So I sort of have a ridiculous amount of jobs. I’m a high school student, a college student, a literary agent assistant, an indie author, a traditionally-represented author, a staff writer for Germ Magazine, and a cover designer. Sounds insane? That’s because it is. I rarely have free time, so when I feel the need to relax, I try to find outlets within my jobs. Usually it’s through writing, but sometimes it’s digital design that really lets me relax.

I started digital design around three years ago when I was just fiddling around in MS Paint and trying to make a book cover. I soon got really hooked on a type of design called “photomanipulation.” Photomanipulation is the process of taking a bunch of different photos and melding them together into one image. Soon I graduated from MS Paint to Adobe Photoshop CS5, and I’ve been designing professionally for the past year.

So how does one do a photomanipulation? Well, that’s what I’m going to show you. About a year ago, I had to create a cover for my own novel, FROST FIRE. I self-published it last November and decided to do the cover art on my own. Below is a step-by-step explanation of how I created my cover:


1. I started off with these seven images and image sets (a.k.a. brush sets). As you can see, they’re all very different, and none of them alone would make a good cover. Before I even got started, I had to prepare all stock photos: buy them, crop them, resize them, remove blemishes, download image sets, etc. (If you look closely, the model actually started with a beard. Yes, a beard. I had to completely repaint his face to get rid of it.)



2. Okay, with all of my stock bought, sized right, made blemish free, and de-bearded, I was ready to start on the actual cover creation. As usual, I began with a background:

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3.  Now this was already a pretty moody picture, but I wanted it dark and dangerous looking. After all, my main character is a dark and dangerous guy. So, with a little work using blending modes, I darkened the mood even more.

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4. At this point, I was ready to add in the de-bearded model (who, in this lighting, now appears to be floating and have a horrific sunburn. Eeek!).

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5.  Now, it’s just not sexy to have a cover model running around with a sunburn, so I had to take care of that. I also made his skin darker and a little less colorful. Again, he needed to fit the mood of the cover. In the novel, this character has black hair, which ended up being perfect for the cover. By changing the model’s hair color, I also darkened the mood just a bit more.

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6. Next, I added the main set of wings. These wings were originally facing forward, so I had to warp them to get them to look sideways-ish. I also added a tint of red to the wings, because red is a color with dark implications.

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7. Now it was time to add the finishing touches to the wings, so they didn’t just look stuck on. First, I added a smaller set of wings. Then I painted shadows and smoke to help hide the stuck-on look. The shadows and smoke, once again, also darkened the mood. I also added a tattoo to the model’s right arm. It’s hardly noticeable, but it plays a part in the book, so I thought it had to be there.

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8. Now it was time to add some detail to the background. The book features magic, so I added some glowing elements on the stone columns and more mysterious smoke. I also added some more shadows and smoke around the model’s feet to make sure it didn’t look like he was floating.

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9. Now for the typography, or book title and author’s name. I added some flourishes and glow to make the font stand out. And, just like that, the cover was done!

Below is the final image that was used in publication:

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In total, this cover took me over 20 hours to create; but, I managed to combine seven images into one piece of artwork, and this cover has convinced thousands of people to download my novel. Even though the design process was painful at times, it was a very fun experience.

What are your thoughts on the cover for FROST FIRE? Have you ever tried designing a book cover? And what do you think of the whole photo-manipulation process?

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