Friday, November 9, 2012

Interview with Artist Christine Griffin

Welcome to Up Around the Corner, Christine. Please, tell us a little about yourself and your Art.

Okay, I’ll start with the boring (but important) stuff. Feel free to skim. I’m the mother of three sons—ages ten, twelve and fourteen—and wife to one big boy, aged old-enough-to-know-better.  My schooling is in traditional fine arts but somewhere along the line, I figured out that I’d rather be doing more narrative work and let’s face it, it’s a rush to see your handiwork on the cover of a book.  So I put away my paints (before the babies could eat them) and took up digital media.

Christine Griffin Self Portrait
I love genre art, and by that I mean myth, fantasy, urban paranormal, a little sci-fi (but not so much the mech stuff), you know, the nerdly pleasures. I’ll tell you, becoming an illustrator was more difficult than I’d imagined. Catering to a client’s needs means you must be good at a far broader variety of things than if you just picked your own poison. It’s been a challenge but I’d like to think I’ve grown more because of it.

Like authors sometimes do of the written word, Christine, do you, as an artist, find yourself at libraries, bookstores and on line, perusing covers? Are there any artists that stand out in your mind, and which, if any, have strongly influenced your creativity and style?

All creative types are products of the world they live in and if we don’t look to other artists/writers/musicians/etc., we’re doomed to create the same mistakes over and over again. We’re never finished learning.

My influences are ridiculously copious. When I was forced to study art history, I gravitated towards the symbolists, surrealists and pop artists but could never seem to be that, well, weird. I guess I’m boring, when it all comes down to it. Back in the day, I didn’t understand that what I really wanted to do was illustrate, not be a fine artist. When I was in school, there existed a wide gap between the fine arts and the ‘applied’ arts. Stupid but true. Nowadays, though, students are being cross-trained and that gap is vanishing, especially in genre work: sci-fi, fantasy, horror.

The first contemporary artist I had a big crush on was Brom ( and I still wish I could be as daring and imaginative as he is. I love the gorgeous colors of Maxfield Parrish and the Golden Age illustrators. All of the Wyeths (NC, Andrew, Jamie) rank high on my hero list. Oh, and Drew Struzan! Man, we just don’t see movie posters like his anymore. When I need ideas for great cover layouts, I hit up Tor Books. Tor Books and art director Irene Gallo has done more for contemporary genre artists than anyone else, these days.

And don’t even get me started on music …

Was that a dare? How about this: Do you listen to music when you draw or work on your illustrations and cover art? If so, what do you listen to and why?

I’m not a’scared of you! *gets started on music*

Actually, most often when I paint, I listen to podcasts about art and writing. My favorites are:  artist Sam Weber’s Your Dreams, My Nightmares; The Dead Robots’ Society writing podcast; Writing Excuses with Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Taylor; and the Nerdist Writer’s Panel. (Yes, I’m a wannabe writer too. Why are there so few hours in a day? *whines*)

After I chug through those, I turn on the music and these days my playlist seems to circle around Mumford & Sons, folkster Brandi Carlile, vintage Elton John and Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, MGMT (when I’m feeling particularly psychedelic), all things Butch Walker, and Florence and the Machine. Many of my art buds enjoy movie soundtracks but I need the human voice. Art and writing are such solitary pursuits, I feel a little less cloistered when there’s another person talking or singing at me. Curiously, when I’m painting I don’t need my music to follow the theme of the particular job but when I’m writing, it’s important. What about you? Do you listen to music when you write?

Actually, no, I don’t listen to music very much. However, there are a limited number of individual songs that I have been known to pull up on rare occasion, such as Bonny Portmore by Lorena McKennit and Turn, Turn, Turn by the Byrds.

Christine, can you explain the process you generally go through when creating the cover art for a novel?

Sure. First things first, I require a blood sacrifice and lots of pastries. Preferably of the cookie variety.

Okay, not so much.

