Emily Ruth Verona
Lynne Hansen Interview
Often, when I look at a book and go “wow, that cover is incredible” I soon discover that Lynne Hansen is the artist behind it. Her style is bold, haunting, and dynamic. You can find her art on the cover of Garret Cook’s Charcoal, Jessica McHugh’s Strange Nests, Gaby Triana’s Moon Child, Jeff Strand’s Twentieth Anniversary Screening, Maria Abram’s The Doctor’s Demons and countless others. She’s worked with the magazine Weird Tales and Black Spot Books for the Women in Horror Poetry collections. This week, I have the pleasure of talking to Lynne Hansen about the art we know and love her for.
Read the full interview below.
You blend different mediums in the creation of your work (digital, oils, graphite, ink). What’s that like and is there a specific medium you started in? Or did you always enjoy mixing elements?
I love to play in all mediums, but my commissions are primarily digital. I use a combination of my own photography, stock art, and digital painting techniques to create my art. For my personal work, I love oils and watercolors, pen and ink, acrylics—pretty much everything. I’m a much better digital artist, but the explorations I do in other mediums allow me to emulate those techniques in the digital world.
As an artist, how did you get into doing book covers?
I had always done a lot of graphic design work—ads, newsletters, stuff like that. My husband Jeff Strand had a book coming out from a big publisher, and three months before it was scheduled to be released, the publisher closed its horror line. I told Jeff that if he wanted to self-publish Wolf Hunt, I could try my hand at the cover. It took me WAY longer than I thought it would, but we put “Cover art by Lynne Hansen” on the copyright page, and people started reaching out for commissions.
One of my favorite things about your work is that the vibe varies from project to project. You really capture the soul of a book and craft covers that reflect that soul. How do you approach each cover’s unique look?
Oh, thank you! That’s the best compliment anyone could ever give me, because to me, capturing the style and tone and true essence of the book in an engaging manner is what I feel my job is as a cover artist.
Each book is so special to me. At this point in my career, I turn away about 90% of the commission inquiries I get, so I only work on the very coolest books. The first thing I do with any cover is read the book. In fact, I ask folks to send me the book, or at least sample chapters, before I even consider taking on the project. Even if the book is awesome, I need to make sure I’m the right artist for it, you know?
I also have this whole little list of questions I send potential clients. I ask them to complete this sentence. “Fans of ____’s book ____ will love my book!” And then I ask for links to three book covers in their genre that they love. This really helps me see where the client thinks their book belongs. And it helps me see their preferences, even if they aren’t able to articulate them.
For example, if they send me three books that are all creepy landscapes, odds are pretty good that if I create a creepy landscape for them, they’ll be happy.
Ultimately, finding the perfect cover concept to connect the right readers to the book is so much easier for me than it is for the author or publisher. I’m not the writer who put their heart and soul and blood and tears into the book. I’m not the editor who fell in love with the book. I come to each book with fresh eyes, like the reader will. I get so excited when I find that one thing in the story that inspires the cover! It’s like treasure hunting!
I notice that your book covers often have hidden surprises or unexpected details. Why is that?
I always strive to have that “lean in” factor in every piece of art I create. Readers often see a cover first when it’s a one-inch thumbnail. It needs to be instantly recognizable as the kind of book that they like. And when they click on that thumbnail, there had better be more than just, “Oh, hey, it’s bigger.” There should be details that they didn’t notice before that have them asking questions. And hopefully they’ll be curious enough to read the back cover copy. By the time they get to that point, they’ve interacted with the book multiple times before they’ve even gotten to Chapter 1. From a marketing perspective, that means they’ll be more likely to click that “Buy Now” button.
You’ve worked with a number of authors more than once. Do you look for stylistic threads to connect their work? For example, A Complex Accident of Life and Strange Nests by Jessica McHugh share a distinct color palette.
I look at each book individually and try to create for it uniquely, BUT when I work on multiple books with an author, I try to create a unified look and feel. I actually do a lot of rebranding work for authors. When they write the first book, they often don’t know that there will be a second or third, so there’s nothing to plan ahead for. After a book or series has been out for a while, it’s easier to know what’s clicking with readers and to play to that on the cover.
