WIHM Special - Lynne Hansen

An accomplished artist and book cover designer, Lynne Hansen has become one of the more prominent and in-demand artists for writers looking to get their work released to the masses. Now, in honor of Women in Horror Month, I talk with her about her designing career, the artistic process creating new covers and her upcoming projects.

Me: Hello and thank you for taking the time to do this. First off, when did you get into horror in general?
Lynne Hansen: Thanks for having me! I’ve been a horror fan my entire life. As a kid, I drew pictures of monsters and wrote stories about them. I even met my husband, horror novelist Jeff Strand, at the World Horror Convention.

Me: Were you into genre films growing up? What films specifically got you into watching horror movies?
LH: I grew up in Peoria, Illinois, and our late-night horror show was Acri Creature Feature, hosted by Chuck Acri, a middle-aged window salesman in a vampire cape. My dad and my big brother and I watched all the best scary movies together. The ones I remember most vividly are probably Food of the Gods and Willard. I was cool with almost everything we watched, but between those two movies, I developed a lifelong phobia of rats. Seriously. Have you seen those beady little black eyes? And those boogers are smart and determined! (You really don’t want to get me started on rats. lol)

Me: Who are some of your favorite artists? Do you take inspiration from their work to help inspire and influence your own?
LH: Early twentieth-century surrealists like MC Escher and Salvador Dali have inspired me to seek the symbolic in the stories I bring to life, to look for the deeper meaning I can layer in my art. The work of iconic horror book cover artists like Alan Clark and Jill Bauman have encouraged me to explore character and tell a vivid story in a single image.

Me: What was the starting point to become an artist? Where you always into drawing growing up?
LH: When I was three years old, I won an Easter coloring contest. The summer before fourth grade, my mom bought me a book on how to draw horses at a garage sale. I spent all of the fourth grade drawing horses, and I remember kids in my class clamoring to see my newest drawings. But somewhere around middle school, I became hyper-focused on school and the drawing kind of faded away. All through high school, I was majorly college prep, with four years of math, English, Science, etc. and that left little time for electives like art.

Materials were also a challenge because my parents weren’t big believers in art supplies. I started writing instead and pursed that as my creative passion from middle school on into adulthood. (Before I became a full-time artist, I wrote seven mostly young adult historical horror novels, including three for SparkNotes, the educational publishing division of Barnes & Noble.) I started doing design work for writers organizations I belonged to--newsletters and flyers and such. I taught marketing and promotion for authors and created promotional items, and all of this marketing experience prepared me to create art for book covers.

Me: As you’re mostly known for your book covers, how did you become involved in that?
LH: My husband Jeff Strand had a book coming out from a big New York publisher, and right before it was due to be released, the publisher crashed and burned. Since there was already buzz about the book and it had been sent out to reviewers and such, Jeff decided to self-publish it. At the time, I was working in the marketing department of a historic theater where I designed ads and other marketing materials using Photoshop and Illustrator, so I offered to make the cover for him. I did another cover for a friend, and pretty much all the work I did in those early years came from those two covers. People liked my work, and they told other folks about them, and I just kept getting commissions.

Me: Do you prefer to work with the author closely or go off on your own imagination and creativity?
LH: I like to hear what the author has in mind, but one of the things that distinguishes me as a book cover artist is that I actually read the books I’m creating art for. Sometimes that’s the entire manuscript, and sometimes it’s just part, but what’s really important to me is that my art captures the style and tone of the book, and I think I get that best by reading the book.

I’m not the author who spent her blood and sweat and tears writing the book. I’m not the editor who fell in love with the book. I approach a book with clear eyes, like a reader, and I use my book marketing background to identify what kind of image will resonate best with potential readers. When readers get to that part in the book, I want them to say, “Oh, yeah...that’s what I bought this book for!”

I’ve been creating art for book covers for ten years now, and I don’t expect my authors or editors to know everything I know about creating art that sells books. That’s why they hire me. And if a client trusts me enough to share their basic preferences and ideas and let me do my thing, they’re going to be really happy with the end result.

Me: Once you begin working, what is your process for creating a new piece?
LH: I always ask clients to send me Amazon links to three book covers they love. That helps me see their stylistic preferences, and I use that info as a jumping-off point for my market research. I need to figure out where each book fits into its genre--how I can make it both fit in and stand out, you know?

Next, I read the book description the client sends me. After my cover grabs a potential reader, the very next thing they’ll see is that book description, so my book cover had better support that book description.

Then I get to read the book, searching for just the right image, theme, etc. that will really grab readers. Once I’ve gathered some potential ideas, I’ll begin what I call my “development” process where I work with the ideas in lots of different ways until I get a polished concept that I like. It’s kind of like the development process in film. In the end, I’ve gathered everything I need (sketches, photos, stock art, fonts, etc.) and have a visual “script” to create from.

Next is the “production” phase, which is what most folks imagine when they think of artists at work, but really the drawing, painting, and collage process is probably less than half of the entire project. I work primarily in Adobe Photoshop on an amazing Wacom Cintiq tablet.

Lastly is the “post-production” phase, which is where I refine the color palette and edit the image so that the story I’m telling comes through loud and clear. Strategic color and light placement can really help guide a potential reader’s eye through the story of the cover. One of the things I love about being a digital artist is that I have great flexibility to tweak and play until I absolutely love the piece. After all, if I don’t love the piece, how could I ever expect an author or publisher to love it?

Me: Do you have any specific stories about near-accidents or mishaps while creating a new piece you'd like to share?
LH: I have to confess that I’m pretty OCD about backups and organization, so I don’t really have any catastrophes to share.

Me: Are there any upcoming releases featuring your work you'd like to share?
LH: I never want to steal the thunder from the authors and publishers I work with, so I always let them do the cover reveals. My art is all in service to their story, after all. But I do have several pieces that have come out in the last year that I’m pretty psyched about.

At the end of last year, I got to do the cover for Jeff Strand’s Wolf Hunt 3 and got the opportunity to rebrand the first two books in the series and give all three books a fresh new look. It was particularly fun because the first Wolf Hunt novel was actually the very first book cover I’d ever created. It was great to get to apply everything I’ve learned over the last 10 years and give these books new lives.

Last year I also got to create the cover for Brad Hodson’s Where Carrion Gods Dance, which is currently on the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards. What could be more fun than a bunch of cavorting skeletons?

Me: When you’re not working on covers, what do you do to stay active in the art community?
LH: I love attending horror conventions. I’m a regular at StokerCon, Scares That Care, and NECON. In Atlanta, I belong to the Female Artists of Atlanta and regularly participate in group art shows. This year I’m really focusing on trying to give back as well. I’ll be launching a video series tentatively called “Behind the Book Cover.” In each episode, I’ll feature a different book cover I’ve created and I’ll discuss my creative process, along with info about the book that inspired it. Good book covers sell books, and the more I can share what I do with others, the better chance folks have of selling their books.

Me: Lastly, being that this is Women in Horror Month, what special message do you have for any women out there looking to join in the industry in any capacity as you are one yourself? Thank you again for your time!
LH: Create art that speaks to your heart, regardless of what the trend of the moment is. When you are
genuine and create with YOUR voice, the work will follow.

Thanks for having me! If people want to see more of my work or commission me, they can find my portfolio website here: http://www.LynneHansenArt.com
Or on social media @LynneHansenArt on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Portfolio Website: http://www.LynneHansenArt.com

This interview ran as part of our month-long Women in Horror Month celebrations. Click the banner below to check out all of our interviews and reviews we've conducted for the event: