Four tools to create a color palette

Color palette based on book cover design

Color palette based on book cover design for the novel Blue Dollar

Wear the blue neck tie to suggest boldness and confidence. Wear the red tie for passion. Or so the conventional wisdom offers those business persons who are presenting themselves for a job interview. Color is important when designing books, posters, web sites, etc. Building an effective color palette takes years of experience in knowing the right color combinations that present contrast or harmony or various other arrangements.

Thanks to some online resources, creating a color palette takes only a few minutes. Here are four online tools to use in creating a customized color palette.

  1. CSSDrive.com: http://www.cssdrive.com/imagepalette/index.php
  2. DeGraeve.com: http://www.degraeve.com/color-palette/
  3. colorhunter.com: http://www.colorhunter.com/
  4. PaletteFX.com: http://www.palettefx.com/index.php

There is also a way to create a color matrix using Adobe Illustrator, but that’s a bit more involved and takes longer to explain. Here’s an example of what a color matrix looks like (see below).

Color matrix

Color matrix (for a corporate brand book)

What tools do you use to create effective color palettes?

coffeehousejunkie:

Rarely do I reblog someone’s blog post, but this is extremely useful for authors and graphic designers who are working on a children’s book.

Originally posted on Writing for Kids (While Raising Them):

Editorial Anonymous provided a great explanation of basic picture book construction a few months ago.

At that time, I skimmed the info. Today, I’m studying it.

Why? An editor asked me to make page breaks on my current manuscript. And know what? I had more page breaks than a 32-page picture book would allow! Whoops. I knew that my manuscript had to fall within the 500- to 800-word length, but I had neglected to pay attention to logical page breaks.

The editor said, “Page turns can make or break a book, and it can be helpful to an editor to see how you envision the text.”

In a 32-page picture book, you don’t actually have 32 pages for your story. You only have 24 pages since 8 are used for the book ends, copyright and title. And 24 pages translates to 12 spreads (an illustration that spans the two opened pages…

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Job title – Creative Director

JobTitleCD

It is still a bit odd for me when I see the title of “Creative Director” on the labels of mail and packages that are delivered to my office desk. I won’t deny that so many years ago, sitting in graphic design class at the university, I dreamed of being a creative director. But now I look at that designation, that job title, and wonder.

What does a creative director creative director do anyway? It is too reductionistic to say that a creative director is the primary enforcer of consistant brand and mission of a company. The job is more nuanced. One professional states that the “job doesn’t come with operating instructions.” [1] That is absolutely true, at least, in my case. There’s more I could write about the path to a creative director or even the role of a creative director, but that may be for a different post.

What makes me wonder about the designation of job title of creative director is what it means. Is it my identity? Yes. No. Does it matter? It seems that the title is more of a way for other people to catalog and/or judge me, but it is not who I am as a person. Does that make sense?

NOTE: [1] wiseGeek.com’s What Is a Creative Director?

Good design is more than this


(image via Jonathan Trier Brikner)

There’s more to being a design genius than this. Truly.

Just because you have a computer, laptop or tablet allowing you to download free fonts and free images and use some free app you discovered on Twitter does not make you a design genius.

Just because you “designed” a cool graphic image the way many misled souls believe they labored and “built” an IKEA bookshelf does not make you a design genius. [1]

Celebrated graphic designer, Milton Glaser, put it best:

Computers are to design as microwaves are to cooking.

Good design solves problems and presents stories. As a creative director for an international publishing house, my chief goal is to attract potential readers to new books by capturing a story in a single cover image. To illustrate the point further, an author (for whom I had just completed a book design) emailed me recently: “I’m getting some great feedback on my Facebook page about the cover. Thank you very much…” Good design is about communication: problem solved, story told.

NOTE: [1] For what it is worth, IKEA is not good design. It is nothing more than cheaper-than-Wal-mart veneer furniture, second-rate fabric products and wax-paper lamps. And don’t call IKEA “modern design” because modern design is so 1948. Seriously, the modernist movement began almost a century ago. But I digress.

