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Evolution of a cover…

gtcover19smYes, indeedy, I’m working on them at last. The Groundties cover was the farthest along, so it’s the first one “done.” I’m still refining the printout to get it to look on paper the way it looks on my computer, but that’s just a matter of juggling options.

Basically, I began with a fairly simple concept. Stephen is caught between two worlds, that of his space-based computers and that of his Ethnic Reconstructionist childhood. He’s breaking free of both and creating something new. I knew I wanted a planet, a space-scape and recognizable computer elements (never mind the computers of the book would look nothing like today’s computers!) So, I took a photo of my old computer mobo, which was a pretty blue, scanned a couple of bits from a starscape David (Cherry, Carolyn’s brother) gave Carolyn along with all the rights (she uses it on her website), and an image of the Earth from a Nasa site, as well as a little figure sketch I’d done and a title type I really liked. So…here we have the basic elements:


Then, it was a matter of mixing and matching and balancing elements.

The slideshow.

1: The background is composed of two layers: the computer board and starscapes. I put them on separate layers so I could play with the transparency and color balance as I added elements.

2: After a bit of sqidging to make it look less like Saudi Arabia, the planet becomes another transparent layer.

3: For dimensionality I tried clouds, mist–and settled on a simple drop shadow.

4: Add a few stars…because you can never have too many…

5: For the figure, I did a normal pencil sketch, did a careful tracing of just the outline and scanned it in, then I “painted” it…with my touch pad.

6: To stop the figure disappearing into the background, I added a drop-shadow halo in soft blue.

7: Still not bright enough, so I added another halo in pale green, which as we all know from our Mural Experience, POPS OUT!

8: Add the title…

9: Add a crisp black drop shadow to clean it up a bit…

10: An author is good…That would be me. 😀

11: The ties are simple straight lines with some squiggly lines in between. Then a bit of “finding edges…” another filter.

12: To complexify the web, I made copy-layers of the initial web and messed with filters and transparency.

13: I think there are six or seven layers just in the webbing.

14: Add a fuzzy blue drop shadow to help lift it off the background…

15: And yet more stars. Every web needs stars!

16: For Stevie’s star, I found this nifty rainbow gradient in PSP’s options, which suits my notions of lotsa color.

17: Yet another layer of just the central star, nice and bright for a bit of sparkle.

18: A blue-grey layer at the very bottom, the extant background made transparent, softens the background.

19: And finally, to ground him to the planet, I gave  him a little reflection.

All images are copyright © 2009 Jane S. Fancher. Thank you for respecting that copyright.

Viola! A cover! At least…I hope. Whatcha think?

Ja ne!

Ja ne!

36 comments to Evolution of a cover…

  • katoji

    Oooo Jane, I really love this little slide show. Its pretty cool. I watched it several times before I figured out it could be made bigger. Its a nice way to demonstrate your process.

    But did you say you were messing with it to test the print quality? Its for an ebook? Or something you’ll send out from your house if someone orders it up?

    I guess what I’m thinking is…maybe you don’t need to go through the trouble. Its awesome on screen.

  • aelith

    Woohoo aren’t you having fun. :biggrin: Love it.

    • Jane

      Tee hee! Yeah…I am. The slide show with its effects isn’t my doing…it’s a plugin, but it sure does fun things with this series of images! 😀 I had no idea it would be this neat. 😆 Serendipity. I love it.

  • Jane

    Oooo…you’re quick! 😀

    I’m glad you like it. I’m … relieved at how well it came out. I wasn’t sure for a while.

    I love the little slide show effect developing the picture, now that I’ve got it sizing properly. The effects are random, so it’s different each time. But I have to tell it to “false” stretch it in order to get the entire image up. Does it show a larger image? That’s news to me….

    The book will be an ebook, which will only have a B/W of the cover, but we’ve talked about selling prints of the covers. We’ve also talked about things like mugs and tshirts and such through Cafe Press. If I do that, I’ve got to create an electronic file that prints true. Right now, this prints realllllllly dark. I can control the prints that I make to a quality I approve, but I can’t do anything about what Cafe Press would do other than give them a file that’s fairly foolproof. It’s a touchy balance to get the web to show properly. But…I’ll work it out.

