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.
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.
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: