Friday, April 17, 2015

My interview with Will Kelly, cover artist for HAMMER OF THE HUGUENOTS

Cover art by Will Kelly
I had the privilege of meeting Hammer of the Huguenots cover illustrator Will Kelly in person when he joined us on the Knox 500 Tour summer 2014. Hes a humble fellow so it wasnt until near the end of the tour that I learned he was an artist, the real kind. I remember sitting down with Will near the dock at Loch Levin Castle and beginning conversation about book illustrations. Hes agreed to chat about the process of creating a book cover for my forthcoming book.
Bond: I love what you have done on this cover! Tell us about your background as an artist. Where did you learn to do this kind of thing?

Kelly: Thanks Mr. Bond! The book cover was a real pleasure to work on. And that was a great day at Loch Levin - I remember that conversation well - and I also remember they served a pretty great latté!
My background as an artist is fairly straightforward, if a little unorthodox. Like many kids, I grew up drawing in my spare time, mostly comic strips. I had a love for the simple storytelling that could be found in comic strips such as Peanuts. Charles Schulz was a real hero of mine as a child, and since then I've actually acquired some of his pen nibs that he drew his strip with every day. I learned to emulate his work by creating my own strips in a similar style to his. 
I was homeschooled all the way through highschool, and as I entered my highschool years I started to become frustrated with my drawing abilities. I wanted to create things that were beyond my skill level, and I really couldn't. I was reaching a point where I wanted to figure out what I wanted to do as a career. I thought about a lot of things, but "Illustrator" wasn't one of them. It was at this point when I read your book "Hostage Lands" for the first time - and although the story really grabbed my imagination, it was also the cover art that really hit the right note for me (and full disclosure, this is a true story, and Douglas Bond isn't paying me to say this!). After reading the book, I looked up the artist's website and discovered that Illustration was indeed a viable profession that combined art and storytelling, two things that I really love. Since then, the illustrator (Justin Gerard) has become a friend and a mentor and his
Bond and Kelly on KNOX 500 TOUR
encouragement has really made the journey of making it in illustration much easier. As far as formal training, I have very little, aside from a few college art classes. I do try to learn all I can by attending art workshops and studying on my own. It's all about consistent practice.

Bond: Readers might be interested to know how it is that you came on the Knox tour and when and how you first discovered some of my books.

Well, like I mentioned earlier, I was homeschooled, and in my family we love books. My mom introduced me to the original Crown and Covenant series, and I really enjoyed those. Since then I've tried to keep up with the latest Bond books, and I've especially enjoyed the last few in the Heroes & History series, of which Hammer of the Huguenots is the latest. I had just finished Hand of Vengeance and decided to look up your website. I have wanted to travel to Scotland for years, (I'm a huge anglophile, and I watch my share of BBC television!) especially since my ancestry goes back to Scotland. After I realized that you led tours, and discovered The Knox at 500 tour, it was a no-brainer. I love traveling, and history, so it was a perfect combination of the two. And let me tell you, the trip was an amazing experience, especially getting to experience the sights with other like-minded folks who were so kind and shared a passion for travel and the amazing narrative of the history of the Church. Scotland was magnificent, and there's rarely a day that goes by that I don't think about going back.

Bond: What were the particular challenges of creating a book cover for this book?

That's a great question. As it turns out, I'm actually relatively new on the publishing scene, so every new project is a challenge. Not only am I striving to make a solid product, but I also feel like I have to make it up as I go. Often my creative process feels like I'm throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing what will stick. But in all seriousness, there were quite a few challenges to this particular project. In particular, working in this particular painterly, more realistic style is something that I don't do a whole lot of. I create a lot of children's characters in my own work, and painting in a realist style is much more of a challenge, although the principles are still the same. It's all in the technique. It was also a challenge to convey the character's emotion and personalities in a single static image. Getting the characters right was important - it's what the whole piece hinges on really. Also, maintaining a cohesive look with the other books in the series was always in the forefront of my mind. Justin Gerard's artwork (Hostage Lands, Hand of Vengeance, and other bond covers) has been an inspiration to me for years, and I'm very familiar with the processes he uses. So I worked in a similar method to his, but of course you'll be able to look at my art and tell that it's something totally new, but hopefully engaging. I hope it connects with the readers and gives them something to fire their imagination.

Bond: Does it help a book illustrator to know the authors books, to have read some of them, to be familiar with the particular character of the books?

Not always, but in the case of Hammer of the Huguenots it was helpful. Not so much for the story, but for the overall look of the series. I was familiar with the size of the other books, the way they looked, etc. I actually had all of them close at hand to refer to as I worked on my cover. Melissa Craig (the editor at P&R publishing) was very helpful and encouraging and helped keep the direction of the art on track to fit the tone and theme of the series and the book itself. Having a general idea of the story is helpful, and in some cases an artist does need to know as much as possible about the book. Sometimes however, knowing too much about a story gives an artist too many details and makes it harder to decide on a single scene to illustrate. We had a clear vision for the cover image from the start, so that part of the process was fairly straightforward. As for the Hammer of the Huguenots, I've actually not even seen a manuscript yet, so I'm going to be as surprised as everyone else to read it for the first time!

Bond: What other illustration projects have you worked on, and were there specific adaptations you had to make to work on this one? Every illustrator has their unique style and preferred approach to illustration, but with a book cover, especially when it is in an existing series, how much charting of new waters is required for the illustrator to fit with the feel of covers in books in the series already?

