Stuff in the ‘The Guardian Herd Series’ Category

14 February, 2015

Meet the Guardian Herd Cover Artist!

David McClellan at his desk

David McClellan at his desk

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez - Author of the Guardian Herd Series from Harper Collins Children's Books

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez – Author of the Guardian Herd Series from Harper Collins Children’s Books

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez ran this great interview with the artist who drew the eye-catching jackets for her GUARDIAN HERD series from Harper Collins Children’s. We loved it so much we begged her to let us share it with you.  Find out how David brought our hero Star to life.


Jennifer:  At what age did you know you wanted to be an artist?

David: I knew from a pretty early age. It was probably around 4th or 5th grade, when I realized that becoming a professional basketball player was out of the question. I guess it was really in college, when I chose to major in illustration, that I actually solidified the decision.


Jennifer: What is your favorite medium for expression and has it evolved over the years?

David: In high school it was Prismacolor pencils. Then, in college I did most of my illustration assignments in acrylic paint because the fast drying time meant I could get the assignments done on time. After college I got introduced to digital painting and never went back to the acrylics again. Everything that I was trying to achieve with the acrylics worked so much better with the digital media. So now all of my illustration work is done in Photoshop. But I do try to keep one foot in the door of traditional painting, so I do a lot of studies in oils to keep my skills up.

Very rough sketches for book 1

Very rough sketches for book 1


Jennifer: How did you turn your passion for art into a career?

David: Basically, it’s been about getting an education and then continuing to learn my whole life. I studied illustration in college, so I learned some good fundamental principles about drawing and painting, as well as communicating ideas through images. And I learned about being a professional and meeting deadlines and keeping clients happy. After college, I knew that illustration jobs would be inconsistent so I got a job as an artist for a video game developer, which has been great because that has meant working with many other talented artists as a team and learning from them. And of course, working with 3D software is a different animal than 2D art, but much of it overlaps in terms of what you need to know. I’ve basically had to learn how to be a landscape painter, except that the landscapes are virtual 3D worlds. So I think the knowledge and skills I’ve gained as a video game environment artist have helped my illustration career and vice versa.


Jennifer: How did you become the cover artist for The Guardian Herd Series?

David: The art director at Harper Collins had hired me before, but on a completely different kind of subject matter. As she considered me for this job, she asked if I was any good at painting animals and asked for some examples, and I told her that I was okay, but that I was probably weakest at horses. Of course, horses were exactly what she needed. And she agreed with me that my horses were not my best work, but for some reason she took a chance on me anyway. I immediately went and got some books on horse anatomy and started trying to figure it out. In hindsight, I think I was probably equally bad at drawing all animals. It’s just that horses are animals that humans are really familiar with, and have such specific proportions and musculature, that people can always tell when artists get them wrong. If you draw a dog wrong, you can just say it’s a different kind of dog.

Approved sketch for book #1: STARFIRE

Approved sketch for book #1: STARFIRE

Jennifer: Please describe your process, from conception to delivery, for creating a Guardian Herd book cover

David: The art director gives me a description of what they want to see on the cover as far as characters and what kind of setting they want. Then I do several sketches to try and turn all those elements into a composition, taking into account where the title and author’s name will be. Those first sketches are usually so rough that no one else would understand them. Lately I have been doing those kind of sketches on my phone. I then pick out a few that have the most potential and make more finished sketches of those ideas to send to the art director.  She will then review the sketches with the editor and author (you!) and then either ask for changes or give the go ahead on the one that they like best. Then I will do color studies and work out the big picture before rendering any details.  I will have to do research and gather reference materials, in this case, lots of pictures of horses and wings. I have used toy horses for reference too since the photos usually don’t have the right kind of lighting.  So sometimes I set up the toy horse with some makeshift paper wings to help me figure out what the shadows need to do. Then, from that point on, it’s just a lot of hours of painting time to refine and finish it off.


Jennifer: Your perspectives on the covers are dramatic! Can you give readers any tips on how to draw interesting pictures?

Guardian Herd #1: Starfire

Guardian Herd #1: Starfire

David: As far as perspective goes, on both of these Guardian Herd covers so far I have dropped the horizon line lower so it feels like you are looking up at Star which makes him feel more heroic. There are so many potential answers to the question of how to make interesting pictures. Coming up with an interesting idea that is worth the time spent creating it is certainly crucial. Doing several rough sketches to get at the best possible idea helps. Making your image clear and legible helps. For example, it helps to have a clear focal point that is the most important thing in your picture and then have all the other elements complement rather than compete with that main focal point. I believe that contrast is a big key to making things interesting. Our brains naturally look for contrast to make sense of things. And not just contrast of light and dark but just about everything you can think of has an opposite that you can use to set it apart and make it stand out. Of course, not everything should stand out. Only the important things. But if you want something to feel light, surround it with some dark. If you want something to feel big, put something small next to it. Try to keep variety in your shapes and not make everything too similar or monotonous.


