Category Archives: Ars Artia Gratis

Dead-eye-line

IN THE LAST post, you met Dolly’s eyes. Now I get to work to develop this basic image into a book cover illustration. I open the original JPEG file, downloaded from Dreamstime, in Photoshop and immediately resave it under a new name eyes.psd. This is a PhotoShop Document, which uses pack bits (lossless) compression and supports layers with variable-transparency and various built-in blending effects. I will be using these tools to alter the image to suit my needs.

Warning: icky sex talk. If that squicks you, skip the next paragraph.

The original idea is to focus on Dolly’s eyes, looking up in love at Drummond (whom we do not see) at the moment he penetrates her while they are making love. It is an expression most men will know and most women have assumed — whether or not either is sincere, though in this case, I think Dolly is. It is a wide-eye expression, almost one of surprise, with the eyes turned up, as the man is usually looming over the woman at this moment. (Both of them in the horizontal position.)

OK. It’s safe to come back, now.

The image is to focus on and isolate the woman’s eyes, even stylize them a bit, and render them in what’s called a high-key image on a white background. I figured that I would have to have a source image to modify by painting in a pixel editor. I don’t draw well enough to satisfy my perfectionism and don’t-have-slash-can’t-work-with a model. So I did the stock search described in the previous post.

And came up with something somewhat different. But close enough. I think I can modify this image in Photoshop (perhaps with an assist from a 3D app — modo or Poser — to get the eyeballs themselves JUST right, but we’ll see). But the really interesting part is the torn paper frame and the silver paper background. It intrigues and offers new directions. I may abandon both, but I will proceed in a fashion that permits me to do either ad lib and only once I have seen both images and chosen between them.

It is experience and practice which allows me to A) do this, 2) see that it can be done and 3) how to do it so as to preserve my options to the end and D) — perhaps most importantly, that it’s desirable to do so. I’ll refer back to this a lot. I’ll call this concept preserving my options.

So there are two basic options — work with a very high-key image on white (I’ll show you what that means in a bit) — or with the background, either as it exists, or with an entirely different look. No, that’s not three. That’s One and Two, with a possible Two-B. The reason to think of the either-or should become clear down the road.

The first thing to do, then, is to save under a new name, which I’ve done. Then the next is to prepare the image to be worked over. In order to do that, I’m going to establish my frame and pull the thing apart into layers.

Experience teaches me that, if you don’t start out establishing two factors at the very beginning, they will devour you in the end. The first, as we say at the Patch Factory, the most important specification, is the deadline: when do you need it.

Weren’t expecting that, were you?

I’m not surprised. Even experienced, sophisticated, and knowledgeable people come acropper of this problem. But time is a key factor in any creative project. How much time there is to do the job determines each choice made in a binary fashion — yes or no, do it or not — and most fundamentally at every step of the way.

In this case, the goal is to have an ebook on sale in the KDP Select program by September First. Now, there are a lot of stumbling blocks, not least of which is that the text may not be ready. BUT… if it is ready and the cover is not, then the cover is holding up the release, whereas if the opposite is true, well, nothing to do but push the deadline back, but that decision is being taken for the right reason — that the product itself is not ready, and not that the packaging needs work. Remember that; it’s key. The book is the thing. The cover is packaging and of secondary importance UNTIL it becomes the deciding factor in a sale. In any case, the cover cannot be permitted to drive or drag on the on-sale date.

(Aside: A friend who is trad-pubbed did just that — she and her agent forced her publisher to change the cover. The publisher pushed her book back a whole year. Not in retaliation, mind. It’s just that that was the first available slot.)

Now, the way to establish deadlines and schedule is to find a delivery date and work your way backwards until you get to now, at the start of the job. It is (as I write this) the Second of August, so I have twenty-nine days. I need to lead my on-sale date by an as-yet-unknown period. Dean Smith asserts he can have a book up in minutes. (Fifteen, if memory serves.) That assumes, I imagine, that you already have your account set up at Amazon and know what you’re doing in clicking the “Publish” button. But it doesn’t seem as though the lead time should be more than a day or two at most. I know that I can do the work necessary to producing this cover art in under two weeks. My editor claims that he can have the MS back to me with notes and edits in two weeks. That seems to indicate a timeline that has the final prep of the work happening between the Fifteenth and Thirtieth of the month. Shouldn’t be stressful.

So the deadline (checks the calendar) is the Sixteenth. Mark it on the calendar and set a reminder five days prior. We probably won’t need the reminder, since this project will be pretty much our sole focus this month, but you should never rely on that kind of stuff. Always be disciplined and organized about your work and you’ll avoid that overwhelmed, too-much-to-do feeling.

OK. That’s the deadline. But you’ll remember, I said there were two factors. The other may be more obvious, but, again, you’d be surprised by how many putative pros get this wrong.

