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An Interview with Elise Carmichael, Cover Designer for The Whistlers in the Dark

On the eve of publication day for Victoria Williamson’s The Whistlers in the Dark, Scotland Street Press sits down with illustrator Elise Carmichael to discuss her design process and her approach to the Whistlers cover.

Please introduce yourself as an artist/human being!

Hello, my name is Elise. I did a BFA in Art + Design with an Illustration concentration at Towson University and a MSc in Publishing in Edinburgh Napier. I’ve just started learning guitar again but I’ve only learned the C-Major scale and two country songs. I like to hike. I take pictures and I’ve just started taking pictures on film. A lot of my art inspiration comes from animation, movements of art history that I’m obsessed with, and various other illustrators I love. I once got told my work looked very ‘American’. Not entirely sure what that means. 

 What are your first steps when approaching any commission?

Tone, usually. Trying to explore whatever it is that’s being asked of me to convey is a fun creative challenge, and I really enjoy problem solving. Only the creative kind though, not math. I’ll read through the brief and start gathering inspiration. If it’s a book, I’ll skim read through the manuscript and write down significant scenes or items that the characters interact with, that might be good visual ideas to explore on the cover.

Preliminary sketches for 'Jinny' and 'Felix', copyright Elise Carmichael

What are some of your favourite projects you’ve worked on?

Working on Hag Storm, another of Victoria’s books, was the first book I did out of my undergrad. I was so nervous I’d do it wrong, but it was the first book I ever saw that was professionally published that had my work on it and I was so happy. I also really enjoyed working on the logo I did for a candle company. I enjoy lettering a lot, and it was also the first professional logo/design I’d done that would be reaching a larger audience than I was used to. Plus, seeing them on the candles was cool. 

What is your favourite part of the design process?

For a drawing, I like that moment between the final sketch and the color composition. I feel like the color comp is the moment where you can really see what the final product is going to look like. And it just gets really exciting. For lettering, it’s more difficult to explain, but I think it’s when you start to see the technical knowledge line up with the aesthetic idea you've got going. Not sure if that entirely makes sense!

How did you come up with the gorgeous colour palette for Whistlers?

I looked at covers for middle grade books that I loved, trying to see what’s popular right now and what matched the tone of the book. I was drawn to the more blue and purple colors and ended up going in that direction. It was a great exercise in color theory for me too! And who says that trees can’t be purple!

People have commented on how atmospheric the Whistlers cover is — how did you manage to achieve this?

Hmm… I guess I would say that it has to do with lighting. I love exploring light in my work, mostly because I didn’t understand how it worked for a long time, and really dedicated myself toward learning how to show it. The warm light with the blues and purples and dark red tones of the Romans I think manage to make it atmospheric. 

Alternative designs for The Whistlers in the Dark cover, copyright Elise Carmichael

What were some of the other designs you made for Whistlers? And how did you decide on the final image?

Oh wow! I made a few. There was one I particularly liked that had a silhouette of one of the standing stones carved into a tree in a dense wood. Jinny and Flex are dwarfed in the background, beneath the actual stone, and the magic began to circle them. There were a few where I incorporated the sharp jagged logs that Jinny’s brother Bran fell into, but tonally that was a bit dark. And there was one where the standing stones look like a hand coming from the earth to grab Jinny and Felix. 

The final sketches were chosen by Scotland Street Press – but I’m glad that the one chosen was what was picked! I adored that thumbnail, so it really worked out. 

What are you working on at the moment?

A possible 11-month project that I’m waiting to go over the contract for. Can’t say much else! Aside from that, mostly personal work, trying to up my portfolio in the middle-grade realm of publishing.

To find out more about Elise's artistic practice, head to her website We are excited to see what she produces in the future!

contributed by

Elise Carmichael

contributed by

Elise Carmichael

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On the eve of publication day for Victoria Williamson’s The Whistlers in the Dark, Scotland Street Press sits down with illustrator Elise Carmichael to discuss her design process and her approach to the Whistlers cover.
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