In my previous post I described how I put together my first cover, creating it more or less as a fun project to use on the beta versions of the manuscript. However, this past summer I decided to revert to a single, uniform design for all my covers – wrap around painted artwork for the paper version with two simple boxes. The collage version was neither painted nor did it wrap around, so I needed a new cover for the published edition.
I have also posted about my first attempt to produce this painted cover. I'd chosen a scene just a few paragraphs into the story, but the complicated street scene proved too challenging for my talents, so I eventually abandoned it. Below is penultimate version of the painting before I abandoned it.
|My first attempt, a pencil sketch, with some color, and some pencil revisions (i.e. a larger, closer tram)|
Having abandoned my first attempt, I needed to come up with a) a scene from the book, or a general scene that would convey the mood of the book, and b) one that I could actually paint. Both of these requirements where a challenge. The latter because I haven’t been painting more than the covers of my books for three or four years now, and I’m out of practice. Really out of practice. You’d think you’d not forget how to paint, but it seems that I have. The former was just as problematical, in that it would be very hard to capture the mood of the story – or a scene from the story, with my talents.
Since the story takes the characters into the steppes of Ukraine, and includes incidents that involved traveling in cars, I considered a scene with a car driving down a narrow, dusty road – grass and wildflowers on either side, and a whole lot of sky above. I had painted similar scenes without the car before. Here's one example of what I was thinking about.
|But without the ocean and hills. Just the foreground and sky.|
While this seemed doable, I feared that the car might give me trouble, given my impressionist style of painting. As I said in the post about the first cover, if you paint in an impressionist style, you want to make sure that viewers know that your lack of attention to details is deliberate, not a result of incompetence, so painting something that looked like a car in the free, impressionist style would be a challenge. I was also having trouble designing the painting that would wrap around the print version. I needed the action - the car - on the front cover so the road would have to go to the left, as in the painting above, but where to put the car and how big in needed to be without it being lost... I hesitated.
Then one Saturday I happened upon the paintings of Grant Wood, and more specifically, his birds-eye view of Iowa. Below is one such painting, or rather it seems to be an oil sketch for a painting that I've yet to find the finished version of. I'm using it here because I think it the best of the series of such paintings, I've never found a finished painting that is, in my opinion, as good as the sketch. I like the freedom of sketches over the more rigorous painting of the final version. Anyway, the sketch:
|Grant Wood oil painting|
Seeing those paintings got me to thinking. Could I take the same approach? Could I use a birds-eye view of flat farm fields stretching into the great distance of the steppes, conveying the vastness of a major setting in the book. It seemed doable, from my talent point of view, and in keeping with my general policy of going for mood over specific scenes. So I painted the picture below.
The thing about covers is that the painting only represents a starting point. Once I’ve taken a photo of it and uploaded it to my computer, I can manipulate many aspects of the painting; its light or darkness, its tone, and colors. I can and do add lines for shading and sharpness. I can eliminate or alter things and crop it as I choose. Given the limits of my talent, all this comes in very handy.
I went to work on the photo of this painting. Unfortunately I don’t have the complete paper cover of what I ended up with since I deleted the level it resided in, once I settled on the next cover. Gimp, as with most graphic programs, allows one to assemble an image in numerous layers. Each layer can be manipulated independently of the others. The cover art is my lowest level and I add things like the title box, book spine and back blurb box, as well as the text, each on its own layer on top of the cover art. At some point, I decided to eliminate this layer from the stack once I had settled on the next version. All I have is the front cover/ebook cover version of that cover, but it does show what I did to enhance the painting for the cover.
As you can see from the sky and fields, I lightened and brightened the painting, shifting its tone more to the yellows. I also added, as I usually do, some slight black lines to the painting using the "cartoon" filter in Gimp. This tends to sharpen the image, and give it a little texture or shadows. I also brightened and enhanced the plume of dust behind the car on the road.
As for the painting itself, it was supposed to represent the largely flat steppes of what is now Ukraine with a village and a large estate on a ridge in the distance, that is one of the scenes in the story. However, in the end, I decided that this was not very good artistically speaking, and too abstract for the cover of the book, so I moved on to the version of the cover that I revealed several weeks ago. In the next and last instalment of this series, I'll talk about that cover, and show all the subtle ways a painting can be manipulated, since I still have something like four or five variations of that cover still potentially active in Gimp version of the cover.