Most of the illustration work I've done up to this point has been for either independent publishers or for myself (personal projects). I've done a few books, a couple of comic book covers, and (my personal favorites so far) a series of illustrations for Story Warren, a website devoted to inspiring children and their families to foster Godly imagination through storytelling. My usual method of creating art is fairly simple, usually starting with line work and simple coloring. It's a style that's more at home in a children's book or magazine I suppose. But I do enjoy doing more complex pieces, and with this project I knew from the start it would be a challenge. One thing I think is important for an artist is not to get too stuck on one particular "style". Style is a deceptive word, and many beginning artists (myself included) tend to fall into the trap of searching to find their own unique style. This is somewhat of a myth, because it's really all about doing what's best for the project at hand, what will make that image work the best. Some of the most successful illustrators that I know work in multiple styles, and different clients hire them for different needs. It's all about being as versatile as you can, and just being as good as you can at making art in general.

Bond: When did you know you wanted to be an artist? Were you inspired by any particular artists along the way in your career? Which ones and why?

I think somewhere in the back of my mind, I've been hard-wired to be an artist since birth, but I guess I only finally woke up to the fact when I was about twenty and started getting serious about improving my drawing and painting abilities. Justin Gerard, like I mentioned earlier was the first illustrator that I really connected with and got my career started. But I've been inspired by so many artists along the way. James Gurney was my first major influence as a kid - he created a wonderful series of books called Dinotopia about an island in the 1860s populated by dinosaurs and humans who live together. It's an amazing series, and it really hit all the right notes for me growing up. The paintings were detailed, and he carefully constructed this fantasy world that felt real - I spent many hours doing the same thing as a result of those books. I got to meet Mr. Gurney back in 2012, and it was just so great to finally meet a childhood hero. Of course, there's many others: Hergé - the creator of the Belgian "Tintin" books, Norman Rockwell, P. J. Lynch. Of course there are so many others, I could go on for quite some time... :)

Bond: What artist from the past would you most want to sit down and have a meal with and what would you want to ask the artist? (you can add what you would order to eat etc if you would like)

Oh, that's a great question! It's also a tough one. I think it would have to be N. C. Wyeth. There are so many things I admire about his work and I would love to talk to him about his craft. His mastery of storytelling and color and light are simply brilliant. And he had the opportunity to illustrate so many classic tales, Arthurian Legends, Treasure Island, and even Biblical stories. I know I would have a lot to learn from him. He also illustrated the Robert Louis Stevenson story Kidnapped, which of course takes place in Scotland, so I would have to say it would be appropriate to meet with him in a Scottish pub, preferably in Edinburgh, over a hearty shepherd's pie, peas and chips paired with a nice pint of McEwan's scotch ale!

Bond: Wyeth is a favorite of mine, as well! What is your advice to a young artist who would like to become a professional illustrator?

Well, this answer might get a little long-winded, but it's only because it's something I'm very passionate about. I really love to see younger artists coming along and learning the same lessons that I've learned in the last 6 years or so. I've had the opportunity to follow the progress of several teenage artists via social media such as Instagram, and their blogs, whose drawing abilities have skyrocketed in just a short amount of time. I am excited to see these younger individuals coming up and learning the art of telling stories with pictures. It's what I love to do, and I love to see them do it. My advice would be work consistently, but don't burn yourself out. Work hard, but not too hard. Ultimately, your success really doesn't depend on the amount of work you do, but the amount of sincerity and integrity with which you do it. Start by drawing what you love drawing. Study the masters. Find artists that speak to you through their work and emulate them. Copy their work! Learn what makes it tick. Get out and try to connect in person with other artists and illustrators (don't be shy - illustrators are some of the nicest people I know!) But most of all, if you want to be successful, understand that making art isn't about boosting your own ego or image, it's about sharing the gift of art and imagery with others. Creativity is a gift that's been given to us by God, and we can only truly enjoy it when we're sharing it with other people.

Bond: What is your purpose for creating art?

Purpose can often be a hard thing to nail down! But I can say for sure that as a "Sub-creator" (as Tolkien so eloquently put it) I see my purpose of creating art as a chance to emulate the creativity of the Creator of the Universe. The story of the Redemption of Jesus Christ is very much a reality to me, and I try to live my life as an artist as a reflection of that story. Of course, that's a constant challenge, because every day I deal with the issues of my own pride in what I do, doubts, whether or not I'm popular, how many likes my art gets on Facebook, and so on. But when I step back from all of that noise, and really get to the root of why humans are hard-wired to create things in the first place, my response becomes a lot more humble in knowing that God has made us with desires to create and bring even a feeble amount of beauty into the world. Placing my trust in the reality of a God who is sovereign and has given me the desire to be an artist has been very freeing, and really gives me purpose in even the most meager attempts I make at creating art. Good art, or poor, everything I'm doing has purpose and meaning in the ultimate plan of His will. It gives me a lot of peace and freedom to be able to follow my path as an artist with conviction and gladness.

Thanks, Will! What a delight partnering with you on this book and cover!

Thanks so much for inviting me to do this interview! Best wishes for the new book - I'm very excited to read it. And let's see about planning another trip to Scotland, eh? :)
And if anyone would like to stay in touch, I'd love to hear from them! You can find my website at or just follow me on twitter @w_t_kelly (I mentioned networking in my response about young artists - here you go guys, here's your chance! Feel free to show me the art you're working on! :) )


  1. Wow!!! Bond books, Justin Gerard, Story warren, Tintin, and a brand new, talented Christian artist to follow all in one interview?!?! Ah, I might swoon! Felt like a kid in candy shoppe while reading this. That doesn't happen often. It definitely made my choppy Saturday morning brighter! Thank you so much for the interview!

    Blessings on future work for you both! Mr. Bond, looking forward to reading your new book(s). Will, I'm so giddy to see your work on the cover, and here's to it not being the last cover illustrated by you for all us book lovers to enjoy!

  2. Aden, glad it brightened your Saturday morning. More books (and covers) on the way!

  3. Aden! Glad to meet you! All the best to you in your creative pursuits! :)