Frost Light!

Hey, it’s my first blog post of 2023! Looking back on my 2022 art projects, the shining star of the year was definitely illustrating my first book cover! Frost Light by my dear friend Danielle Bullen released on December 15th, culminating almost a full year of research, collaboration, and drawing.

Working on this book taught me so much, and as we start a new year I’m documenting the process so I can use my new skills to move forward and make more books (hooray)!

Last week Danielle and I had a wonderful book discussion about Frost Light, our friendship, and the story of how I got to come along on this wonderful book adventure. The recording is here; for this post, I’m going to focus on the more technical aspects of making the artwork.

Inspiration and Research

Left cover art by Charlie Bowater. Right cover art by Anna and Elena Balbusso.

Danielle and I looked at a LOT of YA novel covers to try and identify publishing trends that we liked and disliked. The two cover illustrations that we really enjoyed were An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson (left, illustration by Charlie Bowater) and The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott (right, illustration by Anna and Elena Balbusso).

In the early research stage, I also got to raid Danielle’s extensive Pinterest boards, and my feed was full of sheep, redheads, and snowy landscapes.

Early concept ilustrations by Danielle Bullen.

I had the blessing of working with an author who is herself a visual artist; these concept pieces by Danielle were hugely helpful inspiration.


Initial thumbnail sketches and meeting notes from my sketchbook.

I did 15-20 thumbnail sketches for my initial concept meeting with Danielle. We chatted about our favorites and listed our “must-haves”: design elements that were absolutely essential to have on the cover. These included Oanéka (our heroine)’s hair, a stag, snow, and flowers.

The official concept sketches, which I drew in pencil and cleaned up in Photoshop.

After the concept meeting, I took our three favorite thumbnails and developed them into concept sketches. We honed in on a dreamy, folk-art style, and tried three different views of Oanéka. Danielle and I both loved the center concept, which gave us a great side-view of the character and plenty of opportunity for Easter eggs in the design of her shawl.


Once we had a final concept, it was time to move forward with creating the full illustration!

I started with collecting a “palette” of colors and textures for the illustration. I scanned washi paper (left, a thin, semi-transparent paper with dried leaves and other plant matter pressed into it), watercolor swatches (center), and acrylic paint on tissue paper (right).

Then began my delightful marathon in Adobe Photoshop. This was actually my last project in Photoshop before I switched to an iPad and Procreate, and although I’m LOVING my new setup, the Frost Light artwork was a very nice final lap with Adobe.

I brought the concept sketch into Photoshop and traced over it with flat, digital colors. Then I layered my handmade textures over those drawings to create a digital collage look. Finally, I drew over my “paper” shapes with digital pencils and paintbrushes to add details like hair, freckles, and extra decor on the shawl.

Then came ALL of the color variations! We tweaked the cloak several times and couldn’t land on a color combination we liked, until Danielle suggested a lighter, more teal background color. As soon as we tried it, we knew that was the missing magic to tie the whole thing together.

We used the same process to make bookmarks as pre-order rewards for the book launch. It was a great opportunity to draw some supporting characters.

So then we had a cover! And six months later, we had a printed book!

And amazingly, a LOT of people ordered it. It still feels so surreal that Danielle’s story and my artwork have gone into the homes of people I’ve never met. Frost Light is such a special book, and it was so cool to have a hand in sending it out into the world.

Working on Frost Light was such a joy, and I’m so excited to see what Danielle writes next (she’s already announced a Frost Light sequel in the works)! Visit Danielle’s website to learn more about the book and to order your copy!

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