That About Covers It: An Interview with Illustrator and Concept Artist, Courtney Trowbridge

Last winter, I had the pleasure of working with Courtney on the cover design for The Mourning Ring. We share a love of British Literature and fairy tales, so the partnership was a great experience!

Courtney was gracious enough to agree to let me interview her about the cover design process for other authors seeking to self-publish. Hiring a professional to help me capture the style of my novel was the best investment I’ve ever made!

SP: How would you describe your artistic style?

CT: My personal style is pretty whimsical and it’s very in touch with my interest in costumes, history, literature, fairy tales and storytelling. I absolutely love adding in as much detail as time allows. I still skew toward stylization in my work, but the more I practice my craft, the more interest I have in furthering my skills in realism and painting really convincing lighting.

SP: Prior to The Mourning Ring, had you ever worked on a book cover before?

CT: I’ve done a few book covers for self-published fiction and children’s book authors in the past, which were good experiences. But as a fan of English Lit and fantasy, The Mourning Ring couldn’t have been more up my alley. It was one of those projects that I felt extra passionate about because it aligned with my own interests.

SP: Can you describe the process of working with a client? How do you come up with a design concept?

CT: When I’m getting a brief from a client, it can include anything from existing product design images to text-only descriptions. When I get something like the latter, I read it a bunch and just start to get images floating through my head of what I think would look cool and what I believe the client is trying to visualize. I really try to listen to my clients. Next, I do some sketches, I collect reference from the internet, and then I look at that to make better sketches and compositions. For a book cover, I’ll email those that I’m happy

Initial sketch ideas for The Mourning Ring. Eventually, we settled on a version with the hawthorn tree.

with over to my client (if they haven’t specified a number) and see how they feel about them. We’ll make some adjustments usually, and then I’ll start working on the final, checking in with them in increments they feel comfortable with and depending on the scope of the project. Book covers are one of my favorite types of jobs because there’s often a lot more room for me to add input into the overall design.

SP: What was the inspiration behind the design concept for The Mourning Ring cover?

CT: Talk about an inspiration dream! Sarah came to me with a few ideas already, which included silhouette artwork from the 19th century (score) and the art of Victorian mourning jewelry that used the hair of the lost loved one (triple score…also Google this if you haven’t already). I was familiar with both, and love how the creepy sentimentalism combines with some serious technical skill in hair art.

Courtney experimented with incorporating hair texture in the letters of the title.

On my part, I couldn’t help thinking of some illustrations and prints of hairstyles or hair textures I’d seen in the last few years, because I thought it would really mesh well with the silhouette concept. Instead of smooth edges on the silhouettes, I’d try using a feathery hair texture on all the elements. I also wanted to mock up a finely hand drawn frame for the front cover in graphite using overlays of locks of hair in a pretty way to frame the title, but we ended up going in the direction of the silhouette design. And the moor-swept scene we chose really represented the characters crossing a major threshold.

Courtney and I went back and forth on two different designs, one featuring the siblings and the hawthorn tree, the other more whimisical with hair details.

SP: What is your favorite part of the creating process?

CT: When the idea just starts clicking and then you’ve gotten the composition figured out, and it’s all about the details! If you set up your illustration correctly, you should have a nice graphic read to it from far away. Your audience tends to view things for about 3 seconds before moving on unless you captivate them, so you have to make the most of those seconds. As long as I remember to concentrate on not obscuring that overall graphic read, I can just keep honing in further and further on the details, which is the fun part.

“Your audience tends to view things for about 3 seconds before moving on unless you captivate them, so you have to make the most of those seconds.”

SP: What is the biggest challenge of working with another creative-type?

CT: Communication is super key with anyone. If someone has a very specific idea in mind but they have trouble articulating it, it’s going to be a lot more trial and error for me. And one of the first hurdles any artist has to get over is learning to not take stuff too personally. In general, I’ve had some really great experience working with art directors and creative types because a lot of them also tend to be visual people like me. The challenge is more often finding a common language when working with non-creative types.

Bronte siblings standing beneath hawthorn tree
The final version of the cover!

SP: What projects are you currently working on?

CT: I’m getting back to work on a few personal projects! I’m finishing up some character and costume illustrations and a digital sculpture in ZBrush for a new reel of my work. I’m also working on some concept art set in a fictional world that I’m hoping to show together as a body of work, so stay tuned about that.

To see more of Courtney’s work, visit her website or ArtStation portfolio. You can also find her on Instagram.

Her website:


Instagram: @courtneytrowbridgeart

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