All right, so, my book’s been out a couple months and I remembered that when I made the cover, a few people requested I show some kind of process to my work, and I never got around to actually doing that. While I did touch briefly on this in an older post, I didn’t go through the whole process, so I’m going to rectify that with this post where I go over what went into making the cover for my newest book, Infernal Heirs (available now!)
First, I should note that this isn’t the process I use for all my artwork; I sometimes experiment back and forth with different methods of painting, so I’ll point out some of the things I did differently.
So, to start off, a lot of the story takes place inside a massive city that I describe as being like a tower inside an ethereal river. I figured that’d make a good subject and went to work scribbling out some random ideas of what an otherworldly tower city might look like, with different media. For example here’s something I sketched on my Kindle Fire while messing around with one of the art apps. A little abstract, but abstract is good. It gave me the idea to incorporate skulls into the architecture somehow.
I also did a rough sketch on actual paper, but I unfortunately don’t have that scanned. Once I had a vague idea of what I wanted, I went into Photoshop and did some more rough scribbles as I worked out a final design. And because it’s difficult to work in a vacuum, I also spent some time on Pinterest and GIS looking at various photos and artwork of towers and cities to get references and ideas as I refined the sketch.
From the sketches I started working towards a finished piece, first by drawing cleaner lines in Photoshop, followed by some tweaking, reorienting, skewing the lineart to make the tower look bigger, and figuring out where to place it on the picture. Rather than stick the tower dead center, I instead focused on the “rule of thirds” and placed it off to the side. I also avoided having too many detailed elements at the top so there’d be a place for the title; this is a book cover, after all.
Here is where I went a little experimental; I’ve done this a few times in the past, but it’s not how I always paint. Rather than splashing color everywhere from the start, I took a soft paintbrush with opacity set to pen pressure, and started painting in black and white, using the lines as guides. Working in greyscale helps a LOT with determining light, shadow, and volume, because once you jump into colors it’s a lot easier to get distracted. Usually I don’t do it this way, and I jump right to painting in color, which is also fine, but since this was a massive architectural thing I felt it was better to work out light and shadow first, worry about color later.
After that it was a matter of just working on the picture bit by bit, painting in the form and refining it into detail using different brushes. Also, fun fact, for the skulls, I took photographs of my open mouth, cut the teeth out, converted them to black and white, and re-oriented them to use in the skulls. So yeah, those are my teeth in there. I just thought that’d be morbidly funny.
Anyways, once I was happy with the black and white, it was time to work on color. To achieve this, I started with a Photoshop feature called a “gradient map” that adheres color in a gradient based on image brightness values. (So say, if I made the high value yellow and the darkest value purple, all the black/dark grey would be shades of purple, and all the white/light grey would be shades of yellow, with midtones in between.) To avoid any kind of repetition I used multiple gradient maps on different object layers, largely focusing on reds/purples/yellows.
The gradient map method’s just one way of coloring after the fact. There’s other methods that can be used to color in greyscale artwork, like painting on colored layers, or doing image adjustments to colorize the art.
Over time I also added a little green for color contrast, make the whole thing look a little more otherworldly. And once I was happy with the colors, I added some final details with colored paint, stuck in some floating islands and ships, tweaked the background a little more, and from there, the cover was ready for me to slap on my title.
I followed a similar black and white to color process for the cover of my first novel, Realm Wraith (also available on Amazon!) and I think it works pretty great for anything with a lot of elements that need a unified sense of lighting.