Friday, June 08, 2012

Cover Art Part 5: Continuing the Process

(Part 1 of the Tutorial started HERE) 

It might be a tad long today, but I think we can cover Steps 5, 6 and 7 in one post. Here goes:

Step 5) Gather reference material.
Don't copy other art, just use for accuracy and ideas. If using stock images, you can get them online, either free if allowed to use, or for a small fee. I have filing cabinets full of folders with great reference material, some going back 35 years!! But I must admit, the speed of Google makes it tempting to use that first. But either way, be careful to respect copyrights. At the end of my research, unless I am drawing something that calls for precision, I put all the reference material out of sight, and finish up without it.

Here is the image I used as reference for my figures. Since they are copyrighted images from the Wizard of Oz, I decided to go with a silhouette. Being so iconic, even as a silhouette they would be recognizable.

My printer was on the fritz so the color was wacky. But I didn't care since all I needed was the outline from which to make my silhouette.

Step 6) Finalize your sketch. 
I used Layout Marker paper for my final sketch, because it was sturdy but translucent, but that's just personal preference.
Remember, to be a successful book cover, it must "read" well both large and as small thumbnail. Readability of the text is paramount! Do NOT make the title and author's name font too small. Think big and bold! 

I covered part of this last time in Part 4 (Here)  showing you the "mock up" I sent Jules Joyce,  the books author. 

Before I finalized my image, I ran it through photoshop (I use Photoshop Elements, and find it does everything I need) and looked at it both full size and as a small thumbnail. I had to correct my font size at the bottom, increasing it for legibility.

For example, in Part 2  we saw my mini-schnauzer, Joey, in a mock book cover. What if I hadn't made the font size large enough? It would look like this:

That's hard enough to read, but what happens when it gets reduced to a thumbnail, which is often the FIRST thing a potential reader will see??

You can see the importance of big and bold font sizing! If I hadn't been in a hurry when I made this mock book cover, I'd probably have made it even larger, more like this:

Step 7) Transfer sketch to your ground. 

If on paper, can use transfer grafite paper (I used Saral transfer paper onto gesso coated 140 lb watercolor paper). Or can scan it in to your computer. Or just continue on if you drew it on the computer in the first place. I have a Wacom Bamboo tablet,   which I thoroughly enjoy. But I still love starting the "old fashioned" way. I love the feel, the texture of the materials. I am not only visual, I am tactile, and want to touch it. At times, I even use my fingers along with brushes. 

Tip: Old graphic artists trick: use cheap scotch tape, but first stick it on your skin, then peel off and use on your papers. It'll lose just enough "tack" so it won't tear your paper when removed. No need for expensive specialty tapes for this kind of use.

Tip: If new to using transfer paper, this will help: when tracing your lines, use a different color pen or pencil, so you can easily tell what you've covered, and not miss anything. Do NOT untape all sides until you've peeked underneath to see if you got it all.

Tip: If working in layers (painting some, then adding new elements from your sketch), be sure to add registration marks. Leave the sketch taped to the transfer paper, so it's easy to line it up at the corner registration marks you made on the ground. 

Tip: I made the mistake of not working smooth enough... I coated my 140 lb watercolor paper with gesso, and left in the texture. I love texture... but forgot that when scanned in, the light from the scanner will cause highlights and shadows. I had to remove those later on photoshop from key places on the image, using the smudge and blur tools. Since I love texture, I left it on the background, for a handpainted effect. But it was still VERY time consuming... lesson learned the hard way. :-O

With texture (can click to enlarge):

Later, with texture removed:

Next time, we get to see WIP photos (work in progress)!

Part 1 of the Tutorial starts HERE. The Steps are more fully explained in each post.

The Process Summary:
Step 1) What is the main concept; think simplicity
Step 2) Find out the needed technical stuff: aspect ratio, pixels, file size etc.
Step 3) Do a lot of quick thumbnails, in black and white (pencil or digital)
Step 4) Play with color schemes, which supports your concept best
Step 5) Gather any needed reference material
Step 6) Finalize your sketch; think both large & small image readability, & bold text
Step 7) Transfer sketch to your support if paper sketching; or scan in to computer
Step 8) Continue in your chosen medium, or in photoshop (working in Layers) 
Step 9) Font: readability is priority one; must be allowed for commercial use
Step 10) Final copies. Save in PSD. Send needed sizes to author, or what's required by publisher. 

The ideas here are most applicable to the traditional artist who is using a digital art program to do the finish work. Those making 100% digitally created cover art are a horse of a different color. ;-)

Thanks for reading and I hope you find this interesting,


  1. Interesting process. So far, I just monkey around in my graphics programs. But I'm stuck using stock art so far.

    1. Well, your monkeying around is turning that stock art into some pretty amazing cover art!

  2. Oh Loretta...I have SO enjoyed this inspires me to get back to drawing again...


    thank you

    1. I'm so glad you're enjoying it, Jules!

      One fun idea is to buy a small spiral pad of unlined paper... like 5 x 7 small! Then just doodle and sketch in it for yourself. Stick it and a pen or pencil in your purse when you go and find yourself waiting. Or in the evening when you want to relax and unwind. No pressure, since it's just for you. Like a doodly journal. :-)