Once a price has been haggled out, here’s the typical protocol:

~Thumbnails. These are small—and I mean postage-stamp sized—rough compositional ideas. I’ll take my top two or three and flesh them out to be sketchy, slightly larger drawings to show the client. During this phase, I try to guide the client in design choices, and I also start looking for photo-reference. Generally speaking, I don’t have time to read an entire novel before starting the cover so it’s extremely important that the author give me as many details as possible about the characters, world, and atmosphere of the story. An excerpt is great; I can usually glean valuable clues from observing the author’s writing style. This doesn’t mean every freckle will be depicted on the cover; it’s more important to succinctly get the genre and vibe of the story nailed. That’s what sells your book.

~Client Selects Sketch. Next, I start collecting photo-ref in earnest or taking my own photos. This can be time-consuming and sometimes it’s tough to find the right weapon/costume, but once accomplished, a more complete drawing can be rendered to give the client better details and the opportunity to provide helpful input. It’s wonderful when the client has experience with weaponry and can give the artist assistance in this area (as you’ve done in the past, Terry!)

~Painting in the Works. Typically, I work with digital media for book covers because of its ease of alteration. It’s so much easier to tweak colors and make moderate changes in Photoshop or Painter than it is when using oil paints or worse yet, watercolors. That being said, changing a point of view or completely rotating a character is still major work. This is the point at which I tell the client “You get one last say-so about the poses and composition; from here on out, it’s pretty much sealed.” This is just a practical requirement. Time is limited and as much as I’d love to endlessly fiddle with the details, I start losing money if I have to rework things constantly. I’m usually juggling several clients at once and a single difficult customer can put all my deadlines behind. I’m also a mom to three sons and that can gum up the works at a moment’s notice.

~Time Keeps on tickin’ tickin’ tickin’. I’m a slow painter. It probably takes me longer to get things accomplished than most. If I could focus on ONE project at a time, I could probably get it cranked out in a week, start to finish, but my world is not that perfect. Also, I’m constantly trying to hone my skills and evolve. (Anatomy and perspective are a constant struggle so while I’m working on paying gigs, I’m also trying to get more proficient so that I can nab better paying gigs!) Once completed, the client will receive a high-resolution digital file of the art. Depending upon how the art is going to be used, the client might ask for additional things: banners, business cards, marketing items. Note to authors: unless you’ve worked this out with your artist ahead of time, you are not usually entitled to sell prints of the art, or use it on things such as t-shirts, mouse pads, and other retail items.

Actually, Christine, my wife likes to tell folks she was the staff-wielding model for the cover of Blood Sword.

Can you tell us a little about the most interesting project you’ve worked on, and what project your deep into at the moment—in other words what we can expect to see of your work in the near future?

Yes, your wife is the tough lady with the big stick! We all need one of those in our lives. Can I borrow yours? Maybe I’ll actually get stuff done.

Hmm. My most interesting project. That’s a toughie because each project I take, well, it’s my job to find something in every project that interests me. If you can’t do that, your creativity will have no heart and that’s when you tread into ‘hack’ territory. So to dodge your question, I have yet to stumble upon my most interesting project. I’m still creating book covers, but I’m hoping to tackle more personal pieces and work on a graphic novel or perhaps an on-line sequential. I’m also tip-toeing into the craft of writing. Ultimately, I want to focus on my own projects, but we’ll see how that goes. I do enjoy the cover work and it puts brass in pocket!

For the time being, I’ll be doing the odd self-published book and you can find me at Belle Bridge Books working on their YA and Urban Fantasy lines. After that, hopefully it will be a Christine Griffin production.

Thanks, Terry!

You’re welcome for the interview, Christine. Maybe in the future we’ll see a graphic novel that’s both written and illustrated by you.

If you’d like to view and learn more about Christine Griffin’s work, you can visit the following:



  1. Fun look into the life and motivations of an illustrator. I wish I had her talent! lol

    1. Yes, I enjoy doing interviews because I find them so interesting. You never know what the answers will be. And yes, Christine has a lot of talent.

  2. I love the covers of Flank Hawk and Blood Sword! Very fun interview.

    1. Thanks, Angie. A think the covers are tops too.