Sundered Peak

through the mind of kyle tolle

Interview with Caleb, the Cover Designer

I had the great fortune of working with Caleb Jacob on the cover design for Thoughts of an Eaten Sun. The end result blew me away with its angular forms, colors, and tone. These all combine to grab the eye at first glance, even when the image is a thumbnail size.

His work serves as the cover for the ebook, as well as the front, spine, and back covers of the paperback. The color scheme and fonts created a feel that I had to borrow when designing the ToaES website.

While I have known Caleb for a few years, I had not asked much about his thoughts on or prior experience with design. I came up with the list of questions below to get to know him better, and I wanted to share his responses so others could become acquainted with this fantastic designer!

How long have you been a designer?
Graphic design was an interest that captured me at a really young age. As a 10 year old, the art and design for movie posters, comics, and logos fascinated me. I was fascinated with how those designs were made and desperately wanted to learn how I could do the same. When I learned about a program called GIMP, I downloaded it, which sprung my long journey of learning graphic design by trial and error at the age of 12. It's been a passion and hobby ever since.
Have you ever done a book cover before?
I haven't had the opportunity to work on many book covers before. Most of my professional design work has been focused on logos and other print materials such as brochures and advertisements. Working on the book cover for Thoughts of an Eaten Sun was a rare treat!
What styles of design did you employ for the book cover?
Like the majority of my art, I took advantage of vector graphics and basic shapes. The process of drawing out shapes with lines and curves allows for a really sharp art style with the added benefit that your art can scale up and down in size without any quality loss. After the shapes of the wolf head and mountains had taken form, it was time to add in the multi-colored sun rays in the background and lay down some texture and final lighting textures to finish the surreal and slightly abstract feel of the design.
How do you take someone's rough idea into the finished product?
Honestly, this can be quite a challenge depending on the client. Getting on the same page about what the client is after as soon as possible is critical for everyone's sanity and time. Typically, I'll have a series of basic questions to try and get a better understanding for the look, feel, and message that should be conveyed in the design. Once I've got a feel for what we're after, I'll start throwing together some rough sketches/designs and present them to the client sooner rather than later to make sure we're still on the same page. During this process, I'll also throw in some of my own ideas that might differ from what the client specifically asked for. Sometimes these ideas are shot down, but other times they can really add to the final design and reveal something to the client that they hadn't even thought of. After the concept has been nailed down, it's then a matter of iterating and improving on the design until the client and I are both happy with the finished design.
What sort of design challenges do you enjoy most?
I really enjoy the area of design where aesthetically pleasing intersects with the functional and helpful. Designing logos is a major focus for myself since logos really require both beauty and functionality. A logo needs to be unique and creative, but also easily readable when used in multiple types of media whether it's scaled down on a tiny screen or used in a complicated color scheme. There's a massive amount of creative problem solving that must go in to each logo. Web design is also one my passions for the same reasons.
What is the most challenging aspect of design?
Dealing with certain clients can be very challenging. Working on your people skills is extremely important as a graphic designer and will be a part of your job every day. You need to learn how to take criticism, how to decode what type of design or concept they're after, how to suggest alternatives and improvements to the design, how to handle a client that's hellbent on a particular design that looks awful, and much more.
What is the thing you enjoy most about design?
As hard as certain clients can be to manage, most of the time it's a really fun process bringing someone's ideas to life. Parts of the design process can be difficult, but there's usually a moment where the design or concept finally clicks—you have that "aha!" moment where both you and the client are really happy. That's very rewarding. If my designs can put a smile on someone's face, inspire them, or make their life easier—well that's just awesome! I also really enjoy making complicated things simple and beautiful. The challenge of condensing a bucket load of information in to a pretty and easily digestible form is a lot of fun.
What would you recommend to a person looking to get into design?
If you can't afford Photoshop or Illustrator, download GIMP and Inkscape and start practicing! Practice, practice, practice. Find designs and designers that inspire you. Study their work, try to recreate it in your own way. Do that everyday for a couple of hours or as often as you can. One thing that really helped me keep interest in practicing was 99 Designs. It's a website where you can enter graphic design competitions for just about anything (logos, print design, web design, etc). Enter as many contests as you possibly can. This will give you experience dealing with clients and help you build a portfolio.
Don't get discouraged. Don't be afraid to create something that looks like a total turd at first. Make sure you don't lose sight of enjoying the design process!
What would you recommend to someone looking for a designer?
A great option for low budgets would again be 99 Designs. This allows you to receive concepts from tons of artists at a decent price. You'd think this was a paid advertisement for them, but it's not—I pinky promise! They really helped kickstart my professional design career and it's a great product.
If you've got a larger budget and want to nail down one of the top designers, spend time browsing sites like Dribble and ArtStation. Both of those sites allow you to get in touch with designers and let you know if the designer is open to new work opportunities.
What is a common misconception people have about design?
The common train of thought that people have to be born with the "artsy" gene to be successful is completely wrong. Some people might have a head start on you with some natural gifts, but art and design is just like anything else—it can be learned by anyone who has the drive and dedication to do so. Every artist and designer had to suck at first and only improved by constant practice. So why are you still reading this? Go practice!
Do you have any tools or software that you love?
As expensive as they are, I feel like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are still the ultimate tools for graphic design in our industry. The depth of polish and features on Adobe's software is unmatched. There are some alternate tools that are coming along such as Sketch. However, if you're getting started out and can't afford Adobe, don't get discouraged. Download GIMP and Inkscape and start practicing! At the end of the day, it's not your tools that make you great—it's your skill and practice.
Do you have any projects that you'd like to mention?
If you're in to Dungeons & Dragons and have iOS or Android, check out my 3D physics based dice rolling simulator—Mighty Dice!
Where can people learn more about you?
You can check out my little personal site.
Follow me on Twitter.
Check out more of my work on Dribbble.
I've also started a side graphic design side business over at NimbleAnvil.