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Anatomy of a Cover

If you’re on the FB page, or following my Twitter, you probably already heard the news. Well done, you. For those out of the loop, a repeat performance: FINISHED THE COVER TO THE LEXICON CALOPA! BOOM, BABY!


And, since I’ve not done one of these in what seems like forever, I though it would be nice to kick off Thanksgiving with a Feast of Process that breaks down the cover’s creation. I saved shots of the process as I was going along, and while this is by no means a tutorial or absolute step-by-step, it is at least a glance into the overall careening train of thought that drove the work.

Let’s begin, shall we? We shall.


At this point, I had narrowed down design from two concepts, and spent a couple of days pouring through a small library’s worth of heavy machinery pics. I knew the main base for this was going to be photomanipulation, so I did a lot of the grunt work in another file to basically create a digital crate of all the “parts” I wanted to use.

Pieces were assembled, edited, or cut to size there before I brought them into the cover canvas. At this stage, the “Eternal Gear” symbol is a placeholder for blocking needs.


I start establishing just how many layers of stuff I’ll need to get the picture together, and I stay in black and white here for a value pass. All told, there are 6 “layers” made up of over thirty individual pieces to create the initial scene.


Starting to shape up, though as you will see in later pics there were some ideas for the background that I ended up changing on the fly to make it look a bit more interesting. At this point, even though I’m working in B&W for the value pass, I’m starting to entertain the idea of a spot-color piece. More on that later on.


Comp stage complete. I’m liking the setup, it holds up to my scrutiny, and it’s still giving me plenty of room for things like author name, title, and etc. But, it’s also a muddy mess in terms of being too busy and flat. Time to fix that…


That’s getting there, but there’s more painting to do. Like prop building, half of photomanipulation is all about “hiding the crimes”.

Better. You can also see in the background where I had a change of heart, and added more machinery for something more interesting to break up that space. I’ve also added some lighting, and instrumentation on the panel to spice things up.

Now, fun fact, the gold “Eternal Gear” you see there is the same one that was used on the second edition of The Rhyme of the Golden Aegis. I keep it in a file for later use. I hoard. Don’t judge.

But then I had an idea to take things in a new direction…


Like the character it symbolizes, I wanted the gear to have the look of something that might have been beautiful once, but turned over the years. So I went with oxidized copper. What you’re seeing here is a texture that I made from five other textures ranging from flawless hammered copper sheets to straight-up shipyard scrap. I put it all together and slapped it on the gear in a different file before dropping it into place.

But that flat shape won’t do. *cracks knuckles* Paint time.


Ooh. Looking tasty.


Much better. Now, remember that spot color idea I mentioned earlier? At this point, I ran with it. For those wondering, “spot color” means a black and white image where one item in it has full color.

Anyway, at this point I actually did a full pass with the spot color idea. Effects, lighting, final tweaks. Given that I was sleep-deprived and a bit tunnel visioned, I sent it off to my wife to get her opinion on it. She came back with “I want to see it in color. Might be too busy for black and white.”

As you wish, Katy…


Per the norm, she was right. So, after painting in some color and tweaking values, it was high time to breathe some life and light into this bad boy.

Time to hit that switch, Igor.


Some people pay crazy sums to get lofts with this kind of natural light. I, being largely broke, prefer my Wacom tablet and a digital airbrush.

Now, I’m pretty pleased with that, but there’s a couple more steps necessary to tie things together…


Mainly smoke, steam, additional light sources, and painting in where those other lights are hitting. Throw in another layer of dramatic shadow, and you got yourself an impressive machine that’ll hopefully entice the viewer to pick up the book, and dive into the world that created it.

And with that, Happy Thanksgiving! I’m off to destroy what meager diet I had been sticking to, and then it’s back to work finalizing things so that this book can make its debut on December first.

That’s all from me for now.
Until next time, Horns Up.

Want to help keep this content flowing? Consider supporting my Patreon! You get stuff, and I get to keep eating. Win-win.


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