Sunday, April 24, 2011

Red Riding Hood Movie Fans Exclusive: Interview with Illustrator Craig Phillips

Even if you were miffed by the end of the novel Red Riding Hood (I was actually relieved not to have the end spoiled before the movie), you have to admit the cover illustration is stunning.

By some stroke of luck, the artist responsible for the piece, Australian illustrator Craig Phillips, found his way to this blog. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about his experience with Red Riding Hood and his work in general.

Check out the interview below.

In terms of designing a cover for a novel, how much information is provided to an illustrator in order for them to complete their work (synopsis, character descriptions, etc)? 

It really varies from job to job. Some Editors and Art Directors are very loose with art direction, and some are very tight.

Sometimes I will receive a synopsis, and sometimes a full manuscript. On some projects the art director will require me to capture a general feel or strong theme that might run through the book. Other times they simply pull out the most exciting passage and tell me to go for it and make it fun.

In the case of Red Riding Hood, the art direction was very tight. The composition was all directed firmly by the Art Director. But I had to sort of bring it to life with the final line work and capture a certain feeling they were after. I often feel stifled by this type of art direction. It leaves an artist very little to work with and the results can reflect this. But the art director on Red Riding Hood is very, very good - and she was a delight to work with!

She provided me with a sketch of her thoughts which I felt was very promising. It was basically a less refined version of the final product. She did ask me to contribute some of my own designs with her input, four of which you can see as pencil sketches.

After some discussion we returned to the original idea which was simpler and more graphic and ran with that. She requested that the cover be mostly white, with the iconic red cape and a hint of snow covered forest wrapping round the spine to the back cover.

I then executed the cover in ink and water colour and photoshop, submitted the art, was requested to make one change, being to give her that very long exaggerated cape, and it was all wrapped up!

The cover for Red Riding Hood is so in tune with the aesthetics of the film. Were you provided with any footage or art from the film to guide you in your design?

I was not given any images for Red Riding Hood. I worked off specific art direction instead. Really, the only thing in there that was an issue was the length of that cape. I had to exaggerate it more then in my original pass to fit with the film.

Red Riding Hood is such an iconic character. What was it like contributing to such a long standing tradition?

GREAT! I LOVE this material. If I could work with fairy tales and folk lore every day for the rest of my life - I would! I am currently working on that by creating short graphic adaptations of old tales, the first being The Boy who was Never Afraid, a Swedish tale penned in 1912 by Alfred Smedberg. I find this material so magical, so compelling and so visually rich to work with.  I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to work with these tales.

You also illustrated the covers for the Maggie Quinn series. Is there an added pressure when you are responsible for visualizing a character for readers?

This is a very interesting question! It is something I think about all the time, and argue with my artist peers about.

As far as I am concerned, a book cover should be more of a conceptual illustration, rather than a straight character piece. I loved Red Riding Hood because it was done in a very minimal way. It was all about being simple, being well designed and focusing on an iconic portrayal of character rather than a character study. We don't see her face, and that's a good thing. We see the cape and we immediately know its her.  We do not need to know anything else. I believe that should be left up to the readers interpretation of the text and how the character appears in the readers own minds eye.

Having said that, I still do a lot of jackets where I have to create a character on the cover, and I see a lot of these on the stands too. The Maggie Quinn series was another great project with a wonderful Art Director, and I was really proud of what we created for those. I just cant help but think that my portrayal of the character might interfere with the reader as they are digesting the text.

I am creating a jacket now, right this morning actually,  for an Oliver Twist tale where I am required to portray the character on the cover, but I am going to see if I cant work in a few other designs in there as well.

I think the tendency ( and yes, this is a bit of a generalization) is that for the younger pre-teen readers we often do characters, and for older readers we can get away with something a little more suggestive and broken down.

If any of your readers have an opinion on having characters drawn for them on novel covers, I'd like to hear it. Maybe its just me and my own taste?

While photographs can be art in their own right, what advantages are there to illustration? On the flip side, are there any disadvantages or restrictions in terms of illustration?

I think it comes down to the Art director. A good Art director will pick the right artist for the job. Sometimes a great photo will work, sometimes a nice illustration. But a good Art director making the right decisions and picking the right artist to fit the particular project is the key to a great product being made.

Is there a particular artist/illustrator who inspired you in the beginning? Now?

Loads!  Firstly, turn of the century illustrators - Arthur Rakham, Edmund Dulac, Kaye Neilson, Aubrey Beardsley, John Bauer, Heinrich Kley. 

Then I love artists such as Charles Vess, James Jean, Tomer Hanuka, Alex Toth, Miyazaki and .. I could go on and on. Too much inspiring stuff out there.
Charles Vess

Edmund Dulac

Thanks again to Craig for taking the time to do this interview. 

Check out more of Craig's work on his site and blog.

He has also recently opened an etsy store, Pencil.Paper.Ink., where some of his prints are available, including the Red Riding Hood piece.


  1. Wow, lucky to have an interview with Craig. :) I really love the cover of the RRH book. It's beautiful! :D

  2. smexy ninja warewolfMay 23, 2011 at 1:43 PM

    luved the movie!!! i wish every movie was as amazing as RRH.....