    Did you have a nice flight home?

    • katoji

      I did have a nice flight. Its always great being able to travel with someone you spent the trip with–in this case Eridani.

      And I called a good friend of mine I hadn’t seen in six years–at his work, from the Denver airport no less–to see if he might meet me for lunch on the way home. A true test of friendship, which he passed with flying colors, even buying my lunch and convincing me I really did want icecream!

      Now see what you’ve gone and done….Katoji is going to have a hard time being so reclusive now. :happy:

      But back to business–I used Cafe Press really early on and their color matching was decent but not consistent. Do they offer an ICC profile for their dsigital printers? It makes such a difference to be able to actually proof your colors on screen to their specs.

      And, Photoshop has some very sophisticated color management settings. Most printers come with their own color management settings. When I went to print that book I turned off the printer management and let Photoshop handle it completely–well as much as I could without a postscript printer. It gave me a more subtle control over color. Did it match the screen–well no, I’m not currently color calibrated, but it was within my personal taste.

      But like you said, you’ll work it out. Plus Cafe Press is really flexible about returns should they botch it up.

      I’m glad to see we didn’t disrupt you guys too bad. I’m back to work as well, with the question being…can I return to a daily work quota? Its been a couple of months, and I was really serious about sticking religiously to my quota for about 6 months before I took a six week hiatus. Still working everyday, yes–but its different when you are producing vs. creating. Following the plan vs. making the plan as you go.

      Its really not a question though. Working everyday is the only way to get things done. Hey, Thanks for keeping us updated. Believe me, I know what a task it can be to get things up where others can see them, but it does have its pay off. Its nice to get that feedback. I think it helps. Smooths out the rough patches.

  • AbigailM

    Cool, cool! But do you know if there is any way to slow down the slideshow or make it advance manually? – I don’t have time to see the visual and read the caption (kinda small type) before it goes on to the next.

    • Jane

      Howzat? I also simplified the captions so they actually fit on the screen. This is a first for me, so I didn’t realize it would let me put in a whole lot more than would actually show! it doesn’t seem to have a type-size adjustment.

      Oh…if anyone would like more details, just ask. I just didn’t want to bore y’all.

  • Jane

    Also…I’ll put the sequence up on Flickr tomorrow, maybe with better explanations. I’m so in love with this stupid little slide show and its transitions, I don’t want to mess with it! Flickr lets you go through image by image.

  • mmberry

    I don’t know how Katoji got it to enlarge. I tried and discovered it won’t enlarge nor allow you to copy.

    The slide show is incredible! I kept thinking of a different time period in SF cover art and couldn’t tell you which one if I tried!

  • Jane

    I don’t either…but I am going to put it up on Flickr so y’all can poke through at your leisure. Working on it now! 😀 OTOH, Kato-ji was up there when I was messing with the parameters and it’s possible that one combination allowed enlargement. However, if it did, it also only showed half the picture! It’s also possible she clicked on it at the same time that I changed the parameters! Timing…the essense of comedy!!!!! 😀

  • mitha

    Very, very cool!!! I really enjoy seeing how you put the covers together.

    You all have inspired me to check into ebooks. One of these days I’ll see about a reader, but considering my track record as a “early adopter” (I *really* liked my Sony beta machine…) I am sticking with my laptop for now. I’ve downloaded Calibre and a couple of books from Baen’s free collection (it’s so much easier to try something when it won’t cost a bundle if you mess up!) Seems to work just fine, so I am looking forward to Closed Circle getting up and running.

    • Jane

      Yay! another convert! I totally understand about the disinclination to invest in new tech until the dust settles. We’ve still got a beta machine downstairs. I’m betting it still works!

      Thanks for the feedback. I never know if I’m boring people. :cwy: One of the nice things about the layers of computer art is that it does actually create something of a record of the creative process. Pretty cool. All I had to do to create the slide show was slowly add layers to the image and save the revealed layers down as a separate png file. Pretty cool!

  • skitterling

    Beautiful! I can’t wait to read your ebooks – I’ve only been able to find Ring of Lightning, so I’m eagerly awaiting your stories.

  • Jane

    Yay! I’d better get my behind in gear then, eh? 😀 I’ve got the e-rights on all the Ring books, so e-Rings will be available at CC….

