Angels of Mercy – Phoenix In The Fire (Book Cover Creation)
PLEASE NOTE: This post assumes you have a general knowledge (or wish to gain said knowledge) of how Adobe Photoshop functions and makes no attempt to walk you through that process. There are numerous online tutorials (both written/blog versions as well as video examples) that can easily instruct on the basics of Photoshop.
Okay, this one I have to start out by saying I owe a certain photographer out there a book cover tutorial. He already knows the final product. I’ve shown him that much. But what I’ve struggled with is how to document my creative choices AND not permit anyone to steal his photography artwork in the process (he was kind enough to loan me one for the tutorial I proposed to him). So, here’s the lowdown on that little scenario:
I can’t sort out how to make the image non-downloadable. The issue is I know code to make it do that but the upkeep would be a nightmare because the tech keeps changing and thus at some point it would break and his image would be out there for free! I can’t risk that. So Paul, I did come up with a method of protecting your work BUT I also have never attempted to do what I am going to do so bear with me while I work out the kinks. It’s going to be my first screen cap narrated video! All these years involved in tech and filmmaking and I’ve never done one – I find that truly shocking. But there’s no way to lift a clean copy of the image from that and I won’t worry that tech has progressed enough to crack and allow stealing of Paul’s original image. In the interim – I do hope if you are ever in need of a licensed photo for your book cover, seek out Paul Henry Serres Photography … he’s an amazing artist/photographer and such a lovely man to interact with!
Basically I go from this:
So the video broadcast of using one of Paul’s images for a faux book cover as a tutorial will be coming soon.
Onward to this post in the meantime!
So for Angels of Mercy – Phoenix in the Fire, I needed to come up with the print edition. If you recall, I struggled even to come up with the front cover to begin with. I knew I was going to break from the football theme that had been consistent with the Angels proper series (Phoenix is a companion book and not part of the main series works). If you haven’t seen the evolution of that ebook cover you can find it here.
So the print editions always make me a bit queasy from a design aspect. I mean, I goof around enough with the front cover to get something that looks right. Now to spread that across a full print cover – uh, in a word – YIKES!
But tackle it I must.
So the first stab at it had me thinking since this book was not a proper Angels series book, more of a companion novel, that I could finally depart from the football theme I had going in the Angels proper part of their world. Also, since this book was narrated by Elliot I thought I should sort of mirror what I did for the Angels V1 book – use some artwork that I would create for Elliot and put it on the back cover.
So, with that in mind I toyed around and around until I came up with this little ditty:
While the idea of using another piece of Elliot’s artwork as a way of tying it back to the first book he narrated, the violence he had to claw his way back from didn’t come across in this version. Even with the fire and blood splatters, it just wasn’t where I needed to go with it. People liked it well enough, even I did, to a point. But it seemed I was settling in drafting it. I could do better to represent the story plot line.
So I let it percolate a bit, stewing in its own unsettled sauce, as it were. Then I became inspired – why not go with Elliot being shown as rising (sort of the next step from the front cover of the book – only this time more fully formed and capable – it is what happens in the work) from his adversity? So I decided to start combing the stock photos out there, searching for a teen-ish looking boy that I could put up for Elliot (who also had to fit the way I’d always envisioned him). My budget for this cover wasn’t substantial, so I had to stick to stock photo sites I already had subscriptions to … which can be limiting at times. This time though, it paid off.
Here is the original image I started with (I purchased the license for the actual work – just showing the comp for the purposes of this post).
Two things were against me in starting with this – 1) the background setting and 2) the lighting. Both of which could be addressed but it was a consideration going in.
I also needed angel’s wings … to keep with the phoenix/angel motif I had from the front cover.
And believe it or not, there is actually a background in the final product – though, what I did to the whole piece did sort of obscure most of it. Ah well, the price of art, I suppose.
With my pieces in hand I began to work. The first thing I started off was the composition of elements to see if what I wanted to do would work. After I hastily placed items I twitter messaged my go to for all things Angels and asked him what he thought. He gave me the thumbs up on my little mock up:
It was a start. But I needed to start mucking around a bit to get it closer to both the theme of rising from your own ashes to something greater AND keep to the color spectrum of the original ebook cover.
First up – I needed some action! Photoshop actions, to be precise.
Of course, this begs the obvious that you have to have Photoshop to begin with to attempt to do what I show here in this post. So for those that don’t – might I suggest that if you are a self-pubber wanting to save a bit of cash over time (won’t be an immediate savings) that you subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud (TODAY) and start to dive in and sort it. It’s not all that hard to do. Yes, it will take you away from writing, but if you want to be in control of your creative destiny by self-publishing, then this too, is part of your craft/business. If you can gain these skills and add them to your talent coffers, just think of the money you’ll save on designs for swag, promotional banners/ads/bookmarks and the like? Design once, distribute multiple times (be sure to understand your licensing of the graphics before you do … a very important point I can’t stress enough). You don’t have to have a big time eye for art … look at what attracts you and mimic it for a bit (not using it for commercial purposes, but more to hone your creative eye for placement, typography, and marketing). Learn from those that seem to work and gain your interest – start to cultivate a discerning eye on why it works for you. Then go and make the attempt yourself. Use comp images for that – the intent is not to publish but to perfect your design capabilities. With the subscription price of Creative Cloud at various levels, there is a path to get Photoshop on your desktop fairly easily.
So, enough of my – hone your craft – speech, back to the book cover:
With my photoshop actions tucked into my design arsenal I began to work on the individual parts to bring the whole book cover together.
First up I had to address the male model and the background I didn’t need. Easy enough – using the quick select and magic wand tools I quickly selected him and cut and pasted to a new layer in a new doc (or you can place him in a new doc on a new layer – your choice). After putting him on his own layer I went back to the background layer and filled it with a solid color. To properly begin to compile you need to isolate all of your separate images to solo pieces that you can begin to manipulate into your composite artwork. One word about cutting the model out of a background – sometimes precision is required so that every stray (unwanted) pixel needs to be cleaned up before you can proceed to compositing your final image. In my case I knew I was going to throw a helluva lot of graphical elements and adjustments to it do precision on cropping him out of the original background wasn’t so essential. The actions I’d be applying would more than likely obliterate any odd pixel hanging out there that I didn’t have to be so precise this time around.
In this revision, I also had to find a way to use the Mercy High Avenging Angels football logo that I wanted to tie this book with the main series (the team logo appears there). Since I discarded the previous artwork from my first draft I decided to repurpose it as a piece of clothing. The male model luckily had a very neutral hoodie on that had absolutely no graphic or artwork of any kind – BINGO! I’m in.
So how do you do that?
DISPLACEMENT MAPS (learn all you can about them – brilliant little nugget that will allow you to modify standard fair stock art into something a bit more unique)!
For a decent tutorial on them I would start here (though googling “Photoshop Tutorial Displacement Maps” brings up a ton of tutorials out there to guide you along. Long story – short, I got the logo placed on my guy and it bent and folded along the warps of the hoodie with no problem. I was quite pleased with the results. To compare look at the image above this section and then scroll back down to note the addition of the football team logo on the hoodie with the lower image.
This was the end result (obviously sans the “SAMPLE” stamp across it):
The wings and desolate background with the cloudy sunset were fine as they were – the only thing I needed to address was to separate the two wings into two separate images that I could manipulate on the final composite image.
Next up – The wings … I wanted them to have a specific shape (other than the form they came in).
The default layout of the wings from my first attempt (two images above) have them outstretched – the way I bought them. But I wanted them to be more in “flight” mode. Thus I needed to distort each wing to give them that sort of look. To do this you have each wing on it’s own layer and then select the wing and choose EDIT –> Transform –> Distort. Then you pull the handles surrounding the selected image to manipulate the wing into what you want it to do. You can alternatively use Skew and Perspective or Warp should Distort not completely satisfy.
Remember with Photoshop you can always roll back to a previous action via the History panel so feel free to experiment. Don’t like the adjustment you just made … simply click the history level one level (or as many as you like) to roll back to a good starting point and go at it another way.
Once the wings were in the position I wanted them in (see below) I duplicated the layers and placed them in the composite image for further manipulation:
I realized I wanted to make them a bit translucent as your eye traveled from the frame bone structure along the top of the wings to the lower extremities.
So I now compiled the separate elements so I could use the first Photoshop action by Seven Styles (footnote: they’re extremely powerful actions that will save you oodles of time, look great, are easily modifiable, and the best part – they’re super inexpensive!). In this case, I started off using the STORM action from Seven Styles. An example of how it works can be found in the following video tutorial (don’tcha just love his Aussie accent?):
After applying that action it turned out like this …
As you can see with the video each of these actions can be altered and modified to suit your needs. With the above action the color scheme started to skew toward matching the front cover. Next up I needed to add the fire and brimstone look to it so I could match the front cover’s fiery theme – the big difference? I wanted the back cover to be more hopeful. The front cover has Elliot soaring out of the fiery hellish hole his boyfriend’s teammates put him in. It’s ragged and meant to be representational of his slog to get out of that hell.
So with the Fire action (see the video below if you want to know more), I finally started to see things come closer to what I wanted – a more hopeful vision but still with the grit and determination to find his way back to the love of his life.
After running that action my photo now looked like this:
I played around with the various layers and adjustment layers to set the right tone I was looking for, getting it as close to the color and tone of the front cover, and then added the blurb to match the author byline on the cover. And, voila! The work is complete.
Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you might have concerning this by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by leaving them in the comments below.
Until next time …
The Art of Man
So I am running a bit late. I usually take care of this well before the month cycles over. Things got hectic, things got in the way, as they sometimes do in life. But I’ve learned that more often than not sometimes the universe is at work when you may not know it. Not that I think that I am the centre of it’s general concerns, but yes, sometimes it appears that my missteps do reveal something truly wondrous on the other side of my scheduling faux pas, as it were.
While I’ve loved having Abel Korzienowski as my Site of the Month for January, and I do hate to see him go, I knew I needed to press forward and find something else of interest to put out there and say “Hey everyone, take a look at this.”
