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The Art of Unspoken

Originally published at Sarah Rees Brennan. You can comment here or there.

So, I think you all know I love the Unspoken cover. And the thing is that before I received it, I didn’t know what ‘cut paper art’ even was, I just kept yapping about shadows and silhouettes and wanting my heroine to be DOING SOMETHING on the cover, and then my editor found Beth White and had a brainwave.

Cut paper art had to be explained to me, is what I’m saying.

LOVELY EDITOR MALLORY: So cut paper is when you do a sketch…
SARAH: Like tracing… yes…
LEM: Sort of, okay, but using black paper beneath.
SARAH: Yes! I understand.
SARAH: … Nope, just kidding, run that by me again.

So I thought it would be fun if Beth White, my cover artist, talked a bit about what she did for you guys!


I begin by asking as many questions as possible as to what the art director is envisioning for the cover. Then I begin researching parts such as the iron gate and and the estate house to get the feel of what I want to draw. With just black and white, it is important to balance intricate detail with more solid black and to position everything just so …especially on the figure. Her face and hands especially need to fall in the negative space but not look contrived. I also tried to give her a sense of urgency and hesitation….wonder and a little fear….by the way she is standing and how her hands are positioned. I hoped that it gives the feeling of that. (SARAH: Yes it super does! Mallory and I had many a conversation about how we wanted Kami of Unspoken on her feet, bent on a mission, because we’d seen a lot of covers with girls who were not *acting*… often who were dead, and we wanted something different.)

I did probably 5 gates before I got the gate to look imposing because the cover space for the gate is actually a little narrow. I loved the idea of woman’s head with the flowing hair in the gate (SARAH: Yup, the ladies with flowing hair are in the book and are indeed a plot point, so I stuffed my hand in my mouth and giggled with girlish glee to see them so beauteously rendered) and ran with it….again the hair needed to work with the negative space…and there is a fine line between just enough and too many strands. The falling leaves were an overlay but added so much to the cover.

I sketch all the art on tracing paper because I can move things around and see the spacing etc. When the art is approved I reverse trace the image onto black paper. Then I cut the black paper in reverse which keeps me true to my line (because it is in reverse and not as I have been looking at it for weeks). Keeps me on my toes for the final cut :) …then I clean up hairs and cuts on the right side and attach it to mat board.

You can see more art at
Beth White’s agent’s website.

Holy God, y’all, I implore you to click on this link. There is some BEAUTIFUL STUFF here. So many beautiful things!

I have told you all of the trials of getting Unspoken cover art at all, and how my first cover artist ran away from me!

When I first saw that sketch, I practically burst into tears in an airport. I was quite overcome.

It was like a miracle to get such a beautiful cover: as I’ve said, I know it’s a super risky and different cover for YA, and I am scared stiff about that, but the stores who are behind Unspoken are super behind it (I already bragged about Unspoken being on display in Powell’s), it is AMAZING ART and I feel privileged to have received it.

And I got permission to show you Beth White’s first sketch, and then the cover that resulted!

Untitled 2 Bren_Unspoken hires cover Bren_Unspoken hires jkt

My editor said ‘Kami wears kitten heels!’ and I said ‘That dude silhouette. More buff. Add jacket.’ (I didn’t think I’d ever sit around objectifying a silhouette, but there you go.) And we both said, BOTH SIDES OF THE GATE ALL LADIES ALL THE TIME.

And that is how the cover of Unspoken, out right now at this time, was made!

I hoped you guys would find it interessante. ;)

Also a couple more reviews of Unspoken! And some dreamcasting

In summary, Beth White is a genius!


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 14th, 2012 05:31 pm (UTC)
It makes me sad that this cover is considered "risky" because I would be much more likely to buy a book with a cover like this than any kind of photographic cover (I've bought the UK Unspoken for now but will be buying an American copy simply for the cover when I get paid this month). I think artistic covers show that more thought and time and inspiration have gone into producing the book, so therefore it must be a better book (confession: this strategy doesn't always work but I find it's a good way of narrowing down what to buy). I have bought, and will continue to buy, books for nothing more than a beautifully artistic cover (likewise DVDs; HMV is drawing me away from Internet DVD purchases by having store exclusive packaging; could be an interesting way to go for bookshops). </p>

Wish YA publishers would realise the benefits of stunning covers like this and stop taking the photographic route quite so often!

(Deleted comment)
Sep. 14th, 2012 07:06 pm (UTC)
I literally just finished reading the book and refreshed to find this. I think the cover is amazing, fits the story excellently, and I hope you can get the same artist for the next book(s?). Also I cannot wait to read more, because yowza.
Sep. 14th, 2012 08:17 pm (UTC)
Like clo I _love_ this cover and am a bit sad that I have the UK version. That cover is nice enough, but it doesn't grab me in the same way. And I don't normally notice covers much - Elizabeth Wein's The Sunbird is the only other one I can think of off hand that I _really_ like (very different in style; it has a matt cover and is lovely and sort-of glows).

I loved that the pre-stories were also decorated with this cut paper art. So pretty!
Sep. 14th, 2012 11:00 pm (UTC)
Goodness--I just noticed that the gate looks a bit like a skull!!!!! Or at least an evilish face with a long nose.

Regardless, it is a think of beauty.
Sep. 15th, 2012 02:00 am (UTC)
I just got my copy of the book in mail today! I am about to start reading it. So excited!
Sep. 15th, 2012 03:49 am (UTC)
Love the cover & can't wait to get my copy in the mail! I went to my local Barnes & Noble today and they did not have it, I was very sad. So, it has been ordered from the internets!
Sep. 15th, 2012 05:35 am (UTC)
I have received the call from my local indy bookstore that my three books have arrived!

I shall have to wait until monday to pick them up, because I'm working through the weekend.

(nibbles fingers anxiously...)
Sep. 15th, 2012 09:17 pm (UTC)
I've got my copy already , and obviously love it, but wish I could have this cover instead of the UKs one, its gorgeous.
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Sep. 16th, 2012 03:30 am (UTC)
I think so, too. ;)
Sep. 18th, 2012 09:59 am (UTC)
This was a really interesting entry! The cover is still the most beauteous I have ever seen and I can't wait to hold this book in my hands and cover it with kisses of love. I just ordered it yesterday, and I hope it will arrive shortly FOR I AM DYING OF IMPATIENCE.
Sep. 24th, 2012 07:32 pm (UTC)
I have the UK cover too but I don't care because I LOVED the story and didn't want to wait. It was great Sarah, all the secondary characters really well drawn and engaging, will be fascinated to see who comes to the fore in the next book....and when will that be???? I didn't expect quite such a cliff hanger. I know you said it was written, perhaps I should bribe your publishers? Thank you, I will try and do a proper review on amazon with lots of stars. Any appearances/ signings coming up in England?
Sep. 25th, 2012 12:33 pm (UTC)
Aw, thank you! Untold's out in September: it's going into copyedits so it's not done...
Oct. 2nd, 2012 12:09 am (UTC)
I'm so glad you liked!

Kami's the POV for all the books... not doing that again. But a couple more wee POVs upcoming. ;)
Sep. 26th, 2012 04:03 pm (UTC)
September 2014?? That is way too long to wait! Can I bribe you to write faster? I could buy the other cover?
Sep. 26th, 2012 09:07 pm (UTC)
No! My goodness! 2013. ;)
Oct. 11th, 2012 12:15 pm (UTC)
I think it's a beautiful cover, it reminds of the puffin covers for Joan Aiken's books if you ever read any of them.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )


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