Book cover illustration – update

Fear motivates. The paralyzing fear that if I mess up the coloring of this book cover art, I will have to start the whole process over again. And the completion date is fast approaching. But the task needs to be done. So, onward.

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Watercolor washes begin the color process for the book cover illustration.

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Paint to the edges and then let the colors bleed. The basic color palette had already been determined weeks prior to the final execution of the cover art. But once the water and pigment are activated on the surface of the paper, the color palette organically builds to its own organized spontaneity.

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Details. There are always small details that many casual observers may not detect at first glance. For example, the color for the shotgun shell includes multiple wash layers of different pigments — each layer pulling or pushing color from previous layer.

HardCover

Once the final art is approved, I finished the design with title bar and a map overlay to texture the collage art.

The pleasure of drawing

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Nearly done with the back cover illustration. A brush is often forgotten in the process of keeping a clean drawing surface.

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Detail of the back cover illustration — a catfish. I have to admit — besides the firewheel flower blossom on the front cover — drawing the catfish was a pleasure.

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Front and back cover pen and ink collage drawing completed. Ready for the next phase — watercolor.

The purpose of drawing

The foundation of a great painting is a solid drawing. At least that was my goal when I worked on this book cover illustration for Orison Books. The collage features a firewheel — sometimes called Indian blanket — blossom, shotgun shell and expansive Texas landscape.

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Nearly completed pen and ink work on the cover.

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Detail of the firewheel flower blossom.

 

 

 

The purpose of thumbnail illustration

The purpose of thumbnail sketches is to advance the concept of artist, art director and editor to a final product. It seems like a lot of busy work, but three elements are essential: brainstorming, mind-mapping and closing the gap. The following images illustrate the process of thumbnail sketches as it relates to a book cover illustration. DSCN3558[sqr-tilt] Three thumbnail cover comps presented to the publisher a couple months back. DSCN3560[sqr-tilt] Full-size book cover sketch to gauge color temperature and composition of elements.

Welcome new readers!

Earlier today I notice that Poetryblogs.org features my blog (I guess this means I should update the blog more often). Thanks for visiting Coffeehouse Junkie’s Blog and hope you return and share what you like. If you’re a new reader of Coffeehouse Junkie’s Blog check out the 10 most recent blog posts listed in the right column, the most liked posts in the left column and search through the subject list in the lower right column for content that I’ve contributed since 2004. You may also sign up for email subscription to this blog so that every time I post something new, you receive an email.

Dear friends and loyal followers of Coffeehouse Junkie’s Blog, I do intend to write more posts. Presently, I am buried in work as creative director for an international publishing company. Until I finish designing other writers’s book covers, blogging will be limited. Enjoy browsing some of the recent book designs here, here, here and here.

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.

Three ways self-published authors fail

“Only idiots and the self-deluded think that being able to self-publish qualifies them to write,” concludes one person commenting on Two reasons why not to self-publish your book. It’s true. Not every self-published author writes well. For that matter, not every best-selling author writes well. I do agree in part with that comment–the logical part, not the jaded part. Like I said before, I am an advocate of self-publishing, but my views are changing.

Regarding self-publishing, I wrote a multi-part series titled The Economics of Writing. The basic premise of the series is this question: Why should a poet/writer spend his/her money on literary contests when they might self-publish his/her own work? You can read the whole series by following the links. What prompted the series was:

  1. I’ve been in publishing for a while and know how much it costs to produce and distribute print products and
  2. I read a story about a writer that spent more than $14,000 in a seven-year period on contest entry/reading fees, related postage, sample journals, literary memberships and writing conferences/workshops and won a $500 cash prize during that period.

I’ll avoid the analysis of literary contests [read about them in the second part of the series], and move to notable poets and writers who have self-published their work: Margaret Atwood, T.S. Eliot, Robert Service, Nikki Giovanni and Viggo Mortensen [read more details in the third part of the series].

