(Not Really) Secrets of the Trade: Covers, Part Three – Manipulation

Inside The Torre De Cemare

Image manipulation–the bane of every graphic artist’s existence.  Of course, it would all be so much simpler if every image was perfect out of the proverbial box, if you could just find exactly what you’re looking for and use it.  No fuss, no hassle, no sweat.

Nothing in life is ever that easy.  The sad fact of the matter is that, when someone asks, “Can you just recolor this head of frizzy hair, change out the background, make this person have wings, and change the lighting from bright daylight to new-moon midnight?” the answer is yes, it can be done.  The question then becomes, how much time do you want to spend doing all of that?

Changing an image takes time, which is why it’s always best to have to change as little as possible.  I have the unfortunate habit of finding images in which I love the pose, or the emotion, or the overall composition more than some of the other aspects.  Then a cover concept comes together in my head for which only one of those lovely images will suffice.  The rational, practical side of my brain smacks me upside the head, complaining that the colors are all wrong, the background is completely unusable, and it will take hours to make it work.  The creative side of my brain just smirks, takes a battle-ready stance, and beckons confidently.  Bring it on.

The character shot above is of Deven Mathai, one of the main characters of my upcoming book, The Pirate Prince.  If you read the post on stock imagery, then you’ll recognize the same background and sword image that I used for Kavian’s character shot.  The sword is a unifying image for the series as a whole, and that background is representative of that particular book.

Let me show you where the image of Deven himself started:


It was the eyes.  The overall mood.  The knightly theme.  Background?  Easy to obliterate.  Colors?  All.  Freaking.  Wrong.  Knights of Sehaann wear black leather armor.  Those of the Royal Guard, of which Deven is the captain, have uniforms trimmed in royal purple.  There’s not a stitch of black or purple in that base image.  *headdesk*

Other than the color of the armor (and of the hair), it’s the image that I want for the cover.  Obviously, I bought it and used it.  And I recolored it.  The hair was easy enough.  You can fudge hair a bit, especially going from brown to black.  All of those glorious metal accents, though…  I wanted them.

And so, the recoloring began.  Layers, my friends.  Layers.  There are four of them in my Photoshop file for Deven, and each of them is masked.  That way, if I discover that I missed coloring something or a boundary needs a bit of tweaking, I can fix it easily and not destroy my base image.  The first layer takes care of that background.  Then three hue/saturation adjustment layer masks–one for hair, one for the black, and one for the purple.  I won’t do a tutorial because here is the one that I used to learn how to do this.  It’s not hard, just time-consuming.  If you have a digital drawing tablet, it will come in very handy for this.

I also used this technique for Teagan:

Redhead Warrior

And Kavian:

Young muscular man.

Suffice it to say, I’m not afraid of recoloring.  If everything else in the image is something that I want or can work with, then I’ll go for it.  I hold the opinion that pretty much anything can be changed if you have the time and patience to do it.


I’ll toss out one more point of advice on this…  I was a bit easier on myself for the covers for my Firebend series.  Those characters were all new, as opposed to the ones that I’d established years and years ago for Legend of the Grimoire, some of which crossed over into Knights of Sehaann.

For Firebend, I did my cover image search when I was still writing the first book.  I found the image that I wanted to use and… changed the character descriptions in the book.  Those covers were slightly easier for me to put together because I didn’t have to make the image fit my characters.  I fit the characters to the image.  I couldn’t do that for my other series.  That said, if I fall in love with an image that’s almost perfect, I’ll still make it into what I want.

Because I want to.  Because I can.  And because I’m a perfectionist with a customization complex who just can’t leave well enough alone.


4 thoughts on “(Not Really) Secrets of the Trade: Covers, Part Three – Manipulation

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