Cover Reveal: Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose

Before we share the cover, we are able to share some information about the process of creating a cover.

Here to explain her part of the process in creating the cover for Blue Birds is Art Director Irene Vandervoort:

After reading a book, how do you proceed with the design process?

Once a list is assigned to a designer, we are given an extensive art form from editorial with the title’s vital stats, so to speak. Among those stats are comparison titles that the editor feels represent both the voice and look for this book. We are also given the latest draft of the story in order for the designer to read and formulate their own vision of the characters and feel of the book.

What were you looking for in an illustrator for Blue Birds?

After reading Blue Birds, I had three very strong illustrator contenders to pitch to Stacey Barney. I came armed with multiple samples to share with them to demonstrate how each illustration style could work for this title. My aim was for art that spoke to the book, and felt classic and timeless.

How did the design team pick the Balbusso sisters as illustrators?

I have wanted to work with Anna & Elena on a book cover forever, basically. I was waiting, hoping for the perfect story to come along in order get the opportunity to work with them. When I was assigned Blue Birds—I knew that it was THE TITLE. Sharing samples of the twins’ classic style and gorgeous palettes were all it took to have Stacey completely on board with my choice of the Balbusso sisters!

What sort of direction did you give the Balbussos? 

Caroline was very instrumental in sharing imagery both written and pictorial, showing the landscape and foliage of Roanoke in the 16th century. My main directive to Anna & Elena was to showcase this unlikely friendship and bond between Alis and Kimi, as well as portray a brilliant wilderness setting appropriate for Roanoke Island.

What were you looking to convey in the cover?

I wanted there to be no mistaking that this was/is a book of historical fiction. The most important aspect of the cover to me was to show these two very different girls and their unlikely friendship and bond.

From here, of course, the artists have their own process. Anna and Elena Balbusso offer us their perspective below:

How do the two of you work together?

It is not difficult for us to work together because it is a natural thing. Our style has developed gradually from our collaboration. Our personalities complement each other, there is no competition between us. We work together concurrently on many projects with different styles and content. We can divide the tasks without difficulty. If we disagree about something, we can discuss and mediate. In all cases we decide together the best route to take. At the end of each project we must be agreed and convinced of what we did. It would not be possible to work together if one dominates the other. We are very lucky!

 What is your process like?


Our sources of inspiration are art in general. In all our work there is a clear reference to artists and paintings. Before starting an assignment it is very important [to do] the research, create an archive of sources. We collect all of the references for each illustration; these can be artists/art, sketches, photographs of people. After the documentation stage, we start making many layouts digital. When we get a compelling proposition, we begin to carefully study the individual elements of the image (faces of the characters, decorations, clothing, etc.) through individual pencil drawings. We digitize (scan) the best pencil drawings of the individual parts of the image and we work the final version with Photoshop. We present to the client a very detailed pencil drawing. The last stage of the process is to make the final color art. We use mixed media: acrylic, pencil, and digital. Gradually we developed a personal style where traditional methods were combined with digital programs, however we chose not to use the virtual paint brushes. The coloring process with Photoshop is very complex and has been developed after many years of work experience. The final result is like a painting on paper or on canvas. Our final art is in digital format.

 Could you show us through images how your ideas for Blue Birds developed?


For the “Blue Birds” cover project, before starting work, we have carefully read a few pages of the novel and the author’s notes. We have done a historical and iconographic research and we collected many watercolor sketches of the English artist and an early pioneer John White (d. 1593) and many Engravings of North Carolina of the Belgian engraver Theodore de Bry (d.1598). John White has explored the mainland north of Roanoke and illustrated the natives, the vegetation, birds and animals on the island. Most of Theodore de Bry books were based on first-hand observations by explorers. All the material collected has helped us to study the landscape, the birds, the flowers, the dress of the natives, the face of the characters…The hairstyle, jewelry and dress of Kimi are like the customs of the natives in 1587.

  What images or ideas did you feel it important to include?

The central idea of the cover is to communicate the meeting of the girls of two different cultures and their friendship through their mutual gaze and the union of their hands (one with light skin and one with dark-skinned).  We chose the path of symmetrical composition to show both girls very similar but of a different race, without privileging one girl but equal representation. Their eyes meet for communicating  friendship, equality, complicity. Their hands overlap and support the wooden bird. The wooden bird has many symbolic meanings: the journey, the freedom, the England ship with Alis in the new world…

 What were some challenges associated with creating the cover for Blue Birds?

The images of the cover was immediate, we focused on Alis and Kimi portrait because we are twins and we can understand the deep friendship. We did not encounter difficulties, the project was very suited to our style and to our way of interpreting. We wish to thank the Publisher for giving us this wonderful cover project very right for us.

 How did you arrive at this final picture of Kimi and Alis?

For creating the face of the two girls, we were inspired by Renaissance painting of Carlo Crivelli Italian painter (1435 – 1495) of  Lucas Cranach the Elder German painter (1472 – 1553) and Lucas Cranach the Younger German painter and engraver (1515 – 1586).