Cover Art & the Iterative Process

Since most of the rewards I’m offering hinge on my novel’s cover art, I thought I’d take a few minutes to show you the artwork and explain how it came into being.

First up, here’s what the book will look like:

Pretty spiff, right?

I won’t lie to you; I’m awfully dang proud of that picture. In fact, it’s been my desktop wallpaper for a few months now, and sometimes I look at it when I need a pick-me-up. Every now and again, I find myself mindlessly writing its filename over and over surrounded by little unicorns, hearts and happy faces… Errr, ignore that last part.

This image didn’t just come together one morning over a cup of joe, though. Rather, it’s the culmination hundreds of wrong decisions. I believe that’s what we call ‘the iterative process.’

Let’s take a look at that process…

It all started back in April when I realized my 30th birthday was right around the corner and I still hadn’t published a novel. I imagined what the ambitious, headstrong little version of me back in the 5th grade (that little punk) would think, and it wasn’t pretty. In fact, the entirety of his message was ably communicated with just two fingers and a grimace.

It was time to get my derrière in gear, so I buckled down and chained myself to the desk. After a few days and long nights, I had this:

Don’t mind the title. That’s a topic for another update.

If you hate it, you’re not alone. My intent was to combine late-’50s sci-fi cover designs, a clean geometric layout, and a bit of modern grunge. The result was reportedly akin to what comes out when you’re suffering from food poisoning.

I went back to the drawing board. My rough concept for the next design was a scribbled, chaotic style, like it’d been written shortly after some cataclysmic event.

I also produced one more after talking to my brother, who’s an avid sci-fi reader. He’d just stopped at the library and had a stack of books in hand. He handed me one and said, “This is the sort of book cover that grabs my attention.”

It was a bunch of spaceships hanging around in orbit, which is a specific cliché I’d been studiously avoiding. I figured I might as well give it a shot, though.

With three cover designs now competing for my attention, I decided to present them to some of my favorite people in the world, the Colony of Gamers, and ask for their opinions. The overwhelming answer? They liked the scribbles.

Unfortunately, one key person wasn’t satisfied: me (that little punk). The drawing board welcomed me back with open arms.

There was this:

…but it looked too much like some futuristic sequel to the Qur’an. Then I produced this:

And that one… well, that had something. It looked kind of junky, but I was sure there was a good idea inside. It just needed a few coats of polish, so I started polishing.

The blocky, too-CG looking mushroom cloud had to go, and I spent a few days wrapping my head around Blender’s volumetric materials to produce something that didn’t look like it was carved out of white plastic. Next, I layered on a half-dozen effects in order to add texture and better focus the eye, including one very nifty Illustrator smoke technique.

Before I knew it, I had a handful of different color variations:

I selected a winner pretty quickly, the little 5th grade version of me put away one of his fingers (that little punk), and the rest is history.

The flashdrive included with the $75 Emergency Response Corps package comes with hi-res, 300DPI versions of all of the above, and every single source file used to create them. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to learn from some my mistakes and successes, and maybe use these assets to create something wonderful and new.

I’m a big fan of wonderful and new. 🙂

And the collector’s edition cover? It’ll be one of the above, but I haven’t decided which yet. If you’ve got an opinion on the matter, definitely let me know.

If you haven’t checked out my Kickstarter project, why not drop by see what’s going on?

~Chris

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