Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cover Art: Creating a Cohesive Look

City Magic - 2213058
Hey all!

Today, I thought I'd share some of my new premade covers and talk a bit about cover art, and art in general.  I have a ton of fun with premades because I basically get to just make art and then work it into a cover.  While I love making covers for specific stories, it's more challenging because I have a set of parameters within which I have to work.  I also often have ideas outside of those specific contexts, and my premades let me play with those.

Premades, like this one here--*points to the left*--let me try new things without worrying that I'm going to ruin someone's cover.  I love trying out new techniques for creating additions like magic, and working out new blending techniques, layering styles, and generally playing with images to figure out how I can manipulate them better and how I can blend in original digital art bits so that they look natural and original to the picture.  Take City Magic as an example.  The magic is, of course, added in, but so is the city in the background.  All three of these elements need to work together and when you cut someone out of picture, you have to blend it into the new background, and take in account new light sources, like the magic here.  Even small details can make a picture look slapped together.  Light and shadows are a huge part of any image and working out how to combine two (or more) images means learning how to choose images that will work together, and then knowing how to blend the shadows and light between the two to give them the look of a single piece.

London Nights - 2213061

Layering can be a huge part of creating a cover.  With good layering several images can come together to create a single mood and feel.  Its important to choose images that not only work together in positioning, but to adjust or change colors so that they all work together.  That isn't to say that you shouldn't use contrasting colors, sometimes that comes out beautifully, but if you want an overall color palette for the finished product, using similar or complimenting colors is the best way to get that.  Proportion and positioning are other important factors when it comes to layering.  If you lay out the images in the wrong places, they can work against each other.  In London Nights--*points to the right*-- there are three different images layered so that they work together even though they don't create a single picture.  Big Ben there is obviously not in scale with the silhouetted man, but the dividing element of the woman's leg (and that gorgeous boot) creates enough visual distance that they work as if a single image.

Even after an image is finished, there are a number of things I can do with a cover to give it a more polished look.  Applying effects, textures and styles even after everything is blended brings all the elements together into the same basic style.  Some are softer than others, some more hard edged.  Creating that feeling comes through working with textures, filters and overall coloration.  There are some tricks of the trade, of course, different ways to get a matte look or a shinier, more defined finish.

Dragon Shadow - 2213060
You really pick these up as you go, and develop your own techniques as you work with images.  It's important to keep everything organized in different layers as you work and if you find a combination of textures, colors and filters that you think works really well, you can go back through the layers to figure out how you did it.  *G*  Messing around with new techniques is an important part of developing a style.  When you find combinations that you really like, you start to build a unique profile of techniques that are yours.  With Dragon Shadow, I used a combo of textures and a masking + gradient technique to give the image a bit more shadow and transparency in some places without having to apply it to the image as a whole.  It's a combination I like to use behind a title sometimes, in order to make the words pop without fading the central image too much.

Once you've got a cohesive image, you have to focus on the typography.  The way the text looks is as important as the image itself.  Bad typography can ruin an otherwise lovely cover, because it just doesn't blend with the overall look and feel.  Fonts have personalities and feels just as much as any other element (color, texture, finish, etc.) and if the font you choose doesn't look like it belongs with the image, the results can be jarring and unprofessional.  You're unlikely to use the same font on a romance as you would on a horror novel (although, it has been known to happen!).  I generally prefer clean fonts, rather than the more gimicky ones.  While those absolutely do have their place and may be exactly what a given book calls for, the more basic fonts look professional and can be like neutrals in fashion, they go with a wider range of feels.  They let me modify the fonts in the way that I want them modified, so they're more flexible and that's important with a premade cover.  
Cowboy - 2213059

For instance, on the Cowboy over there I used a nice bold, straight-lined font, both because I think it fits the mood of the piece and because it offers me a wide range of possibilities for modification.  I can overlay an image on it to give it texture or to suit the setting of the book.  I can use a diagonal gradients to make it pop and stand out more from the background, or I can use a mask and a brush to give it a more eroded appearance.  There's enough font there to work with, so that I can modify it to fit more with the feel of whatever book it eventually goes to.

