[Cover Story] Behind Atlanta Magazine’s “Must-Do South” cover

atlantamarch2014Liz Noftle, design director at Atlanta Magazine, explains the illustrated concept for March’s“Must-Do South” cover.

Courtney Kan: Tell me about the cover story “Must-Do South.” What led you to do an illustrated cover? Were there any other concepts or stories in the running?

Liz Noftle: The Must-Do South cover story is our guide to the twenty quintessential events that you have to experience as a southerner. The events cover a variety of interests, ranging from Bonnaroo to the Kentucky Derby to the fall foliage along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We decided in the fall that we’d be doing this feature, which didn’t leave us time to shoot the events that would be best for our cover. Even if there had been events that worked with our timeline, the leaves would have dropped and no one wants bare trees on a spring cover.

CK: Where did you find the inspiration for this style of illustration?

LN: I’ve had my eye on Studio MUTI for awhile, and I knew their hand-drawn style would be perfect for a cover that felt southern. It’s funny because they are actually based in South Africa, yet somehow they were able to capture that southern charm in a modern way.

CK: How did the process of this illustrated cover differ from photoshoot-driven covers? What was the timeline for completing the illustrations?

LN: We started this cover with high hopes of using a stock photo, or picking up a shot from a travel photographer. Nothing felt quite right, mainly because the stock shots were very scenic and lacked people doing something, which was crucial to work with our cover sell. We reached a point where we decided we’d assign the illustration, and if a photo ended up working out, I would use the illustration as the opener for the feature. Because we pretty much exhausted the photo option before assigning the illustration, I asked MUTI to go from concept to final in a little over a week. Even with the time difference and revisions, they pulled it off. We started with icons for almost every event, but the cover lacked focus. They narrowed it down to just six events that we thought captured the range of the content inside, and then paired type with each group of icons. The process is much slower with illustration because articulating direction over phone or email just takes longer than being with a photographer and stylist on set.

CK: Who else was involved in the cover production?

LN: Kristin Kellogg and Caroline Kilgore, our senior art director and photo director, both logged many hours with me sourcing photo submissions from photographers and scouring stock sites. I spent a lot of time with Steve Fennessy, our editor in chief, and Betsy Riley, our executive editor who oversaw the cover story, trying to get the photos to work with a coverline that we still felt embodied the content. It was a surprisingly tough cover. Mary Melton, the editorial director for all Emmis publications, oversaw the whole process.

CK: What’s one piece of advice you’d share about tackling illustrations and/or concept-driven stories?

LN: Make sure you have someone fact check any numbers you’re having illustrated. Especially when the illustrators you’re working with are six hours ahead of you and you get the final illustration on the day you close your issue. I have our managing editor, Jessica Keaton-Young, to thank for making a terrific last minute catch (we nearly ran the wrong number of states in the feature), as well as MUTI for making the fix after hours on their end. Kidding aside, I think it’s important to go to the illustrator with some loose ideas and reference materials right from the start. It allows the illustrator to get a good sense of the feeling or idea you want to evoke, while still allowing them to bring their own unique perspective to the piece.

 [SND regularly features a Q&A on how magazine covers were developed. Have a magazine cover you’d like to share with SND, or want to send a tip on a cover you’d like to see profiled? Contact Courtney Kan at kan.courtney@gmail.com.]