Monday, January 31, 2011

Art for a Muse

We're closing in on the end of this series. Two more books to go and we've pretty well covered the Splashdown Books current catalog. As a reminder, I started this series because I personally did some artwork for books at Splashdown, including cover elements for The Duke's Handmaid and Nor Iron Bars a Cage by Caprice Hokstad, and interior art for Tales of the Dim Knight by Adam & Andrea Graham. I got to see first-hand the progress of the cover work for Alpha Redemption by P.A. Baines. I find the process fascinating, and wanted to share even those I didn't personally have a hand in, so last week I told the story of Grace Bridges' Faith Awakened cover.

TODAY, I'm turning my focus on the book that led me to Splashdown Books in the first place. The Muse, by Fred Warren. It was Fred's story "Angel Wings" at Digital Dragon Magazine that introduced me to his writing, and I immediately bought The Muse as a result. So, Fred, I owe it all to you, man.

OK--on to the cover art!

I got the details from Grace Bridges, owner and head honcho at Splashdown.

Grace wanted something striking and unique, and opted for a black background to start. Then, as she said, she "messed around" until she got a "suitably spooky glowy text," which shows up quite vividly against the black:

Here are Grace's exact words on the next step, as posted in a blog of her own, back when she was actually going through the process:

"Next I really wanted a picture of Stan, the main character. But who could it be? The answer turned out to be quite close to home, as I ended up photographing none other than my own brother when he came to town for a visit. My housemate at that time happens to own a wonderful fantasy sword, and things just came together after that. Over there you see one pic of many taken during that photo shoot. I was up on the veranda with the camera, and Andrew was down on the driveway so I could get that oblique angle. The black sheet was an aid to later pasting "Stan" onto my mostly black background."

Next is a mock-up with "Stan" in place, in front of a pair of spooky eyes Grace liked initially:

And then with a textured background:

But, ultimately, Grace decided to mess around with the glowy eyes again, enlarging it and making it into a spiral. Here's how it turned out, on the final cover:

All of this, she said, was done in consultation with Fred. And to prove she's on the up and up about that, here's Fred's impression of the process, in his own words:

"In some ways, the cover was the hardest part of the book to finish. It
had to encapsulate the story and capture its mood in an interesting,
eye-catching manner without giving too much away. That's a lot of
weight for two little pieces of paper to carry. Grace and I probably
spent about two weeks on the font selection alone.

Writing the back-cover blurb was actually fun. Grace, Connie Brzowski,
and I spent over an hour in an online chat bouncing ideas back and
forth, one sentence at a time, until we came up with something we were
all happy with. The interesting part was that Grace and I had been
working at it for a while without much success, but when we brought
Connie into the discussion, the ideas began popping like firecrackers.
One more person's input made all the difference."

Remember me going on about the teamwork aspect? I'm not the only one who believes in that!

So, there you have it. I'll admit, I didn't give a lot of thought to the cover when I first bought the book (other than, "dude, that is some hair") because I knew what was important to me was the writing on the inside. But now that I have read the book, and learned about the cover design process, I see how this all ties together. The Muse is a fun book, with vivid characters and a bit of a wild ride in parts. The cover does capture that mood. Do yourself a favor--if you haven't read any of the books I've featured so far, start where I did.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Art of Faith Awakened

Today, I'm handing the reins to Grace Bridges of Splashdown Books, so she can tell you in her own words the process she went through for creating the cover art for her first novel, Faith Awakened:

A little background on the book: I came up with the basic idea when I was 14, and it went round and round in my head for years until I started writing it at 21. I guess I got about a third of the way through before my career got in the way. It was 2006 before I got back to it, and finished it in its seventh year.

Around the same time I was just getting into the online life and chose Myspace as my first foray. There I met Daphne Sonneveldt, a Dutch artist and photographer living in Spain. She read my blogs about the developing book and completely without any provocation, she designed a picture for the cover.
The model is actually Daphne's sister whom she photographed before applying a painted texture via graphic editing and then combining her with a background photo Daphne had taken at sunset in the mountains. It looked like this:

I was ecstatic. It seemed to capture the feel of the story almost perfectly. Almost.
I didn't know a lot about design, but I did know that the colour red is always eye-catching and that the eye should flow from the spine towards the open pages of the book, meaning we should flip the face the other way. I also wanted a piece of the ocean in the image. Here is what Daphne came back with:

After that, all that remained was to ask Daphne to move the face to the right-hand side of the image where it would land on the front cover of the wraparound image. I then cropped it to the exact measurements for the cover template.

