Meet The Man Behind D.A. Alston's Incredible Book Cover
Tell us about your background.
I was born in 1989 in Chicago and still live there to this day. When I was 9 years old, I started drawing and taking art seriously. My personal work is inspired by my life experiences, the city of Chicago and pop culture. I have experience in drawing, painting, airbrushing, animation, and graphic design. I've won awards in my art and design career as an individual and collaborative since high school. Last year, I participated in group and judged art exhibitions in the city.
What was your goal with the cover for Royal Elite Squad?
Before I explain that, I want to thank D.A. Alston and Vital Narrative for allowing me to create the cover for this book. I'm beyond grateful to create for them now and in the future.
My goal for the cover was to create the vision that D.A. Alston had. I actually created two front covers. The first one featured the four girls hanging out in front of their school's park bench. They were spaced out and doing their own thing, but were still shown as a close bunch of friends. The second one, which became the actual cover, is a silhouette of the four girls in their superhero costumes with the city of Atlanta. That one was the easiest one to complete because of the simplicity and I love how it draws you in.
Do you feel like you accomplished that goal?
Yes, I think I achieved that goal. Funny story, when I sent in the second cover with the silhouette of the main characters, D.A.'s mom actually thought it was better than the original, which is funny because it took me less than two hours to make after sketching the silhouettes on paper. The original cover took me over three weeks because of all the details of the characters and background. Sometimes, its best to keep it simple. Shoutout to her mom.
Describe your creative process.
Once I have an idea or subject that I'm interested in, I will make rough sketches until I am satisfied with it. Depending on the end goal, I either choose to make it a digital or a traditional piece of art. If it's digital, I use my graphic tablet and Adobe Illustrator to create my digital art and illustrations. If I choosing traditional art, I'm working with my ink and markers on Bristol Board. I'm currently expanding from paper to canvas as I plan on painting again. I've had the itch to do more since live painting at Qfest 2016 by the Expo Collective.
How do you get unstuck creatively when you can't quite figure out how you want to do something?
I usually just take a break and come back to it with fresh eyes. One of my graphic design teachers told me that you shouldn't be stuck at your desk or on a canvas for a long period of time trying to fix something that will only take five minutes to correct. So, I usually just walk around the downtown, watch TV, listen to smooth jazz or read a book. Then, I'll come back and see what changes I can make with a fresh mind and a fresh set of eyes.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you've made as a graphic designer?
Taking on projects that I didn't connect with. After college, I just wanted to build my portfolio and resume so I could apply for a graphic design jobs. So, I posted on Craigslist in order to do that. If you're starting out as a young designer, don't go that route. Most of the projects were flyers for shows and parties. I wish I hadn't done some of the projects just because they didn't connect with my morals or my values. Plus, there's the "exposure" gimmick that people use to get young and naive graphic designers to complete work for free. What good is exposure when it's not directed to your target audience? But that's a whole other story.
How have you learned from those mistakes?
For one, I know not to accept any and every project request that comes my way. I try to make sure it reflects my brand's values. This past summer, I took a three-day course called the Exchange by the Expo Collective to learn how to build my brand as a creative. The three courses were for branding, involving and connecting community through art and entrepreneurship. During the course, they explained why you have to choose who you work with wisely and think about how it will reflect you and your brand. Since then, I've been more aware of what projects I will and will not take on. I've turned down more a lot more projects this year than I have in previous years.
How do you handle criticism?
As long as it's constructive and genuine, I can take it. In college, my Portfolio II teacher was a woman named Katie. She was an incredible teacher, but at the same time, she was brutally honest and would rip your portfolio to shreds if it wasn't on point. I used to be super sensitive about my work (and I still am to a certain point). However, taking that class helped me grow thicker skin when being critiqued.
What's your next project?
Besides working on the Royal Elite Squad series, I'm currently revamping my brand so it can be cohesive and ready by next year. I'm also working with YouMedia on another art and design workshop for teens. I did my first one in May and it was an wonderful experience. I'm also the Creative Director for my high school ten-year reunion (John Marshall Metro High c/o 2007). I'll be creating the branding, the shirts, banners and everything else. I can't wait! When I have the free time in between projects, I'll be working on my fine art that I've been creating. I'm hoping to to be a part of some really great art shows in the future.
Here are a few sites where you can find Jonathan's work: