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Collage

How I Design a Book Cover

Book cover to Dolphin Princess, #1

Whenever I show off my self-published book (either with a physical contributor's copy, or by showing a screenshot of the book on sale through Barnes and Noble), people will tell me how great the book cover is. And I would smile and think to myself: Yep! I can not only write, but also draw!

Now, drawing wasn't my first choice when it came to what I wanted to be when I grew up (writing was my first choice, so drawing was my second). Also, when it comes to drawing, I tend to draw in a cartoony style rather than a realistic one (if there was a point where I could draw realistically, then that would be a step up).

I remember drawing comics during middle school and high school, because not only was it fun to do, but it also kept me going—believe me, high school was brutal. While people either got laid or plotted to skip school, I would spend my lunches and free time drawing. There would even be times when I wanted to live in a fictional world rather than this one because of how bad things were at school—I didn't have many friends, no one dated me, and worse... I was the shyest person that you would ever meet in that school. That was how bad it was. 

As time went on, I got into more and more books (in fact, the school library was my sanctuary during high school). And eventually, I started drafting a novel. Well, the novel, at the time, was different from what I have now; but it was a suitable start.

Once I started going to college, I decided to really evaluate my ideas, to decide what I really wanted to write about. I eventually settled on a story about a young woman who was meant to be a dolphin and of royalty. So, the story of Dolphin Princess was born during my time in college (a trip to the Texas State Aquarium, where I watched dolphins, was the huge chunk that contributed to this idea).

How I Got Acquainted with Collage

So, you might be asking: "Okay, you had an idea for a book... but what about collage? How did you learn to do that?"

Well, during that same time that I was in college (by then, it was either my third or fourth year as an undergraduate), I had taken an art class on different media (drawing, charcoal, etc.), and collage was one of them. And in that art class, I found out that I was good at collage.

The instructor had us work on a project that paid homage to an artwork from a book that we were to find at the school's library. The idea behind this project was to create a rendition of that artwork by using media other than what the original artwork had used. For example, if the original artwork was made with oil paints, then you might use instead, say, watercolors and/or markers. 

I remember doing a rendition of a painting that had a vase with a bunch of flowers, and the painting had a gray backdrop; and I remember the original artwork was done in oil paints. But with my rendition, I had used acrylic paints, construction paper, markers, and colored pencils (Yeah, the teacher said we could use as many types of media as we wanted). So, I was impressed by how good I was with collage.

With collage, it's like you're trying to fit pieces of a puzzle, except the pieces are actually the type of media you're using.

Publishing Dilemma...

I was in graduate school when I started looking for publishers that would be interested in my book, and coming up with a book cover didn't cross my mind at all at that time.

But it wasn't until I had graduated grad school (about three years later) when I had found Barnes and Noble Press. Sure, this wasn't what I have envisioned... originally, I wanted to have a book deal with either Scholastic or Disney Hyperion (both of which you definitely needed a literary agent—NO EXCEPTIONS!!!), but sending them a manuscript by mail would've taken a lot of time, a lot of money (which I didn't have much of), and a lot of resources (my one printer at home is very small—not book-printing-worthy). Also, I was against self-publishing at the time, because I knew that there were scams out there. But then, Barnes and Noble became my saving grace when they had advertised on their website that they had a self-publishing program.

So, I set up my credentials for the book and had to go back and make necessary changes to the book (esp. formatting). And then, it came time to set the cover art. That was when I had to act upon it—I needed cover art. 

I had a thick poster board that I hadn't used yet and I had pencils and erasers. But when I was drawing what I wanted my book cover to look like, I decided against coloring it, because how would that possibly stand up when I take a screenshot of it and turned it into a PDF?

But then, for some reason, I was looking through my magazines (I think I was getting rid of some the magazines, because they were taking up space in my room), and that... again, for some reason... gave me the idea of collage. That had to be a brilliant alternative to painting or coloring, because it would stand out a whole lot on the computer and all I would have to do is retouch it a bit, not a whole lot.

Manuscript Meets Cover Art

First Step: Drawing

So, I already had an idea on what I wanted for the cover art since I had drawn it out on the poster board. And then, it came time to pick out the colors, or the pieces of magazine pages that I would cut up to collect my shades of blue, purple, etc. Once I cut up the colors to make them fit like puzzle pieces on the board, I would glue them down (now, for the gluing part, I had to wear a type of mask so that I wouldn't inhale too much of the fumes from the Elmer's glue).

Second Step: Adding the magazine paper (collage)

I remember sitting there at my work bench (or a folding table), and seeing how extraordinary my artwork was becoming.

The artwork BEFORE the retouching...

So, that part of the project had taken well over a week or so to complete. And then it was time to retouch it on the computer.

Retouching the artwork on Microsoft Paint

This part had to be the easiest, because you're using the stylus to either detail smaller parts (like our dolphin character), blending colors so that you don't see the rectangular pieces of paper standing out, or putting more color and shadows to objects (like the cavern that you see the giant eel being around).

And once the retouching is done, all you have to do is add the book title and the author... yours truly. And then, you convert the file into a PDF and upload it to Barnes and Noble Press. 

Manuscript and Cover Art... in the Flesh

Hardcover (on LEFT) and paperback (on RIGHT)

I remember being so excited when my own copy of the book had arrived in the mail. As I held the book in my hands, I was very happy. This was my creation... one that I had worked countless hours and days (and, I believe, years) on; and the book was finally a reality. I especially loved how the artwork had turned out. The cover was so beautiful to look at. Who would think that this had came from collage (but there you go)? 

Write, Collage, Publish, Repeat...

Working on Cover Art to my second book...

So now, I have a set routine whenever I want to self-publish a book. I can totally see collage as a catalyst to something like a book cover. I see it as a way of showing people what your book is going to be about.

Retouching the cover for Book 2...

I eventually did the same thing with my second book, Dolphin Princess: The Crown of Valeria, and the end result was amazing.

Cover for Book 2 (FINAL)

I never thought that collage could make publishing a book so much fun. But it did. And I'm proud to showcase art along with my writing.