Interestingly enough I had attempted a cover image myself with the oil pastels I had on hand. It came out rather messy, but the concept remains very similar to Daphne's - and she never saw my version!

I also used Daphne's brilliant red sky in an image that sums up the prologue for me: a very dramatic scene where Mariah and friends rush into the old warehouse to the devices that could save their lives.

Anyway. I added the text and tweaked it some, which was just as well, because it turned out to be the same font used on Frank Creed's Flashpoint, which I think was released one day before or after mine.

Daphne mostly does photography these days and you can find her at

I still love this cover very much, the perfect wrapping for the book of my heart, my first literary baby. Reviewer C.L. Dyck said of it, "The compelling jacket design of Faith Awakened is an accurate signpost of the vivid, unusual journey within." That is possibly my favourite thing anyone has ever said about the book, and it's only right that Daphne's wonderful work should be such a large part of it. I am honoured that such a designer wanted to work on my project.

And I can't end this without saying it...."Grace, you rock."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Future Stories and Past Interviews

OK, taking another pause today from the art series to play catch-up. Although, there's some seriously cool art in this post, too.

I've got stories coming up in two anthologies. The first is a fantasy called "The Guitar" and will appear in While the Morning Stars Sing, to be published by ResAliens in February. Here's the gorgeous cover art:

Next is my horror story, "Delete," that will appear in Feckless, edited by Ellen C. Maze, who also has a number of stories in the book, along with several other writers. Ellen is author of what she terms "Curiously Spiritual Vampire Tales," so I'm sure you can see that the anthology is going to be, well, curious and spiritual for sure. I've been proofreading and the stories range from dark and macabre to quirky and down-right-dirty-fun. Click HERE for complete info on the February antho ;).

Even more art-related is The Book of Sylvari: An Anthology of Elves by Port Yonder Press, due out mid-2011. I am illustrating two stories in this anthology. More detail on that in a later post, but for now I wanted to give you a sneak peek at the cool cover. No, not my art, but cool nonetheless:

In the mean time, check out the interview of me that Ciara Knight graciously posted on her blog the other day. CLICK HERE.

And if you're just bored, or disturbingly curious about me, I've also been interviewed in the past several times:

Osprey Observer ("turn" to page 6)

Brandon News and Tribune (about my Chicken Soup for the Soul story)

Brandon News and Tribune ("Valrico mom pens inspiration and horror...")

20-20 Faith Sight (Sheryl Young, author of What Every Christian Should Know About the Jewish People puts me in the spotlight)

Katiedid (aspiring teen writer's blog--and my first ever interview)

Alright, that should keep ya busy this weekend.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Art of Alpha Redemption

P. A. Baines's sci-fi novel Alpha Redemption released from Splashdown Books a few months ago. It's a unique approach to story-telling, written in a style that reminds me of what Douglas Adams' serious side must be like.

So this book, completely unlike Tales of the Dim Knight, needed a very serious cover. Today, I'm going to let the book's cover artist, Zoë Demaré, tell you how she developed the cover image:

"My initial inspiration for the cover of Alpha Redemption presented itself before the book was even published. I was lucky enough to read the first draft, and in the scene where Brett gazes down on a planet they discover (that’s not giving too much away, is it?), I happened to be listened to the soundtrack from Defiance. I came to a section in the music that just fit the scene so perfectly. Suddenly the words on the page sprang to life in my head and I saw something so beautiful - the melancholy interior of a ship bathed in blue as Brett’s darkened form gazes out into space.

It was so picturesque in my head, I knew immediately I wanted to draw it. Except I didn’t have much experience with digital painting and I knew that in order to do the image any justice, I would need to wait. At any rate, it continued to lurk in my brain.

