I recently launched a brand-new version of my site, www.karensandler.net. As an author who's undergone a genre change from adult romance to young adult fiction, I needed a new look for my site that would better represent who I now am as an author. Since my first YA, Tankborn, is dystopian science fiction, I wanted some really cool SF/fantasy art for my site.

I have little artistic talent myself (hey, I'm a writer, I use 1000 words, not a picture), so I knew I wasn't going to be the one to draw the art for my site. Not entirely sure what I wanted, I perused several stock art sites. But I couldn't find anything that looked right. I next checked out the websites of other YA authors, to see what I liked and didn't like. Scott Westerfeld's site, for instance, is very cool and along the lines of what I was looking for. I tried to figure out his artist's name, but couldn't find it.

So I turned to Google, using search terms such as "fantasy art" and "science fiction art" in hopes of stumbling across an artist I liked. Not much luck there. I found tons of artwork, much of it quite nice, but it either didn't match that amorphous image in my head, or if I did fall in love with their art, they were big, big names, and there was no way they would be willing to do my little old website.

I put out calls on a couple of my writer lists for a fantasy/SF artist and finally hit paydirt. An author e-mailed me with the name and website of a new artist, Matthew Leese. I checked out the portfolio Matt had posted on his site and discovered that his style matched beautifully with my still somewhat cloudy vision.

After some back and forth, Matt and I signed a contract. I pointed out the sites I liked as examples. I told him what I was pretty certain of: that I wanted a cool masthead across the top, reminiscent of Scott Westerfeld's (but different :-)), I wanted a DNA strand in which the links would be incorporated, and I wanted to use the GEN tattoo design on the page. (GEN=Genetically Engineered Non-human).

He began by drawing me some rough sketches that included possible fonts:

Much back and forth ensued during which we considered the font suggestions. I voiced my extreme dislike of mixed-case fonts (for example in the first font, the "n" is lower-case when all the other letters are upper-case). Matt said if I found a font I otherwise liked, he'd fix the mixed-case problem.

There was also much discussion about what the GEN tattoos should look like. There was a parallel discussion with Stacy Whitman, my editor at Lee and Low,  since the tattoo would also be featured on Tankborn's cover. There was no way to make the website and cover versions identical since Matt didn't have the cover to refer to. But I wanted a similar design. Stacy and I settled on henna-type designs and I relayed that to Matt. He sent his next rough sketch:

Here is where the fogginess of my vision caused a wee bit of trouble. You'll notice the DNA devolves into a sort of creature at the bottom of the page. That's because I had this cockamamie notion that I would try to incorporate elements from another book series I'm working on, one that isn't finished, let alone published. Bad idea. But Matt dutifully did what I'd asked. It took me several iterations before I finally pulled the plug on the hybrid site concept.

After zeroing in on the desired font and font color, Matt sent me his next sketches, this time in color:

Now we were getting closer to the final design and I was starting to see my vision made real. The DNA is also closer to its final version in the second drawing. I'd been pulling in my husband all along (he was going to be my webmaster, the one responsible for actually programming everything). His concern with these sketches was that having the links above my name might make them harder to see (since they'd have the buildings as a backdrop). Also, they'd cover up some nice artwork. I agreed, so Matt's next sketch incorporated that change:

In addition to finishing the Hindu-style temple, Matt filled in some henna designs on either side. It's not the final representation of the GEN tattoo, but it's getting closer. Also, the background on either side of the temple still needs to be finished. But it's looking very cool.

It took a half-dozen more iterations back and forth, minor tweaks and clarification of misunderstandings. Turns out I'm not only not much of an artist, I'm pretty poor at communicating an artistic concept. Matt would draw exactly what I'd asked for, then I'd realize when I saw it that what I'd asked him to do was not at all what I wanted. My apologies, Matt.

In the end, I have a gorgeous website. I'm thrilled with the final result. I'd love to have you visit and leave a comment letting me know what you think.

Posted by Karen Sandler

Filed as: The Writing Life