you like it!