Friday, July 22, 2011

Interview with Writer & Cover Artist Heidi Sutherlin

Tamworth Grice: Tell me about your earliest memory of doing some kind of art?

Heidi Sutherlin: When I was little they used to celebrate May Day in schools (at least here in Oregon) and my first memory of creating was making May Day baskets in kindergarten. We wove strips of colored construction paper together to create the baskets and then filled them with big beautiful crepe paper flowers. I remember being fascinated and delighted by the idea that I could create something so beautiful from nothing. That’s been a defining theme in my life, the drive to create something from nothing, whether it is art, writing, or repurposing garage sale and thrift store finds.

TG: When did you really know you wanted to become an artist?

HS: Oddly, it wasn’t until college that I really became involved in art and design. I was originally a journalism major at the University of Oregon. My first semester, I took a “Media and Design in Journalism” class which required that we learn about the more creative aspects of journalism, especially in magazines and newspapers.

I was hooked.

I switched schools the very next term. I studied art and graphic design at Oregon State University. While there, I was able to immerse myself in not only graphic design but painting, sketching, sculpture, color theory, and art history. Of course, I can never just do one thing, so I added in literature as a major course of study and off I went, indulging my love for humanities in general. 

Heidi's Cover for My Upcoming Nonfiction Book

TG: Your Web site says you’ve “followed a crooked but unbroken line from college, through a myriad of positions in seemingly unrelated fields.” Would you like to elaborate on this?

HS: I’ve had every job one could think of, from food service, collections, and call centers to even a very short stint as a car salesperson. I hate being told what to do and frankly doubt I would make it in the cutthroat environment that makes up most design firms. Even so, in most of the positions that I held, I would eventually find myself creating some sort of product using my design skills.

Then, the opportunity arose for me to work online. I started out part time while working a day job. I was finally able to go out on my own full time. And after two years of freelance design work and virtual administration, I started my own business, launched my Web site—and the rest is history. 

Heidi's Cover for the Second Volume of My Upcoming Nonfiction Book

TG: How did you get started doing book covers?

HS: I became a part of the writing community on Twitter two years ago. As I pursued my own writing projects and then eventually became interested in self publishing, I realized that there are limited options for affordable cover art for self-published authors. As time went by, I realized that I wanted to give all authors the access to affordable, professional cover art that would allow them to compete with more traditionally published books and their more expensive covers.

TG: You’re a novelist yourself, so tell me something about your novel?

HS: I’m actually working on three at the moment. My romantic suspense novel, Brothers in Betrayal, is currently in that last editing phase and I’m hoping to have a late summer/early fall release. Warning: the following contains a shameless promotional blurb filled with comma abuse and run on sentences.

“When Special Agent Noah Jeffries’ investigation into an arms smuggling ring leads him to his best friend’s business partner, software designer, Grace Mason, his suspect quickly becomes the target of a mad man. When ties from his childhood affect a brotherhood in the present, Noah, his younger brother and his best friend must keep Grace one step ahead of a threat they cannot see from a man who shouldn’t exist.”

I have various other projects percolating, but two other novels—a category romance and a paranormal romance—are currently in process.

TG: Does being a novelist help or hinder you in designing book covers?

HS: It definitely helps. But what helps even more is being a voracious reader. I’ve been gulping down books for as long as I can remember. Having a clear understanding of character and the author’s voice is important to create a cover than speaks directly to the story.

For some covers, I work very closely with the author, while for others I need just an email with my basic questions answered to craft the cover that will represent months, if not years of work.  The process is successful because the author will give you not only the detailed character information but also the tone and the “feel” of the story in each conversation, even in a short email.

Covers are fairly simple, and the key is to not attempt to over-complicate. It’s always interesting to see how my interpretation of the author’s work translates through each successive draft. With the exception of two books that a friend wrote, I do not read any of the stories before beginning the cover art.

TG: What’s the single most important thing a writer should look for in a cover artist?

HS: Rapport.

If you do not feel comfortable communicating with your cover artist, then that person is not going to get the most accurate “read” from you, which is critical to creating a cover that you are happy with. Working online creates some interesting challenges, one of which is a nearly exclusive conversation through email, IM’s, images and social media. If you don’t feel like you connect with the artist, move on and keep looking until you find someone that you feel understands what you want and need for your cover art.

Heidi Sutherlin

TG: Thanks for the interview, Heidi!

HS: Thank you for having me. The world of self-publishing is evolving, and every day introduces new challenges and benefits to self-pub authors. As one of them myself, I know how intimidating it can be to jump in. We have so many wonderful success stories as examples, and with access to affordable editing and cover art services, the gap between self-publishing and traditional publishing gets smaller and smaller every day.

Check out Heidi's Web site: My Creative Pursuits.

Heidi's Cover for My Upcoming Novel


  1. Awesome interview, ladies! Heidi is one of my favorite peeps...and my cover artist/graphic designer as well. I can't *wait* until her own books hit the market. ;-)

  2. Great interview with Heidi. She is an excellent cover artist and I am glad to see her getting more exposure in the writing community. Thanks for interviewing her.



  3. Thanks for the comments. I love Heidi's work!


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