Not long after that, Alpha was published and I agreed to do the cover. Once we agreed on all the little details about style and composition, I started getting to work. However, I soon found that since many of the techniques I would have to employ were new to me, I was sitting at the bottom of a very steep learning curve.

The first thing I ever did for the picture was the planet. In hindsight I realize it would have been better perhaps to work on the interior of the ship first, since this was the least enjoyable to me. Nonetheless, I went hunting online for a variety of tutorials on creating space art and ended up with a whole bundle of wonderful resources.

In order to create the planet, I learned that a texture would be needed; especially since I wasn’t confident enough to paint everything from scratch. In order to get a good look for the land and clouds, I‘ve read people recommending the textures found on a large stone, or even rust. However, as I had nothing like that available to me at the time, I opted for mold.

In order to turn that photo into a planet, I simply edit the texture so that it suited my needs, then layered that same texture twice, one on top of the other, and played around with the colours.

Next came the space scene. With all the amazing effects that can be produced to cobble together a star scene, my initial reaction was to make it super busy and bright. However, as the image went through revisions with my Dad, the author of Alpha Redemption, I toned it down to create something fairly minimal.

After that came Brett. For this I took photos of my brother and painted over him to create a plain black silhouette. To create depth, I painted a strong blue fringe-lighting. Then came the ship itself. Here I feel that my lack of skill in painting shows. Since the interior of The Comet is described as being quite clean and lacking in too many details, I really struggled to understand how would be the best way to approach this part of the illustration.

In the end I simply settled for creating a strong blue glow and strong shadows. This too, like the fringe-lighting on ‘Brett‘, was painted in. As for the monitor, I wanted to emphasise that it was still a part of the ship while giving it some unique form of its own. The one way I tried to do this was by giving it scan-lines, which you can see on the back of the book in the close-up.

Overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I feel honoured that I was given the opportunity to be a part of this project."

Thanks, Zoe!

I personally find the simplicity of the cover to be one of its strengths. The image of Brett and the isolated window perfectly reflects the story inside.

Once the artwork was done, the next step was choosing a font and tweaking it to the right proportion. Grace Bridges (owner of Splashdown Books) wanted nothing competing with that image, and I think she chose the perfect font.

Then she moved on to the back cover. This is where I finally come in :). Grace was originally going to put a close-up of the planet you see through the window on the back. But I suggested she shift that over to Brett. She took my advice, and this is the result:

Notice the cool back cover copy. I love the unconventional "blurb" on the back of this book, too.

Hah! There's just about nothing I don't love about this book :).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Things I Do for Art....

We're back to art today, folks. And strange art at that. Remember, way back in the beginning, I told you about a call-out from Grace Bridges at Splashdown Books for a drawing of a key. I answered, I drew, I got accepted. And my key is now prominently placed on the cover of The Duke's Handmaid by Caprice Hokstad:

Well, one thing about publishing and book covers. Take a look at a series you have. You'll notice that the publisher creates all the book covers for that series in a similar style. It lets you know the books go together. Of course, we wanted to do that here.

In the above cover, there's this burlap "frame" that lets you peek through and see a double sunset (yes, double--in the world Caprice has created there are twins suns). She had originally self-published this book, along with the second book, and she already had a double sunset image on the first version. The self-publishing company she chose decided to be complete jerks about her keeping that image after she left them, so Grace created a new, and way better image. But it was still the same idea as the original.

For Caprice's second book, Nor Iron Bars a Cage, she also had artwork, but this artwork was not gained through the self-publishing company. Caprice commissioned it from Audrey Rawlings Arena. Grace placed that painting inside the burlap "frame" of Nor Iron Bars a Cage.

Something was missing, though. It needed that other element, like the key on The Duke's Handmaid to be consistent. Grace wanted a different image, though, this time. Something odd...something relevant to this story of slavery...


I'll tell you what--searching Google for images of shackles was an, um, interesting experience...

But I found a set, tweaked the arrangement, and drew it. Black and white to match the key, of course. Scroll up for a moment, and check out the subtle differences. The Duke's Handmaid has lighter burlap and darker text. Nor Iron Bars a Cage has darker burlap--same shape and size, though--and lighter text of the same font. Clever, I think. My drawing is in the lower left corner on TDH, and the lower right corner on NIBaC. Clever again. Grace has laid these both out consistently, but with enough difference to mix it up a bit.

