Illustrating: How To Survive Ancient Spells and Crazy Kings.

Meet Ernie D’elia, illustrator for How To Survive Ancient Spells and Crazy Kings. He received a degree in illustration from the American Academy of Art in Chicago and currently lives in Massachusetts.

I invited Ernie to talk a little bit about the thought process behind designing the cover. I had the privilege of meeting him last spring at New England SCBWI. Of course, at the time I didn’t realize he’d be my illustrator.

I absolutely love that Pugalicious Press chose an upcoming talented artist from New England to design the cover. His artwork is incredible. Now, here’s Ernie.


“How do you feel about Mayans?”

That’s what Jennifer Carson from Pugalicious Press asked me.

“I love Mayans!”

I said, and in a few short days I had the manuscript for “How to Survive Ancient Spells and Crazy Kings” in my hands.

When I finished reading it I started sketching some loose ideas. A couple of the earlier sketches had some drama, but lacked an overall vision. As I worked I realized the feel of the book, to me, was very cinematic, so I decided the cover should have an adventure-movie poster feel. Once I decided on the movie poster approach, it all fell into place.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the elements:

First, everybody knows that every good adventure-movie poster has the villain looming menacingly in the background somewhere, so the “Crazy King” had to loom, and he had to be menacing. Head down, scowling, and about to pounce, his body language doesn’t say happy and friendly. I thought the jaguar headpiece from the story would be a great way to add to his ferocity.

 Second, to establish a setting I placed the Mayan temples below the “Crazy King”. Now there was no mistake: he was a crazy Mayan king.

Third, the necklace gives us the “Ancient Spell” part. It was also an important piece of the story, linking our modern day heroes to this ancient setting. In the painting it loops around them, pulling them into this world.


Lastly, I placed the main characters, Bianca and Melvin, right in the middle of it all, surrounded by the dangerous villain and the mysterious glowing green jade necklace. But do they look scared? No. They’re confident, determined, and daring!

There are an additional six black and white illustrations at key points inside, but to see those you’ll have to wait till the book comes out.

From creepy to scary to joyous, “How to Survive Ancient Spells and Crazy Kings” is a great adventure, and I loved doing the artwork for it. Thanks to Laura for writing such a thrilling adventure, and thanks to Pugalicious Press for asking me how I felt about Mayans.


Pugalicious Press sent me the sketches and I chose the one that appealed to me the most. So the following sketch…


…turned into the cover!

Thanks Ernie! I love the cover! I also love the black and whites that will grace the inside print copies. They’ll be fantastic! Can’t wait for everyone to see them.

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23 Responses to Illustrating: How To Survive Ancient Spells and Crazy Kings.

  1. Stina Lindenblatt September 17, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    I love this post, Laura. It’s always interesting to hear the illustrators perspective on how they designed the cover (and inside artwork).

  2. Laura September 17, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

    I agree. It was fun for me to hear about the behind the scenes illustration story!

  3. Susan Kaye Quinn September 17, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    I love this! All of it!! Thanks so much for sharing the process of how your cover came to be (which I also LOVE)!

  4. Creepy Query Girl September 17, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    fantastic break down! I loved seeing it all come to life and it really is such a vivid and engaging cover.

  5. Marisa September 17, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    So fun to see the process!! Love the finished cover!!

  6. Matthew MacNish September 17, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    That cover is wicked awesome!

  7. anne gallagher September 17, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    This is so cool. Illustrators are the most overlooked of artists I think.

  8. Leigh Moore September 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    too awesome! I love reading about the creative process–from the villain in the background through the sketches of the pyramids. And how fun for you, Laura, to have an artist bring your work to life like that! Great stuff! 🙂 <3

  9. Susan Sipal September 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    This is fascinating, Laura. First time I’ve seen a behind the illustration sort of post. I love seeing how it all came together!

  10. Laura September 17, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    Thanks everyone. It was neat. Especially knowing that I met him last spring and had no clue he’d be my illustrator. I’d seen all his artwork and knew how talented he was!

  11. Lydia K September 17, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    I love illustrated covers and this one is so cool!

  12. Stacy September 17, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    What a fun post, Laura. Makes the cover all the more amazing when I read about the process. Very excited for you:)

  13. Natalie Aguirre September 17, 2012 at 9:41 pm #

    Loved hearing what went into your awesome cover Laura.

  14. tracikenworth September 18, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    This book sounds amazing and I loved the behind the scenes look at how art gets developed for it. Congratulations and good luck with it.

  15. Heather Sunseri September 18, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this, Laura. Love the insight into how the cover was designed!!

  16. Laura September 19, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    Thanks! I loved seeing the black and white illustration and having a decision in the cover design! 🙂 Can’t wait to see it in print and the interior design. 🙂

  17. Laura Marcella September 19, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    Love the cover! I always thought, and still do, that it would be super cool to be an illustrator. But I think I better stick to just getting a handle on the art of writing before attempting another kind of art!

    Congrats on your new novel, Laura!!!

  18. Miss Jack Lewis Baillot September 20, 2012 at 5:27 am #

    Thanks for sharing! Book cover progress looks exciting and fun!


  19. ernie D'Elia September 21, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    Thanks to everyone for the kind words about my work! I’m happy to share some of the thought process behind the design. I know some artists don’t like to show anything but the final outcome, like it’s some kind of magic trick, and knowing how it’s done ruins the illusion, but I think the journey is the art. The painting part is merely technical skill.

  20. Laurel Garver September 21, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    Thanks for sharing the story behind your rockin’ cover! The whole process is really fascinating. It makes me miss my old job working on a medical magazine, when I got to give illustration assignments and approve sketches.

    And congrats again on your upcoming release!

  21. Karen Lange September 21, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    Congrats Laura! Cheering you on! 🙂

  22. Shelley Moore Thomas September 22, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

    Love your cover, Laura! The way the necklace glows really pulls me in. I am so looking forward to November–being the Indiana Jones fan that I am!



  23. Angela September 24, 2012 at 4:19 am #

    Wow, this was so cool learning about the process behind a cover illustration! And thans for sharing the raw drawings as well..loved seeing how the pieces fit together and why.

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