So, creating a cohesive look is about either knowing what you want from the end result, or being willing to play around with an image until you get it right.  The different elements of a cover should all come together, even if the intent is for them to work against each other (to create tension or drama).  Every element from the color to the texture to the typography should be chosen because it serves a purpose for that particular work.

Well, I hope this helps a little!  And remember, all premades are on sale until March 1st!  (Don't worry, it's almost over and I'll stop talking about it soon!  *G*)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Some Thoughts on Language

Far From the Tree
An Essay that Compares Apples and Oranges
But is Really About Language

Most Americans have heard the old saying that one cannot compare apples to oranges. What it means is that one cannot expect to get anywhere by equating two essentially dissimilar things, but that’s not what it says, is it? It’s an idiom, a phrase that has meaning beyond its actual words. Such phrases are powerful tools because they draw upon cultural reference and history. While often imprecise, language is about communication and all its forms—dialect, slang, formal speech—are of equal value as long as they allow a speaker to converse with his or her audience. People speak in idiom and analogy, use simile to equate the familiar with the unfamiliar, and draw upon cultural experience to express difficult or elusive concepts. Though they are different, apples and oranges also have a lot in common, and comparing them can teach about more than just fruit.

For instance, both apples and oranges grow on trees and these fruits are the yearly-renewed product of a long and branching history. Like language, they have not always been as they are today. There are dozens of cultivars, dozens of variations that did not always exist. They change through grafting, hybridization and mutation. Sometimes a new variety of apple or orange springs up from the intermixing of two previously separate species, or one cultivar outcompetes and conquers another. All of these methods of evolution have their roots buried in the same place, all come from a common need to continue on, to communicate a particular set of genes to the next generation.

When that next generation comes is another matter, as different varieties of apples and oranges reach maturity at different times. Apples are largely harvested during the fall, while oranges have a fall/winter season. Good timing is important when judging both of these fruits. The grower must be aware of what each cultivar looks like in youth and in maturity, and must understand when it is appropriate to harvest each type, as well as when it is best to leave it on the tree. Language has its own cultivars, dialects and slang languages which are the product of their own environments. Just as one wouldn't use text speak in a business memo, one cannot expect an unripe orange to make good juice. To fully appreciate different cultivars, one needs to understand when they're harvestable.

Apples and oranges both strive to spread their genetic codes, and to this end they both contain seeds. While an orange's seeds are often spread throughout the fruit, and sometimes very small, an apple keeps them close to its core. These both represent different methods of accomplishing the same task, both suited to the environment in which the fruits originally evolved. Language, too, takes its genetic code from the past, building upon a foundation of words, slang, idiom, and analogy already laid down. The dialects people speak today sow the seeds for the cultivars of tomorrow.

However, these fruits certainly have differences as well. Apples and oranges look nothing alike, after all. But how a thing looks doesn't always speak to what a thing is. When looking at the elegant lines of Japanese kanji, one might be hard pressed to see the resemblance to the flowing scrawl of written English, but both serve the same purpose, the basic human need for communication. In the same way, apples and oranges both serve the needs of their respective trees. They may not look alike, but that’s because they have been shaped specifically to deal with the stresses, strains and pressures placed upon them. Different stresses create different fruits.

Just as apples and oranges look different, they also taste different. They both have their own distinct flavors, but often that flavor varies between cultivars. Just as with languages, and the dialects within those languages, each has a unique flavor shaped by their context, and each is a product of their time and purpose. Some apples are meant for cider, some oranges are meant for juice, and some of both are meant to be eaten out of hand. One cannot judge the taste of apples or oranges based upon an unknown specimen, and neither can one judge the taste of a dialect based upon hearing it spoken alone. Understanding the context of the fruit—its harvest times, its cultivar, and its eventual purpose—is the only way to judge it as a good example of a fruit meant to be eaten.

The evolutionary process has also made it necessary to eat apples and oranges in different ways. While one can bite right into an apple, one first has to peel an orange. While one can eat everything inside an orange's rind, one has to stop at an apple's core. Language is similar in that one must understand its context before one can enjoy it. Knowing the community from which a given dialect comes creates a resonance with the meaning behind the words. Slang and regional phrasing often have connotations that are not apparent until one knows the people who use them. Just as with fruit, enjoying language means knowing how to eat it, and not understanding can make it indigestibly bitter.