And the covers look even cooler in person :).

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Authors Fellowship

I'm pretty sure I posted on here somewhere that I've been made the newest "Feature Author" for The New Authors Fellowship blog. If not...well, "Surprise!" :D

If you want to catch up on my posts there, here are the links:

Make It So, my very first post as a member of The Collective :).

Success Is..., why I'm thankful for the slow pace of my publishing journey.

And today's post, My House, My Beliefs, about the attack on homeschooling. Get your claws ready...

Browse around over there and check out the posts by the other NAF authors. Click that little "Follow" button, too :). We'd love to have you!

(Oh, and I promise, tomorrow we'll get back to the art series!)

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Star Curiously Singing--a Book So Aptly Named

Another pause in our artist series. I'm a freehead, so I can do that. No stops for me.

Unless you've read A Star Curiously Singing by Kerry Neitz, you're probably thinking "What?"

Well, I've read it. AND The Superlative Stream.

I am not one for simple plot summaries when it comes to book reviews--you probably know that. I'm not going to start now. I will say it's the story of Sandfly, a "debugger" sent to fix a robot on an experimental spaceship. Sci-fi, yep. Not heavy, hard sci-fi. Very character-driven. And voice....

The voice of these novels is what really grabbed me. The plot is awesome, the characterization top-notch...the pacing, descriptions, everything, no complaints. Spot on.

The voice, mind-blowing.

Especially when you consider the point of view they're written in.

OK, lesson time for you non-writers (or maybe you writers who could use a refresher):

Novels are written in a multitude of pov's, including third person omniscient, third person limited, second person, and first person.

Third person (either kind) is written as though someone else is telling the story, as in, "He stared into the murky depths..." Second person is nearly never used, and involves directing its prose at the reader, "You see, it don't you? Over there...." First person is written as though the character is telling the story, "I dug through my backpack, searching for..." (Keep in mind, this is the narrative part. Dialog is a free-for-all, folks.)

You also have your choice of past tense or present tense. The "he stared" is past tense, the "you see" is present tense.

Most books choose third person (limited--meaning you only get into one character's head at a time), past tense. Next in popularity is first person, past tense. Quite a few new books--including Kerry's here--are coming out in first person, present tense. Second person is pretty much not done, but Kerry works it in here and there.

Which (finally) brings me to my point. First person present tense is like singing a capella. Third person past is more like having instrumental accompaniment. For some reason, third person, and even first person past, is just more forgiving when it comes to style. Maybe because it's what we're used to reading, so we don't look for anything "off-key," same as listening to singing with background instruments. But first person present is different, rare, like a capella singing, and you have to get it perfect or every eensy-weensy mistake is amplified. Second person, forget it. It's like having someone sing right into your ear.

Kerry does it though. Flawlessly. He sings this story, no back-up, no reliance on convention.

I could not put these books down. They're completely addictive, just like a great song--the kind of song you put into your mp3 player and let it play on repeat for hours.

In my book, Kerry is a star, curiously--skillfully--singing.

You can find A Star Curiously Singing here:

Amazon print and Kindle.

Barnes and Noble print and Nookbook.

I assume from there you can maneuver your way to The Superlative Stream, freehead.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Holly Heisey Covers the Dim Knight

Today closes out the building of the cover for Tales of the Dim Knight by Adam and Andrea Graham.

We were blessed to gain the painting skills of Holly Heisey for the final cover. She is a massively talented up-and-coming artist and writer. She specializes in digital painting, but she's wicked good at pen and ink and pencil drawing, too.

Holly told me she did the entire painting in Photoshop, start to finish. The first version was without helmet or gloves:

And then with the mask, like the one I had in my original drawing:

The problem is, Powerhouse wasn't wearing his helmet in the drawing I did because I was going for comical. If you look, you'll see I drew it so it appears that his helmet has fallen off and he's trying to reach down and grab it mid-flight:

But we LOVE Holly's rocking painting, so it's decided to go with that and just put his helmet and gloves on:

The final touch is adding the text. If you scroll up, you'll see there is text in the earlier drawings, but Grace Bridges (owner of Splashdown Books, if you haven't caught that yet) is a stickler about having the perfect text with her cover designs.