When you consider the amount of time and energy–not to mention money–it takes to publish a book, self-publishing is an option to consider if you don’t want to wait for a publishing house to release your product. A poet and/or writer may spend years working with an agent to secure a book deal with a traditional publishing house. Whereas, self-publishing a book can make its way to the market in a matter of days or weeks.

Most self-published authors fail with their book releases in the following three areas:

  1. Cover design. And in general, book design. Just because you cleverly wrote your major literary work in MS Word does not mean you can print it in MS Word. Let a professional graphic designer package your literary endeavor. Further, just because you have Adobe products loaded on your fancy schmancy MAC machine, doesn’t qualify you as a designer either. Book design is not the same as designing a web site (that you really borrowed from WordPress or some other blog platform and told your client you designed their web site *sigh*). A book cover is the movie poster for the book. It must invite, entice, and coax readers to pull the book from the retail shelf (or etail shelf), read the back blurbs and first chapter, and ultimately buy the book.
  2. Editing. First draft, best draft is not the best practice in selling books. Having your ever-loving mother to review your manuscript is not that same as getting your manuscript edited. Even a good writing group is not enough–but it is a very good start. Hire a good editor to work on your literary masterpiece. A good editor will make a huge difference in the final product. So much of self-published books are deficient in quality work. There are gruesome typos, grammatical crime scenes, and abominable stylistic failures. A good editor is like a good film producer–a poet/writer may have the vision, but the editor knows best how to articulate it to readers. A good editor is one of your best friends. The last thing you want to do is release a book product that you immediately have to print a second revised edition because you used “their” instead of “there.”
  3. Production efficiency and quality. The financial bar has been lowered in matters of producing a book. Print-on-demand options are more affordable now than ever before. But more affordable doesn’t always equate to quality book product. A lot of do-it-yourselfers enjoy the look of the Etsy-ish, handcrafted book products that clutters the indie poetry and zine scene. And that’s fine. Those products are souvenir. People who purchase those items understand that they are a souvenir, book art object. But that option is more expensive than one might suspect. Consider a book’s cover price of $12 per copy for a 64-page literary chapbook. Most traditional publishers have a production markup of no less that 12 times. If, for example, the cover price is $12, than the book’s production cost–printing cost, cover art, book design, etc.–on a 1000 copies print run is $1 per copy. Most self-publishers don’t consider this fact and usually spend $6 per copy on a print run at Kinkos for a run of 100 copies. At that rate, it’s a hobby not a business.

I’ve been on both sides of the argument. I’ve self-published books that failed and succeeded. I launched two book imprints within a media organization that sold over 30,000 books in a couple of years. And here’s where I’m changing my position on self-publishing versus traditional publishing: idealism versus reality. Poet and blogger extraordinaire, Ron Silliman, offers these thoughts on idealism versus reality when he suggests that it would be ideal:

…if all bookstores carried every book of poetry that is in print… and if all poets had equal access to book publication.… But until then, it’s the real world I’m going to engage with…

So, where does that leave authors who don’t have a literary agent and don’t want to wait years and years to get their work published? Co-publishing. There are several reputable publishing houses that offer co-publishing services. A poet/writer still pays for the production of the book product, but the publishing house offers editors, publishers with decades of experience, a professional art department, a public relation staff, a warehouse facility, events coordination, distribution and other services. Consider the question that sparked the multi-part series I wrote. As a writer, would you rather spend seven years and $14,000 trying to win a literary contest and/or land a book deal? Or spend $14,000 and seven years selling your book, earning new readers and working on your upcoming books?

Love ’em/hate ’em — poetry book cover designs

Gary Sullivan on poetry book cover designs:

“Stephen Paul Miller’s Skinny Eighth Avenue… has enough design problems to send me quickly in the other direction…. screams not just DESKTOP PUBLISHING but PRINT ON DEMAND.

“In the 60s and 70s, amateurish often meant a simple type on a white cover with a hand-drawn black & white image. These items often have a kind of funky charm, and sometimes even elegance, to them…. With the rise of desktop publishing in the 80s, things began heading south. Link

Avoid scaring off potential readers with “desktop publishing/print on demand” covers and hire me a professional graphic designer.