Spotlight On: Sherin Nicole, Artist

Spotlight On: Dan Dos Santos, Artist
September 16, 2009
Angst for the Memories
September 18, 2009

Sherin Nicole’s art came to my attention with this little cover here on the right. The gorgeous work speaks for itself. I enjoyed getting to pick her professional brain for ideas, insights and of course, art. So grab your coffee and enjoy a morning conversation with Sherin Nicole as our Spotlight On week draws to a close. I hope you’ve enjoyed these wonderful cover artists as much as I have.

Are you a solo artist, or are there other artists working with you or for you?

It depends or the project. Sometimes I work with an illustrator or photographer to capture concepts I wouldn’t be able to achieve on my own or to enrich the representation of theme.

Are you making a living pretty exclusively doing illustration, or do you have another gig?

My secret identity [read day job] is a graphic artist. I do a variety of things from logos to invitations to web sites. I love the mix and problem solving involved in various projects and the way they allow me to explore many different styles.

Is any of your illustration work digital, or is it all hand work?

Most of my work is digital but I’ll also draw certain elements, scan them and layer them into a piece.

Who owns your cover art? (i.e. Owned by you and licensed for use?)

I usually bill the job so the publisher owns the artwork free and clear. It’d be crazy time consuming to hunt down the royalties on licensed work and I already feel like I need an assistant or at least to have my mother come stay for a while. (She’s very organized and I still do whatever she tells me to, which means I’d get more done.)

Can you walk my readers through the process you use to create a cover? Do you read the book? Do you just go from the author feedback or the blurb?

For me the whole concept starts with reading the book. It’s important to me to invoke the same feeling and theme. The cover should be a tasty tidbit that whets your appetite for the read.

Reading the book tends to speak to a style and I get started brainstorming a concept to communicate it. Sometimes I’ll search stock photography to see if anything strikes me. Other times I’ll call the illustrator I want to work with or start figuring out how to create the illustration myself.

I’ll do some basic sketches, show samples or do a write up of the concept for the client—to confirm I’m headed in the right direction. From there the possibilities diverge so greatly I can’t write them all. The finished piece is usually so organic that even I’m surprised by where it ends up.

Do you think that book cover art is actually art? Can it be consider something beyond selling the book?

Great illustration, typography or design is art. Among artist circles and in design magazines they give awards for cover art because other artists understand how much craft and talent it takes to create a truly great book cover. That’s part of the reason I’m so in awe of Chip Kidd. He designs the most amazing covers, seemingly, as easily as having his morning tea. I also love James Jean. His illustrations transport me. And lately I’ve been a fan of, fellow Daily Dose guest, Dan Dos Santos. Beautiful stuff.

James Jean
Chip Kidd

What is the single most important element about book cover art?

Cover art must draw the reader in. It’s gotta have a hook.

Are you trained as an artist? Did you go to art school? Do you have a degree in graphic design or something in the fine arts?

It’s like I’ve been studying art since I was child. After I won my first contest—for an eight year-old’s vision of the Easter Bunny—there was no doubt I’d be ‘artsy’ . Plus I got a five-pound, solid, milk chocolate bunny in the deal.

Experiences like that and studying photography, batik, drawing, etc. from then on, at places like the Sawtooth Center and Art-Is-House, in my hometown Winston-Salem NC, eventually led me to get my BFA.

Sawtooth Center

What is the difference between hardback and paperback book covers?

You know, I haven’t done a book jacket yet. That’s funny. But I would image the only difference is in the two flaps that wrap around the cover to hold it in place. Otherwise you still have to design for a cohesive front, back and spine.

Are you an in-house book cover artist? What process did you have to go through to get that job or any job as a cover artist?

My first cover artist job was for a small publisher out of Baltimore. They’d seen my company’s work and had gotten a referral to us. Each cover seemed to bring about another and I’ve been doing them ever since.

Have you ever done a book cover and thought, I really hate it?

