Interview ~ the Talented Kelly Murphy, Cover Artist of FLYING THE DRAGON

Well, it is a pleasure to be a fellow party-thrower here for Natalie’s Launch Party–an honor, really. I always find it kind of funny to read a book written by someone who I like so much as Natalie. As I read it, I could swear that I heard it in her voice sometimes. Anyway, it only added to the experience. 🙂

FLYING THE DRAGON is a wonderfully layered story. I learned so much about the Japanese culture in reading it. I also feel like I learned about these two characters that felt so real to me. It is a story that has many themes that the mind lingers upon once the book is closed–things that many of us are thinking about these days such as the many children who are learning English as a second language (And their dedicated teachers!) and the integration of multiculturalism into our great melting pot here. However, at its heart it is a story about family, love, and honor. It is a story about two very different kids (and cousins) whose worlds crash who ultimately come to realize that they have a few very important things in common–such as a deep love for their grandfather. It was a pleasure to be on that journey with Skye and Hiroshi. Also, it is the first book that I’ve ever read that made me want to build and fly my own kite.

Another honor for me! I had the opportunity to interview Kelly Murphy, the very talented illustrator who painted the lovely cover of FLYING THE DRAGON. Let’s hear from her, shall we?

Ø The cover of FLYING THE DRAGON is gorgeous! How did you manage to add so much richness to a piece of art that is largely one color (yellow)?

I am so glad that you can see the richness of the sunlight in the painting. It was exactly what I was trying to capture. If I had to say that one particular thing is the inspiration for my artwork, I would have to answer light. Light can convey so much depth and emotion. I paint in a number of layers, alternating from oils to acrylics, one layer developing the tonal structure and the other layer bringing in the subtly of hue shift. I think the richness or glow is directly related to this type of glazing.

Ø Do you read a book before deciding to accept a project? Are there factors that you take into account besides just the story?

Typically, I always have enough time to read the whole manuscript. I personally think it is really important to read the whole manuscript. Sometimes, the author is still going through revisions, but it is at a healthy point where I can start to create the visual imagery. One important thing that I always try to take into account is uniqueness, or shelf-pop of the book cover. With so many books being displayed in libraries and bookstores, I always want to create a cover that provides that extra something that brings a read in.

Ø Would you please give us a bit of information about the mediums you used here and what other mediums you may have considered? Did you have other cover ideas that you didn’t use?

Most of the work that I do for publishing is traditional mixed media. I combine acrylics and oils in thin layers to allow light to reflect the translucency of the pigments. I used to have difficulty painting value (lights and darks) with color. I developed a technique of separating the two necessary qualities into separate layers. The yellow that you mentioned earlier is actually my oil layer that I used to establish value within the image. Typically, I like to provide the publisher with a few different ideas for each story. If I am lucky, the editors and art directors like one of them more than the other, and with a few compositional tweaks, I can go to a finish. I really enjoyed the shape of the rokkaku kite, and tried to work it in as a motif in some of the sketches, but those sketches seemed to get away from the more important mood that the book was wonderfully written in. I can see why the editors and art directors chose their preferred image. Below are the other ideas I presented.

The final masterpiece!

Ø As an artist, can you please share a bit about your process of choosing from the many facets of a book when deciding what to depict on a cover? Is it your decision or does the publisher weigh in?

Sometimes publishers have a set idea they want to use. More often, they trust the creative process and conceptual strength that an illustrator brings to a table. I can imagine how difficult it might be to have a piece of writing and have someone else enter with their own visuals of that writing. I really respect authors for their bravery. Typically, I will read through the whole manuscript and highlight all of the necessary pieces of information: age of character, description of character, location, names, likes, dislikes… all of the facts that need to be met. Then, at the end of each chapter I select two different images that spoke to me the strongest, or which moment was key to understanding more about the characters. By the books end, I can then see all of those notes and deduce what brings them all together. What was the overall message the author was trying to convey? I’d like to think that illustrators are problem solvers… and we discover how to communicate the best idea visually.

Ø -Your cover art has a lot of movement- how do you work out the composition so that it stays alive?

Phew! I am glad you think so! Compositional focus is very important when trying to present these visual ideas I keep talking about. Do we focus on Skye in the bottom right hand corner first because she is the darkest object on the cover first? Or do we follow the bright red kite into the undulating dragon, down the string to Hiroshi, then follow the path to Skye? Much like understanding the course of events in a movie or animation, illustrators need to sequence and pace which information their viewer concentrates on in one image. I simply create a hierarchy of objects, or what are the most important things to notice first. The best way to do this…? Thumbnail sketch every possible idea.

Thanks so much again for the opportunity to be a part of Natalie’s book launch!