Jennifer:   I’m hosting a giveaway of an ARC and a pegasus toy to readers who submit a drawing of a pegasus. Do you have any specific tips/advice on how to draw horses and feathers?

David: Well, start by getting the best reference materials you can get. You may not be able to see all that you need to understand in a photo of a horse, so a book on horse anatomy or a diagram of the muscles of the horse can be helpful. With feathers, it seems to be a little like drawing fingers or hair. If you are drawing a hand, it works best to mass in the fingers as a group first before trying to depict each individual finger. And with hair, it’s the same thing. You draw the mass of hair and then define only as many strands of hair as you need to in order to show that it’s hair and no more. With the feathers, start with the shape of the wing as a solid mass with the structure of the bones underneath in mind, and then add the feather detail on top of that foundation. And remember that you don’t have to define each feather with equal importance. Pick a few main ones to be the ones that tell the story.


Jennifer: How important has the computer become in the world of art? 

David: It’s extremely important. And along with computers I would list smart phones and tablets and any electronic device that can be used to either create art, or view it. But the thing to remember is that the hardware and the software are just tools. The music is not in the violin. It has to come from the musician. So a software expert with no artistic training probably won’t create something as beautiful as a good artist with little software training might be able to. So I always tell people to use the software to express their designs rather than to let the software dictate the design.


Jennifer:  Can you recommend any software programs that budding artists might want to learn?

Guardian Herd #2: STORMBOUND

Guardian Herd #2: STORMBOUND

David: I really only work in Photoshop for my illustration work, although I sketch in the Sketchbook Pro app on my phone. I have messed around with the Brushes and Art Rage apps on my iPad. I think the kids probably know better than I do what the cool new painting apps are. I always recommend that kids get really good with real pencils and paints before getting into digital art because I think that foundation really helps.


Jennifer: Bonus Question?

David: I just want to say thanks Jennifer, and that I have really enjoyed doing the illustrations for the Guardian Herd series, and I’m excited for the next book! I hope that the fans of the books enjoy the illustrations and feel like they do justice to the characters. I look forward to seeing some cool fan art soon!


ARTIST BIO: David McClellan grew up near Portland, Oregon and then studied illustration at Brigham Young University in Utah. In addition to illustrating books he works as an artist for Disney Interactive Studios, where they make the video game, Disney Infinity. He still lives in Utah with his wife and four boys.

You can see more of his work at his website and Instagram.

Also you can check out Jennifer and all things Guardian Herd including contests, bonus materials, and upcoming appearances on her website.

23 September, 2014

The Guardian Herd: Starfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Starfire - Jacket

An action-packed debut novel in an exciting new tween fantasy series, perfect for fans of series like Warriors, Survivors, and Guardians of Ga’Hoole.Once every hundred years, a black foal is born, prophesized to either unite or destroy the five herds of flying horses that live in the land of Anok. This foal is fated to become the most powerful pegasus in all of Anok. Star is this black foal.Even though Star has malformed wings that make him unable to fly, the leaders of each herd will take no risks. They will execute Star on his first birthday. With the help of his friends, Star must escape the clutches of the powerful leaders. His epic journey of self-discovery turns into a battle between good and evil that will keep readers eagerly turning the pages.

23 September, 2014

The Guardian Herd: Starfire pubs today!

Starfire - JacketWe want to wish a happy book birthday to the one and only Jennifer Lynn Alvarez.  Her fantasy-adventure middle-grade debut THE GUARDIAN HERD: STARFIRE pubs today. We can’t wait for you to meet Star and his friends, the pegasi of Anok.  Book 2, STORMBOUND, is coming in April!

“The typical fantasy tale of an ordinary being destined to become something extraordinary is infused with verve and ingenuity. The pacing is quick, chock-full of adventure and twists, making it difficult to put down. Readers will be clamoring for the next book in this adventure.”—Library School Journal

“From page one, Jennifer Lynn Alvarez weaves an epic tale of a doomed black Pegasus foal named Star, whose race against time will lift the reader on the wings of destiny and danger, magic and hope. It’s a world I did not want to leave, and neither will you.” — Peter Lerangis, New York Times bestselling author in the 39 Clues series and of the Seven Wonders series

5 September, 2014

Guardian Herd: Starfire highlighted in ABC Best Books for Children

Starfire - JacketWe’re so pleased that Jennifer Lynn Alvarez’s middle-grade debut The Guardian Herd: Starfire (pubbing September 23rd from Harper Children’s) has been chosen for the prestigious ABC Best Books for Children 2014. Of 1000’s of books considered only 200 are chosen. Congratulations Jennifer!

