Fight Like a Girl: Q&A with Cover Artist Lauren Tamaki

Looking for a mid-week pick-me-up? Look no further: we have a new Q&A with artist Lauren Tamaki. She’s the genius behind the striking cover for Sheena Kamal‘s upcoming YA debut, Fight Like a Girl. Read on to see just how many sketches Lauren went through before she landed on this final image.

Did you read Fight Like a Girl before starting on the cover? If so, what about it stuck out to you the most?

I read the whole thing, front to back! I was struck by the ferocity of the main character: she’s angry, she swears, she fully realized. Her Trinidadian-Canadian identity is front and center and although we come from different backgrounds, I could relate to feeling of being in-between worlds and not knowing your place. The author explored the vagaries of being a 16 year old girl with gusto and the emotion was further heightened by the crazy fight sequences!

What emotions did you want to capture on the cover?

When John Martz, my wonderful art director, first briefed me on the project, we talked about dynamic image of a girl throwing a punch or a kick. The book is woven around the main character’s love for Muay Thai. I tried a few versions of that, and while they were active, sweaty and impactful, none of them had the confrontational nature that the character possessed. I tried a couple drawings that had direct eye contact but I didn’t want to create an explicit portrait of her face (someone told me a long time ago not to do that on book covers). I came to a nice solution that showcased the character’s searing stare and physicality with a bit of vulnerability tossed in.

How did you choose the colour scheme?

I knew the colour had to be hot and intense. The story is about love and violence, so I had no choice! I ended up using black ink washes coloured digitally (so it was still transparent in areas). I put a purple bruise colour under the red so it felt just a bit… achey.

Were you given any guidance from the author/editor?

The original vision for the cover was of a simple figure in an expressive illustrated style. I watched a ton of Muay Thai on YouTube to get an idea of what I was dealing with. This particular martial art is very calculated for all the fury it brings. We ended up gravitating away from that original thought, but drawing all those figures was extremely helpful.

How many drafts/designs did you go through before it was “finished”?

So so many…. I sent through 8 pencil sketches for the first review, mostly of the expressive figure in action. We toyed with a couple directions for a while but went with a more centralized view of a girl staring down the viewer while ‘on the ropes’. Once we decided on that path, I tried about 9 colour/tone tests, but nothing seemed right. I stripped it back to simple black line work and a flood of colour, which was the right treatment because it was bold and direct.

As per usual, I nit-picked right up to the delivery date: I noticed I hadn’t addressed the hand wrapping *exactly* as it should be so I went back in and fixed that. Research is so important!

Have you worked on other book covers before or do you have any coming up?

I’ve done a handful of book covers and this is definitely one of my favourites! My first book cover was with Penguin UK (Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe) and I had a great experience working with them: they let me go wild with the illustration and design of the entire wrap. I’m working on a book right now that will require a cover at some point… I think it’ll probably be the last thing I tackle!

How is designing a cover different from other illustration projects you’ve worked on?

I’ve heard designers and illustrators bemoan how book covers are difficult because of the variety of opinions required to pass muster. I’ve had wildly different experiences – mostly positive. The most joyous work occurs when you have trust and rapport with your AD. The worst experiences are when there are too many cooks in the kitchen, there is a lack of clarity and no respect for your time. Any illustration work (editorial, advertising, etc) can fall on either side.

What are some recent book covers you admire?

Designer Na Kim creates the most stunning book covers. The way she mixes illustration, photography, type… so wonderful! Her covers have incredible variety but are all blessed with her magic touch. Her image for Girl by Edna O’ Brian (featuring a gorgeous drawing by Chioma Ebinama) stopped me in my tracks.


Fight Like a Girl will be released on March 10, 2020. In the meantime, make sure you’re following Lauren and author Sheena Kamal on social media!

SHEENA KAMAL: website | instagram
LAUREN TAMAKI: website | instagram 

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