Apples and oranges are both healthy snacks, which provide essential vitamins and nutrients. They serve a function, much like language, in that they satisfy a basic need. The need to communicate with others is a natural requirement for any social species. The strength of the social species is its ability to protect its members, to provide strength in numbers, but that advantage falls apart without the ability to communicate. If one cannot say, "look out!" then one's friend doesn’t know to duck. Although the needs they satisfy are different—one biological and the other psychological—the fact that people seek out things that fill their needs should not surprise anyone.

Additionally, neither apples nor oranges last forever. If uneaten, fruit will rot, but in doing so will still accomplish its purpose. The same can be said for language. Words that are not used, wither. Grammar that does not give a gain, goes away. Dialects that are not spoken, die. Dead languages litter our history, but this is a product of the human natural progression. As each generation accepts or discards the message of the last, it fosters its own cultivars and mutations. The old words get left behind as cores and rinds discarded in the human wake.

Both apples and oranges have influenced language in their own ways. An apple doesn't fall far from the tree. One bad apple spoils the bunch. Orange you glad I didn't say banana? Oranges have even leant their name to define a color. Language often uses the familiar to communicate, and most people are familiar with apples and oranges. In their way, these fruits also both serve language by lending themselves to expression, by serving as a common experience from which one can extrapolate more complex concepts.

In the end, apples and oranges are more alike than different. Their contrasts are the result of differing environments, just as language is a product of its culture, context and time. Though different in taste and appearance, both fruits serve their trees, helping to continue their individual genetic lines, communicating their particular mutations to the next generation. Like fruit to its trees, language is about satisfying the basic human need to communicate. As long as it gets across the speaker's point, the linguistic cultivar is immaterial. Whether one uses formal speech, slang, or idiom need only be a matter of cultural convention, because all of these things serve human communication. They're tools to perform a given function, and we should use whichever makes the best juice.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Guest Post on the Cover Art Process

Hey everybody!

I'm guest posting over at the blog of the lovely and talented Kim Cresswell today, where I talk a bit about the process of making a book cover! It was really interesting for me, because I don't usually think about the process consciously. I just do it. *G* But, thinking about things in an active way not only gives one a better understanding, but allows one to refine it so that they can get better at it.

Come on over and say hello!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Guest Post Over at Full Moon Dreaming!

Hey guys!

I'm doing a guest post over at Full Moon Dreaming with Julie Lynn Hayes. Julie is the author of Revelations, and I had the honor of making the cover! So, clearly, you should check it out! *G*

She asks some hard-hitting (okay, maybe 'spicy' is a better adjective) questions and I talk a bit about my cover art. Check it out right here

Thursday, February 7, 2013

I Am Actually Still Alive...

Hey there everyone!

You know what's odd? Well, yes, the general answer to that questions is "me," but more specifically? When I'm really busy, I disappear from here, and I virtually disappear from Facebook, but I'm general more conscientious about returning emails in a prompt and timely manner. Now that my classes don't have me in a stranglehold, I'm around more on Facebook (and here), but less good about emails. *Facepalms* It's just that I realize things like, "Oh yeah, I can get off the computer!" and "Wow, there's a lot of stuff I need to do that's not on the computer!"

Seriously, I don't know how all of this stuff got done while I was in la-la land! I guess I should totally be thanking the Fiance for picking up the slack!

And, nobody scream, but I might even have ... *gasp* posts soon! I make no promises, but there are somethings rolling around in my head that I'd like to post about. It won't be the siege weapons post I've been promising because I need to re-familiarize myself with that research before I can continue and finish that poist, but I will (hopefully, *fingers crossed*) have something for the blog that is, at least, mildly interesting! Maybe... :-D

Friday, February 1, 2013

Premade Cover Sale! All Through February!

February is the best month of the year! It's got my birthday, the fiance's birthday, the birthdays of a couple of relatives, and Mardi Gras (which is actually *on* the fiance's birthday this year)! So I've decided to celebrate.

All through February, my premade covers are all $35. Come see the pretties! And tell your friends!