Noir Carnival: Cover Artist, SL Johnson

noir-carnival-web-finalHow I Created This Book Cover, or Adventures Inside an Artist’s Mind

SL Johnson

I was delighted to be asked to create another book cover for Fox Spirit books – not only is Adele a doll to work with (she gives me freedom!) but my ace pal Kate is editing it and some very fabulous authors are part of the anthology.

It is generally known that I don’t like to talk about my “creative process.” To me, the “process” part is the boring technical stuff, of not much interest to anyone. Do you really want to know how much time I spend going through fonts? No. [Ed: Yes!]  The “creative” part is the magick – that is the ‘back of the head’ creative well that gives me the flashes of inspiration I need to start a project and also is hard to explain.

When I first read the words “Noir Carnival”, instantly an image for some creepy dead clown head thing popped into my mind, as it would for anyone. At first I rejected it, as it was similar to the “Weird Noir” cover I had just finished, but then I do like to create variations on a theme – it stretches the mind a bit more. Plus, the opportunity to create something ghastly and disturbing but with my own weird humor snuck in is irresistible, so I pursued the idea.

I had another idea that was far more complicated, not as striking, and more difficult to see as a thumbnail online.  Oh, see, here’s where “process” creeps in….the image ought to to be eye-catching, speak to the work, hopefully make everyone happy (including me!) and look super cool as a thumbnail or printed on a cover. Or on a wine mug. [Ed: It looks awesome on all kinds of products!]

So, as I was drawing the skull, the image shifted a bit in my head- it was originally going to be more circus-y, perhaps something that looked really benign until you got a second look. Nope, not a great idea. Blood spatter as clown hair? Oh, yeah. Bullet hole in head? Keeping it! Garish clown make-up? Well, let me tell you, THAT was freaky enough to give me the creeps. Off the red mouth makeup went. Off went the black band around the eyes. Off went the cheek paint. Keep the top hat and bow tie? Oh, indeed. And let’s take out some of the teeth, shall we?

By this point, I had four decent-looking possibilities, but after asking some folks, artists and non-artists, to look at it, I narrowed it down to two, then let it sit for a couple of days and made my final decision. Sent it off and was rewarded with the comments that the publisher was finding the image to be really freaky. Success!

I’m so sorry – you look sleepy – can I get you some coffee….?


[Ed: Despite the artist’s self-deprecations, I find this fascinating and do check out the faboo images you can get on all manner of merch — I’m especially fond of my book covers, but also the PUNK ROCK JUKEBOX!]

Weird Noir


  1. SL Johnson says:

    Thanks, Kate- your additions are much welcome! 🙂

    1. katelaity says:

      😀 You are a peach of an artist, mademoiselle!

  2. Twelveskin Hoona says:

    It’s noir or never. The red nose retention is not to be sniffed at. Well done.

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