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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Anatomy of a cover (All About Nikki Cover Sneak Preview)

Covers take a lot of work. Almost as much work as writing the book.
To let readers see how much work I do to design a cover, I’m going to take them step-by-step through the process.

This was the cover I originally teased for All About Nikki and what made the Lulu test copy. Originally, I wanted to use this as a final cover because it contrasted All About Marilyn’s nude cover. But the design is really bland, uninspired, and the composition is stiff. I was trying to evoke a younger Marilyn Marie in the design, but she looks OLD and matronly. I always felt I could do better.

As I was writing All About Nikki, Nikki Desmond became her own character. And reading through the finished book in revisions, I felt she warranted her own unique and distinct cover design from Marilyn’s. So I went back to the drawing board and designed a new abstract concept in my head.

The theme for the All About Nikki Cover is Super luxury. When I was designing Nikki’s cover I was inspired by the Tiffany Catalog and Cartier Diamonds and I wanted those themes to reflect in the art. Nikki’s a rich sophisticate from the 90’s, and she needed a pose that was formal, but with an attitude.

Since I wasn’t feeling Marilyn’s pose on Nikki, I went over to (WARNING NUDITY!) and went through the art models until I spotted Trisha. The Trisha 010 pose had the attitude I was looking for. Bought it, downloaded it, and studied it. Roughed out a sketch of what I saw in my head:

Just some basic lines roughed out to get the composition right. Then added some details:

To finish out the pencils. Nikki is supposed to be a 1990’s sophisticated sista, so I studied a bunch of reference pictures of Hilary Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Actress Mari Morrow, and Cher and Dionne from Clueless, Chanel Suits, and other stuff from the early-mid 1990’s. From those pics I gave Nikki got a 1990’s styled suit (actually saw this one in a Spiegel Catalog) along with the curly natural hairstyle Hilary wore in early episodes of Fresh Prince. When I was happy with the pencils, I move on to inks with a ballpoint pen then scan it up and it looks like this:
A pic of clean lines that show up strong on a scan. From here I do Photoshop work to clean up any stray lines, ink spots, or smudges on the drawing. (Oh man does this stuff show up on scans and it DRIVES ME CRAZY!) Sometimes I zoom in to 1200% so I go deep into the pixels to clean up these blemishes. Then I print up some copies on a laser printer and do my coloring work.

One of the things Shawn has learned about designing covers is to NEVER COLOR ORIGINALS! If a mistake is made, there’s no way of fixing it! On color models I do about two or three to test out different color combinations:

The navy and black hair was nice, but Not really Nikki for me. More Marilyn Marie goes to Church. The colors on the French blue with the auburn hair SCREAM Nikki Desmond for me. Plus the auburn hair really plays off the French blue suit and makes the art pop! And those white High heels are so late 80’s-early 90’s!

With the figure colored it’s back to the scanner for four or five scans. That’s right four or five. When scanning you need a BACKUP. Sometimes a JPEG gets corrupted, sometimes you mess up a file and can’t undo, stuff happens. A backup keeps you from losing your mind.

With the art scanned in it’s on to Photoshop. Magic Wand takes away the white background from the paper and leaves me with a clear figure:

Which is cleaned up in Photoshop. Smudge marks and uneven color in the suit are clone stamped into uniformity, stray lines blended in or erased and then our figure is transposed onto a new colored background using the Place command. Shawn Can’t use Tiffany Blue, because it’s trademarked. But since this is a 90’s motif,

Shoulda watermarked this. But the pic is really small and low res.
 He’s going with a teal/Cyan color. Teal was one of THE colors in the 1990’s along with French Blue. It was on everything from basketball jerseys to T-shirts, coffee mugs, you name it. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing teal in the 90’s. Plus it kinda fits within the Tiffany/Cartier/Chanel theme I’m going for.

White bars for the title are added at this stage and the title is added. They’re almost transparent to show the contrast between Marilyn and Nikki’s stories. Nikki’s a kid who wants to show herself and make a statement. We see her whole body on the cover because the book is ALL ABOUT HER.

A few mods are done from here for the final:

While I like the black letters I don’t feel they’re not very strong. They don’t really grab me like the white ones do. And they kinda break away from the four-color theme I use on most of my covers I only use four colors. So I’m experimenting with White letters to stay within that theme. (Trying to make that O show up under her shirt)

I really like this art so it's probably gonna be final art for the front cover. Crossing my fingers that it passes through Lightning Source with no problems.

Now the back cover…Well, that’s another story!

With the front cover done and the text edited, I'm hoping to get All About Nikki out by this June. Stay tuned for details on the release!


Saturday's blog will reveal the All About Marilyn Easter eggs!


  1. Thanks. This was a great tour of your thoughts and actions while lining up that stupendous cover for All About Marilyn. It's just great, one of my favorites, and you can accept as a wonderful compliment the gripes and the complaints about the lady. Shawn, I simply hope you will develop your artistic talent to the nth degree because it's that good. I've studied art all my adult life and lived in museums as a child, so I think I know a bit whereof I speak.

    Looking forward to the next blog.

  2. Shawn, I agree with Francine! And I love that your cover art is your own! You have a distinct style and I like how you worked the cover to be complimentary to the first book, seeing as the story is about the same character. I just love it!