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Interview: Niki Lenhart, Cover & Branding Design

We’ll start with one of those questions that get asked every time in interviews: When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?

When I was in second grade, I use to get my crayons taken away from me by my teacher, Mrs. Desilva. All I wanted to do was color and nothing else. I lost a lot of crayons that year <laughs>. My mom and I remained friends with her for many years and she would always bring up the crayons and how hard it was to keep me in the real world as opposed to my artsy world. I guess that’s where it started for me.

What prompted you to graduate to online production of art? Did you find the transition from physical media to electronic a difficult challenge?

The transition wasn’t too tough but trying to get it exact can be. Every printer is different and I try to get physical proof copies sent to me before the books are printed and sent out so I can make sure it looks perfect.

How did you eventually end up doing book covers as a form of art?

I was offered the job by my very good friend Steven, and I love it! I had done some previously in school but never to this extent. It’s a learning process and will always be one. Getting tips and new ideas as I go.

Do you as an artist, have people check your work, like an editor does for writers?

All the time! I go through my friend and boss, Steven, first and from there it goes to the author for a final go-ahead.

And the other question always asked, “Where do your ideas come from for your art?”

I like to ask for a small run down of what the story is about, main characters, main objects and /or places and the like, way before its due. It gives me time to think about it. Most of my ideas though, come at random times, like when driving or cooking <laughs>. Then I have to run to my PC, if I am home, or take notes on my phone. Sometimes they are just scribbles on paper, ’til I am able to get in front of Photoshop and create them.

In developing your own style, have you found that those artists that inspired you had a style that was difficult to translate into your style?

Not very much. I get ideas everywhere and usually save them. In the end though it’s mostly long hours working around placement, font style and sometimes I have to stand back from my PC and view the cover from there. Usually it’s a 50/50 chance I’ll either like it or trash it, I’m very picky.

When you work on a piece of art, is it easier to push through to the end in one sitting, or is it much better to take time away from the project to think?

Once an idea pops into my head I usually don’t leave until it’s completely done. Again that’s a 50/50 chance <laughs> I will usually leave it open on my desk top, just in case I wake up in the middle of the night or if I walk away and come back I can look at it with fresh eyes, so to speak. Sometimes my first idea gets trashed and I start fresh. And other times I love it I don’t want to let it go.

I’ve been told (either accurately or inaccurately) that commercial art is a balance of inspiration, practicality, and time. Is this always the case?

Yes I would agree with that. Inspiration being the most important. Time would be the second.

Another thing that has been said is “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Can a picture be too emotive for a book cover? Have you had art come back for being too good?

I am not sure about too good. <laughs> Though I’ve been told a few times that the authors were completely in love with my cover/idea. I try to push with the best I can, because the cover is what the reader views first. If it seems mediocre then the content inside must be too. So that is very important to me. First impressions is always the cover of a story, so I try to make it as nice as I can.

In your time as an artist, what were the steps and experiences you went through to become a commercial artist? How would you advise others on this journey?

I’ve always enjoyed creating, whether it was restoring an old photograph, making fliers for local businesses or other graphic work. This opportunity came about quite by accident and I am so glad it did, as I truly love what I do now. I started off going to school and earning 2 degrees, one in graphic arts and one in photography. I am expanding my education now by going for my BFA in Fine Art photography. Something that has been a great passion for me for a long time.

As for advice … do what you love to do, it might never make you rich but you will always feel good when you wake up in the mornings knowing you’re going or doing a job that you love. Never give up … I was in my 40’s, a single mom of 3 with 3 jobs and I still finished school and graduated with honors. And if you knock on one door and it doesn’t open, find another and knock harder. Never give up, a tiny step forward is better than no step at all.

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