by Siol na Tine
Hello again! Siol na Tine, the staff Cover Artist here, back with the details I promised you in my last post.
Let me just start by saying that if you loved Forever After by Kailin Morgan as much as I do, and you like F/F stories too, you simply MUST read Nobilis Reed’s Elf Esteem. Go get it now and read it. It’s okay, I’ll wait. 🙂
So, if you frequent my blog, you may recall that I had quite a learning experience creating the cover for Forever After. Oddly enough, I had a hell of a time with this cover too, though not for quite the same reasons. On the one hand, as with Hunter’s Tree, we were hoping to show off the sexy rubenesque character on the cover, because we’re quite proud at the diversity of character body types our authors bring to the table. On the other hand, it was crucial that the pixie be unequivocally the main focus of the cover.
That’s all well and good, but the pixie in question is six inches tall.
If I make the pixie large enough to see clearly in the thumbnail, I’ve cropped out so much of the woman it’s difficult to figure out what we’re seeing. After much back and forth, D.M. Atkins and I concluded that even the most graceful balance of details was just too cluttered for people to tell what they’re looking at on the smaller scales if they didn’t already know.
At first I was distressed. I know, I invest too much in my first ideas, I need to be more flexible (and possibly get more feedback from my boss before I spend hours cleaning up a sketch), but dangit, I really liked my voluptuous bondage sub dyke! And honestly, so did my boss. So we agreed to keep it for use as an internal illustration, if possible, and I can always at least show it off here on my blog for all you lucky readers.
I realized later as I was driving from my “day” job working the box office for an outdoor Shakespearean theater to Atkins’ house for work on book covers that the re-boot was actually giving me an opportunity to try some techniques I hadn’t had a chance to use yet. By the time I got there I had a whole new design in my head, style and all, and worked out the new pixie within a couple hours for Atkins to approve.
I made her dress the same way as before, drawing hard-lined segments as though it were origami and then selecting slices of photograph of an actual British pound note to fill in the texture. The butterfly wings are modified significantly from nature photographs, and the body of the pixie herself is modeled on a screen shot from SecondLife (which is actually a really handy reference for not-quite-human-shaped people if, like me, you can’t afford nice 3D human modeling software).
Once I got all the pieces sorted out, scaled, and arranged appropriately, I applied a series of Photoshop filters to them. Specifically, I used a lot of Reduce Color Noise, Add Noise, and Smart Blur to get the various images to look roughly the same style and level of detail, and then applied Cutout to the end result. It was the Cutout effect I was particularly excited about. I’ve used Cutout and Smart Blur in the past to clean up sketches, or photographs that I want to include as part of drawings, because they are excellent for simplifying the lines and colors of an image. Usually after I apply them I have a fair amount of hand drawing left to do to make all the pieces blend correctly. Smart Blur is always messy at the edges and Cutout is a very distinctive look.
I’d been wanting to try making a Cutout cover for some time now, and this was my best opportunity to give it a shot. The resulting draft was much better, I think, that my original idea. That’s a modified photograph of my own hand there – it’s helpful when the description of the main character sounds a lot like me (except my hair is naturally red ;p).
I’d already chosen a playful font for the text, so I did my usual thing of choosing a vivid color that was used only a little bit in the main image, so the text and that part of the image would both stand out. I then spent some time fiddling with the background color until I found something that contrasted with everything else well enough to be clear at any scale.
Now, I admit, I have a bias. I’m hypersensitive, so I tend to surround myself with calming color combinations, earth tones, and blending gradients. Sometimes I have to be cajoled into doing what it takes to make a cover really POP, and that was the case here. Our photographer friend was visiting while I was working on the cover, so I asked for her input as a fellow visual artist.
She suggested that yellow text, even when it’s high contrast, is just not that easy for most people to read on a smaller scale. Additionally, the blue background, while pleasant and suitable for the mood of the story, made the wings fade away. The wings were most of what made the pixie really interesting in the first place. So we agreed that the text should be color of the butterfly wings, and the background should be something that contrasted dramatically with that bright blue, so the wings and text would both stand out.
I worked with her suggestions, and the results were better than I had ever hoped. I’m very proud of the final cover for Elf Esteem (click to see the full-size). It’s one of the best covers I’ve done so far, honestly.