The Amazing Art of Mike Tabor

The last few weeks have been an absolute whirlwind. A flurry of good news on the book front has been accompanied by a sudden surge in artwork from readers.

A recent post summarized these contributions, several of which will be used for upcoming book covers.

And then last week, a nuclear blast of awesomeness hit my inbox when Mike Tabor sent me his vision for a new Wool cover. I was blown away. I immediately commissioned him to create a full wrap for a new print version (coming soon). And then he knocked my socks off with a new design for the original Wool! (More on that later).

In our email exchanges, I became fascinated by Mike’s prodigious talent and the drive he felt to contribute to the Wool universe. So I asked him if I could do a little Q&A with me on the other end of the Q’s. The interview is after the break, along with the first-ever glimpse of a new Wool cover that you have to see to believe.

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Hugh: Thanks for fielding a few questions, Mike. Tell me, what is it that you do with your extraordinary design talents when you’re not dabbling in kick-ass book covers?

Mike: I work as a graphic designer for a small company.  Although I work as a creative, a majority of my work doesn’t allow me the artistic license that I would like. I’ve been known to enter online design contests and won a few awards. It’s been very rewarding. I’ve learned a lot and made some great friends. I also love photography. I use a lot of my photography in my design work.

Hugh: Can you describe your workflow a little? What programs do you use? And do you start with photos and textures, or do you layer things in by hand?

Mike: I use Photoshop for the majority of my work. I started using Photoshop back on release 2.0. I’m still learning how much the program has to offer. My process varies with each project. Sometimes I will find a photograph or use my own to start a composition. I use photographs, scanned art and images, and I also paint in Photoshop. I love texture! I use texture in a lot of my work be it a brush, blend or a layer overlay.

Hugh: When I get interviewed, I invariably get asked about outlining. Readers want to know if I have the story sketched out before hand. What about you? Do you know what you’re going to end up with when you start? Or does it flow organically as you play around and experiment?

Mike: Good question. Sometimes, as in the WOOL Omnibus image, I had a vision. I then searched for a photograph that might help kick-start the composition; I found a photograph I liked of a hazy sun. I wanted an image that might represent what a silo resident might see when they are in the cafeteria looking at the screen. It took off from there; I added textures and colors and eventually the title in a wool texture. I wanted it all to feel toxic but draw the viewer in. It seemed such an important visual to me. The cover for WOOL came about organically. I wanted to keep the concept of your design but change it up. I made several versions and then deconstructed them and morphed them into the final version. I’ve been extremely lucky with happy accidents. The process of discovery is always stimulating.

Hugh: How did you discover WOOL, and what was it about the story that made you start fooling around in Photoshop?

Mike: I bought myself a Kindle in December. I started to build a library. I read “The Hunger Games” series by Suzanne Collins and loved it. I went to find a new book and there was WOOL as a “if you liked The Hunger Games you might like” recommendation. I read it in one sitting. I didn’t like it. I loved it and bought the Omnibus version. Your characters and environments are so richly described that I was bent on making it come to life some how. So, I started work on the Omnibus cover.

Hugh: Tell the truth: did you just feel sorry for the books when you saw my cover art? I imagine you were a lot like Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, am I right? You thought you could make an honest book of her, didn’t you?

Mike: That is very funny! I absolutely saw a diamond in the rough and thought people are gonna flip out when they read this story. How would I bring more attention to the cover? Please understand that I scrutinize marketing all the time. It’s not that I think I’m better, I just work with the idea that there are many ways to tell a story visually.  I found your website and saw that you had a friendly dialog with your readers and thought “what the heck?” So, I created the design and contacted you.

Hugh: I’ve had quite a bit of art and design advice submitted by readers lately. What do you think it is about WOOL that elicits this response? And what are you thinking as you play around and then decide to contact an author to let them know you gussied up their cover?

Mike: I think your readers know what a GREAT story/series WOOL is. Your attention to detail and character development is stunning.  I think the boldness of your readers to offer advice is testament to the richness of the WOOL experience, their desire to express appreciation and the inclusive environment you have created on your site. Now having said that,  I admit I was feeling a bit bold, bordering on disrespectful, when I thought “I should re-do this guy’s cover”. Then I pressed “send” on that intial email and had serious heart palps. I told a friend, and he said “you did what?” I can assure your readers you were a hero in your response.

Hugh: After seeing reader (and author) reaction to your artwork, do you see yourself possibly freelancing for others? Because there are a ton of indie authors out there who would love to enlist your services.

Mike: I’m really humbled by all of the reader comments. It’s a lot to take in. I’m really pleased and relieved that your readers have embraced the cover changes. I absolutely would love to work with more indie authors.

Hugh: I would get first dibs on your time, though, right? And trust me, I’ll be spreading the word if it’s something you’d like to do on the side. I have a feeling you could stay quite busy.

Mike: Everyone, line up behind Mr. Howey! Thank you for your willingness and grace in this whole experience. I value the opportunity and I am so thankful for your partnership. It’s an honor, really.

Hugh: And since none of that last bit was a real question, how about this: If you did pursue more work for authors, have you thought of how you would present yourself or have them contact you?

Mike: I’ve got to consider this. Maybe a website or an account on DeviantArt. Anyone have suggestions?