Hidden in the closet

Hidden in an old portfolio

Something hides in the closet. Below the button down shirts and dress slacks for work, behind the winter wardrobe of sweaters, vests and jackets, and against the back wall is an old black leather portfolio with handles. Years ago it was a mandatory item for any and every graphic design student or young professional with goals of becoming an art director, illustrator or creative director. I pulled out the old portfolio and the oversized heavyweight document envelopes behind it and entered a gateway to another time and place.

Like time travel, I am back in the 1990s. There were three main portfolios I presented. One presentation was corporate, ad agency design samples. The kind of material that ranged from logo design, brand campaigns and the like. The second presentation was print design. That portfolio exhibited all manners of print designs from brochures, books, direct marketing collateral, magazine spreads, cover designs, etc. For presentations, I would rotate the design samples in the black leather portfolio based on the interview. Sometimes I presented a hybrid of both that included work that featured my copyrighting and marketing pieces. But the third portfolio was my favorite–the illustration portfolio.

Professors, peers and even my first art director advised it was the weakest of the three. The general critique was that technique needed improvement. So I kept working on improving technique and execution. A black cloth case bound sketch book always accompanied me almost everywhere I traveled. I’d sketch landscapes, still lifes, portraits and tried various techniques using pencils, Sharpie markers, charcoal, ink and watercolor. But soon I learned that I could earn more financially and find more consistent work with digital designs.

It is not that I abandoned illustration. A few years ago, a national news magazine featured one of my illustrations on the cover of its annual books issue. Earlier this year, another illustration was featured as a book cover design. Also this year, a few spot illustrations were published in a book.

As I look at these old illustrations and sketches, I see a younger, self-doubting me at a time before home computer, internet, or smartphone entered my life. Back in those days, the only entertainment devices I had was a stereo set with a five-CD player, a stack of maybe 30 audio CDs and a shelf full of books. Through the portal of this time capsule, I see the mistakes and accomplishments with a new perspective. Hidden away in that closet is a portfolio of dreams, aspirations and ideas that was slowly replaced with a portfolio of duty and responsibility. A thought occurs to me as I examine an unfinished sketch of a female portrait, did I focus on pursuing a career path rather than a vocation? Maybe that is a thought I should hide in the closet while I bring some of these illustrations into the daylight.

Letter writing, a vanishing art

A book is more than a collection of letters and pages.

The week before Fathers Day I completed a book design project that is a “legacy of letters from a decorated World War II hero…” Or so the back copy states.

Reading a manuscript like that, at times, seems voyeuristic. The compelling part of the book is the context of knowing that the author was three when his father passed away suddenly. He grew up hearing friends and family tell him “You sure look like your Daddy” or “I knew your Dad, he was one of the best.” The letters that the author collected for the book shares who is father was and what kind of man he was. But most importantly, for the author, it was the only way to hear the voice of a father he never knew.

At times, during the process of designing the cover and page layout, I glimpsed that boyish tenderness of the author (now in his sixties) as he ached for the presence his father. I cherished Fathers Day all the more as I thought of the author.

A couple of things come to mind as I wrap up this project and send it to press. First, the art of letter writing seems non-existent. The last letter I received was from my oldest child who placed it in my boot for me to find one morning. It was a simple note written in colored pencil. It is placed in my journal. I glance at it periodically.

Last time I received a hand-written letter was years ago. There are the seasonal holiday letters that begin filling my mail box every year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. They usually arrive as letters printed out on decorative stationary purchased at Kinkos or Office Depot. But hand-written letters? Do people still do that in our culture?

Secondly, the legacy left behind of those letters written prior to, during and after a major historical event impresses me. What kind of legacy might we leave our children and grandchildren with a mountain of un-memorable text messages. What will our tweets and status updates mean a half century from now? Will Twitter be obsolete by then? Or Facebook? Can you imagine your grandchildren asking you, “What’s Twitter?” After you explain the whole social media birth of micro blogging they giggle and say, “Twitter is so 2012. I can’t believe how primitive that seems.”