ABC Best Books for Children Announcement


18 April, 2014


JENNIFER ALVAREZ-headshotJennifer Lynn Alvarez grew up with a crazy love for horses, but her family couldn’t afford them. To satisfy her cravings, she read horse books, volunteered at stables, bought horse toys, took lessons, and played “horses” at recess with her friends. She wrote in her childhood diary that one day she would be a published author, and she would own a horse that lived outside our window.

In pursuit of her goal, she worked hard at school and earned a scholarship to UC Berkeley, where she studied English literature. She wrote in her college essay that her ambition was to write animal stories for children. After she graduated from college, she proudly purchased her first horse, a failed Thoroughbred racer named Splash. The mare reared every time she rode her, kicked her twice, and trampled her once—of course Jennifer loved her dearly. Meanwhile, Jennifer wrote middle-grade novels about animals, but she was intimidated by the process of getting them published.

Time went by, and once her youngest child began school, Jennifer resurrected her publishing dreams. She still wanted to write a book about horses, but she felt like every horse story had already been told. Then in June 2012, she was driving down the freeway and she was struck by an intense visualization. Jennifer saw a herd of flying horses and they were migrating! A white mare, heavily pregnant, was struggling to keep up.

A burning curiosity to know more about the pegasi and the special unborn foal overcame her. As soon as she arrived home, Jennifer began Starfire. She wrote the first draft at a lightning pace, revised it, and then sent it to Jacqueline Flynn at Joelle Delbourgo & Associates. Everything happened quickly after that because as it turns out . . . not every horse story has been told!

Jennifer is now living her dream. The second book of her new trilogy, RIDERS OF THE REALMlaunches on March 26th, 2019 with the publication of THROUGH THE UNTAMED SKY(HarperCollins Children’s Books). She is also the author of The Guardian Herd Series and The Pet Washer. 

You can find more information about Jennifer and her projects on her website, on Twitter @JenniferDiaries, and on her Facebook author page.

Learn more about Jennifer’s books on the Official Site

12 August, 2013

Story Telling vs. Story Trapping, by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

JENNIFER ALVAREZ-headshotThe process of writing the first draft of book one of The Guardian Herd Series was magical for me. The story leapt from my head, fully formed, like Venus. There is something sacred about that, right? You don’t mess with a story straight from the muse, do you? I thought you didn’t. I thought a story’s first shape and form must be its best shape and form.

And then I met my editors.

Rosemary Brosnan and Karen Chaplin at HarperCollins Childrens Books know a thing or two about stories (and the muses they ride in on). When I received my first suggested edits for book one, I was perplexed and empowered. They unleashed my plot and revealed my characters without changing them. How could such significant revisions result in the exact same story—only better?

It was my librarian mother who explained it to me. “They are the advocates for the reader,” she said.

Oh yeah, the reader.Author Photo - Jennifer and horse

A first draft for me is not about story telling, it’s about story trapping. I am flying in the clouds with my pegasi, or galloping across the grasslands, or hiding in a tree while they battle with sharpened hooves and flared wings. I record what I see and try to stay out of their way. I am either covered in blood, or dripping cloud sweat, or crying over a fallen hero at the end of each writing session. The one thing I am not doing is thinking about the reader.

Not yet anyway.

Once the story is trapped, I’ve corrected all my misspelled words, and put away my thesaurus (yes I use one and I’m not afraid to admit it), I am at the end of my abilities to improve the story because I was there. I lived it. I know more than what I’ve written on the page. I can’t know what it’s like to view the manuscript without carnal knowledge of it.

This is when my editors come into play according to my wise mother, not to tame the story, but to frame it. Not to create a better draft, but to create a better read. My editors are doing this for The Guardian Herd Series as we continue to work on the first manuscript together.

My relationship with my muse remains intact. I’ve written the second book and a prequel to the series with the same gusto that infused book one. Knowing I have editors to help me wrangle my stories once I trap them has freed me to go hunting for more.

So the answer for me is, no. I don’t mess with the stories I receive straight from the muse, my editors do. And my books are gratefully better for it.