No, thank YOU, Kelly. It was so great to hear about your process! ALso thanks for your generosity in sharing these other versions of covers for FLYING THE DRAGON. Any one of them would have been great! But I really do love the final one.

Thank you, again. 🙂

AND ~ my heartfelt **congratulations** to Natalie on her launch! YEAH!

<Lynda is told to go fly a kite. Having been told *many times* to go do this, this is the first time she is happy to oblige.>


Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, cover art, Happiness, Promotion, Updates on our Books!

19 responses to “Interview ~ the Talented Kelly Murphy, Cover Artist of FLYING THE DRAGON

  1. Cynthia Levinson

    What a brilliant idea, Lynda, to interview the cover artist! I recall from talking with you about the cover of ONE FOR THE MURPHYS (another great book, by the way!) that both the details, such as the color of Carly’s sneakers, and the overall tone were equally important. The same is true with Kelly’s cover for Natalie’s book–Skye’s bicycle, for instance, and the shape of the kite as well as the general mood evoked by the sunlight. Thank you, Kelly, for sharing your alternative sketches, which are fascinating. Each is so wonderful, I’d have a hard time deciding! And, thank you, Lynda, for asking Kelly such brilliant questions. I learned so much from your post.


    • Natalie Dias Lorenzi

      These *are* brilliant questions, and Kelly’s answers are equally so. I thought Lynda’s idea of interviewing Kelly was fabulous. It’s been fun getting to know Kelly!


  2. Oh my gosh–this was SUCH a cool post! I loved seeing all of the other potential covers–they’re all so beautiful, and capture elements of the book in different ways. Great interview, Lynda, and great answers and artwork, Kelly!


    • Natalie Dias Lorenzi

      Isn’t it fascinating to see the other covers? I also love Kelly’s process of summing up each chapter with two images–that would be a great exercise for writers during revision, I would think. I’d be stick figures all the way, but act of drawing in order to encapsulate the heart of each chapter? I’ve got to try this with my next novel…


  3. Joann C

    Love the art previews and seeing a piece in action. congratulations!


    • Natalie Dias Lorenzi

      This was thrilling for me, too, Joann! It’s funny, because a lot of my students think I just wrote down my story and then was done. But that’s kind of what I thought about Kelly–that she sketched out the cover, Charlesbridge loved it, and then she painted it. Done! Now I feel like my students….:-P


  4. What a beautiful cover and what a fascinating process!


  5. Great interview! I really like the original art sketches! They are all awesome! I like the one that is 3rd from the top the most. It is cool!


    • Natalie Dias Lorenzi

      That one is also amazing, isn’t it? I was struck by how similar it is to the final cover. I once read an interview with Kelly that says she likes to pose some kind of question in her art, and I think that question is the difference between the cover that’s third from the top and the final one–with Skye being more prominent in the final cover, I can see that she’s stopped her bike to look at the kite, and I automatically ask myself why she’s hesitating to approach Hiroshi. I have no idea if this is what Kelly was thinking, but it’s fun to ponder, isn’t it? The teacher in me would love to show kids these sketches and ask which one they would choose and why. 🙂
      Thanks for chiming in, Erick!


  6. Mike Jung

    I’ve been a fan of Kelly Murphy since I first saw her work with Boni Ashburn on HUSH LITTLE DRAGON, and I love this peek at the backstage process for FLYING THE DRAGON. I sense a dragon theme…


    • Natalie Dias Lorenzi

      I’m a huge fan of Kelly’s, as well. How could one not be? 🙂 I was invited to a middle grade ARC club at my local indie where kids choose an ARC each month and then come back to share what they thought the following month. One reader had a copy of Christine Brodien-Jones middle grade novel The Scorpions of Zahir, which I hadn’t seen before because it’s not out yet. I took one look at the cover and said, “Kelly Murphy must have illustrated that!” I was right. 🙂 Kelly’s art has that special quality where one can tell that the art was created by her hand, yet each cover is unique.


  7. I loved getting a peek into what’s seemed to me a mysterious process. It’s so interesting to see how the art and analysis fused to create just the right image. Great interview!


  8. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    This process has always been mysterious for me, too, Jeanne, and this interview was a delicious peek into what goes into creating a cover. So grateful to Lynda and Kelly for letting us take a look. 🙂


  9. It’s so amazing what cover artists do for our books–I’m glad we got to celebrate Kelly’s work here along with yours, Natalie. The cover is a perfect fit for the book inside it!


  10. Pingback: soup of the day: flying the dragon by natalie dias lorenzi « Jama's Alphabet Soup

  11. Pingback: Cover reveal: ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman! | EMU's Debuts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.