Interview with Kirk DouPonce

How would you describe your spiritual and/or religious beliefs, and how would you say they influence your art?

That’s a deep opener of a question. I guess to put it simply, I’d describe myself as a constantly struggling Christian believer who absolutely needs and clings to God’s grace. Hopefully I’m learning from my many failures and growing in confidence from the successes. That constant struggle is reflected in my art. It’s natural for me to become complacent, but improvement requires effort. Hopefully I’ll never be satisfied with where I’m at, knowing how much more room there is to improve. That sounds a lot more rigorous than it actually is, though. Giving stories a face is something that brings me great joy. I can’t imagine doing anything other than creating book covers.

What was your path to becoming a professional artist?

I attended art college after high school. My goal was to be an illustrator, but I found that I loved graphic design as well. In addition to class assignments, I spent countless hours working on as many real world projects as I could. Not all of them were successful, but the experience was invaluable. Even after art school, it was a long time before I felt like I was becoming a halfway competent artist. Needless to say, I’m a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule. In his book Outliers, he shows how people who are good at anything usually have at least 10,000 hours of experience at it. The more you do something, the better you get at it, in my case, brute force talent.

When you design a book cover, how often do you read all, or part, of the book first? Do you always have the choice to read it if you want to? How much do you think it helps in coming up with the best possible cover?

I’d say maybe 20% of the books that I create covers for I’m able to read. Often publishers need to market a book before it’s completed. And even more often I’m only given two or three weeks to come up with cover options while working on numerous other projects at the same time. So reading the manuscript isn’t always practical. Usually I’m provided with a general summary and basic character descriptions to work from. I do enjoy reading, and always have a few manuscripts in the queue on my Kindle. There are a few publishers who do provide manuscripts, but usually they come from indie authors who have more time for their covers. I think it does help the final product if I’m intimately familiar with the story.

Are there certain kinds of stories that you especially love to do covers for, and to what extent does this overlap with what you most enjoy reading?

Definitely. I most enjoy creating sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and mystery covers and am much more likely to read those manuscripts when they’re available.

How do you get started on creating a cover? Does the client give you suggestions? Do you give the client sketches of different ideas?

It varies. If I’m working with an author directly, I’ll ask if they have specific ideas for what they want on their cover. Then I’ll provide a rough cover for approval before moving to something more complete. With publishers, it’s rare that they give a specific direction. They usually want to see numerous semi-complete to complete options. My cover creation process always starts with lots of coffee and lots of research. I learn what I can about the subject matter and look at what’s selling in that particular genre, and collect as much visual inspiration as I can.

How often do you use models for your art? How difficult is it to find ones who fit with the concept for a particular cover?

I probably use models for maybe a quarter of my covers. My preference is to shoot them myself in costume. That does require a pretty good budget though. There are a couple locals who are great to work with, but for the most part I use modeling agencies out of Denver, which gives me a lot of options to choose from.

What software do you use? How important is 3D modeling to the art you create?

Photoshop is where I spend most of my time. However, there are some things I could only create by using 3D software like ZBrush, Modo, Daz, Substance Painter, and Cinema 4D. If I were stuck on a deserted island (post-apocalypse with electricity) and could only choose one program, it would be ZBrush, a very fun 3D sculpting application.

What computer hardware do you use?

Well that’s a topic I could really go off on. As of next week the answer will be a PC with three GPU cards. I’ve been on a Mac my entire professional life. Sadly, Apple has moved away from professional creatives. I currently own the best Mac Pro you can buy. I purchased it in January of 2013. Enough said.

Who are some other artists whose work you admire, or who have been an influence on your own style?

There are quite a few artists I could name. One huge influence has been Dan Dos Santos. I’ve enrolled in a number of his SmArt School mentorships. Our styles are not at all similar; he’s actually a traditional oil painter. But I’m amazed when he critiques my work. He always brings a perspective I hadn’t thought of. And he’s very honest, so when he does give praise, it’s worth a lot! Other than Dan, artists I admire include my friend Mike Heath of Magnus Creative, Michael Komarck, Fred Gambino, Chris McGrath, Marc Simonetti, Sasha Vinogradova, and Cliff Nielsen... just to name a few. There’s so much talent out there, that list changes on a daily basis.

Do you have a day job besides being an artist?

Fortunately I haven’t had to go out and get a real job, freelance book cover design is my full-time gig.

What advice would you give to others who aspire to become professional artists?
Create art all the time and hang out with artists who are better than you. Constantly compare yourself to others in the field and strive to reach their level instead of being content to stay where you’re at. Even though I’m a “seasoned” artist (old fart), I still pay for mentorships through courses like SmArt School and Visual Arts Passage. They’re not cheap, but getting feedback from some of the best artists on the planet has been invaluable. A growing artist should have a revolving portfolio, what was your best art three years ago should not be up to your current standards. Ideally.

Through the years, Kirk DouPonce has designed over a thousand book covers for publishers in the US and the UK. His work has appeared in Spectrum Fantastic Art, Communication Arts, Infected by Art, ImagineFX, and on his mother's refrigerator. He’s been an industry judge for Adobe's MAX Awards and has led workshops at Dragon Con, PubU, Realm Makers, and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conferences. Kirk lives in Colorado with his wife and their four Jedi children.

Want to see more interviews with fascinating people? Support Mysterion on Patreon!