This April 21st, The Descent into Happiness is going to receive a “book launch” at Boswell Book Company on Downer Avenue in Milwaukee. I asked my daughter Kait if she’d be interested in doing the cover art for the book. Fortunately, she agreed to do it—and she did an amazing job. I conducted an interview with her about the cover art as a way of better understanding the painting’s creation.
Dave: How did you select the style for the painting?
Kait: For this book cover, I wanted to do a narrative style. If you look at the cover of the book, you can get a sense of the journey that is happening inside the book. You have the things you are consuming—the coffee and beer—and the whole thing is shaped like a mountain, where the story begins, and it moves along until you get to the traditional Midwest representations of railroad tracks and fields of sunflowers. The painting is intended to bring you into the book, to give you a sense of what is happening. Hopefully, someone will pick up the book and want to read it just to get a sense of what the painting is all about.
Dave: What material did you use?
Kait: Gouache on paper. The material has a water-color feel but doesn’t blead as much as water colors. You can layer it, which is why it is my favorite medium to work with now.
Dave: What inspired the painting’s subject matter?
Kait: The painting was inspired by the photos that the author took while he was on the bike ride. Only a few photos are in the final manuscript, but I had access to all the photos he took while traveling the country. I studied those for a long time to grasp the general visual themes. After studying the photos, I did some preliminary drawings, writing down everything I saw, categorizing them based on what makes sense in my brain.
Dave: Did you opt to leave anything out of the composition?
Kait: I was going to include a windmill too, but it would have made the painting too busy. I had to figure out how these shapes would fit together.
Dave: What else can you say about the painting?
Kait: I wanted the colors to be bright, and I didn’t worry so much about working with the shape of the paper because I could decide what shape it could be. Because it’s a book cover, I couldn’t let it be too illusive; it had to connect to the material in the book. If you’re in an art class, your professor sets up the rules for the assignment. This book cover had its own set of rules: it has to draw the viewer in. It has to have a unique visual appeal that represents bicycle touring—in such a way that it gives the unique flavor of the book.