Emails may convey some of the gravitas as a written (or typed) letter. However, as Luddite as this sounds, I still have hand-written letters from family and friends placed in an old shoe box. Letters and notes from a woman who became my wife are stored in a similar fashion. A typed note from my grandfather, when age had crippled his hand-writing, is placed in a book of his poems as a reminder and memento. As a child, my grandmother wrote a brief letter to me each birthday and placed a stick of gum in between the folds. I looked forward to that letter each year. You can’t attach a stick of gum to an email.

Besides, I doubt anyone in our culture would wait, anticipate and enjoy a letter that arrives annually. Everything is so urgent… almost panicked. Why isn’t someone responding to my emails, texts, tweets? It’s been 30 seconds! (Place emoticons here.) In my own life, I notice how differently I process social media and online content. There lacks a linear stretch of the intellect when processing clusters of data points from Twitter, Facebook, HuffPo, etc. My attention span fatigues when I have to wade through a barrage of emails, updates and tweets.

Yet I enjoy the long articles in the Atlantic Monthly, London Review of Books, The New York Review of Books or the like. It stimulates my mind. 700-word news articles for the most part bore me. There’s nothing there but a nut graph. No context. No history. No personality or narrative trajectory. Just a Google-like, or Wikipedia-like, democratized collection of information. There’s nothing there to engage my mind. Nothing that challenges my mind, beliefs or values. A book on the Battle of Agincourt offers nuances that blog posts, tweets and texts don’t offer.

Reading through a legacy of letters, like the book I am ready to send to press, captures the exchange of ideas in a sustained, generational conversation between a father and a son. The more our culture engages in the scatterbrained conflagration of data items, I suspect civil, engaging conversation (like letter writing) may become obsolete.

How to write a business bio

Or not. Here’s what professional copywriters will tell you. There are two steps to writing your business bio:

  • provide an overview of your skills and experience.
  • include related or interesting facts to punctuate your credentials.

Pretty simple, right. Wrong. Why is it so difficult to write in third-person? About yourself? (And I need send this to the publicist later today.) So, I wrote a first draft. It works. It’s short. Simple. To the point. But something is missing. So, I searched a couple web sites for help. Here’s a few basic principles I gleaned from Terje Johansen:  [1]

  • write in third person
  • list facts, not wishes
  • cite relevant experiences
  • belong somewhere
  • write tight
  • add a hook

Here’s a few things to add to that list:

  • audience
  • storytelling
  • social media

The business bio I’m writing is to be placed on a publishing house’s web site. So that audience will be authors and readers. A dash of storytelling to the bio helps readers remember who you are because of the narrative you share. And be sure to include your LinkedIn info. Here’s what I plan to send to the publicist:

Matthew Mulder began his career in a quiet Wisconsin studio of a calligrapher where he learned a hands-on approach to color, design, typography and the ancient art of Celtic knots. As creative director, he brings more than sixteen years of experience to the art department and provides creative, strategic solutions to the publishing business. After-hours, Matthew is a culture-maker in the literary community of Asheville, North Carolina where he is invited to present his work to audiences at bookstores, cafés, and fine art centers. His published work appears in such literary journals as Crab Creek Review, H_NGM_N, Small Press Review and others. Follow Matthew on Twitter @mxmulder or LinkedIn.

What do you think?

NOTES: [1] Terje Johansen provides the basics of writing a business bio . Here’s a couple other resources: 16 questions to help you write a douche-free bio and A Great Professional Bio.

How to capturing abstract ideas in a book cover design

How do you capture an abstract thought for a book cover design? That’s the question one person left in the comments section to Judging a book by its cover.

That is a challenge. A lot of abstract ideas — like love, grief, joy, freedom, etc. — have emotional and psychological weight. Photography is an easy tool to use in conveying physical responses to abstract thoughts. Photos illustrating love or grief become cliché. For example: how many books can you find at a local book seller on the topic of grief of a loved one that includes sun bursting through voluminous clouds? There are reasons for a majority of the bereavement books have similar titles — primarily marketing. Readers looking for books on how to cope with grief in a book store find themselves staring at a shelves of cloud cover books. So how does a graphic designer create a cover that competes with all the cloud-covered-grief-books?

