THIS POST IS ABOUT my process. Your mileage may vary. Hell, my mileage varies. This is not the entirety of my process; it’s not even the only approach I take to a given project. I may take a half-dozen approaches or more. And your process will reflect your character, your desires, your state of mind and emotion, and your blood levels of a caffeine. At least, it does in my case.
Creative projects often change directions like a drunken sailboat skipper sailing against the wind, looking for his keys — tack after tangent after reversal. No Less this one, the cover for my first-published novel, The High-T Affair, Book One of the Dolly Apocrypha arc of the Baby Troll Chronicles.
I have a welter of ideas running around in my head, like a bunch of bratty characters, each one trying to grab the wheel, all shouting at the tops of their lungs for my undivided attention so they can pitch their notion.
Makes it hard to pick just one. In fact, I’m toying with the notion (only one-sixteenth seriously) of doing them ALL and publishing them ALL and seeing which one sells best. Yes, the reasons not to do that are myriad and obvious, but nobody ever accused me of not wanting to have it all.
So, here is the first result. This is the pretty, so-I-can-show it off version. Click on the image here to see it larger. Click on the image that pops up to see it full size. I strongly advise you do both. You will be able to see just how clean the image is. This is very important. To quote everybody’s favorite goth lab geek, Abby Sciuto, there’s no substitute for quality source imagery. This image is as sharp and clean as it can be made. And, yet, I’ll wager that the resampled rendering by your web browser makes it look fuzzy and pixelated at some magnifications. Imagine what can be done with an image that starts OUT fuzzy and pixelated.
Why is this important? Well, I’ll tell ya. A lot of what pros learn to do with graphic imagery in product packaging and suchlike is subliminal. Not in the hidden messages kind of subliminal, but in the details that are important, but that nine out of ten people wouldn’t be able to pick out of an image. Despite that latter fact, those same nine will be able to say that something is off — though whether it’s a color mismatch, a bad mask, an out-of-focus image, a mix of high and low resolution in the same image (denoting bad compositing) — or whatever they may not be able to say exactly.
And these are the actual-size thumbnails that would show at Amazon — 300 pixels for the display on the book’s own listing page, 160 pixels for the results page of a search — however it is found — and 135px for the “suggestions” or “also-boughts.” There are smaller renderings, but these are enough to see how the thing “reads” at postage-stamp sizes.
For the reference of those following along at home, the original layout is 6×9, done in CorelDRAW (x6). The fonts are from DaFont — Motion Picture, and from my collection of licensed fonts from over the years — Onyx (a Monotype font) and Copperplate Gothic bold (this particular instance a URW font). (Most of my licenses have come with copies of CorelDRAW or Adobe Illustrator, but many have been purpose-bought for some project or another — or, just because I liked the face.)
The version of the Motion Picture script is licensed as free for personal use. Once I’ve settled on it for actual use, I will buy a commercial license from the foundry. At $60, it might seem a bit pricey, but, as I see it, an individualist libertarian has two moral choices — buy the thing at the price offered or don’t use it. Support your local (and global) type designers.
And, on that tack, let’s discuss fonts for a moment. Typeface designs are NOT copyrightable. Font programs are. That is, the shape of letters (glyphs), or a set of letters, are not protected by copyright law. In computer use, however, what is protected is the program code used to instruct the operating system’s rendering engine (including a printer’s marking engine) how to draw a glyph or a block of text on the screen or a marking drum for transfer to paper: the font file(s). What this means in technical terms is you can use a legally-licensed “font” program to set type, convert the type to curves, and none the wiser, the type is yours.
Where you may get into legal trouble is when you exceed the terms of the license. Typically, you may permanently install the font file on a set number of computer systems (desktop/workstation) and a single printer on a single site. Adobe’s licenses (with notable exceptions, see their EULA pages) permit a number of seats (5, 10, 20, et al), with a work-home allowance and ONE printer with a permanent download. (If you convert to curves on printing or only download on a per-job basis, there is no printer installation.) Note: YOU and ONLY you are responsible for ensuring that your practices are in compliance with the software licenses granted you. Read and understand the EULAs which accompany all software. If you install on more than the permitted number of systems, or egregiously pass font files hand-to-hand, you’re liable to be prosecuted for piracy and the penalties can get severe.