Well, that’s just what happened this morning. Or maybe it was last night? Well, the fact of the matter is that it happened – and I am all the richer for it. And by richer I mean that I’ve had another artist’s work revealed to me: Paul Henry’s brilliant and very powerful photography.
It came to me quite innocently enough. You see I’d received a notification from Twitter I had a new follower. Which was always a cool thing to have happen. Sometimes I don’t know how they find me, but it seems to be happening more and more now. Anyway, as soon as I saw Paul’s follow I promptly looked him up and seeing he was a photographer of the human form I really became intrigued. So I followed him right back. This was early in the morning and I thought that was it until some tweet caught his attention or he bothered to show me something that caught mine.
To be honest, I never was one to poke someone back and say “thanks for following me” – I know it’s what you’re supposed to do. I get them from time to time. Invariably, they usually thank me for being a follower of theirs and then immediately link back to something that they are doing. That’s the part that always brings me up short (personally and professionally). Not that I am deriding Paul for doing the same thing, because thankfully he doesn’t have my oddball quirks to deal with. He did just that. He thanked me for the follow and he offered a link to his site telling me he wanted to work with authors like me to license his photography if I found it to my liking.
Intrigued, I immediately clicked over (as a matter of record, I usually don’t). This is one of the reasons why I don’t do the “thank you” follow-up because it usually expects me to do the same – “hey, go look at my stuff.” But Paul’s was rather nicely done and I sort of wanted to see what he was up to. I was beyond pleased that I did.
The wonderful thing about it is Mr. Henry seems to be very willing to work with independent authors to use his male model imagery for the M/M fictional genre market. It’s rather lovely to be courted by someone who is so accomplished in his craft. That part of it I found very much to my liking. Having corresponded with him today on how I can highlight it on my own site (deciding for myself that I’d found my February Site of the Month already), I found him to be very receptive to my inquiry and very prompt in responding. Which was also very refreshing. I am sure with his busy schedule that might not always be the case, but to reach out to him on a Sunday and his getting right back to me was quite a delight.
To give a bit of background on him I asked him what his backstory was and how he moves through the paces of getting his projects going.
First impressions, and by his own admission, he is a rather low profile and shy person. It is probably that quiet introspection that gives him a deft eye to capturing his subjects with such brilliant clarity while never losing their humanity. They are definitely riveting work.
Paul was born in the United States (in New York City) but moved to Montreal, Canada when he was five. He has been in the photography industry for the past ten years and has worked with some very notable players in the business.
In his own words:
I shoot mainly portrait, fasion and fitness model. I’ve been published in magazines like Vanity Hype, CoverBoy, Sensitif (France); and since 2014 in the Fit Men Calendar by Zebra Publishing (Toronto). I’m also honored to have been asked for my images for 2 romance novel covers, by authors Xavier Neal and Josephine Raven. I work in my own studio in Montreal, but love to shoot outside as well… usually in the summer.
The lovely thing about Paul is that given his impressive credits it seems that he’s also gained quite the reputation amongst them (here is what Beautiful Mag wrote about him a couple of years ago):
Asking Paul Henry Serres about himself he says he is just a passionate photographer who loves his job and is in constant pursuit to produce good work. That pretty much sums it all up. But there is more to him than just that. Paul Henry Serres works in all disciplines of the art. He does architecture, landscapes, nature and even sports photography. In fact, he used to shoot for a rugby team in Quebec and states that shooting athletes in action is the best school to learn how to use a digital camera. Paul Henry’s biggest passion is probably photographing people. “Each shoot is for me and the model (as they tell me) a rewarding human experience,” he explains. “There is always fun involved. It doesn’t matter is the model is male or female, young or old. The most important thing is to have mutual trust and fun in what we do.”
There is definitely a emotive response initiated from Mr. Henry’s works, even if they are simply no more than the model looking directly into the camera lens. Paul seems to capture the essence of the moment brilliantly and succinctly.
When I asked him how he approaches his projects he had a few words to offer on how it works for him, but he also said that he entertains commissioned work (are any of my fellow author’s wheels turning out there? I know mine were).
My approach for a shoot is I like to get prepared as much as possible … I know what I want to do, the concepts … but you never know what will happen on a photoshoot. The better you are structured, the more freedom you have to improvise.
Given the breadth of his work that’s posted online on his website and Facebook page (link to the Facebook page to be provided below) and the current promotional tweets he’s been broadcasting to gain the attention of authors out there – I knew I was a fan and potential customer as well:
It was such a nice treat to interact with him today. So if you’re an author who is constantly on the look out for a great photographer to work with, I gotta tell you, Mr. Henry was a breeze to correspond with. I was both impressed with the volume, the quality and the breadth of his work as well as the prompt and welcoming approach he took to my inquiry.
It gives me great pleasure to present as my 2015 Site of the Month – Paul Henry Serres Photography.
His Facebook page can be found here.
The best way to reach out to him for commissioned work is via his contact page on his website.
Lastly, a weekly updated listing of his available photos for exclusive licensing can be found here. I highly encourage you to take a look at this man’s brilliant and well crafted work.