E.M. Prazeman (emprazeman) wrote,
E.M. Prazeman

Beautiful Things

It's not quite spring yet, but I can feel it coming in the air. When I go out to the barn to feed the goats, chickens and barn cats, there's an ease in the atmosphere that wasn't there before. I can see it, too. Chionodoxa (glory-in-the-snow) and tulips are emerging, and my earliest daffodils are already tall, though they won't open for a while. There's some new green pushing through the old, tired grass that's been hammered by the winter weather. The goats have been leaving the barn and upper field to look for forage in the lower fields, though they aren't finding much yet. Robins have arrived. The songbirds have started hunting about for nesting sites, and some have been staked out, though I don't think there's much building going on yet. The crisp scent of snow has been replaced by the waking earthiness of soil not quite ready to be turned for planting yet. The rivers are full, the streams are wild. We'll get more snow, but it'll run off right away. Right now the sky is platinum and steel, but later today we'll have that distinct, white sun that blazes in springtime, so sharp that sometimes it feels like it cuts.

I've been battling a cold for a little over a week. My brain is finally coming back from it enough to start to work again. I wish that sickness didn't affect me this much. How perfect would it be to sit in bed, tea delivered at regular intervals, typing away on projects with only brief pauses to cough, or use a kleenex. Instead of an outdoor break or a meal break, I might nap. In reality I sit restlessly, sorting through emails in a bleary haze, forced to reread sentences that are blurred by fever or exhaustion caused by an inability to sleep for more than a few hours at a stretch. In nine days I feel like I've fallen behind a month. I'm not sure how that's possible, but I'm sure it's the case.

So today I'm ready to get something real done. I've already been up for three hours (woke at 5am) and I've gotten some writing done, as well as a bit of housework. I'm particularly eager for the jeans tumbling in the dryer right now. I'm ready for a nap, but I'm not frustrated. As sleepy as I feel right now, I'm still more alert than I have been for days. It'll feel good to wear real clothes, feel good to feel clean instead of slouching around in pajamas, feeling dirty no matter how many baths or showers I take.

Yes, I was at Radcon and yes, that's where I caught this cold. Totally worth it! I was part of an excellent panel on cover design, one on diversity in fandom, and one on historical fiction. The cover design panel was a bit awkward at times. Two of the panelists ... well, they didn't have as much experience with cover design and illustration, and I wasn't the best moderator in that I wasn't able to find as many ways to include them in the discussion as I would have liked. But hopefully a good time was had by all.

Cover design is so, so important. Right now I'm re-reading Elements of Graphic Design by Alex White, and it feels like I've forgotten more of this book than I remember. What's really going on, I suspect, is that I've been looking at cover design for long enough that more of the book is making sense to me than it did before. Authors that purchase their covers from professionals still have to know design principles so that they know what they're getting, and so they can work with the designers more effectively. Besides, how can you truly tell a good cover from a bad one unless you've looked at design principles? It's too hard to tell if you're having a positive response to the overall design, or just the typography, or just the color scheme, or the illustration ...

The other day, while I was too sick to do much more than stare at the screen, I went looking through some sites with premade covers. I was doing that partly because I wanted to recommend some good ones for friends who were looking for inexpensive alternatives to custom covers, and partly because if I found a good one I wanted to buy it and use it as a prompt for a stand-alone novella. I came across a really stunning knight in armor ... but the typography was almost illegible against all that contrast of dark, highly textured grays and pale highlights on the armor. I looked at the terms for the cover and, as is very usual, you end up with a jpeg rather than a psd file, non-negotiable. Which makes sense. The reason given was that unless you owned the same fonts, you wouldn't be able to apply the typography yourself anyway. I would use my own, but mainly I wanted to take that armored background and apply some Curves actions to reduce those highlights as much as possible. (I probably would have added in some color to the background and highlights and deepest shadows as well, because I'm like that.) Unfortunately, that wasn't an option.

That's an example of having a strong positive response to a flawed cover design. Don't get me wrong: the designer had done an excellent job of mitigating some of the negative aspects of the image, and the typography was about as strong as it could be under the circumstances. I just knew how to make the cover work better, to take it up a step. Also, the changes I would have made would have taken a stock photo and altered it enough that it wouldn't necessarily be confused with another book that used the same stock photo. (This happens a lot in fantasy and science fiction, as there isn't nearly enough suitable stock photography or genre art out there.)

Until you become aware of this sort of thing, and aware of the possibilities available in graphic design, how in the world can you expect new authors considering self-publication to understand the ins and outs of cover design?

Anyway, inspired by my hunt through those premade cover sites, I ended up buying five new graphic design books, as one does when one is obsessed with beautiful things. In the process I came across a really neat book for people who aren't in it to make money, but want to make beautiful things. Since I couldn't justify it as a business purchase, I gave it a pass this round, but the book is now on my wish list. Maybe I'll get it for my birthday. The book is:

The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering

You'll want to buy some art chalk at the same time as the book, because the book has chalk surfaces on which to practice! It's really well reviewed, and the sort of thing that I know I would love.

You're welcome.

If you're interested in buying the lettering book and don't mind going through my affiliate link click here:

Tags: cover, design, inspiration
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