Her romance illustrations have a distinctive,
realistic style. She works slowly and meticulously, but for publishers,
the wait is well worth it, for Elaine Gignilliat's
book covers have helped sell many a major title.
"She's certainly a very big hitter," says Len Leone, art director of Bantam Books. "She's captured the imagination of many of the romance editors throughout the industry. she's doing a very nice job--she has exquisite taste, she uses the right kind of models. Her men and women have a look that is very appealing." Elaine, Len adds, has hada great influence on the state of the art of romance illustrations. Her influence was recognized at Romantic times, 1983 Romantic Book Lovers Conference in New York City, where she was named Illustrator of the Year.
What is it that makes Elaine's covers so identifiable? Her embracing lovers are always idealized--"beautiful, brave and strong," as she describes them. "I try to capture the feeling that the man and woman are discovering each other and experiencing strong feelings, not that thye're just attracted to each other," she says. "They're past the point of curiosity and being afraid of commitment, to where they're beginning to be swept away be being in love. The illustration has to set a romantic mood. If it doesn't reach the reader's emotions, it won't appeal to her."
Elaine's appealing, swept-away look has appeared on such covers as Day Taylor's The Black Swan and Moss Ross (both by Dell); Catherine Coulter's Devil's Embrace (NAL/Signet); Lorena Dureau's Iron Lace (Pocket Book's Tapestry Romance); and Diane Dunaway's Desert Hostage (Dell).
Fawcett Books commissioned her to illustrate the covers of 18 Victoria Holt novels, as well as the author's Plantagenet Series, written under her pseudonym Jean Plaidy. And New American Library commissioned her and her fellow illustrator Pino Daeni to do the covers of its Scarlet Ribbons historical line; Elaine did the launch title, Kimberly Flame by Julia Grice.
While nearly all of her illustrations are for historical romances, Elaine has done some contemporary illustrations for Pocket Books as well as for one of Bantam's Loveswept launch titles, Matching Wits by Carla Neggers.
Elaine, a native of Atlanta, has built a reputation as a leading illustrator quickly. She entered the paperback field in late 1974, landing her first assignment from Pinnacle on her second day of prospecting. Her background is in fashion as an illustrator for department stores in Atlanta and New York. She also spent time in Paris, where she wrote and illustrated a review column on couturier fashion collections. A fellow artist in New York who illustrated book covers suggested she give it a try. She has done more than 150 paperback covers, working from her studio in her Manhattan apartment.
She devotes a great deal of time to research and details for each of her covers. If a reader's report summarizing a book cover is too vague, she reads the book herself. "It has to be right," she says. "Readers resent it when the cover doesn't fit the descriptions in the book, or if it looks too general. When you fake something, it usually looks it. The cover should fit the book." It should aslo indicate the degree of sensuality in the book, she adds, to help guide the buyer.
Elaine visits the library or consults her own voluminous files for her research. Thoroughly familiar with clothing, she can pinpoint a style within ten years throughout history. If a cover calls for a sunset, she researches photographs until she finds the right cloud formations or colors.
Elaine allows two weeks for the actual painting. Her work days tend to be long--ten to sixteen hours--and spill into weekends as well. She paints in oils and uses any colors, whichever seem best suited to the book. The illustration should look believable, she says, "but the artist has to breathe a little magic into it."