Thursday, April 9, 2015

Birth of a Cover Design: A Step-by-Step Reveal of BOUNDERS by Monica Tesler

Welcome to the
BOUNDERS Cover Reveal and Interview with Cover Illustrator Antonio Caparo
a guest post by Monica Tesler

I am so excited to reveal the cover for BOUNDERS, the first book in my debut middle grade science fiction series coming in early 2016 from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. And I’m particularly delighted to share the cover here at Project Mayhem.

A few years ago, just as I was jumping into the query trenches with BOUNDERS, I entered a contest at Project Mayhem hosted by former Mayhemmer, Mike Winchell. As one of the top finalists in the contest, I won an opening pages critique from current Mayhemmer, Dianne Salerni. Her feedback was instrumental in helping me mold BOUNDERS into the book it is today. So when I prepared for the cover reveal, I knew Project Mayhem would be the perfect place.

I am so happy that Antonio Caparo, my incredibly talented cover illustrator, agreed to answer a few questions about his work and the design process behind the BOUNDERS cover. When I first saw the cover art, I was blown away. The illustration is stunning, unique, and perfectly captures my book and its characters.
First of all, Antonio, I have to tell you how much I love the BOUNDERS cover! I can’t imagine a more perfect illustration to introduce this story and these characters. So thank you! And thanks for answering a few questions. Kicking things off, how did you get started in cover illustration?

I studied Graphic Design at the Superior Institute of Design in Havana. On the first year I found a book at the Institute’s library: Guide to Fantasy Art Techniques. It contained interviews to some of the most prolific artists of the moment: Jim Burns, Chris Foss, Boris Vallejo, Syd Mead. I was totally blown away and that defined a path for me. I would do Graphic Design, Comics or Animation on my professional life but illustrating Sci-Fi and Fantasy books became a passion and an obsession for me.

Well I’m very happy that it did! On the business side of things, who do you work with at the publishing house? And how does the process get started?

The process starts at my agency. They contact me about a possible project. Apart from dates, budget and terms they usually share some basic information about it to see if I’m interested and if I agree then I get in touch with the publishing house, most frequently the Art Director to discuss the project in detail.

I’m often asked—and I’m curious myself—how is the scene or image for the cover determined? How much direction are you given from the publisher?

This varies depending on the project. Sometimes they just give me a rough concept of what they want, others they give me a more precise description of a scene, main characters, general tone and sometimes I get total freedom to present my own ideas. Most Art Directors send me samples from both my portfolio with the pieces they like the most and from other covers in the market.

How much information I get varies from project to project. Some Art Directors share the entire manuscript to read and sometimes I can’t get more than a brief description to work with.

Now moving on to BOUNDERS, could you describe your actual design process for the cover?

I had the opportunity to read the entire manuscript so I was lucky to have a great input from the book and its fascinating characters. The more I can read into a book the more ideas will come to my mind. I ended up doing four different sketches. I always use ballpoint pen on a sketchbook to doodle the first concepts, it is the fastest way for me to put the ideas out of my mind.

Then I re-drew the most promising ones with graphite pencil, scanned them and added some quick splashes of grey and cyan in Photoshop to define lights and shadows before sending the sketches to the Art Director.

As you can see here I was so fascinated by the idea of the spheres of light that I went ahead and created a batch of light spheres ecosystems in a 3D program that I used both in the sketches as in the final image.

The selected one -which happily was also my favorite- got a color treatment with the final color palette and after a final review and some minor adjustments from the publishing house I got approved to proceed to finals.

So the process for the final image started. I placed the final sketch in a separate layer in a Photoshop file and having it as a guideline I started to build the final image from the background -back wall, station structures- up to the foreground -kids, spheres of light and effects-

There is so much energy and movement in the BOUNDERS cover. How do you bring those elements into an illustration?

The first roughs I did were a bit static and I felt they didn’t catch the feeling of the book quite right. So I started by twisting the horizon. It is a simple technique that helps accent the sense of action and peril. I also exaggerated the body poses cheating gravity a bit but without making them look like superheroes because above all I wanted them to look as regular kids. I also played with dynamic compositional lines trying to connect one element to another  with a sort of musical rhythm to make the viewer spins around the cover. Also the light played an important role here. For an image with so much movement as this one you need a clear focus point to connect and organize all the elements together.

That is so cool! I loved getting a behind-the-scenes peek at how the BOUNDERS cover was created. What do you like most about being a cover illustrator?

