Behind the Design: Ashley Sheriff on Illustrating Cursebreakers’ Cover Art

Red Hen Press
4 min readAug 2, 2023

RED HEN: What’s your name, and where did you grow up?

ASHLEY SHERIFF: I’m Ashley Sheriff, and I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee.

RH: Are you currently or did you study art in school? If so, which school(s)?

AS: I currently study at ArtCenter College of Design for Illustration. I have an emphasis in Entertainment Art and I’m pursuing a minor in Creative Writing.

RH: What does your dream career look like?

AS: My dream is to illustrate and write my own children’s books. I’ve created a few picture book dummies, so it would be a dream to see those published! I also would love to work in animation at a studio. In particular, I would love to be a visual development artist or background painter for a feature film or tv show.

RH: What’s your favorite aspect about illustration or graphic design?

AS: What I love about illustration is the joy and comfort that can be cultivated and created through the work. I love creating happy and magical pieces, and I personally gravitate toward work that can transport me into a fantastical or joyful place. Creating work that may bring someone comfort or joy is a constant goal for me, and I’m always excited when the projects I work on align with that!

RH: Do you have a favorite or most memorable project you’ve worked on so far?

AS: A project that’s especially close to my heart was a book concept I made called Wild Child. It follows a little girl named Amelia as she navigates her life through her quiet and wild sides. The story was very personal to me and I had so much fun writing and illustrating it.

RH: You helped design a cover for one of our forthcoming Fall 2023 titles: Cursebreakers! Could you tell us a little about what the design process was like?

Ashley’s early concept sketches for Cursebreakers.

AS: Yes! It was such a pleasure getting to design the cover, and I’m super grateful to Mark Cull and Rebeccah Sanhueza for giving me the opportunity to work on it. We started with a meeting discussing the design and overall themes in the book that I should try and capture with the cover. We were inspired by the Dragon Age: Inquisition tarot cards so I mixed a flatter/decorative style with a more form-based dimensional painting treatment for Adrien’s face and hair. I started with a flat sketch in Photoshop so I could place sample type. We had two initial ideas that we went forward with for a little bit until we settled on the current look! I continued to work on the final cover for about a month! It was a long process in particular for this cover, but there were a lot of small details that were important to get right, so it was necessary.

Left: an early sketch of the final composition. Right: the finished Cursebreakers book cover.

RH: What’s your favorite medium, and why?

AS: As much as I love working digitally in Photoshop, scribbling in my sketchbooks with gel ink pens and watercolor is my go-to medium. The watercolor usually makes the ink bleed out a little, but I enjoy the spontaneity and surprise of work with them together. It usually takes my sketches in a different direction than I intended so it’s fun to play off of.

RH: Where can we find you?

AS: Feel free to check out my website, Instagram or LinkedIn!

Instagram: @artofashleysheriff

Title: Cursebreakers
Author: Madeleine Nakamura
Publication Date: September 12, 2023
Description: Adrien Desfourneaux, professor of magic and disgraced ex-physician, has discovered a conspiracy. Someone is inflicting magical comas on the inhabitants of the massive city of Astrum, and no one knows how or why. Caught between a faction of scheming magical academics and an explosive schism in the ranks of the Astrum’s power-hungry military, Adrien is swallowed by the growing chaos. Alongside Gennady, an unruly, damaged young soldier, and Malise, a brilliant healer and Adrien’s best friend, Adrien searches for a way to stop the spreading curse before the city implodes. He must survive his own bipolar disorder, his self-destructive tendencies, and his entanglement with the man who doesn’t love him back.
Author bio: Madeleine Nakamura is a writer, editor, and lifelong fantasy devotee. She began writing her first novel the day she realized a computer science degree wasn’t happening. She graduated from Mills College in Oakland with a degree in creative writing. She is based in Los Angeles, California.



Red Hen Press

Nonprofit independent literary publisher aiming to amplify unheard and underrepresented voices and improve literacy in schools.