By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy and Cookies Policy for more information.
red cross sign

get in touch

Interested in reviewing one of our books?
Use this form to request a Review Copy.
Submissions will next be welcomed in February 2022.
More information on our submissions process is available here.
work with us
We welcome enquiries regarding business collaborations. For information on Permanent Vacancies and Internships/Placements, visit out About page.
Thanks for getting in touch. We'll get back to you as soon as possible.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
white icon of a shopping bag
Book bag

An Interview with Harry Pizzey, Cover Designer and Illustrator for the Empress Irini Series

On the eve of publication day for Seizing Power, the third book in Janet McGiffin's Empress Irini Series, Scotland Street Press sits down with artist Harry Pizzey to discuss his design process and his approach to the Empress Irini book covers.

Please introduce yourself as an artist/human being! 

Hello, I'm Harry Pizzey. I'm a multi-disciplinary designer/artist living and working in Cardiff. I work in a range of areas including design for stage, events, installation, animation, film and TV and now illustration!

How did you get into cover design? 

This is the first book cover I’ve ever worked on; I’ve worked on several posters and graphic pieces for stage shows before but never anything for a novel. Since I started linocutting in lockdown, I’ve been wanting to apply that skill to a professional project. When this opportunity came up it seemed like the perfect chance to do that. 

'Two Coins' and 'Crown & Jewels', illustrations for chapter headings. Copyright Harry Pizzey.

In your experience, how does book cover design differ from other kinds of design? What kind of things do you have to bear in mind? 

There’s obviously a narrative to consider, to give the reader a taste of what exists inside the cover, without giving too much away. And it definitely has to grab attention of the customer and stand out on the shelf. It was a satisfying task to try and tell a story in one image but also make it work aesthetically. On top of that it also has to work as a legible piece of typography, getting the title and other information on there, so that’s another layer to the puzzle.  


What went into your research for the cover, maps and chapter images for the Empress Irini Series?

I did a lot of image-based research into Byzantine art led by the very helpful and specific references from the book itself. I learned an awful lot about the Byzantine Empire, something I’d not really looked into before. Its history is really fascinating and I feel like it’s very much overlooked in our historical educations. 

'Empire of the Romans of the East' map. Copyright Harry Pizzey.

Religious icons and iconoclasm have a large role to play in the plot for the Empress Irini Series, as they did for the real Empress Irini’s political career. Can you talk about how religious icons inspired the book cover? 

The whole book really centres around the idea of icons and the prevailing attitude towards them. A lot of the political and personal relationships in the story are hugely influenced by them so it was important to see them on the cover. Irini herself bases her whole rise to power on bringing them back in to existence so we see her on the cover wrapped in a huge garment formed out of icons, lifting her up to her prominent position. It was also key to the design to see the gold that we associate with venerated icons, so the gilding plays a large part in the image and making it feel like an icon itself. 

How did you settle on linocut as the best medium for the Irini Series? 

For me it always made sense for the book to be illustrated with linocuts. They have an aesthetic which really lends itself to an historic and ancient world. I think I probably have that association from reading E.H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World which has some amazing little prints that illustrate it. Aside from that it was a brilliant opportunity to use linocut, my main medium for producing visual art, to build up a concentrated body of work with real motivation behind it. It’s really honed my skills as a printmaker.

Original linocuts for chapter headings. Copyright Harry Pizzey.

What has been your favourite part of the design process? 

The process of creating one of the chapter headings is very satisfying. That starts with reading the chapter, then identifying objects or scenes that are both visually interesting and key to the story, sketching out ideas, settling on a final design, cutting the lino block and then finally printing it. To be honest though, receiving a final copy of one of the books and flicking through and seeing the hours of hard work in a tangible object is the best part.  

What are you working on at the moment? And what are your plans for the future? 

I’ve recently been working at Kew Gardens on an installation for one of their glass houses as well as designing a couple of small touring sets for opera and theatre. However, my next project is working on a performance piece that will be touring to various arts festivals around the British Isles. That piece has a very illustrative element to it, so it’s not too far removed from my work on the Irini Series. In terms of the future, I would love to work on more book covers and illustrations, it was such a pleasure to work on this series, so I’m on the look out for more of that!

'Writing Desk' print. Copyright Harry Pizzey.

You’ve created some gorgeous prints of the designs featured in the Irini Series. How can people go about buying your artwork? 

I’m currently in the process of setting up an online shop, but for now the best way to purchase any of the prints is to contact me on Instagram @Pizzey_Press where you can order any of the illustrations featured in the series. Custom orders are very welcome!

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to say thanks to both Scotland Street Press and Janet for being such great supporters of the illustrations and allowing me creative freedom on the project. It was a real pleasure to be able to delve in to such a layered series of novels and create my own artistic response to it.  

To find out more about Harry’s artistic practice, head to his website We are excited to see what he produces in the future!

contributed by

Harry Pizzey

contributed by

Harry Pizzey

featured stories
books in this entry
more in this category
No items found.
On the eve of publication day for Seizing Power, the third book in Janet McGiffin's Empress Irini Series, Scotland Street Press sits down with artist Harry Pizzey to discuss his design process and his approach to the Empress Irini book covers.
featured stories