    Eeep…all those covers to do. Yipes!

  • readyGuy

    Wow Jane, I love this cover!

  • Wayspooled

    I like the style, I like the colors and I like the objects you’ve incorporated but I don’t like the human figure very much. I like her pose a lot and the size of the figure as a whole, but there are things about it like the size of the thighs being out of proportion, kinda the whole thigh/hip area – it’s like it could be better proportioned.

    I’m no art critic 🙂 I don’t really care what the cover is like a whole lot, I’m just looking forward to buying the ebook. I’ve resisted buying the paper copy ever since I looked into your works hehe, sounds very interesting!

    But you asked for opinions on the graphics and I don’t want to just go wow, yay if that’s not what my reaction was – just because you’re obviously a very nice person and I like your writing. hehe.. Don’t hate it, like it all except the figure while still liking the pose of the figure part.

    • katoji

      I’m sure Jane doesn’t mind your critique. We all get enamored in the details of our work and sometimes lose ourselves from the whole. If something disturbs you about her figure, enough for you to feel uneasy about the piece as a a whole, then I think its a courtesy to say so. Jane is a fabulous designer and illustrator and she saves in multiple layers. Changes can be done if she feels like it and has the time.

      As far as your actual critique goes, in my opinion, the figure is just fine proportion-wise. Its the right leg–and not the construction of it either, just a little rendering issue of value that confuses the eye as to the turn of the leg, and maybe one stroke of line that’s a touch pointy on the calf. I’m betting the pencil version is perfectly clear, and that its the filters she used to process the image that took it too far.

      I didn’t even notice it though until you mentioned it. I was all google-eyed over the flashy slide show. Worth fixing? Because its an easy fix, I say yes. Deal breaker if it doesn’t happen? No. Didn’t notice it the first time I looked at it.

      • Jane

        Thanks Kato-ji! You’re absolutely right. You get so involved in all the elements, that sometimes you just don’t “see” things. That’s why, in art or in writing, honest reactions are absolutely invaluable. Obviously, I crave the positive input, but the…not so positive will help me make it better before it gets published. Of course, with e-books, NOTHING is set in stone. I can endlessly “fix” details.

        Hmmmm…for a chronic editor, I’m not sure that’s a good thing! :cwy:

    • Jane

      Oh…now that’s intrustin’! I wanted the figure to be a bit androgynous, but “she’s” a “he”! :silly:

      As for the muscle to bone ratio, he’s a gymnast. His thighs and pecks are healthy. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 😆 )

      Seriously, I don’t mind at all. In fact, I appreciate it very much. That initial reaction is all important. Something like that could keep someone from buying the book, without ever realizing it.

      I find the observations extremely useful, and when I’m done with the UpLink cover, which is occupying my editorial synapses as the moment, I’ll play with it and see if I can at least improve it and make him more obviously male…without getting TOO persponal! :w00t:

      I could make the excuse that this figure was done with a touch pad, that it’s my first attempt to “draw” on a computer…etc. etc. etc. but the truth is, I drew a comic for a long time and my figures aren’t what you’d call photographic quality. Stretch and squat, twist and pull and hyperangularity all play a part.

      I’m actually using photo reference for the figure on UpLink and finding it useful to go back to the “realistic” drawing board. Haven’t done live model work in over twenty years!

  • I’m always facinated by “watching over the shoulder” of someone truly skilled doing creative work. Thanks for the glimpse!

    Which version of PSP are you using? The latest I have is 7.

    • Jane

      PSP photo X2 came with Sparkle. It’s nice, but I haven’t gotten the brushes to play very nice with the Wacom, yet. 8 was easier in that respect. But X2 is nice. It can open the newest Photoshop files. Photoshop can’t return the favor. I mean, it could if the programmers would condescend to acknowledge the existence of a program that’s a quarter of the price and darned near as powerful… :whistle:

      I’m glad you enjoy it. I was hoping people would. I’m fascinated by the creative process myself, and the whole manipulation of layers is a new (for me) and very powerful way of thinking.

  • CyanDag

    I like it a lot. Watching it develop with the slideshow is very cool. One of my favorite things is watching the process that artists go through to achieve the end result. It’s amazing how little tweaks can make things really pop. Thank you for sharing!

