Illustrated Book Cover: “Catnapped”

illustrationof two cats

Illustration for “Catnapped” book cover.

I had the opportunity to create a painted book cover illustration, with cats! Meet Rags and Layla, who figure prominently in Catnapped, by Patricia Fry. Her book has just been released as an e-book, and I have the final cover and the link below.

So many book covers for mysteries and animal stories are illustrated with paintings which give subtle clues to the story. All my life I’ve studied these illustrations and collected ones that I particularly loved; in fact, because I read so much growing up but really didn’t encounter too much “art” aside from what I found on book covers and greeting cards, book illustrations were a major influence on me, and a cover illustration could keep me captivated for days after I’d read the book as I studied styles and colors and brush strokes. And not just animal books but any book with an illustrated cover, as I looked on in envy wishing I could draw like that and hoping that some day I’d be able to use my talents to illustrate books and their covers. It’s part of where, years later, I derived my personal style of painting cats.

purrs of wisdom cover

Purrs of Wisdom, by Ingrid King

I have designed book covers using photos, and that is no less exciting to put together. Just last year I designed the cover for Ingrid King’s book Purrs of Wisdom, which began as an e-book so only the front was necessary, then became a printed book as well so we designed the spine and back too. We used photos of her tortie girls, Allegra and Ruby, which is perfectly suited to a non-fiction book cover, and especially since these two kitties and their predecessors in Ingrid’s life were important contributors to the book’s content so we want to see them “in real life”. You’ll find a link to Ingrid’s book below as well.

Years ago when I worked with a book publisher I did have the opportunity to illustrate a few books and a few covers in simple ink sketches and adding text and one color in my graphics program—and I’ve been darned lazy about digging those out and scanning them or finding them on a disk somewhere—and that was exciting but not quite the thrill of the illustrated cover.

Patricia sent me links to a few of the book covers she particularly liked so I’d have an idea what she had in mind, and we exchanged a number of e-mails discussing the details of the cat and some of the incidents in the story. She suggested two possible scenes for the cover, which I worked up in pencil.

pencil sketch idea for illustration

pencil sketch idea for illustration

Smokey the model cat tries to catch a bee in the garden!

gray and white cat sleeping on chair

Patricia chose the view of Rags on the chair and sent along a few photos of Smokey, the kitty who is the inspiration for the main character, Rags, so that I could see not only what he looked like, but what he acted like.

I began a color sketch of the idea to include Rags, of course, the overstuffed chair with either a stripe or a flower pattern, and Patricia had mentioned an old farmhouse so I visualized large rooms, high ceilings and wide doorways, and a staircase was mentioned as well. And, yes, Rags is holding a bra in his mouth—remember, he’s a Klepto Cat! Each element of the image had some contextual meaning—I remember being very disappointed if something I saw on a book’s cover wasn’t actually in the book.

I worked this out in several versions of the sketch, using rich, bright colors to attract attention.

pastel sketch for book cover

pastel sketch for book cover

pastel sketch for book cover

But as you can see we didn’t use any of them! This book is an e-book, and adding all those extra details made the cats very small, and at the size you usually see an e-book cover you couldn’t see them anyway. And all those little “clues”—the blue baseball cap, the spectacles on the table—just disappeared and simply looked like part of a background pattern.

So I took the elements we liked—the cats, the chair, the window, and the open space—and created the final illustration, and below is the final, finished cover.

book cover design

The final cover design.

So there you have it, the genesis of an illustrated book cover, and I hope it looks enticing to you!

Below is a detail of the two cats’ faces. I had to photograph this cover, and it’s never as clear as when I put a piece of artwork on my scanner because the art is right up against the imaging device and it catches all the details. I didn’t use paper for this, but Ampersand brand “Pastelbord”, which is a Masonite panel with an incredibly wonderful finish for capturing fine details, which I needed for this illustration; I sometimes use them for my smaller portraits, but because they are a little thicker and heavier, they are difficult to frame, but I adore these panels for the level of detail they capture. However, I used a 9″ x 12″ panel but my scanner bed is only 8.75″ x 11.5″ and the metal edge around the platen held the panel just a little too far from the glass and the scan was blurry. I’ll remember that next time!

two cats in pastel illustration
Detail of Rags and Layla.

You can find Catnapped by Patricia Fry on I hope you enjoy it, and best of luck in sales to Patricia!

. . . . . . .

Also, click here to read more about the Purrs of Wisdom cover and bookmarks, and also visit Ingrid King’s author page on

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