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 email@example.com or by leaving them in the comments below.
Until next time …
Designing My Angels of Mercy
Sidebar: S.O. to author pal, Kris Ripper who liked the first one I did of these, that I’d thought I shoot her another. Hope you all enjoy it too!
So let’s talk book covers, shall we? I mean, I did it before. So it’s not like it’s the first time, right?
I’ve been busy. Did the NaNoWriMo event for the first time and I was really enjoying it (even if it was a bit of a slog to write on a deadline schedule – but it was good for me).
Been putting small tweaks on Angels of Mercy Volume One: Elliot and fleshing out Volume Two: Marco. Volume One is sorta waiting in the wings because it’s ends on a cliff hanger and several authors said that as a newbie writer I shouldn’t do a cliff hanger – soooooo, since my stories are what they are, I decided to forestall the first book and just get book 2 prepped and ready to go so they can be released in tandem. Book 2 ends on a cliff hanger as well, but I figure I’ll have them decently hooked by then (fingers crossed).
So here’s the small twist in this – Marco’s always been the meat of the entire series as far as I am concerned. Elliot and the third boy (who is our guide in Volume 3) are merely bookends to Marco’s tome. The story has always been Marco’s to tell. I just wanted you to get to know the love of his life first. Elliot in many ways is an extension of myself. That’s why it is a character study.
I’ve had betas read the pre-released work and I get universal high marks on grammar and structure (my author pals have universally praised me on the manuscript being so clean) – and that’s the hubby too. He’s been my sole editor. He’s never done it professionally (still hasn’t cause he’s on the personal payroll – wink, wink), but he comes from a LONG line of educators that specialized in English. So I am solid there. He also used to play football for Clemson back in the day so that’s where all the football motif is coming from (well, that, and I did have a fling in my Senior year with an actual HS quarterback). But as I said, the response from everyone I’ve given it to thus far have really been impressed. I am humbled and grateful more than I can say about this.
Angels has been both an easy work to write and incredibly difficult to write. It is a very personal work. It is a love letter to my husband as much as it is to gay men I’ve been blessed to know and have in my life. Truly blessed.
So why the second entry on the book covers? Because I’ve finally nailed book one AND I’ve completed the work on book two in the process! Yippee!!
And here’s the big reveal on the second book cover in the series (cue drum roll in your head, please):
And as with Book One’s design I’ll let you see how I did it…
First things first – as with all things Foodie, there is a recipe and of course the ingredients. I am a content designer (of sorts – previous life as a graphic designer for a theater company in San Diego (amongst other things)).
Software used – Adobe Creative Cloud Suite (primarily Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 and Adobe Photoshop CC 2014)
Graphic elements – images from iStock Photo (photos and vector art)
Fonts Used – Scriptina (for “Angels” in the logo) and Copperplate Light for the subtitle and my author byline, and Jackport College NCV font for the football jersey number 7.
The original artwork in its raw form:
Illustrator Vector Line Art
The Footballer (Hi-res Photo JPG)
The fonts and logo work were borrowed from my Book One cover and adapted/modified to suit “Marco” in the title. Recycle whenever possible – it builds brand consistency and also cuts down on the design time and lets you get back to what we all REALLY want to do – WRITE, dammit!
So I’ll start with one element of this new book cover that kicked my ass on book one – the fucking footballer jersey has NO NUMBER! Couldn’t do a simple overlay – that would be too f’d up – it wouldn’t be right. So I hit the net and sorted through Photoshop tutorial after tutorial using crap assed terms to find what I was looking for – only because I couldn’t remember what I needed to really look for until I found it again – DISPLACEMENT MAPS. They are golden in my book now. And they proved a helluva lot easier to do than I thought they’d be – Win-Win in my book!
You can check out the tutorial that solved it for me right here.
So first things first – I knew my footballer needed his requisite wings so I had to separate the background (the troublesome gradient blue/black background) from the (footballer) foreground. Sometimes the graphics come with masked backgrounds so this is rather simple. NOT this time around. Sheesh! So I had to painstakingly (though I did save a small bit of time) using the magnetic lasso tool in photoshop to cut away at the background from around my mysterious “Marco” footballer.
Then slip a solid black background on a separate layer so I could manipulate at will what I wanted to do. Here’s the final with the broken down layers along the right side of the screenshot (click to enlarge):
As you can see by the layers in the picture I post above, the background was solid black. The footballer sits just behind the jersey number layer and my author cred. The wings and the logo taking up the layers in between.
So I imported the jpeg I created from the Illustrator file and cropped the blue side of the wings (the ‘water’ wings) and duplicated the layers in photoshop once the first blue wing was imported and then sized them by freehand so while they are an exact dupe, they aren’t sized exactly the same – only a hint a being symmetrical. It was enough for my purposes. I didn’t want an exact dupe this time around.
I also angled them so they would be more upright (alluding to the same sort of position from my Art Deco wings from the first cover – see above). Added an adjustment layer above the two wing layers and boosted the hue and saturation to embellish and bring out the blueness of them.
Next up – Slipping my footballer back in front of the newly created wings.
So now we get to the hard part – or what I perceived to be the hard part – the Displacement Map – to add the jersey number. The file I created for the displacement map I ended up using the black channel of the photo (when you get to that step) as it had the most contrast to build the map (I think in the tutorial link she used the red channel – use what looks best and has the highest contrast to work from – it’ll apply the best results).
I typed the number for the jersey (using the Jackport College NCV font) to create Marco’s football number – 7. And I applied a white to black gradient to the number so it would fade out along the bottom of the cover like his shirt does in the picture.
I used the tutorial just as it is described above in the link I provided BUT I changed the displacement map settings from the default 10 to 5. This was the result:
Then I added the duped layers from my original Volume One: Elliot book cover (see above) and inserted the duped layers for the book title and sub-title (swapping out ONE for TWO and Elliot for Marco) so it would be inline with the finished cover I was after. Then did the same for my Author cred.
But having succeeded in this I immediately was emboldened by my success with the displacement map that I went back to book one and FINALLY put the long missing Jersey number back on it!
To paraphrase Darth Vader – “The Circle is (sorta) complete…”
I do still have to come up with Volume 3 (insert mystery character here – no spoilers this time).
Until next time… Happy Writing and Designing!
Shout Out to my musical muse – JAY BRANNAN! I constantly play his music while I do anything Angels related. He hasn’t steered me wrong yet. He might argue that he hasn’t steered me at all. I love the shit outta his work anyway.
BUY HIS SHIT NOW PEOPLE! I need this guy to keep working!