Monday, 20 June 2011

Perfectly Covered, My Lovely Guest - Cathy Helms

Don't judge a book by it's cover, we've all heard that saying, but my lovely guest this week is an exception to the rule, Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics, designs covers that takes your breath away.

"Greetings Ya'll! I'm Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics writing to you from rural North Carolina, USA. First of all I want to thank the truly fabby and charming Pauline Barclay for inviting me to her blog! It is great to be here and to be introduced to all of her readers.

I met Pauline through a mutual friend, UK author Helen Hollick, who recommended my creative services to her back in April. I am a graphic designer and I specialize in designing book cover jackets, and Pauline was in the market for a fresh cover design for her latest novel: Sometimes It Happens...

My husband and I reside in North Carolina after relocating over a decade ago from Florida (USA), where we both grew up. After years of working in billing and customer service, I finally had had enough of crunching numbers and creating invoices. So I applied and was accepted into my local community college where I earned a degree in Advertising and Graphic Design in 2008. I call the college experience my own version of a 'mid life crisis' since I waited until I turned 40 to further my education. After graduating, I established Avalon Graphics and have been working out of our home growing my design business ever since. And my big break came when I reached out to historical fiction author Helen Hollick after reading her Pendragon's Banner Trilogy with praise for her phenomenal telling of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar. We became instant friends and she gave me the opportunity to redesign the cover for her pirate novel 'Sea Witch'....and I've been working with Helen ever since! She's introduced me to a whole bunch of great folks in the industry, so I owe much of my recent successes to her!

I grew up with a healthy interest in anything related to the Arthurian legends - thus the inspiration for naming my design business. Fantasizing about castles, knights in shining armour and all that frivolity were (and still are!) my favorite pastime. Also, I have always been fascinated with British history; in particular the Dark Ages. I regularly attend local Renaissance Festivals here in North Carolina, and plan to travel to the UK for the first time in 2012.

I am also an fervent digital photographer and often use my own photography in my design work. I grew up with dreams of becoming a filmmaker, or a singer, or an artist, and so I've always considered myself a creative soul. As a teenager, I sang in my school's choir, played the trumpet, and was student director of many school stage productions. I graduated with the distinction of being named Drama Student of the Year in 1985. But it wasn't until much later in my life that I returned to my creative roots. Fresh out of high school, I failed to follow those creative dreams. Instead, I followed the job market earning a steady income for the first twenty two years of my professional life working in dull cubicles crunching numbers.

Besides all things 'Arthurian', I also fell in love with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels while still working in the drab office environment. And when Peter Jackson produced the stunning films back in 2001, I found my muse again for imaginative pursuits. I began writing poetry and dabbling in fan fiction writing. And I wanted to create my own computer desktop wallpapers based on the Lord of the Rings and other fandoms.

So after some research into how these digital wallpapers were created I discovered a computer software program called Adobe Photoshop! Years before I went to college to gain a formal education in the medium I taught myself how to create graphics for the web and print media with Photoshop. What my formal education gave me was the technical skills that I would need in order to apply my creative skills in the field of Advertising and Graphic Design. Most importantly, I learned how to prepare digital designs for print and quickly discovered a particular love for book cover design.

How I do it - I am often asked about my process in designing book jackets and my initial response goes something like this: each project is unique and it 'depends....' I know, that is incredibly vague. *laughs* I ask the client about their manuscript first, then ask a few questions about favorite colors, other book covers that they favor and if they have any specific elements they'd like to see on the cover. Then I begin my concepts (in Photoshop, not by hand which usually surprises folks) based on the client's input and largely on my own gut instinct after interacting with the client. I like to work directly with the client in developing a cover design that truly speaks to them and represents the story that they are telling within the pages of their book. While my education taught me the 'rules' of formal graphic design, I like to step outside that box and go for something more unique whenever possible. Not all publishing houses allow free styling in book cover design, but I certainly push that envelope! I fashion myself a photo manipulator with a serious addiction to typography. However, my resume simply says 'Graphic Designer' as that would be the prim and proper title for my profession.

So what I do - offer an array of design services and have geared Avalon Graphics to suit the self-published and small businesses in the market in need of quality design while on a tight budget. I provide full book jacket layouts, marketing materials such as flyers, post cards, bookmarks, web graphics, book trailers for YouTube and even portfolio websites for my clients. I have signed on with UK publisher Knox Robinson Publishing to handle all their book cover needs in 2011 while I also continue to work with many individual authors including Helen Hollick, Richard Denning, John Baird, and Pauline!

I want to thank Pauline again for lettin' me descend on and take over her blog for an entry today. It has been a pleasure!"

Cathy Helms, Graphic Designer
Avalon Graphics (established in 2009)

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Helen said...

Fab post Pauline - Cathy's covers are stunning, I thank Fate for her initially contacting me & look forward to many years of working together and being friends!

The cover for Sometimes It Happens is fabulous - certainly a "Pick Me Up & Read Me" eye-catcher. (and the text inside is fabulous as well, a great read that will get you giggling)

(Is that OK Cathy & Pauline? The bribes I paid you both for all the plugs were sufficient then? *laugh*)

John Baird said...

As the chair of New Writers UK, I represent nearly 100 published authors and am only too aware of the importance of a good cover. I have encountered various designers in the past few years but none better than Cathy Helms, and what’s more, she’s affordable. Publishing is changing, many authors are now avoiding traditional books and opting for the eBook route, but just because a book is only available electronically it doesn’t mean you should neglect your cover.
With Avalon Graphics, an impressive cover is assured, but equally impressive is Cathy’s personal touch. You can’t design the perfect cover without caring about the results. And Cathy cares.

Helen said...

couldn't agree more John.

Shirley Wells said...

What a great post! The cover for Sometimes It Happens is truly beautiful.

Congrats to Cathy on signing with Knox Robinson Publishing. I'll look forward to seeing many more great covers from Avalon Graphics!

Pauline Barclay said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by, Cathy at Avalon Graphics is a true asset to the publishing industry. Her book covers are fab to say the least!

Eileen Schuh: said...

Yes, Cathy at Avalon Graphics. The cover for Sometimes it Happens... is truly stunning. Way to go, girl!

Pauline Barclay said...

Hi Eileen, Cathy certainly did a fab job with my cover. She is a talented lady.
Thanks for calling by always great to see you down here...laugh!

Suzy Turner said...

What a fabulous post! Cathy's covers are absolutely stunning, especially Sometimes It Happens : )

Pauline... I love your new avatar pic. Gorgeous! X

maiden said...

Thank you so very much for all the great comments! Helen - I love you. Period. Fate certainly did take care of us both that day via one single email. ♥
John - you have been outstanding and I am lucky to have met you!
Shirley, Eileen and Suzy - thank you so much for your generous feedback on my designs! I'm very excited for Pauline's book and hope to see it in print soon!
And lastly, thank you from the bottom of my heart, Pauline, for having me here!

maiden said...

...and 'maiden' would be me - Cathy Helms! *laughs*

Ayesha said...

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maiden said...

Thank you so much, Ayesha!