A little Photoshop playtime

February 20, 2008

I thought I would sit down for an hour with Photoshop and put together something that captures the flavour of the movie we’re about to make. It’s a mash-up of some photos I found using Google’s useful image search facility (you can bet there are no trees like that in Portadown, unless there’s a Portadown, California out there). I found a lot of parka coats in an online catalogue. Although this one lacks the traditional fur-rimmed hood, it was the only one that had an air of menace. Obviously, this mash-up isn’t what we’ll use for the final artwork when it comes time to promote the film, but maybe we’ll use the same idea. The movie title reflects my current favourite, and may change. The tagline is whatever I could think up in the space of a couple of minutes.

New Ulterior cover - Part II

September 6, 2007

Jerry’s excellent design for the Ulterior creature has proved to be a tricky beast to incorporate into other elements of a book cover composition. I’ve done a number of experiments, but not been entirely satisfied. This one came close, but the two images didn’t quite gel the way I had hoped.

I got a fresh visual in my head this morning for a different sort of cover, and managed to create it pretty accurately in Photoshop. Voila. Make sure you click through to the larger version to see all the detail. The tag line is tacky, but it was all I could think of at the time, since the existing one (”An ordinary school hides an unearthly secret”) doesn’t suit this picture’s theme.

New Ulterior cover - Part I

May 9, 2007

Jerry from Irish Eyes Creations created this wonderful looking beast for a new edition Ulterior that I hope to publish soon. Yes, my first novel will hopefully be back in print again; the fact that I ran out of books before I ran out of demand is reason enough to publish a second edition. But not with that same old cover, oh no. If there’s any weak spot on the original design, it’s the creature’s head. I haven’t got the artistic skills to put together a convincingly professional monster. But Jerry has, as you can see. I think it looks fabulous. Jerry is putting together a full cover design of his own, but he has been kind enough to let me play with the creature, in case I opt for one of my own overall designs. This is a first attempt, based on an early mock-up from last year. There’s a lot of detail here, so make sure you click through to the large picture for the full impact. I intend to do a lot more experimenting (as I did with Chion) before settling on a final design. Hope you’ll share your opinions, as we go through the process.

Photography: Morning mist

December 19, 2006

Portadown has been wrapped in fog since yesterday afternoon. When I arrived at work this morning, it was still pretty dark, and the atmosphere was somewhat spooky. Mornings like this are rare, so I immediately wanted to grab the digital camera, before daylight arrived in full. Is this the basis for a future book cover design, perhaps? I have no idea. I just like to have images like this one banked. You never know when you might find a use for it.

Chion cover design - Part V

December 6, 2006

Thank you, everyone who commented on the last cover design. After some more fiddling, I’ve come up with the following “improvement.” James, I think you were right about the Aliens font, after all. To hell with being a copycat; it looks good, and it gives the cover a nudge in the sci-fi direction.

I wanted to move the title from the top of the cover to the middle, because the shadowy central section is a bit boring and is better covered. The translucent text didn’t quite work on the more varied constrast of the background, so I had to lose it. And since we’re now back to clear, obvious print, I’m putting the tagline back on again.

Another thing that struck me was that people tend to buy books according to genre, and my cover gives no clear indication of what genre the book belongs to. It could be about hunting down the Yeti, for all anyone knows. So, having a sci-fi font and a suitable tagline helps communicate the message: “sci-fi disaster story.”

It’s interesting that no one communicated any particular attachment to the other cover design, the one with the school and the dead kid. Sorry, Eddie (who posed as the dead kid), but the combination of images just never felt like they gelled quite right. I think we’re hitting the nail on the head now. Of course, Mark Stevens, who came up with the “blood on the snow” design, hit it long ago. I think that whatever changes I make from here on in will be small.

Chion cover design - Part IV

December 1, 2006

Somebody tell me if this is a stupid idea, but I’m thinking of using Mark Stevens’s cover design for Chion with no clearly visible text (click through to the larger image before you cast your verdict). I’m not usually a fan of gimmicks, but I think this one might work. I think that if I spotted a book cover on a shelf with nothing but snow on the cover and a blood-spatter in the corner, I would be intrigued enough to pick it up. Ideally, I would love to have a glossy cover with the title and author embossed colourlessly in matt, so that you don’t see anything until you tilt the cover, making it reflect in the light. But that kind of stuff costs money. So I would settle for subtle translucent text, as shown in the example.

