The Cover, So Far

So, I’ve been, quite understandably, getting a few questions about the cover of “Knight of the Flame”.  People who haven’t read the book are wondering how the process is working out.  People who’ve read the book (well, some of them…) are getting impatient about book 2, and so are wondering if the first book’s cover is making any headway at all.

It’s funny how gaping the chasm of understanding and appreciation can be once you sit down and actually try something, even when it’s sitting in your peripheral vision for most of your life.  I never gave much thought to the covers of the books I’ve read, except to give voice to the occasional “What were they thinking?” which means the last few months have been particularly educational.  I can completely understand why cover design is a specialization all its own.  There are a lot of small decisions that go into the creation of a book’s cover, and each and every one of them has to be tempered against what the designer is actually capable of achieving.  It’s taken me since the edge of the autumn to get this far, and though I’ve made some pretty great strides in finishing this little project, even now, I’m not quite done.

The first question, of course, was what was going to be on the cover.  My first intention here was that the front of my first book should have a darkened image of the back of a hand, either open or holding a sword, with the appropriate mark adorning its skin.  I went through a few iterations of this before I realized that this particular image would only work if the hand could be drawn in either a photorealistic or possibly highly stylized way.  Otherwise, it just looks bad, like a rough draft, and a bad one at that.

Okay, so the next concept, one which was suggested to me, was an image forming an overhead view of the Temple of the Conflagration.  This actually didn’t look too bad, but it turns out there’s a serious problem with the basic idea…there are no people in it, and the fact is that I just couldn’t see having an image depicting the struggle of Caymus and his friends without actually putting either Caymus or his friends front and center.  Too bad…I kind of liked the way the Temple had looked in the twilight.

In my third, and current, attempt at a cover image, I decided that the most visually stirring image from the entire first book was the Conduit itself, that an illustration depicting Caymus’s third trial would be just the thing.  People…fire…an actual scene from the book, this idea has it all!

This concept marked the first work I was doing after I’d purchased (and gotten around to learning how to use) Photoshop Elements, so it’s the first time I actually tried working out some rough compositions of what I wanted.  This, then, was my first pass at sorting out what the full cover design would look like.

Image

Yes, I know it’s rough (like, really rough) and the people are just Google image search results cut out and given a bit of darkening so I could see what the concept would look like, given a bit of a soul.  I still like the overall composition, though.  I think it would work, given a bit of polish.  Okay, a lot of polish, but still…

Here’s the problem: people are hard to draw.  Not just for me, either.  The artistic talent in my family has always belonged to my mother.  She’s the one that’s been helping me out with sketches and ideas throughout this process, and even she didn’t know if drawing Be’Var, Ket, and company would be feasible.  I considered several ways of getting around this limitation, including using various sorts of templates you can find online, and even rendering 3D people in Blender, cutting and pasting them, and tracing them in ink.

None of it quite worked, though, and so back to the drawing board.  I still love the idea of depicting Caymus before the Conduit, but I can probably only get away with that one figure.  This led to an interesting problem.  Up until this point, I was depicting a particular scene in the book.  If it’s just Caymus standing there, then I’m not doing that any more.  I had to make a decision:  Was I going to stick to the idea of depicting actual activity in the story, or would I let myself “color outside the lines a bit?

This is what I came up with:

Image

In the end, it didn’t work.  Not at all.  In particular, it was the first time I’d actuality tried drawing fire, and looking at even this rough sketch was making me feel ill.  I thought people were hard to draw; flames are a challenge all their own.  So, I spent a lot of time going through Google Image Search, trying to draw inspiration and technique from the results of “fire pillar”.  

I discovered two things.  First, there’s a reference to “The Pillar of Fire” in the Bible.  How did I not realize that before now?  Second, I found a couple of flame images that were much more stylized than they were photorealistic.  That gave me some ideas.  I’d already decided I would let myself loose of the restriction of illustrating an actual scene from the book…what if I let the whole thing be a little less-than-realistic.

Here’s the rough draft of were I am now.  I’m pretty satisfied with the way it’s looking so far.  Of course, the text needs re-formatting so it’s a bit less crap, and the silhouette of the guy in a suit needs to be replaced with something that actually looks like Caymus, but otherwise, it’s working for me.

Image

That’s where the cover is.  It’s going to take some more work…I’d say a month or so, considering I can’t manage a lot of the finer detail on a bouncing train, but the concept is there.

Thoughts?  Ideas?  Is it crap?  Is it great?  I wasn’t expecting the creation of my book’s cover to be too hard, but it’s turned into one of the most challenging projects of my recent years.  Feedback is appreciated.

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