Here are two other tools to consider: color and shape.

Color

Color psychology informs me what colors might work best to address a book on the topic of grief, freedom or spirituality. The challenge arises frequently — due to an enormous amount of books published every year — that most books on the topic of grief utilize the same color scheme or photographs of a path leading through a forest with a bright patch of light at the end or the ever-present sun breaking through the clouds. So I turn to color psychology as a tool to design a book cover dealing with the abstract concepts of grief, joy, love, etc. There has been a lot of research in this field to learn from. For example, blue (depending on the shade or tint) offers a feeling of peace, tranquility, confident, and as reliable as the sky and ocean. But blue can also be cold and corporate (again, depending on the shade or tint). Interestingly, brown can express reliable and authenticity.

Shapes

Recently, I’ve turned to the psychology of shapes and patterns as a way to define abstract ideas like endurance, peace or joy. According to research, there are three main categories of shapes: geometric, organic and abstract. Other distinctions remind me of primary school including: circles, squares, triangles, spirals, and more. Also, the orientation of the shape is essential — horizontal and vertical. Squares and rectangles are common but express peace, stability, conformity or other abstract concepts. For example, a horizontal rectangle expresses confidence in much the same manner as the color blue. Whereas a spiral shape my best represent grief as it expresses the idea of death, life and transformation.

As I share the psychology of color and shape with authors with whom I am designing their book covers, they often need to be educated on the visual vocabulary of these ideas. Most of the authors understand the premise of how color, shapes and patterns express the content of their book. Additionally, most of the authors prefer a photographic cover design. This is a bit off in my mind, because what is a photograph but a composition of colors and shapes? Is there a lack of visual literacy in our culture? Or is the graphic design community a cloistered cult of artists that do not share secrets with the outside world?

As I design book covers, these are the tools I fall back on consistently: color and shapes.

Judging a book by its cover

For me, every book cover I design begins with pencil sketches that eventually lead to ink drawings. Actually, I suppose it begins prior to that. The author receives a pre-publication questionnaire from me prior to the design process. The questionnaire asks the author what is his/her elevator pitch, what are the pillars of the book (i.e. what are three main concepts/ideas in the book?), and what is the book’s key audience? There are more questions that help me prepare for the design process, but reading through that document helps me form an idea of who the author is, what the book is about and how best to represent the book’s content with an attractive cover.

Then I receive the manuscript a few weeks later and begin reading the author’s work. This helps try to envision in my mind an iconic poster image. For me, a book cover is the equivalence of a film poster. At this stage, I produce some concept drawings (like the one’s pictured) and research color schemes and subject themes that I plan to use in the cover design. After a couple rounds of emails with the author, I proceed to the full-color design phase.

The full-color design is often photographic, as in the case of this sample, but can also feature illustrated work or typographic designs. An illustrated cover is sent to a freelance artist who spends a week or so producing the cover art. The final cover design pulls together all the elements (art, photo, type and copy) to present a cover that, in theory, sells a 1000 to 3000 copies on face value. I know what you’re thinking, but books really are judged by their covers. Just watch people at a bookstore. They’re scanning covers before they even pick up a book to read the back copy blurb or open a book to read the first few chapters. If a book has amateurish art or less than professional photography, the audience will move to the next book cover that has great photography or stunning artwork. Further, if a book has poor quality cover art, it will be represented in poor book sales. Let me say it again: if a book has crappy cover art, the book will have crappy sales. No reader wants a crappy book on their bookshelf or e-reader. Half the battle for a reader’s attention is getting him/her to pick the book from the shelf. The same applies to e-book stores. Readers are scanning covers from the Kindle or Nook e-stores and deciding, based on cover design and book blurb, what title to purchase.

From the time the final cover is approved until the product arrives is six to eight weeks depending on circumstances. That’s when the real test of a book’s cover design and interior content begin. And that’s about the time I begin the next round of cover designs.