As with any creative process, things never happen the same way twice (and isn’t that part of the fun in what we do?). That said, this is the process we have found to be effective when commissioning an illustrated cover.
Rochelle Broder-Singer: editorial director
Jeff Heebner: executive director of communications
Paul DiMattia: freelance design director
STEP 1: CHOOSE COVER STORY
Jeff Heebner and I look for a topic in our issue’s schedule that is relevant to our readers’ business lives or to personal investing; that is timely but not so timely that it won’t be valuable six months from now; and that can showcase the expertise of our faculty or alumni. We run this cover story by the dean and the executive director of alumni relations and development.
STEP 2: BRAINSTORM CONCEPTS & STYLE
Once we’ve received buy-in on the topic, Paul DiMattia and I brainstorm several illustration concepts and discuss artistic styles that might work with the topic. I highlight any political issues, internal sensitivities, or other potential pitfalls we may encounter.
STEP 3: SELECT ILLUSTRATOR
DiMattia sends the team portfolio links for a few potential illustrators, based on their styles and whether they’ve created illustrations on similar topics. When we first began commissioning cover illustrations, every illustrator we worked with was new. Now, we have experience with several excellent artists, so at least one is someone we’ve worked with before. DiMattia usually makes a recommendation at this stage. Heebner and I review the illustrators’ work and choose one – often the same one DiMattia suggested.
STEP 4: MIND-MELD WITH ILLUSTRATOR
The illustrator joins our team in a conference call designed to be our central brainstorming session. The story isn’t written at this point; interviewing may just be getting started. What we have to work with is the one-paragraph pitch I made to the dean; the assignment I’ve given the writer, often with bullet points I hope the writer will cover; and any pertinent faculty research that’s been done on the topic. If we have any headline ideas, we also share these because they can inspire the cover illustrations, even if the headline itself is ultimately discarded. The best illustrators ask a lot of questions.
STEP 5: REVIEW INITIAL SKETCHES
Several weeks later, the illustrator gives DiMattia rough concept sketches. They may go back and forth a few times until DiMattia feels he has two to three sketches to share with our team. If we like the options, Heebner and I choose our favorite; show it to the dean for approval; and provide written feedback to DiMattia and the illustrator. If none of the sketches work, we go back to the illustrator for a restart.
STEP 6: RUN WITH A CONCEPT
The illustrator takes the concept sketch to the next level, creating a potential cover illustration but not yet applying any final touches. Sometimes, the illustrator creates several options for this round as well (depending on how much his/her process allows). Once DiMattia is satisfied, he’ll put the illustration into a template that includes our masthead, school name, dateline, and coverlines from an old issue.
Heebner and I examine the potential cover(s). If we like what we see, we’ll share the illustration with others in alumni relations and development, as well as other members of the school’s communications team. I also may post the illustration (no cover lines) on the front wall of my workspace so I can look at it for a while and get comments from others passing by. This is a great opportunity to find out if people get the concept. Finally, we remove the coverlines and send the cover to the dean for a final “thumbs-up, thumbs-down.”
STEP 7: FINALIZE ILLUSTRATION
Once we have chosen the final illustration, the illustrator fully develops and completes it. With some artists, this can lead to a final image that is far evolved from the original – for example, from a black pencil sketch to a fully detailed colored painting, drawing, or digital image. For others, this stage may simply mean adding backgrounds, texture, and final details.