Yep, but I’ll never tell which ones and you def won’t find links to them here.

Have you ever done a book cover for a book you didn’t like? (You don’t have to name names)

Not really but I’ve often been forced to complete a design I didn’t like because the client was adamant. One invitation looked like the precursor to an Easter Egg hunt, the pinks and lavenders they chose were so bright. Made me think of a word my grandmother used to use—garish.

Is there a book cover that another book cover artist that you admire or want to emulate? Is there a cover that you wish you had done or that you just really love?

I absolutely love most anything from James Jean or Chip Kidd. They both have such amazing approaches.

Is there one you have done and really love?

Vibrating with Silence is probably my favorite although I really dig Tell Tales 4: The Global Village because of its ‘fractured fairytale meets the internet as worldwide circus’ vibe. The freakiness of it appeals to me.

Do you think book covers sometimes hurt the sales of a book?

Covers could definitely affect sales when the feeling of the story or theme is not well communicated or if it sends the wrong message. For example a cookbook with a garbage can on it.

Do you think that a lot of people stay away from romances because they are too embarrassed by some book covers?

Possibly. I hear a lot about women camouflaging romance covers behind book sleeves or going so far as to disguise them on eReaders. I haven’t had that problem though. I’m more likely to ‘sneak-read’ something from Garth Ennis while on the Metro so unsuspecting passengers don’t run screaming from visions of pure depravity.

If someone was interested in getting into book covers, do you have any suggestions about how they can go about doing so?

I’m not sure but I’m excited to read the answers from your other guests. I’d like to do a lot more covers.

Do you have any upcoming books coming out?

Not at the moment. Most of my projects have been branding and web design recently. It’d be great to get back to cover and invitation design because they’re so much fun and don’t have as many rules.

Do you feel that a cover should accurately reflect the characters inside the book? Based on the recent controversy over the American cover for the book Liar, how do you feel about covers that may be viewed as inaccurate representations?

Definitely. I actually went on a mini-rant on the subject of the original Liar cover and I’m happy they’ve made the change…as a reader. As a designer the original cover was so much more compelling. Of course, then we have to get into why they didn’t reshoot the original concept and just swap out the model.

So, let’s stick to question at hand. I get a little miffed when I feel the cover artist hasn’t taken the time to understand the characters or the motivations behind the story. It’s laziness or arrogance and it’s disrespectful to the author’s work. The cover artist is the secondary storyteller and they should be working to bring out the best in the book. When that happens the results are so much more beautiful.

Last question, what sets your covers apart from other artists?

Hmm, perhaps it’s my drive to create a snapshot of the book and to do something visually interesting each time. I also think designs become little snippets of visual DNA. Most time you can tell who created a piece just by looking at it—my designs are distinctly me. If that makes any sense.


  1. RKCharron says:

    Hi 🙂
    Thank you for having Sherin Nicole on your site today & thanks to Sherin for sharing.
    I LOVE her artwork.
    I learned about her & her process.
    Thanks again.
    All the best,

  2. Lisa Pietsch says:

    I love this woman! She not only writes a book but she designs an amazing cover for it (and other books) – I just love her.

  3. Wil Walker says:

    "Geniuses are like thunderstorms. They go against the wind, terrify people, cleanse the air." Kierkegaard

    Keep up the AMAZING work! You inspire all of us who know you & support your work.. The world has been waiting… Love Ya!

  4. Love, love, love the pink elephant with wings!

  5. Sherin says:

    I couldn't have asked for more touching comments! I'm caught somewhere between a blush and a huge grin. Thanks so much to each of you.

  6. Meagan G says:

    I absolutely love Sherin to pieces. Not only is she an amazing artist and writer, she's a wonderful friend. I am so proud of her and she deserves every bit of acknowledgement and accolades, and comments that the fans provide. Thank you Heather for choosing to showcase her for your blog.

  7. Bravo!! Fantastic work – as I always say. Insightful interview. The world needs more… You better work!

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