In — scorn quotes — “fine” art, you can wing it. You can frame your image or object ad hoc as you go along, as the mood moves you. The canvas can be any size, and the image wherever and whatever size you plunk it down. In commercial art, however, what you’re doing, first and foremost, has to serve a purpose. And, in most cases, it also has to be made — usually by someone else. The image has to be producible in a medium that costs thousands of dollars to throw the on switch on. And, all the digital cheerleaders notwithstanding (I kid you not) digital costs the same to operate whether you’re printing something or not. Digital printing costs pennies per copy. The cost per widget only adds up when you have multiple copies per widget. The prep cost, far from being two thirds of the cost of a printed project old-school, is ninety-to-ninety-five percent of the cost new school.

This means you have to get it right, and you have to get it right the first time. Your trim size has to be right, as do the bleeds and margins, and the creep allowed for in folding signatures, and… and … Or the job comes out — in technical terms — fucked up.

Now, here again, we’re having to push against some unknown factors. Of course, there is no size for an ebook. Every ereader and ebook format assumes a different screen size. So what size is the cover? I’m going to side-step that for the moment and assume I’m going to eventually do a paper edition and will want to use this image for the cover of that. And, at CreateSpace (and from other sources) I see that the most common advice seems to be to think in terms of a 6″ x 9″ layout. No problem. I can deal with that. So my trim size is putatively 6″ wide and 9″ high. That makes my bleed size 6.25″ wide and 9.25″ high.

(A bleed, for the uninitiated, being 1/8″ of an inch margin OUTSIDE the trim. And, if one side bleeds, then a bleed image — even if it’s just blank white — must be provided and accounted for on all four sides in the engineering of any job.)

But my image is square. Ish. That means I need to either crop it or add image to make it taller. But before I do that, I realize that, because I have (at this stage, pretending we haven’t already played with the type) no idea how much space the type will take up, I need the ability to “float” the image in the frame, I need to separate the image from the background and make it a layer. In Photoshop, I do this by finding the layers palette and double-clicking on the layer. I get an option to rename the former Background Layer as Layer 0, which I accept. The layer the image is on (the only one in the file so far) thus becomes Layer 0, a floatable layer, which I can work on independently of the other layers in the document (as they come into being). It can also be blended with other areas, depending on the relative modes selected. For now, it is in Normal mode, which makes it the effective background.

OK, now. If you’re following along at home, or have a really good grasp of what’s going on, you may have noticed that, once we get the image settled in with right and left bleeds indicated, that the margin to the corners of the model’s eyes is only a quarter of an inch. Which is acceptable, but it worries me. I don’t know HOW much time I’ve wasted over the years faking in image to meet an acceptable margin and/or bleed because the important image was JUST that much too big for the live area, had to be shrunk to fit, and left insufficient, as I say, margin or bleed. Now, what I could do would be to fake in bleed left and right now, at the outset. But instead, I’m going to cheat.

Well, I’ve already cheated.

Remember that I told you I’d bought three images? Ever wonder why? Well, it’s because THIS one is not the original This has been modified by the photographer with the addition of the torn paper frame. It indicates what his vision was in making the original photo, but it’s not the thing itself.

That is an image of the model’s face, full width, from about the bridge of her nose to just below her hairline (which is how I could tell fersher she’s a redhead), with her hands held up flat either side of her face like she’s shading her eyes against oblique light.

This is valuable because there is more image in the width, but also in the height, either of which can prove useful in my repurposing of the image. Also, even though it probably won’t change my crop, that there is additional image to the sides can potentially save me a lot of trouble.

What I want to do is use the original, but treat it in some ways like the modified image. In order to do that, I need to drop the original down on the modded pic and match the two of them pixel-for-pixel in size and position. Since I really want to work with the original — always work with the original if you can — I drop the mod onto it. And realize that, in pixel dimensions, the mod is smaller than the original. This is good, because it means I’ll be able to work at an even higher resolution than I had originally thought, and at this stage of the game, I’m hoarding resolution like a gamer hoarding strength points. The final piece will be resolved more coarsely, but for the moment, it’s like speed or gasoline: it is life itself.

I slide the transparency of the mod to 50% and stretch it to match the original. (I use the corners of the eyes as guides.) As I do so, I discover that the mod was stretched anamorphically (differently in x and y axes). The delta is slight — perhaps three or four pixels over several thousand, but noticeable when overlaying as I am. I finally get the two to match and resize the final piece to fit the frame (greedily retaining the extra bleed just in case).

At this point, I can de-couple the process from the modified image and work exclusively on the original, saving the mod only for reference. Next time, we inspect the image even more closely.

This post is part of a series of posts on the subject of books covers, directly primarily at self-published and independently-published authors seeking to design their own covers. It is in the category “Covers” and can be seen with all of the other posts in that category by clicking on the link in the right sidebar. The sophistication of that display page will improve as time goes on. The next post in the series will appear here within a couple of days.

Dolly’s Eyes

Dollys_Eyes_Source_1WELL, THE TEXT OF THE book is in the hands of my editor. I expect it will come back to me in shreds and I’ll have to sew it back together. But for the moment, I’m content to leave it there and move on to the cover.

I’m still in the experimental phase, searching and testing imagery and type, but I am getting closer. I’ve come back to focus on the erotic component of the plot and the relationship between the two lead characters. As such, I’ve hit on a narrow-focus shot of Dolly’s eyes at the moment the docking probes engage, so to speak.

