A lot of you won’t know me, actually that’s my ego saying that, MOST of you won’t know me. While I’ve been doing cover art for a number of years it was mostly a hobby and a creative outlet.
Thanks to my friend Elizabeth Noble, who allows me to wander through her novels before they go to the publisher; besides doing freelance cover work for all types of stories, I also now work with Dreamspinner Press as an artist designing covers for their new M/M Romances as they offer them to me. I build covers as TL Bland. I also work with indie authors or anyone needing cover work. It’s fun and challenging and I love it.
Elizabeth offered me the blog this month as an opportunity to kind of show the process a cover artist actually goes through to design a cover.
First off, there are different kinds of cover artists and too many techniques and styles to even try to discuss so I’m gonna stick to what I do. While I do draw, my covers are what are called photo manipulations which I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with and when I say I build them, I’m not kidding. Basically you take stock photos and create art with them. Like building a puzzle out of a lot of little pieces that don’t seem to fit together, but then at the end, you have a picture.
I could stop there, but there is so much more to it. It isn’t, at least for me, just a matter of finding a picture or ten that will work and sticking them together, but trying to get as close as possible to what the author wants to see; to try to capture the vision that they have for their story, creating the visual hook that makes people want to pick up that book and see what it’s all about.
For me, the first step is getting that email that offers me a cover. I have the option to turn them down, but why would I? They’re all a thrill of discovery and a challenge to my skills and a learning experience all in one.
You, as authors, fill out that spec sheet, character descriptions, synopsis, what you do and don’t want to see and choose whether you want a photo cover or drawn art. What you’re perfect cover would be if you could have exactly what you want. And God bless you, some of you send examples of what you like, sometimes I can use them and sometimes not but they can help. I look at all the information and try to decide from the clues you’ve given me, what you’d like to see, and the hunt is on to collect photos that will help create the cover that you want to see. The one that says pick me up, you’ll love me.
Sometimes the requests seem impossible, one author wanted a pair of knee high red Doc Martens, which for copyright reasons can’t be used. I did find a stock photo of a pair of red boots, which by the way, we artists have to purchase to use legally, can’t just steal ‘em, I built her a pair of boots. Here’s the original shot of the boots and then the finished boots.
I created a paint effect so the cover actually looks like a drawing. There are about ten layers of just a piece of the original photo layered, positioned and blended, one piece on top of the other to create the upper boots and laces and elongate the toe because it’s supposed to be a man’s boot. It was definitely a challenge, but if it was easy it wouldn’t be any fun, but it was important to the author to have it, so it was important to me to try to give it to her.
Authors who request photo covers get three drafts to pick from, I try to come up with three different concepts to submit with different styles of fonts. Finding the right font is actually the hardest part and it can make a cover or break it. Truthfully, I usually do more than three drafts because I want the author to have a lot of choice, especially if I can’t decide exactly what look to shoot for and some cover ideas just ‘come’ easier than others. It’s a mix and match sort of thing. You might like this look, with that font, but in a different color. Or hate them all and want to see something different. That’s why the drafts can look a little crude or have watermarks on them. We don’t buy the photos until we know we want them.
Sometimes an author will specifically want to see something or not want to see something. As an artist I try to respect the authors wishes, but I also want to explore possibilities, so even though you might say you don’t want to see something, you may still get a draft with exactly that on it because as an artist I felt that it added to the look or got something across that the piece needed. You don’t have to use it, but I’m gonna offer it anyway.
A book cover isn’t like a regular piece of art, it’s there to sell the reader an idea, to catch their interest or intrigue them, and like all things that catch someone’s interest, it changes with each person. I might hate the very cover that the next person clutches to them and loves. It’s very personal and very relevant to the observer.
The three covers below are good example of a theme tried different ways. The book was a fun, flirty one with a theme of opposites attract, but the author didn’t really want to show ethnicity so I tried to offer three totally different looks to choose from. The version that was chosen was exactly the one I didn’t think the author would like, but to me best conveyed the diversity of the couple and the fact that this book was supposed to be fun. My personal favorite was the version with the eggs and boots, but it doesn’t quite get the message across as quickly and effectively as the version the author chose. In a review of this book, the reviewer said she picked the book up because of the cover so it was great to know that it did exactly what it was supposed to. Attract the reader.
Again, these show how versatile photo manipulation can be as a medium. The first cover is basically two shots with one, the boa, rebuilt in layers to create the fall and flow of the feathers. The middle cover is five separate shots cut, layered and blended in different ways, then shadowed to appear to be one shot. The far right cover, the one chosen, has six distinct shots, the hands, each key, the boa, which was built in sections, shadows were added and a textured background.
Some of the layers were recolored or rebuilt completely to achieve the exact look needed. Using photo manipulation as a cover option, depending on the ‘look’ you’re going for and the amount of effort put into it, isn’t limiting. Finding the right picture or pictures, adding textures, layers, ghost images, color tricks, air brushing, the effects are literally endless, can add dimensions that rival drawn art. You can even mix art and photos for a unique look.
That goes for people too. Not just stuff.
Once the drafts are done, they’re sent to the art director who might request changes or additional drafts if they feel they’re needed, then they are sent to the author who makes their requests for changes, if any.
I like to get the drafts done quickly, we usually get a time frame to have them done in, this allows for plenty of time for input from the author and then once the change requests are in and approved I can build the final draft for approval by the author and the art director. The final art has to be set up in a particular format and size suitable for both print and digital.
The amount of time it takes depends on how fast the cover has to be done, how involved it is to create and how quickly the author gets the change requests or choices back to you. Waiting to see the first drafts for the author and waiting to get the decisions back for the artist can be nail biters for both parties. There might be some final tweaking, but that’s usually it at that point except for the charge I get seeing the books show up on the page for coming soon, knowing I helped bring that baby to life.
Voila, you’re book has a visual presence!
With a little luck and patience on both sides, the author and the artist, me, hopefully, have been able to come together to create something that is beautiful, entertaining and fulfilling for the reader, the author and the artist because it takes a team to make a successful book.
I’m very passionate about book covers because I’ve spent my entire life seeing the pictures in my head that authors create with their words. For me, there is nothing more satisfying than bring those words to life.
Ta so much for reading this. Here’s hoping to see my pictures on your words.
Ta Elizabeth for handing over your blog. You’re friendship and patience with me is invaluable.
I can be requested through Dreamspinner Press or at my website or email me.
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