In an attempt to make the right decisions, I’ve been casting my mind back to book covers of yesteryear. Four in particular leap to the front of my mind as being strikingly memorable. I’ve found the images on eBay, so you can see for yourself:

- O-Zone by Paul Theroux
- Consider Phlebas by Iain Banks
- Watchers by Dean Koontz
- Wolf in Shadow by David Gemmell

O-Zone doesn’t look like much until you realise that the “O” is actually a hole in the cover (there’s another gimmick for you), and when you turn the page you get a glorious sc-fi painting of a craft flying over a ruined city. Without exception, the common element in the four covers is a singular striking image that creates intrigue: a UFO on a beach with a native walking towards it; someone or something peering through the bushes at a lonely country house where somebody’s home; most spectacularly of all, the Titanic on dry ground with a cowboy on horseback overlooking the scene. If that one doesn’t pique your curiosity, nothing will. I think I’ve been concentrating way too much on the choice of fonts and the positioning of the various elements; I don’t think any of that really affected my attachement to the four book covers above.

My eBay search revealed further editions of these books with different covers. I couldn’t help but think that the more modern incarnations weren’t nearly as striking. I get the feeling something has generally gone wrong in the world of graphic design today, and that feeling is confirmed when I browse the shelves of the local bookstore. Ninety-nine percent of what I see is instantly forgettable. There’s also a heavy reliance on photographic material. It’s a far cry from the gorgeous airbrushed paintings of yesteryear. Unfortunately, my own limited graphic design skills require me to begin with photographs, too, so at least I’m competing on a even playing field with the pros.

Chionophobia cover design - Part III

March 23, 2006

More than one person suggested that the dead kid on my design needed more work to make him blend into the photo. And the main problem with Mark’s design seemed to be the need for something extra, such as a child’s hand on the snow, or a shadow falling over the picture.

I’m torn between my own design and Mark’s, so I’ve had a go at designing a hybrid version of the two (click picture to expand). Usually that’s a bad approach, because you’ll end up with two scenes competing for the viewer’s attention, but because Mark’s design is so subtle, I think it works.

I spent one whole morning going through the entire database at 1001 Free Fonts. What I was looking for was something clear, futuristic, and exuding a sense of threat. I’m trying out a font called Ethnocentric, which appealed to me from yesterday’s Mind’s Eye cover design. I think it strikes a good balance between clarity and style.

My friend Earl had this to say about an early version of the hybrid cover: “A monstrous mutation of the two, almost Frankensteinian in nature.” Cheek! Actually his point is well taken. After several revisions, I’m now getting good reports from all parties about this design, so I think I’ve nailed it.

A quick graphic design project: Mind’s Eye

March 22, 2006

My author friend Philip Henry, from Coleraine, has just completed his second novel, Mind’s Eye. He took some photos for his cover, and I asked him if he would send them my way so that I could have a go myself. Phil’s photos were of a cave entrance, the sea & beach, and the moon. His idea was to make the cave appear like the edge of an eye, with the sea forming the iris, and the moon the pupil. I thought the overall effect wouldn’t look enough like an eye, so I added one more photo of my own eye. Voila.

I’m still a Photoshop novice, and this little project offered me a bit of a challenge, such as transforming day into night, and airbrushing the moon’s reflection onto the water. I worked purely by trial and error and surprised myself with how it turned out. Hope you like it.

Chionophobia cover design - Part II

March 16, 2006

My stateside friend Mark Stevens just gave me a wonderful surprise. What you’re looking at is Mark’s own design for a Chionophobia cover (click the image for a larger version). It’s totally different from my approach. I love the simplicity of the design, and the blood-spatter is the perfect touch (little did Mark know that this aspect ties in very well with a particular scene from the novel). The only thing I don’t like is the text. Other than that, I think the design is terrific, and I might end up using it (or a variaton on it). Thanks, Mark!

Chionophobia cover design

March 16, 2006

I’ve done a little dabbling with Photoshop, just to get some of my thoughts for the cover design of Chionophobia down. I’m aiming for something very white, with the school building in the background and a schoolboy face down in the snow in the foreground.

Another element I wanted to incorporate was the words “HELP 700 NEED FOOD” written on the lawn. A friend pointed out that the most prominent thing on the help message is the word “food,” which looks a bit daft and conveys about as much drama as a loaf of bread. So, I’ve used a little artistic licence and shortened the message to simply “HELP.” I’ve also splashed some red (the colour of danger) into the design, because all that white looked very stark and depressing.

It may not be good to judge a book by its cover, but the cover is exactly what makes people lift it off shelf. I think I’m starting off in the right direction.