Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Designing the book cover of Rise and Walk

Since some people have commented on the design of Rise and Walk's cover, I thought I would spend some time discussing how it came about.
Rise and Walk is the first book in a series and I wanted to incorporate an element of branding in the title font and cover design. I needed to create some unifying graphical theme that could carry over through the subsequent books. I had some ideas but would have to wait until I had the main image for the cover.
The main image would have to relate to the title. Rise and Walk. I would have to show something dead rising. It should be bloody but not so gory that it would be unfit for a bookstore's shelf. I didn't want to do a full zombie because I would have to make it really nasty and I wanted the image to be more subtle. A bloody arm should do! So I grabbed my sweet girlfriend and her Nikon D70 camera, some Karo Syrup, red food coloring, petroleum jelly, a rough large pore sponge, some instant coffee grounds, and headed out to the woods behind my house.

The Make Up.
After finding a location with a tree that I liked I started to apply the make up. To add filth and age to my arm, I rubbed some instant coffee in patches on my skin. I made sure to rub some grounds over and under my fingernails as well. You cannot have a creature with clean fingernails. I pre mixed a bottle of clear Karo pancake syrup with red food coloring. If I were using this blood mix on a movie set, I would have thinned it with some water and added a little yellow coloring. For digital photography, I knew I could control the color and I needed the mixture to be thick so adding water was unnecessary. I also added some red food coloring to a small amount of Vaseline to create a quick sort of Thick Blood. I used the large pore sponge to drag some of the colored Vaseline across my arm to add texture. I then applied some of the syrup blood and let it drip down and around my arm. I dabbed at this sticky mixture with some more blood on the sponge and let it run naturally.

We shot many different photographs with my arm around the tree. The camera was set at a resolution of about 2000 by 3000 and each image was about a meg and a half in size. Once I got home and cleaned all the crap off of my arm and sat down to pick a photograph. This is the one I liked best.

I needed to sweeten it up a bit because the blood was lacking so I used the clone function in Adobe Photoshop to spread out some of the red. I sampled the darker areas of red and cloned them into the areas that needed more blood. Once that was done I made a levels adjustment to the entire image. Levels is just a way to adjust the tonal values of the image. Sometimes there is not enough color information in an image across the entire dynamic range, so adjusting the Red, Green, and Blue, levels independently can help to bring out detail. You simply move the sliders in to where there is color information for each RGB channel on the histogram.

Check out this site for more information on level adjusments in Photoshop.

Here is the adjusted image.

Next I desaturated the image to give it a little age and moved it over a bit to add the unifying graphical elements. I had to clone some of the tree over just a bit to fill in some areas that would be underneath a gradient that I wanted to add.

The unifying elements I came up with was a gradient frame on the left side and bottom that started out in full black and gently faded off the image. The sequels can share this framing with a different image and title to identify them as Rise and Walk books. By keeping the visual themes consistent, I am setting up a brand that the readers will hopefully recognize.

Now it is time for the title. I think that the title font and how it is presented is very important to creating a recognizable identity for the books. I looked at a lot of different books in my research and decided that I lacked the skills in illustration to draw an original title from scratch. But I knew I could build one digitally by manipulating a simple font. I began with a font called Kozuka Mincho.

I pulled down the opacity of the font to let some of the background show through. Pulling down the opacity makes the font as transparent as you like. A simpler way to describe it is that I faded the font by 30 percent.

Next, I beveled the text layer to roll off the hard corners and smooth out the lines of the font. Beveling can help achieve more of a 3d effect.

I added a gradient overlay to give a lighting effect to the title. Essentially this just makes the brightness of the text go from darker to lighter in which ever direction you choose. This can also add to a 3d effect.

Next, I added a drop shadow to give the text more depth. The effect is subtle but if you look at the e, it appears to have more punch with the drop shadow.

I used a Gill Sans font for the byline and used the same effects from before except for the opacity. I added no transparency to the byline because the background underneath it was very dark. Notice how the gradient overlay gives the name depth as if it were lit by a couple of lights. At this point I was happy with the name. The title would still need more work.

In Photoshop you can apply any image as a texture to a text layer. I wanted
something organic to add texture to the font. I chose an image of trees and applied the Bevel effect to the image. This had the effect of thickening the lines of the image.

See how the image now has some relief to it, almost like a jigsaw puzzle. The process is a little complicated, but what I did was use this altered image as a texture for the font. Even though the image is part of the Photoshop project file, you never see it in the final product. The ups and downs in the color information is applied to the face of the text, giving it a crinkly organic texture.

Now the text looks like it is some sort of organically peeling stone. I want to pursue this further and push this into a brighter silver color.
I also want to enhance the overall image.

Something more like this. By jacking up the brightness and increasing the contrast I was able to give more depth to the texture. I was very happy at this point.

Here is how the overall adjustment worked out. If you are a Photoshop cat, the adjustment I made was +23 for brightness and +40 for contrast. The red became a sort of dirty old blood that suggests a heavily damaged creature. I really liked the contrast with the texture of the tree bark and the out of focus background.

That is how it came about. I did try many other variations and different designs before I arrived at this cover. If you are interested, some of those examples are here.
I hope that this was informative to you. Thank you very much for having a look.
Gregory Solis

1 comment:

Becky said...

Dang, I had no idea your coverart was a photograph when I first saw it! That's amazing!

It is a good cover - perhaps you should have put the title in all caps though. I've heard that using lower case on the cover screams of 'self-published'. I have no idea if it's true, and with reviews like the ones you're getting it shouldn't be an issue.