I have done different kinds of illustrations from school textbooks to advertising but the possibility to create a single image that encompass a story is specially challenging and exciting. A cover is a door into the book and getting it done right is a difficult task. You need to show a bit of a story or magnetic characters -but not too much- that hook the readers and make them want to know more, to travel inside the pages.

That is a perfect way to explain the importance and magic of a cover, particularly for middle grade books! Where can we find out more about you and your incredible work?

My personal website is:

And this is the site of my agency, Shannon Associates:

And my personal blog:

Thanks so much for answering a few questions and sharing your art, Antonio! I am so happy that we got the chance to connect over the terrific cover you created for BOUNDERS!

And now, find out more about BOUNDERS and see the final cover!

Thirteen years ago, Earth Force, a space-military agency, discovered a connection between brain structure and space travel. Now EarthBound Academy has recruited the first group of cadets, Bounders, to be trained as aeronauts and experts in quantum ship bounding—traveling anywhere in the universe in a split second.

Twelve-year-old Jasper is in the first group sent out to space. After being bullied back on Earth, Jasper is excited to serve in Earth Force and connect with the other cadets. At the Academy, Jasper and his new friends have a blast playing in the sensory gym and riding the suction chutes that connect the space station structures, not to mention learning about new technologies and taking classes on the proper use of jet packs.

But soon Jasper learns that they haven’t been told everything about Earth Force. The cadets weren’t brought to space to become perfect aeronauts, but to learn a new, highly classified tech that allows them to quantum bound . . . without a ship. And that might not be the only secret that Earth Force has been keeping—the new technology may have been stolen, and the original owners want revenge.

When Jasper and his friends discover the truth about why Earth Force needs the Bounders, they are faced with a choice: Do they rebel against the Academy that brought them together? Or do they fulfill their duties and protect the planet, no matter the cost?

With an alien threat on the horizon, they don’t have much time to decide.

Monica Tesler lives in a coastal community south of Boston with her husband and their two boys. She is the author of BOUNDERS, a new middle grade science fiction series coming in early 2016 from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. You can find her online at and on twitter as @MonicaTesler.


  1. Monica, this is such a GORGEOUS cover reveal!!! I love that Project Mayhem has been with you from the literal start of your project. So cool! And watching this cover come to life through this interview? Awesome. LOVE the sphere of light, the colors, the kids. It's stellar. Interstellar. Can't wait to read about the BOUNDERS cadets!!!

  2. Congrats, Monica! And what a great interview with Antonio and insight into the illustration process. I have so much respect and awe for illustrators, and the more I see of the process, the more respect awe I have.

  3. I absolutely love this cover!

    I'm also intrigued by the Ghosts of Covers that Didn't Come to Be ...

  4. Gorgeous cover, love the light and colors, just the whole feel of movement in space. Congrats!

  5. Love it! My 5yo is sitting here beside me. He spotted it and said, "Ooh, what's that? It looks cool!" :D

  6. Monica, thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to share some of my process of creation. Can't wait to have the physical book in my hands!
    In a last note I would like to thank Karin Paprocki, the Art Director from S&S for her guidance and help during the process.

  7. Thanks so much for all your kind comments! I am so happy that the BOUNDERS cover has made its way into the world!

    Antonio, thank you again for answering questions and giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the design process. It's really fascinating and incredibly cool!

    And thanks to the Project Mayhem team, especially Dianne Salerni, for hosting the BOUNDERS cover reveal on your fabulous middle grade blog!!

  8. What a fantastic process to follow - and this cover is gorgeous! Love the fluid movement and light - and the mix of begin grounded in technology and magic. Thanks for sharing and congrats!

  9. What a great post! I'm glad that Project Mayhem had a part of your journey, and honored that you are revealing your cover on our blog. I found the whole process fascinating.

  10. Really amazing cover, and great to see all the steps that went into it. Especially liked clicking back and forth between the two versions and seeing how he improved the girl at the top left with tiny adjustments.

    And the story sounds great as well!

  11. What a treat to see the cover come to life! Thanks so much for sharing this process, and I can't wait to hold BOUNDERS in my hands!

  12. Good interview, I'm always in awe of people who can do that kind of art.

  13. I absolutely love the reminder that artists go through the drafting and revision process just like authors do. This sounds wonderful! I'm thinking Ender's Game-ish, which is one high compliment.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!