I got to be a part of that process, since Grace sent me images with the text in place asking for critique. The slightest adjustment can sometimes transform the text from "meh" to "just right!"

Again, here's the final cover:

See what teamwork can do? And of course the amazing talent of Holly Heisey. PLEASE visit her at her blog and check out more of her awesome artwork here.

Thank you, Holly! You rock! :D

Monday, January 10, 2011

Return to the Dim Knight

I keep my promises. We ARE back to our regularly scheduled art series today.

Since we took a little break, let me list the recap here of my previous posts:

And, that brings us back here. The second cover drawing for Tales of the Dim Knight by Adam and Andrea Graham.

Remember, we put together the drawing of Dave the mild-mannered janitor as he fought a battalion of mops, but it wasn't quite right for the cover. The authors, Adam and Andrea, really wanted to see Dave on the cover in full superhero garb--his "Powerhouse" costume, which they described in the book as a cross between Buzz Lightyear...

...and a Power Ranger.

Which meant me putting on my designer hat. I have never really designed a superhero suit! Maybe as a kid, but it was probably something Wonder Woman would have worn, and, um, I doubt Dave would have been too keen on that ;).

So, I began sketching:

Really rough. Body's out of proportion. Hair is bi-ig. No one is too happy with the fact that his helmet is off. I explain, however, that I can't figure out another way to make him comical. I tried. None of THOSE sketches went anywhere but the trashcan, though. The issue was that with his helmet on, I felt focused on the costume, which meant trying to make it look "cool." His suit isn't supposed to be stupid looking, but this IS a SPOOF. Everyone sees my line of reasoning, so they let me continue in this direction.

Here's an important point. Publishers don't slap cover images on at the last minute. It takes TIME. If you are a first-time writer, you have probably looked at the Writer's Market (that ginormous book that lists publishers and agents and all the known information about them) and seen that the publishers section lists the time it takes from acceptance to publication for many of them. You may have thought, "It takes THAT long???" Well, yeah. Editing, cover design, layout, tweaking. Publishing a book takes a lot of work.

It is VASTLY important to lay out enough time for these things. Grace came to me for this artwork while there was TIME to get it done, so we had wiggle room. I got to play with my ideas, while Grace, Adam and Andrea thought about what I was doing, came up with suggestions, and we worked together. Remember, though, this is SMALL PRESS. Big presses work very differently--in a big press the author may never even see the cover until it's on the final product. Or they might--but no guarantees.

So, I tweak the design--stretching the legs to the right length, taming the hair, designing a cool helmet (Andrea did call my helmet "awesome!").

Much cleaner, eh? This seems to be going the right direction for everyone now, and Grace does a mock-up cover that ends up being used the the sample chapters (which were available before the official book release).

But we were in for a surprise. Remember, there was still time before the release, and while this was fine for the sample book, and everyone was happy with my drawings, we ended up with the opportunity to utilize the artistic talents of someone else....someone with painting skills that added a new dimension to this cover.

Way different! But really, what this book needed. Rest assured, my drawings were used. As interior art--black and white, line drawings. And, of course, as a guide for the new cover artist in designing her version of Powerhouse's costume.

I'll give the full skinny on where the new cover image came from next time. It was a wonderful surprise--and in case you're worrying, no, I was not upset at being bumped from the cover. Teamwork is important, and I truly love the new cover art. My drawings work better, IMHO, as interior illustration anyway.

So, be prepared next time to meet the lovely and talented Holly Heisey....

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Another Pause

I know--this is the second interruption in two days. We're supposed to be continuing our series about my artwork for Tales of the Dim Knight! What's going on?

Well, as you saw yesterday, I was inducted into the New Authors' Fellowship. It all happened rather quickly, and I didn't initially put two and two together. As in, getting started there would mean REALLY getting started there, like right in the middle of THIS.

It's a worthwhile thing, though, don't you agree?

So, today I'm just directing you over THERE for my FIRST POST as an NAF member.

And next time, I promise, we'll be doing the art thing again.

Friday, January 7, 2011


Just a quick announcement. I've been added as the newest "Featured Author" on the New Authors' Fellowship blog.

