The Picture Tells a Story

Image of Cover Art Concept

Introduction

The following blog attempts to define the correlation between images and thoughts and how this correlation manifests itself in my writing process. The inspiration for this blog was a result of a pulp fiction cover art generator I saw posted on the social network.

Table of Contents

Images


As far back as I can remember I’ve had a profound interest in graphics and illustrations and I’ve always been fascinated by the observation of artistic abilities.

I can recall contemplating a book or magazine that had dynamic artwork on the cover and studying the shapes and forms. As I examined the images a chemical response was triggered in my brain; thoughts were formed and were woven into crude stories.

An early primitive grasp of the image–mind connection became apparent as I was watching a type of cartoon that had an offscreen artist constantly erasing and redrawing a character. Each new drawing would define the character in a new setting or situation; with a few deft strokes of the pencil by the artist, the character would have to adapt to a unique set of circumstances.

As I grew older and I was exposed to motion pictures and television that depicted various types of mechanized warfare. I was fascinated by the vintage World War I biplanes and the close quarters aerial dogfights. My father was a highly skilled statue cutter and sketch artist. I would bring him a piece of paper and a pencil and ask him to draw a biplane.

Each drawing my father made was slightly different from the previous one: some were single seat biplanes, some were two-seaters with rear mounted machine guns, some were triplanes straight out of the The Flying Circus.

Eventually I learned to read and I developed an interest in the content of the books. It became apparent that the cover art of a book didn’t guarantee that the material between the back and the front would live up to the outward face.

The differentiation between the cover and the content led to an appreciation of the artwork because of the immediate response invoked and an appreciation of the story material because of the imagery induced or edification provided.

It is the present day now and I’ve started to fulfill a lifelong ambition—writing fiction and actually seeing it published—the eBook and the independent publishing platform have provided the means to reach this goal.

Being an “Indie” and on a shoestring budget—in my case a broken flip–flop budget—is challenging in both creative and technical aspects.

The story must be roughed out, drafted, revised, edited, and proofread several times. The cover art must be roughed out, visual elements created or collected and the composition must be refined until the image defines the content of the story. When these elements finally mesh, the completed manuscript and cover graphic must be prepared and validated for the .epub format. That’s a simplified explanation of a fairly complex process.

The concept of cover art has taken on new dimensions as I move forward in the independent publishing platform—I must construct images that provide an insight into the content of the story.


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Storytelling


The Cave Drawing of Altamira
The Cave Paintings of Altamira

When the artists of the Upper Paleolithic age painted the walls of the 300 meter cave at Altamira, what were they attempting to convey? Do the rock paintings of wild mammals and images of human hands tell some kind of story?

The concept of a huge cave that is lined with drawings is compelling and fascinating. Perhaps the cave was a library and the drawings represented chronicles of events that had been handed down for generations.

Visitors to the cave would pass by the paintings, choose one, a person that knew the narrative related to the painting would be summoned and that person would tell the story. The wild animals may have represented the outcome of a successful hunting party and the simple pleasure of having a supply of meat to temporarily alleviate the hunger or feeling the warmth of a fire on a cold winter night. Perhaps the human hands represented the first person that knew the story relating to a particular—an early system of categorizing.

The paintings and illustrations of Frank Frazetta usually depict muscular men, voluptuous women and fierce animals in dynamic poses that convey action and have an almost primitive quality that I see in the Altamira paintings.

Frazetta’s amazing book cover art has achieved iconic status over the years, however, Frazetta’s artwork has doesn’t convey the contents of the books. Frazetta said he never read the books and he didn’t think any of the people who bought them read them. I bought the complete Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs and read each one several times; I was 13 years old and I’d worked for the money to buy the series by mowing lawns. I was determined to get my money’s worth.

Now it is my opportunity to depict the content of what I’ve written to a potential purchaser by creating an image for the cover that might invoke a response to look further into the story.


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The Composite


The method I’m going to use to build cover art will be through compositing: the process of combining elements from several sources into single scenes to create the illusion that the combined elements are part of the same scene. My lack of artistic ability and natural talent dictate this procedure.

A background in vector graphics and visual effects has provided me with the skills to efficiently  select, extract and combine different elements of images. I suppose my lack of talent is offset by my technical skills.

I’ve pondered enrolling in art classes or devoting time to increasing my 3D modeling skills and after careful consideration I’ve reached the conclusion to concentrate on what I already know how to do. The creative writing process is the primary objective and must remain the primary focus—as long as the image that is uploaded for cover art isn’t rejected—I’ve accomplished my goal.

The image at the beginning of this article is an example of a composite I prepared using photographic elements. A technical breakdown of the process is outlined in a supporting post entitled Image Construction.

Perhaps the elements of this composite could represent some kind of military cover up revolving around an underwater nuclear power plant and the strange radioactive creatures that inhabit the surrounding waters.


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The Icon


At one time the Icon was used to represent a religious work of art primarily used in Eastern Christianity. In recent years the word has reached a broader definition and it is used to define an image that has become associated with some significant meaning: a name, a face, an image, a logo, or, a well-known person.

The computer has put the Icon on our screens and we rely on it for guidance as we perform a myriad of virtual tasks every day. The small images provide us with a visual que and provide feedback as to the function of the represented objects.

When a user visits an eBook retailing website, they are presented with listings of books with scaled down Icon style images of the covers. It’s important to be able to see the graphic and the text should be readable in order to create the all important first impression—it’s like the tiny doorway to the book—encourage the reader to open and look inside.


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Conclusion


The preceding article has outlined my strategy for cover art development. I have a clear view of my goal—like a target on a firing range—I’m confident in my skills as a compositor to set the arrow in place, draw the bow back, line up the center portion of the target against my cheekbone, release the arrow and watch it fly.


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Author: Mark Philipson

Using WordPress tools to categorize, organize and deploy ideas related to future projects.

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