We’d like to welcome back author Samuel Hawley. His previous post for The Book Designer detailed the steps involved in creating a book cover. Today, Samuel explains the various steps he went through in the creative process for another book cover. I hope you’ll find it interesting.
My latest book Homeowner With a Gun is a thriller about a family man who shoots and kills two intruders, thereby setting off a chain of events that threaten to destroy him.
For the cover, my initial idea was to use the image of a door or a house with a big, looming title, “Homeowner With a Gun,” almost like a warning sign. I started out playing around with a grainy picture of a door at night, just to see how it would look. Here’s the first thing I came up with:
Yuck. I dumped the door idea right then and there and found a house photo instead.
First I tried putting the house image out of focus, with the titles in front.
Yuck again. Next I tried creating a composite image of the house set against a dramatic night sky — actually a day sky made to look like night in Photoshop, then run through FotoSketcher to give it a subtle painting look.
Okay, this was starting to look better. It wasn’t perfect, but I was now feeling that I was on the right track. It’s probably obvious, but my idea in putting the author name at bottom over a yellow strip was to make it look like police tape. It does, but it’s too garish. So I played around with other colors.
Better? I don’t know. More important is that in playing around with different colors I stumbled on a Photoshop technique to punch up the title. Instead of just an opaque red title, I set the title layer in the cover above to “Overlay” so that the night sky would show through the letters. The letters become really faint when you do this, but if you then duplicate the layer (i.e. so that you have two identical layers on top of each other, both set to “Overlay”) you get a nice effect.
I liked the transparent effect, but not the red titles. So I changed them to blue.
Kind of blah, really. Anyway, it was time to start whipping this beast into shape.
I went out and took photos of houses here in Kingston, Ontario that I could use for the final cover design. Here’s the raw photo I ended up using. It’s back lit by the sun to approximate the moonlit shadows I wanted. (I’m using my hand to reduce the glare.)
I cranked up my ancient version of Photoshop CS to give the photo a night look, then I ran it through FotoSketcher to give it a painting look.
Then I made a composite combining it with the night sky.
Assembling the Cover
I now went to work assembling the cover. I selected the color white for the multiple stacked layers (I was using three layers now) for the book title and the author name. When the layers are set to “Overlay” they become transparent and take on the color of what’s underneath. I also used drop shadow to make the author’s name stand out. Here’s what I ended up with.
There’s a problem with the bright moonlight overwhelming a part of the title and making it a bit hard to read. I could fix this by toning down the brightness, using a filter—something. But I wasn’t thinking about that as I looked at this semi-finished cover. What I was thinking was: Jeez, I don’t like it.
The design lacks simplicity. It doesn’t have any real impact. The house is indistinct and your eye isn’t drawn to anything much.
So I dumped the whole thing.
Back to the Door Image Idea
My original idea of using a door image for the cover had remained in the back of my mind all the while I was chasing after the house design that I ultimately discarded. I was thinking of using either a whole door or maybe a close-up of just a door handle and lock.
As I looked around at doors here in my hometown of Kingston, Ontario, however, I didn’t see anything that looked right. To begin with, almost everybody in town has a white door, and I wanted something dark, something suitable for a night image. When I did spot a door that might work, moreover, it would be blocked by a screen door, which most homes in Ontario have.
It was while I was on a road trip down into Virginia that my door idea flared back to life. Walking around the city of Richmond, I saw all sorts of great doors, blacks and natural woods and dark blues and whatever, and lots of them were unimpeded by screen doors. Well, I had my camera with me and I took a bunch of shots. Here’s the one I ultimately picked.
Not much to look at, eh? Well, as John Holmes said as he got out of the cold water, “Just wait till you see the full potential.”
Okay, so first step: pop the photo into Photoshop, flip it, tweak the contrast, brightness, color etc. to make it look like the photo was taken at night. Then run it through FotoSketcher to ease the photo harshness and give it a slightly softer painting look. Oh, and I also moved the locks around, erasing the old-fashioned keyhole under the door handle and shifting the newer brass lock down into its place.
Now it was time to build the cover. Working in Photoshop, I used the door image I’d created as the background for the entire cover—front, spine and back. I used “Filter > Render > Lighting effects” to approximate a flashlight being shone on the door, and “Filter > Render > Lens flare” to add a light reflection on the metallic lock. (Note: the image has to be set to “Image > Mode > RGB color” to use the “Render” options.)
Next, I added the titles. My earlier aborted design using the house image hadn’t been an complete waste, for the multiple layer transparent letter effect I’d stumbled on worked great set against the door. I used three layers for each line of the title and for the author name: two layers set to “Overlay” and the third layer to “Normal” but with opacity greatly reduced. I tweaked the colors for each layer until I got the effect that I wanted—transparent letters that are sharp and clear and easy to read, and that have a cold bluish tinge that screams “night.”
The title and author letters are whitest near the beam of the “flashlight,” then fade to blue farther out. I knew right there that I had my cover. All that was left was to fine-tune the whole thing to get it just right. This included adjusting the drop shadows to vary with the direction of the centrally directed flashlight: up-cast shadows on the book title above; downcast shadows on the author name below; side-cast shadows on “A Thriller” in the middle. (Note: to do this you have to turn off “Global light” in the drop shadow box.)
I finally had a cover that I was happy with. It’s simple. It’s effective. It has impact. All that was left was to finish it off.
Here’s the full cover, front and back, final draft, ready for printing. (Click to enlarge.)
Samuel Hawley spent two decades teaching English in Japan and Korea before becoming a full-time writer. His books include The Imjin War, the most comprehensive account in English of Japan’s sixteenth-century invasion of Korea and attempted conquest of China; Speed Duel, about the quest for the land speed record during the jet-car era in the 1960s, and I Just Ran: Percy Williams, World’s Fastest Human, named one of the five “Best Sports Books of 2011” by the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). He lives in Kingston, Ontario. Bad Elephant Far Stream is his first novel. Homeowner With a Gun will be available in the fall of 2014.