Minor supreme being, tiny sharks, and an interview with cover artist Chris Buzelli

When you’re writing a book, for a long time you’re a type of minor supreme being. You’re created a world and it belongs only to you. You’re the only one who knows anything about it. You decide what happens. The characters bend to your will. So does the weather. If you’re in bed with a cold, then nothing happens in that world for a day. The whole thing exists only in your own mind. It feels great! But then, if you’re lucky, a friend reads it, your agent reads it, your editor reads it, your publisher reads it … and before you know it, the world you’ve created exists in all these other minds, too, and is getting altered and jumbled and transformed in all sorts of strange and exciting ways.

Most spectacularly, an artist creates a cover, and for the first and only time—vividly, visually—you know what the world you’ve created looks like to another person. You realize, with both wonder and some wistfulness, that it no longer fully belongs to you. It’s been broken down into raw material for the engine of another’s imagination, and something new has emerged. The same thing happens anytime anyone opens a book and begins reading—each reader sees the world uniquely, and as a consequence, the stories writers have dreamed up become bigger and richer and more unexpected and wonderful. It really is like magic.

And the covers that Chris Buzelli painted for the three Tamarind books really are magical. I couldn’t stop beaming when I first saw them. The three images are distinctive but harmonious, all of a piece. I love how classic they feel, the dreamy color palette, the rich detail, the way each image draws you in. Chris was kind enough to answer a few questions and to share some early drafts, as well as a very cool video of himself painting some teeny tiny sharks on the cover of The Lost Island of Tamarind.

What’s your best time of the day to work?

Right after I walk my dog in the morning. My brain is usually most awake from about 7am till about 3pm. I used to be a night owl but now I’m a morning person. I’m on my dog’s schedule now.

What do you love most about your studio?

I’m really lucky to have a studio in Manhattan with lots of window light. I sometimes have to shut the blinds because I get too much sunlight at certain parts of the day.

 When publishers approach you about book covers, how do you decide which jobs to accept? 

I usually base my jobs on: #1 if I’m interested in the subject, #2 if the budget is decent and #3 if I can fit it into my schedule.

How do you figure out what sort of feeling a book cover should create?

That all depends on the content of the book. I usually read the book or get a detailed synopsis in order to distill the content and get a feel for the mood. I then try and match the mood/atmosphere by doing many preliminary sketches. The sketches are what I think the Tamarind world would look like through my eyes. The great thing about books is that they create a wonderful world with words, and I get to create that world with images.

What medium do you work in?

Oil paints on board.

How many drafts do you scrunch up and throw in the wastebasket before you hit on one that you know is right? How long does each cover image take you to create?

I do many sketches before I get started on the final in order to avoid trashing a painting. I usually spend a day or two on sketches in order to get the idea and composition just right before I move on to the final drawing. This process helps greatly and I can avoid any big mistakes and time-consuming revisions when working on the final painting. However, every once in a while I still make mistakes in the final painting and have to start over.

 What’s your favorite detail on the three Tamarind covers?

I had a favorite part about each cover but my favorite was definitely painting the four jaguars, three sharks, three dolphins and many birds on The Lost Island of Tamarind cover.

Did you love art when you were a kid?

Of course! I was always trying to impress friends and family with my art. I think I’m still trying to do the same.

Below are the draft sketches for the three Tamarind books, and a photo of Chris in his studio. 

Explore more of his work at www.chrisbuzelli.com or instagram.com/chrisbuzelli

Sketch Secrets F&F.jpg
Sketch Great Wave F&F.jpg