Kirk DouPonce’s website divides his portfolio into non fiction, fiction, young adult and “romancy schmancy” which I will just call romance. His sites list his areas of expertise as “Book Cover Design, Illustration, and Photography.”
Looking through his non fiction gave me the sense that his cover design is as much layout of other people’s images as his own so I went and read an interview to see if I could find out more about how much of the process he does himself. The question is the ever difficult one of “what makes an artist?” Is the person who makes a Coca Cola commercial as much of an artist as someone who orchestrates a performance art piece that they post on youtube? Is a web site designer an artist? At what point does digital collage have the same value weight as material collage? When does someone being paid to create marketing material stop being an artist? How does book cover art in general fit into that question?
From the interview I was able to learn two snippets.
One is he names refers to himself as a designer:
I’m always impressed with your type choices. What is your process when making your type decisions?
Like most designers much of my time is spent experimenting with different type treatments.
Two he does use stock imagery:
Where did you find your imagery?
I illustrated the border and skull. The image of the medieval soldiers came from ShutterStock.
The issue here is not that he refers to himself as a designer rather than an artist or that he admits to using stock imagery. The issue is his work looks like it was made by a designer not an artist and that the images look like a vaguely pleasant arrangement of stock imagery.
Since there are no dates marking when these images were made I went ahead and looked through everything he has in his online portfolio and of approximately a hundred images I found three that did not look like smoothly photoshopped advertisements. I’m going to consider these three the best and most original of his work and critique him based on those.
Though the fact that the majority of his work has all the creativity of a mass produced hotel landscape does influence my vote in regards to his Hugo Award nomination.
This image is labeled “ships5” when viewed alone. It makes very little sense to me as far as balance of imagery on the page or color distribution goes. I can see that it harkens back to the 1960s flying ship ideal and there’s a floating city of some sort but overall it just strikes me as a bland attempt at orange/blue contrast with some indecisive purple thrown in. The image itself doesn’t give a sense of story simply location and a bit of a confusing location at that.
Knife, or No Ordinary Fairy Tale, gives the impression that DouPonce put some additional effort besides arranging other people’s pictures. It doesn’t feel like a solid work though. I don’t know if it’s the odd way the color of the fairy’s tunic feels like the colors laid over dress images on Amazon or if it’s the fake feel to the ivy but it’s just not pleasing to my eye. I vaguely wish I had the layers he set up so I could rotate them here and there to see if I couldn’t get the balance on the horizon or some other aspect of it to lay better. I do like the texture on the fairy wings but it doesn’t contrast well with the green jacquard.
Dreams of Caladria also falls into that created but not necessarily interesting sphere. Busy but not interesting.
In conclusion, if I had a limited budget and wanted cover design for something that should be professional looking but not creative I would probably hire Kirk DouPonce. The fact that his works are interchangeable and don’t have a strong voice is a good thing in the marketing sense and a very good thing on a lot of non fiction covers. He makes sensible design choices and can balance an image in a very non-evocative way. Is he the Best Professional Artist? No.