Project Focus: Cover Design With Supplied Artwork for Not A Fire Exit

by Joel Friedlander on November 24, 2009 · 6 comments

Over the last few months I’ve designed two book covers that involved artwork supplied by the author. This is a slightly unusual situation and forces you to think in creative ways. If your client hands you a piece of artwork and says, “I love this! I want it on my book cover,” then you had better pay attention.

Luckily, in both cases the artwork in question was reasonably good, and I was able to come up with concepts that satisfied both the authors who had hired me, and my own design sense. Today I want to show you one of these books, the artwork in question, and say a little about how I incorporated this into the cover concepts that went to the client for approval.

Chris Finlan’s Not A Fire Exit

Chris describes his new novel, published partly as a fundraiser for Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy, as a “love story wrapped in a mystery.” After a photo shoot in Los Angeles, this is the photo that was selected for the cover:

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Click to enlarge

Getting to Work

The first thing I did was a cover using the photo in its entirety and just concentrating on typography. I wanted to get a feeling for where I was with the photo, and what would come out of it when the type started to interact with the image.

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Click to enlarge


I read some of the book and really got a feeling for the pace of the action, and it seemed like it might like a racier look, more thriller-esque. I got out my crop tool and set to work with some imagery from iStockphoto.com:

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I really liked the elements and the way they were coming together in this design. The black background, the fire fading behind the typography, the glossy look of the type and the tight crop on Sarah’s face all worked together to heighten the tension in the design. I realized I would have to work in the opposite direction now to present a real palette of choices.

I went back to the full photo, but it still seemed flat and boring. I toyed with the idea of working on it in Photoshop, perhaps adding a lot more blur to the background, but I just wasn’t motivated. Instead, for some reason, I added gradients at the top and bottom that helped contain the image of Sarah, and didn’t allow her to get lost on the big expanse of door behind her. With a very detailed typeface, and a hairline rule around the cover, the design had a bit of delicacy.

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Although I can’t say it was that pleasing to me, I sensed this design would have some fans. I moved on.

I felt like I had some good elements, I had explored the photo in different ways, but I wasn’t satisfied. Taking apart my second cover, I reassembled the elements a little differently. The fire became a flame pattern laid on the background, the type become more of a placard and changed color, and I opened up the crop to create some interesting asymmetric eye-travel-paths that looked like they could really pull you into the design. Borrowing the gradient from my last effort contoured the background, and I was really happy with the result.

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But there still seemed something missing. I went back to work.

Sometimes design is a breakthrough, sometimes a slow evolution. I felt in the middle of these processes with Chris’ cover. At the end the pieces disassembled and reassembled once again. The top and bottom gradients reappeared, but in a surprising way, with both white and black giving an almost ghostly ominous feeling to the background, and highlighting Sarah’s wary expression. The type sharpened, and a touch of red showed up at the bottom.

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This is the cover as it went to the printer today. As always, I can’t wait to see the book!

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    { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    Christopher Finlan November 24, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    It was described as a love story, not a “love song wrapped in a mystery.”

    I’m not Air Supply! :)

    Reply

    admin November 24, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    @Chris, darn those late-night blogging sessions! I’ve fixed it now, thanks.

    Chris, you know it would be really interesting if you would take a minute to comment on your reactions to the various cover designs, what process you went through to pick one, and how you feel the book is represented by the cover. That would be fascinating!

    Reply

    Christopher Finlan November 24, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    Hi Joel,

    Sure thing – I immediately threw out any design that didn’t feature the full picture of Sarah. It was simply more eye-catching to me to see her as opposed to anything else. Once I did that, it left three options. I didn’t like the lettering of the first item you showed, and if you remember correctly, I liked the one with the red at the top and the bottom initially. However, I really wanted Sarah and “the team” to make the choice, and once Sarah and the others did as well, I deferred to them, and I’m glad I did. It’s a really good cover, and since there has been a few re-writes since that was chosen, it works even better in the context of the story. I can’t wait to see it either!

    Reply

    admin November 24, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    Thanks Chris, it really adds to this presentation to have your perspective on what happens at the “other end” of the design process.

    Reply

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