Unused Artwork for 13 Hangmen
Occasionally, for various reasons, a piece of commissioned artwork might ultimately not be used on the final cover. The above image, commissioned by Abrams Books last year for 13 Hangmen, was one such piece. The finished artwork was originally approved and everyone was happy with it, but a few months later I was told they were going to go in a different direction with the cover and weren’t going to use my image; the sales team wanted a cover that felt a bit more middle-grade and less YA. I still really like the image and hope it eventually finds a home elsewhere!
During the creation of this image the idea went through a number of changes so I thought this project would serve as a good behind-the-scenes look at the creation process and collaborating with the designer in developing an idea.
The designer, Maria Middleton sent me this synopsis of the book:
“The book is called 13 HANGMEN by Art Corriveau. It’s a middle-grade historical mystery/adventure set in present and past Boston, Mass. Tony, the main character, discovers that when he places certain objects on a magical spiral in his bedroom at 13 Hangmen Court, he can interact with people from the past. He conjures up five teenage boys: all 13 years old, all living in the same attic bedroom at 13 Hangmen, but all at different points in history. Together, the boys solve a murder and find a treasure. Of the objects used to bring the boys back from the past, the most notable is a claddagh door knocker, dating from the 1700s.”
Maria already had a firm concept in mind and sent me her initial mockup of the idea. She wanted to feature an old-looking claddagh door knocker on an old wooden door, but integrated into the loop of the knocker, like little decorative elements, would be some of the other magical objects: a hangman’s noose, a Jewish prayer scroll, a skeleton key, a 5-pointed star, a spiral and a bell. The cover was to be simple but atmospheric, mysterious and creepy. A cover with a similar feel to what she wanted for this was Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Below are my initial rough sketches.
When getting feedback one concern the sales reps had was that the cover felt too quiet. So Maria made a few suggestions we could try:
• She envisioned the knocker as the key to solving the book’s mystery; all the clues of the puzzle are there but don’t immediately jump out because they are incorporated so well into the knocker. So we had to find a way of incorporating the objects (key, noose etc) better.
• She thought it might be good if the noose could be incorporated into the knocker ring.
• A place is needed for the title so she suggested adding a back plate that extends behind the ring and the title could go in the centre of the knocker.
• The book also includes time travel and ghost encounters which could be referenced; maybe ghostly reflections in the knocker or old graffiti on the door.
I agreed with all the suggestions but thought that perhaps having ghostly reflections in the knocker would clutter things up too much if we were already incorporating the various objects into it. I suggested a ghostly hand reaching for the knocker instead, which she liked. Here was my next rough.
The elements in this composition were much more cohesive. Editorial provided feedback that they wanted to play up the ‘boy’ appeal and that the heart, even though it’s part of the claddagh, seems too feminine. To counteract this it was suggested:
• A lion’s head could be added where the bell is to give the composition a more masculine and semi-scary focal point.
• The heart can be smaller
• The decorative flourishes in the corner should be more geometric.
Other feedback was to make the shape of the knocker more rounded to create a bigger area for the title. I was also sent names of the characters and significant dates that could be used as graffiti as well as suggestions of a baseball and hanging tree.
Here’s my next sketch. As the lion was to take the place of the bell, I decided to try moving the bell outside of the actual knocker. By using an old victorian bell design I was able to incorporate the spiral into the bell as well, so now not all the objects would be in just the knocker itself.
A few minor tweaks were then required:
• They wanted the lion’s eyes to be open and look more ominous.
• As the lion in the composition makes the knocker so strong it was felt that the bell wasn’t needed anymore.
• With the bell gone perhaps the spiral or hanging tree could be worked into the graffiti. Maria was envisioning the drawings being like the prisoner graffiti from the Tower of London.
• The back plate should be more ornate – maybe it rounds out around the ring.
Below is the final rough sketch.
Both sales and editorial loved this sketch and I was given the go ahead to proceed with the final artwork with a note that the colour should be strong so that it really pops off the shelf.
This is the first version of the final art I turned in.
Everyone loved the knocker and was wondering if we needed the hand anymore. Before removing the hand we also tried a version with it transparent without the blue glow.
It was finally decided to leave out the hand completely. I added some more graffiti in place of the hand to balance the composition and was able to incorporate the bell after all. This is the final version that was approved.
Although it was disappointing that it was not used in the end, I was very happy with the image I’d created and it had been a fun project to work on. The rights for the image were reverted back to me so maybe one day it’ll find it’s way onto some other cover…