What this means in moral terms is something else altogether. A lot of type designers will license a font free for personal use. But this is manifestly a commercial situation, and this foundry has a requirement to buy a commercial license for such use. Not only that, but, like writers, type designers need to eat. Not only that, but their work benefits the world all out of proportion to the effort they put into it and they deserve to be compensated for this outsized contribution to the common weal. Also, we as individualist proponents of free markets and human commerce owe it to ourselves to behave in a manner consistent with our beliefs. It is the socialist who steals the property of another for the sake of convenience or need. We don’t do that. If you NEED something that belongs to another (and it is for sale), for God’s sake, PAY FOR IT! (Even if there’s not a price tag on it, donate to the designer. It can come back to you in myriad strange ways.)
And, in reality, fonts are cheap. Even the Motion Picture script used in the above examples, at $60 for a single font is dirt cheap. And, considering all the notionally free fonts we get bundled with our application software, tossing a Benjamin in the pot every once in awhile doesn’t seem too great a burden. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’re all poor and counting pennies to eat. Boo-hoo. Pay the five bucks, as the saying goes. It’ll do your karma good. In fact, even though I’m probably not going to use it (see below), I’m probably going to buy the Motion Picture font because it does look like a very useful script — good color, well-made, pleasing letterforms. And I just hate to have trial versions of software lying around because I never know when I might pick something up in the throes of creativity and forget I haven’t paid for it. Don’t want to risk that, so I — as a colleague says — cope ahead.
End of lecture on software licenses and karma.
The notion behind the design is a nod in the general direction of a current retro fad in design which harks back to deco-ish trademarks and print ads from the ’20s and ’30s. You can see lots of examples at sites like Emigre. Having taken it this far/fur, I may develop it farther/further, adding elements and rearranging what’s here to better suit the style. But my original notion (and this illustrates how the graphic design analogs of plot bunnies pop up) was to just get some idea of possible type arrangements so I could get a feel for how to make illustrations to fit. Those who’ve been following along may recall that I had some other notions earlier (and may still use some of them) — a silhouette of Dolly at the peak of being pleasured by Drummond; a model of a testosterone molecule (which is relevant for reasons exposited in the story); icons of Mexican Washingtonia palms, (also relevant for reasons to be found in the text); a 3D rendering of an “escape” ring, which plays a part in the plot. Choosing among them, arranging them in a coherent and unified design, and placing type (which itself must meet certain criteria of readability) over or around the images while still permitting them to “read” at some size (albeit probably not at thumbnail sizes) are all part of the design process, but it struck me as a possible first step that I could play with the type. And thus this tangent.
And, just to throw a little more confusion in the pot, we, as the customer, are going to reject the first draft design. First off, the use of three type faces violates a cardinal rule of design. This particular aesthetic fashion usually only permits two faces — a script and either a serif face or a sans-serif headline face. IF you want to get silly, of course, you can make your design look like a ransom note, with a different typeface for each character. But we’re serious, here, and — remember the bit above about details the layman may not spot, but will notice? — well, here’s one. So we want to regularize our type choices. Not only that, but the Motion Picture script is not really suited to the overall design aesthetic of the line, so the customer politely asks the designer to PLEASE use the designated script — Floridian Script — in the three-piece pattern established on our Web site (q.v.).
So, back under the designer hat, we bin the Copperplate and the Onyx, and we browse through our collection of type until we come across a well-designed headline face with several variants — Bodoni. And we set the title and other items in Bodoni variants and resubmit to the customer.
And then we step back and look at the piece. It’s been a long week and we’ve been pressed by multiple tight deadlines and we haven’t really had a lot of time to think. It’s just bang-bang-bang, one job after another. So a long session of just catching our breath and basking in the design seems called for.
And we realize we missed it entirely. This doesn’t say anything about the book. What it is is a cover announcing a book for rabid readers who are already looking for it. If it were trad-pubbed, there would be an inside second cover with a rich illustration on it. But we’re indy, this is a first novel by an unknown, and we need to put our best sell on the outside. If you didn’t know the series, this cover says more that this is a political non-fiction book, not an erotic science fantasy thriller. So, although we’ve got some clear notions about type, it’s going to be back to the drawing board on Monday.
And we sigh and shut down our work station in preparation for going home for the weekend.
Our next step is going to be playing with pictures — those images mentioned above, which provide symbols and hints as to our story and which should excite the prospective reader’s imagination and make him or her want to explore further.
But at least we have some notion of what the type might be. We may abandon it altogether. We may warp it beyond all recognition. Or we may layer and meld it together with the pictorial imagery.
But what we no longer have is a blank screen. Before today, we’ve had inchoate notions and stray fantasy images. Today, we’ve made an start on our design.
My intent is to work next on imagery. But I have this tendency to … squirrel! … so we’ll see. And you know what that means.