I chose Dreamstime as my source, more to narrow the selection down than for any other reason. However, since I have an account there already, it is simplicity itself to find something. I searched on the phrase eyes wide and found within the first page of results a satisfactory image. It also has the bonus of providing — already built-in — a dramatic presentation in the torn paper edges. This has a dual advantage in, One, as I say, a dramatic presentation, and B, limiting the amount of image I have to work on.

And work I must. It’s fortunate that the model is a redhead, with the requisite freckles, and light-colored irises. But that’s about the limit. You’ll see as I go along where my vision is going to take me and why I don’t want to have to work on a full-face or full-body image.

There will be other elements, but this image is the starting point.

I checked the license on offer and it is appropriate. The rights owner provides a royalty free license, to use on books (up to 500,000 copies — with higher quantities negotiable), permits modification, does not ask credit, but I intend to provide it. If the artist is worthy of his hire, he’s worthy of the fame for it. That’s my take and I see no reason not to hold to it. On the other side, there’s no claim to modifications, so what I intend to do becomes mine to use so long as I adhere to the terms of the original license. All agreeable. I picked a resolution that permits me nine inches of width at 300 pixels per inch. (I intend to pad the height, so the width is the relevant factor.)

As for tools: I am working this image in Photoshop (CS6). No apologies. As I’ve said here and elsewhere, if you want pro results, you have to use pro tools and skills. It’s possible to do this stuff in free or cheaper aps, and Grid knows, there’s tons of them, but I’ve been using Photoshop almost since the beginning (version 2.5, actually, in the early ’90s) and I not only have a high skill level myself, but I also have access to experts who can direct me toward tutelage on particular skills I may lack. In another app, I’d have to climb that learning curve all over again.

I understand that some people starting out or struggling due to expenses in other areas might not be able or willing to make the investment, but I do strongly advise everyone to give hard consideration to the realities. Remember that you are competing for eyeball space with pros who use these tools for their daily bread. Neither they nor the book buyer will cut you slack because you chose not to invest in the right tools.

Now, Photoshop is a bitmap editor, primarily. It can handle vectors — most especially and valuably, type — but it’s primary utility is in handling photos, paintings, soft blend effects, and suchlike. For straight vector art and simple one-up illustration, I use CorelDRAW. This is a matter of preference. I first learned vector drawing in CorelDRAW and find Illustrator, for example, to have a deeply opaque interface and metaphor which I, as a wax-and-exacto-trained layout artist, find very alien.

You may find Illustrator more to your liking. That’s fine. The concepts translate, albeit clunkily. Inkscape is another possibility, but, frankly, I don’t have the time to climb yet another learning curve, so I’ve only looked at it briefly and messed around with it. It appears to support most tasks, but I haven’t delved into it enough to say much more than that about it.

As for alternatives to Photoshop, there are, as I say, multitudes. Primarily, I’d say, your choices boil down to GIMP or Corel PhotoPaint. I have a problem with PhotoPaint similar to the one I have with Illustrator — I don’t grok the interface or the task metaphors. So I can’t speak much about it. However, several of my colleagues in the Corel community swear by it and prefer it to Photoshop OR PhotoStyler — which is an old and, now, abandoned app that actually preceeded Photoshop on the Wintel platform, and which should tell you how far back some of this goes — both my work in the field and my association with other experts.

In addition to these apps, there is the realm of the third dimension. 3D apps, such as 3D Studio Max, Maya, Poser, Bryce, and a long list of others, allow artists to model real objects and render them to photo-realistic images. If I had the chops, I’d be doing this whole image in a 3d app, and may do future, similar projects in one. But I have to take myself to school first, before I can commit commercial art in one.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I have done paying work — sold it in five figures, as a matter of fact — in 3DS Max. But the license I have is getting long in the teeth and unlikely — for myriad reasons not relevant here — to be updated. So I am learning a new app — modo. And, if you (or I) think the differences in interface between Draw and Illustrator are stark, you ought to try between 3D apps across a ten-year delta in development age.

But I degrease.

In a Heinlein hagiography — Requiem, I believe — Spider Robinson avers that he is writing an essay debunking a bunch of BS about Heinlein to save himself time — so that, when confronted with loud nits making bogus assertions at cons, he can just hand them a copy of the essay to shut them up and go back to having fun — rather than engaging in a long, verbal flame war. So I hereby take that as my text for this bit of bloggage. I’ve ranted enough about what I see as the foolishness of cheaping out on tools. I don’t want to do it again. From now on, if the subject comes up, I’m linking here and moving on.

If I can remember to do it.

This post is part of a series of posts on the subject of books covers, directly primarily at self-published and independently-published authors seeking to design their own covers. It is in the category “Covers” and can be seen with all of the other posts in that category by clicking on the link in the right sidebar. The sophistication of that display page will improve as time goes on. The next post in the series will appear here within a couple of days.

Quote of My Morning

A dreamer is someone who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.

— Oscar Wilde, 1888

Found courtesy of Courtney Galloway on Facebook.