For Jessica McHugh’s blackout poetry collections, I wanted to create something that felt feminine, twisted, and out there, kind of like Jessica herself. And I wanted to honor the classic source material (Frankenstein and The Secret Garden,) and creating collages that incorporated vintage illustrations just made sense. (Apokrupha, the publisher for Jessica’s blackout poetry collections, just recently commissioned me to create a cover for her next one, The Quiet Ways I Destroy You, based on Little Women, and let’s just say, it’s going to be EPIC!)
I have to ask what working on the Under Her Skin poetry collection cover was like. I know I’m probably biased because I have a poem in there, but it is legitimately one of my favorite pieces of art. I have a print of it hanging on my wall at home.
It was such an honor! The voices in that book are simply amazing! The cover for Under Her Skin actually started as a personal project. Each month I create a new piece of art for my newsletter subscribers and turn it into a Creepy Calendar that they can download and print out or save as their desktop wallpaper or whatnot. And then I usually make a premade book cover from it. When Lindy Ryan saw my premade cover and told me about Under Her Skin, I was agog, because if she had commissioned me to create art for the anthology, that’s EXACTLY what I would have created for her. Like 100%. It’s was a supernaturally perfect match!
Since then, Black Spot Books has commissioned me to create the cover art for the next volume, Under Her Eye. And I already have plans for volumes three and four!
Last year you brought Positively Creepy to the internet, with clothing and accessories featuring your art. How did you come up with that idea?
I started last spring by making dresses with my art because I wanted to wear them. And then I figured people might want their own, so I decided to make a little catalog to take to conventions. People could fill out an old-school paper order form and pay via Square and then I’d place the orders by hand when I got home. It was pretty insane how popular my little pop-up shop was. In November, I opened an online pop-up store for three days, just so people who hadn’t been able to see me at a convention could order things for the holidays.
Later this year, I’ll be opening a full-blown online store with lots of new stuff, but for now, it’s still paper order forms at conventions. It’s been great getting to talk to people and see what they like best. It helped me really focus in on who my people are and what my brand is.
My brand name, Positively Creepy, came about because, well, that’s who I am. I love sharing the positive side of horror, and helping people make it part of their everyday life.
What does it feel like to see people wearing your work?
It brings me such joy! There’s something magical about it. Truly. People send me pics all the time. One woman said she wore one of my dresses to the tiki bar and got a free drink! I’m so happy when I wear one of my dresses, and now there’s a growing Positively Creepy family out there doing the same.
Do you have anything coming out this year that you’d like to tell people about?
I’m most excited about the new treats I’m adding to the Positively Creepy lineup. At conventions this year, starting at AuthorCon in Williamsburg, Virginia March 31st – April 2nd, I’ll be debuting purses, shoes, a new style of dress (POCKETS! It has POCKETS!) and my personal favorite, wide-legged lounge pants. (I live in mine!) Oh, and custom jewelry with my art. There are so many things I want to make for folks. This year I’m going to make time to make it happen.
What other conventions can people find you at this year?
In addition to AuthorCon, I’ll be at MoCon in Indianapolis, Indiana, Horror on Main in Huntsville, Maryland, ConCarolinas in Charlotte, North Carolina, StokerCon in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Necon in Lowell, Massachusetts, Killercon in Austin, Texas, and the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival in Haverhill, Massachusetts. I’m super tickled that both Horror on Main and ConCarolinas invited me to be their Artist Guest of Honor. That’s never happened before, and now it’s happening twice in back to back weekends!
What’s a cover you’ve seen someone else do recently that you really loved? Any genre or category. It doesn’t have to be horror.
I adored Vincent Chong’s cover for the limited edition of Josh Malerman’s Bird Box. It’s this gorgeous wrap-around with Malorie blindfolded on the front and her blindfold turns into the river which leads to (or perhaps separates her from?) the two kids on the back cover. It’s lush and moody and perfectly encapsulates the core of the book.
Thank you so much for talking to Frightful!
Thanks so much for having me! An absolute delight!
To see more of Lynne’s portfolio, visit her website. On Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, she’s @LynneHansenArt. If you want to get Lynne’s Creepy Calendar each month, join her VIP list here: https://bit.ly/LHANEWS.