Hugh: I’m sure my readers will have a few suggestions! I would love to see a DeviantArt page (just for me to browse, if nothing else). Okay, these next two questions are quick and are entirely motivated by my curiosity (and my envy of your skills): Mac or PC? Wacom tablet/mouse/other?

Mike: PC. GASP! I am self taught and began on a PC. I use a mouse and Wacom tablet. In the days before Wacom I had to use a mouse so I became quite adept with the mouse. Envy? Have you read any of your books? You inspire me and a lot of people.

Hugh: You know, I’m not sure that I’ve actually “read” any of my books, not once they are finished and bound. By then, I’ve seen them so much, I’m ready to move on. Maybe I should try that sometime.

Okay, last question: if you could have any job or be doing anything with your life right now, what would that be?

Mike: I love the medium in which I work. I love the creative process. I’ve had jobs in the past where I sat in a cubicle typing forms and crunching numbers and I always found avenues to apply my creative skills and  overcome the bordeom. If I could be creating illustrative work all day long I would love it.

Hugh: Well, I hope more of it is in your future. You’ve got an amazing style. The two covers you’ve done here are just extraordinary. Where most cover art looks flat, yours pop and seem to stand right off the screen. I thank you for your time and for participating in this little Q&A. It’s great to get to know something about the man behind this artwork. If you decide to tackle more of this work in the future, please know that I’ll be shouting your praises.

And now, without further ado, I present Mike Tabor’s take on the original WOOL cover:

COMMENTS (17)

Well done Mike! I always find it cool when people chart off and follow their passion. They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life! And great work on the new Wool cover! I still love the original so I’m a purists, but seriously that cover is exceptional and really captures the spirit of the first book!

Okay i have an idea, I’d love to see that cover you just made, but carry the wool effect to the bottom and have the dream city seen visually through the letters (still burning at the edges) that way it still recalls the original cover.

But Hugh’s paying you so keep him happy. Seriously you have a great gift! Nice work!

Hugh. You *totally* have to persuade him to let me feature him on my site!

Boom! That Wool cover is amazeballs. Well done! I guess I better add a “Super Jazzy Editions of all things Wool” line item to my budget…..going to have to pick up a copy (or two) of them all!

Lisa… what site?

But anywho… Awesome work, awesome interview!

and how do we contact mike to talk to him about book covers? thanks.

Archangel: I’m hoping we’ll see a DeviantArt account or website surface in the future. I’m dying to see more of Mike’s artwork. I wonder how he feels about me pressuring him into a new line of work!

That is awesome! I have to say as a kindle-owner and novice reader, the cover basically is the selling point. These covers are amazing. I bet if you put out that new Wool cover things would get even more crazy. I Love this website, It’s bookmarked right next to all the “important” daily sites.

p.s. Still waiting to see what’s beyond the Rift.

These covers are amazing, I just love them. So much so that after seeing them I immediately googled Mike :D and I think I love the paintings even more! Thus, I must give what I consider my highest compliment.

I hate you! *sniffle* *jealous*

I’d also love to know more about the techniques/media you use for your paintings!

Tiamat: Thank you for your compliment. When you said you had “googled” me and found my paintings I thought who did you find? The site you found is not mine. He is very talented but it’s not me. Sorry. I wish I could paint in natural media as good as him. Now I’m jealous too! Thanks again.

Thank you to all for your incredible comments. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to see them posted. Thank you Hugh! It is such a pleasure to be included in your work.
I’m working on a DeviantArt account and I will announce when it is up soon! Thanks again for all the great comments and support!

thanks Hugh, my sense is maybe Mike isnt feeling pressure, it’s clear you value him and his work, which for most artists is a good day. And he might need more solid info about the field of indie book covers so he can make informed decision. Therefore, we’d like to offer Mike an email or phone convo, free always, (we are not selling anything, we’re a non-profit that assists in adult literacy which includes helping artists and writers bring works into the world to help others read at all levels, all genres) re setting up Deviant Art page, and/or pricing for art/covers/ and advice about how simple it is, and good business practices, if Mike is interested in not re-inventing the wheel re doing another revenue stream through book cover design. Just contact us at projectscreener@aol.com It would take all of 15 minutes perhaps to convey the bulk of info, then Mike’d have the info re offering art for sale customized… (I’d recommend too, already built covers with layout for title and author name blank) and pricing, collection of fees, brief written agreement for clients, etc. Then he’d have solid info to see what he’d like to do next. We’ve been in art/text sales via many revenue streams since 1970. Many of the artists we’ve helped began as illustrators and graphic designers. There is huge crossover ease for many from ad agency work to work that is more fine art/design in nature.

Let us know. And Thanks!
Dr. CPE
La Sociedad de Guadalupe
501.c.3 non-profit

You know Hugh… you should do more of these interview things… so we can learn more about our fellow stalkers… I mean fans… as we all have probably only one thing in common… you know… being fans of your work… and so it would be cool to hear about more of us and why we are fans of your work and stuff… just an idea…

I love that idea! The Q&A with Mike was a lot of fun for me. I’ll definitely do more of them.

I wanted to bump this post because i am shopping for a cover artist and don’t know how to contact this dude? update?