If you're not familiar with NAF, they are a group of writers who originally got together during the 2009 Marcher Lord Select Premise Contest (more info on Marcher Lord Press here), although some have moved on and others in. Their goal is to encourage unpublished authors, especially those who are Christian and those who write speculative, but not limited to that. "Encouragement" isn't limiting.

Which means I have a world of choices when it comes to posts there. I hope I do them justice :). And I hope you'll join me on this adventure.

Here's the link to my introduction, by the lovely and talented Diane Graham, author of the unpublished, and beautifully written, I Am Ocilla.

And don't get any ideas--Diane's the only one who's ever gotten away with calling me "chicky."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

From Cover to Cover

This is going to be a nuts and bolts post for those of you interested in the process of getting a book cover together. Actually, it's going to span several posts. Hopefully, I can keep your interest through all of them.

Here goes.

A few weeks after doing the key drawing for the cover of The Duke's Handmaid, I received an email from Grace at Splashdown Books asking if I would be interested in another illustration project.

I said: "What ya need?"

The answer: "A superhero."

Not just any superhero, though. Powerhouse is the character in a superhero spoof, Tales of the Dim Knight by Adam and Andrea Graham. Grace sent me some excerpts from their book so I could get an idea of the description of the character, both in and out of costume.

I've never done animation work. I said I'd give it a shot, though, and started researching. I looked up images online, and checked out books from the library--Marvel Comics books and Manga drawing books.

At first I asked only a few questions and began sketching. I chose to start with a scene that occurs before the main character becomes Powerhouse. He's got powers at this point, but doesn't know anything about them. He's forced to find out quick, though, when he's attacked by a battalion of mops.

Oh, yeah, the main character, Dave, is a mild mannered janitor, of course. Superhero fan-boy, too. Who else would be chosen to save the world? ;)

My first sketches were rough, just to get the ideas flowing:

OK, he's facing the wrong way for being placed on the front cover, but Grace likes the overall layout. So I flip it, and add some detail.

That one is actually my favorite. I like that it's cleaned up, but the face is unfinished. We can't use it that way, though. He needs eyes and a mouth ;). The thing with doing this kind of artwork is that it's NOT for the artist, it's for the publisher and the authors. So I add features, which makes it more cartoonish and adds the right comical element.

We do a test version with color. Or rather, GRACE does the color. I don't have the software for that at the moment. I need to get it. Can't call myself a self-respecting artist without it. But good software is expensive, folks, and to be honest, Grace is the one who wants to set the colors anyway :). She rocks.

We all love the end result, but decide it's not quite right for the cover. Maybe the back, but not the main art on the front. And his hair's the wrong color. Oops ;). Easily fixed, but instead of moving forward with this one much more, we shift our focus to the idea of having Powerhouse on the front in full superhero garb.

And that, folks, will be the next post....

Saturday, January 1, 2011

An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

Ah, yes, I know it's New Year's Day. The world is filled with blog posts about resolutions and fresh starts and all that. As worthy as they are, my nonconformist nature won't let me post one of those. Not today--maybe on another day that has nothing to do with New Year's.

Nope, today it's all about beetles.

Oh, but wait--I said I'd be posting this time about my artwork. Well, yes, that's quite what I meant.

Remember that key on the cover of Caprice Hokstad's book, The Duke's Handmaid?

Part of my agreement with Grace from Splashdown Books was that I could retain partial rights to my drawing. In other words, in its singular form I would not resell it to anyone else, but I'm allowed to use it in my own artwork. So, I let the drawing sit for a while as I waited for inspiration.

That's where beetles come in. I love them. They are amazing examples of God's creativeness and love for variety. I have this book called An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles:

The prologue begins with:

Asked what could be inferred about the work of the Creator from a study of His works, the British scientist J.B.S. Haldane is reported to have replied, "an inordinate fondness for beetles."

To make a long story short, key becomes beetle.

And what goes with a key? A lock. Then take that lock-beetle and submit it to Digital Dragon Magazine....

And we've made the rounds back to published drawing! All because of my inordinate fondness for beetles.

Next time, more detail on the process of doing cover and interior art for books.