  • Jane

    That slideshow effect was a delightful surprise. I had no idea it would do that. The transition effects are random and sometimes it’s downright pretty. I love it when the stars just sprinkle down through the image! (I’m so easily amused….)

  • readyGuy

    I like the view into the creative process. Jane’s outline of what she thought the story involved, then how she tried to pull different elements in, to show these.

    No one has mention one aspect I see in the figure. Depending on how I look at it, I can see the figure looking up towards the stars or down to the Earth. Perhaps this is something I got from Jane’s lead in to the story. I thought it was a great figure.

  • kokipy

    I had the same ambiguity about which way he was looking – which I liked. As I recall, Steven is a conflicted and in some ways ambiguous creature. A little bit of ambiguity about which way he faces is not a bad thing!

  • Jane

    Yayayayay! You got it!

    Definitely yes on the ambiguity. The original figure was even more so, but the more I played with it, the more it became a “frontal” view looking up at the star. it’s one reason I hate to muck too much with it, but I think I can fix it a bit.

    (Ah…the peanut gallery has waked up! Don’t worry, Smith, you’re on the last cover.

    (Careful. I can still erase you!)

    < ........>

  • AbigailM

    Over to the right on my screen there is a tiny little white square with arrowheads at the corners. Click it and you get a big full-screen image.

    • Jane

      Hmmm….are you using Explorer or Firefox? I’ve told this thing to show the navigation bar, which I suppose includes the zoom button, but I don’t get anything in Explorer.

      Goin’ fishin’….

  • kokipy

    Can’t wait to see the Wesser’s cover!

    • Jane

      Neither can he. 😀 Such an impatient lad…But first, Nayati gets one. Kind of like with Faery Moon, I’m getting to do the covers I always wanted, and UpLink is…well, I think it’s going to be pretty cool. A half-naked Nayati and a computer kachina!

  • phiness

    Sweet! I very much enjoy the cover and feel a sense of tension between earth and technology (unfortunately I have not read this book yet!) which furthers the title “Groundties” and has that intrigue factor. Now that it’s been pointed out, I was a bit distracted by the figure’s left leg, which seemed like the knee was missing. Even stylistically it didn’t seem to match the rest of the figure’s body. But overall, this cover makes me want to read the book!

    • Jane

      Yay! As a first attempt at a real book cover (I started it before I did Faery Moon) I think it turned out pretty OK. Certainly more like what I wanted, at least mood wise. I’m going to play with the figure a bit tomorrow taking into account everyone’s comments. I’m pretty much done with the UpLink cover, (just declared it done a few minutes ago) so we should have another little slide show tomorrow.

      this is fun! this is the most feedback I’ve gotten on my art in…well, ever, I think! Wheeeee!

  • Really Cool Jane! I love it and loved seeing how you made it, I’m addicted to Planet Photoshop, so it was cool to see how you did it. Can’t wait to see the next two!

    I spent too much time working on a cover for my book, when I get these compulsions there is nothing to do but see it through, didn’t do much writing for a week or so while I worked it out. The brain is a funny thing! :biggrin:

    • Jane

      I find art and writing to be two very different processes. If I truly immerse myself in one, it’s very hard to do the other. Art, after the initial layout, is quite zen. Lots of time just … doing. For instance, on the cover I’m posting after I finish here, the feathers were just a matter of rotating and laying out, one after the other. Writing, OTOH, is far more volatile. A wrong word in an edited sentence can shift the meaning of something 100 pages further on. I find that most people who do both on a regular basis (i.e. simultaneously) end up with a compromised result on one side or the other (or both.) I find I really have to ditch writing to work on art and vice versa. And for the last crom many years, I couldn’t do art at all because all the creative neurons were busy learning how to write.

      And I never did even marginally reach my potential as a visual artist because of the tedium level of simple production. I just couldn’t convince myself to devote the necessary time to get … well… fast. I guess I’m just not a very zen person!

      OTOH, I’m very excited to find that what little I did know hasn’t gone completely away! I’m still not the sketcher I was back when I was doing the graphic, but the computer programs really help with that tedium thing!

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