Ruminations on Cover Art


Cover illustration is probably why I got into drawing. That and a being the jewish kid that went to Catholic school, but I digress.

Twenty years of back issues of Fantasy and Science fiction magazine that my father stored in the basement gave me a good introduction to cover art. My natural predisposition to Fantasy, Sci-fi, and History meant that I got exposed to different styles and levels of quality as well, although I do remember a brief period of where I thought that embossed lettering on the cover denoted a 'grown-up' book. (Dad was reading Elric, Mom was reading a long forgotten romance novel, it was a logical conclusion at the time.)

Good cover art is hard as hell, which is perhaps why I've shyed away from attempting it myself. Bad cover art is much easier. Bad cover art is usually bad because it is either too specific, or too general. The generic romance novel is a good example of both overly specific and overly general Badness. Specific Bad is often either a romantically entwined pair (perhaps a swatch of tartan if the story is scottishly inclined) or a moodily framed main character. Covers that focus on the main character(s) hamper the reader's ability to imagine the characters, making it more difficult to identify with them. Additionally, character focused art is often very static, with no movement or hint as to the plot. There is also a second variety of too specific; the dreaded scene-based cover art. Illustrating a specific scene blindsides the reader with imagery when they come across the illustrated scene, while the rest of the story is only loosely visually defined. Illustrating a moment of plot has the effect of cranking up the volume to painful levels for a count of three, and then turning it back down. This kind of art is particularly popular however, because it is easy to do, and otherwise often meets the requirements of good cover art. On the other end of the scale, there are the covers with text, a rumpled sheet, and a rose, or some approximation thereof. These are Bad through being overly general, although I find them more palatable than the overly specific variety of Bad.

Good cover art is not Bad, while also being artistically sound, possessing an interesting visual layout, and not being derivative. Anybody can do that, right?

The art for this week is, as you may have guessed, meant to be cover art. Due to it's specificity and layout, this art is much better suited to a short story than a novel. There's not a lot of room in this image for anything to move, which in a way means that not much can happen. In art, space is equated not only with motion, but with time. (If you really want an explanation of why this is, ask Scott McCloud.) Additionally, the figure is very specific, with details that might get in a reader's way. She does at least have some degree of character, however, which puts this illustration a step above the Bad where characters on the cover are little better than vehicles for primary emotions. (Fear, lust, surprise, ect.) Were I to make a second draft, I would turn the figure, and make her more of a silhouette to cut down on the details. Also, I would move the houses back a bit and space them out more, to allow for more time to pass. All and all however, I am rather pleased, and not only because I seem to have figured out how to do faces in Photoshop.