Category: Graphic Art Perspectives

Custom Covers & the Professional Graphic Artist

UPDATE 2019: What was true when I posted this in 2016 no longer applies. Now, because of changes in the market, self-published authors want their covers to look as professional as possible, though, I admit, there are still a few who stand by their guns of wanting the look less than polished.

GldBallsCrp2-100As  many of you know, along with being a professional graphic artist and designer, I’m also an author. I’m friends with quite a few authors. Many of these authors now self-publish and often ask me what I think of this or another cover.


It’s a real disadvantage that I don’t lie well. It’s a huge disadvantage that I do art for a living. Both problems get me into difficult predicaments when I’m asked for feedback on self-made or custom-made covers, especially the self-made ones.

For some reason, self-publishing authors want to create their own covers. While they might grudgingly let someone else do it, secretly, they want to create the whole package themselves. As an author, I understand that; as a professional graphic artist, I’m trepidatious. Here’s why:

  • Emotionally, you’re too close to the project;
  • You may not have the necessary skills to effectively pull it off.

There is a bigger problem I face as a professional graphic artist doing book covers for self-publishing authors, and small publishers or micro-presses: The client wants it to look unpolished, less than professional. This might sound nuts, but, as one author pointed out, it has to do with stigma–they don’t want to be associated with traditional publishing, so the covers have to look a little less polished. Okay. And we oblige. Usually, that means changing the font, some balance, adjusting the levels, and moving to a different color palette. And that’s about the only difference. In fact, color palette and skilled use of levels are usually the most significant factors that prove the difference between polished and professional-looking versus amateur.

And, no, sorry, I can’t give you any examples, because that would just get a whole bunch of folks angry at me. 😀


Some Book Covers Just Turn Me Off

I know that design decisions I see on novel and book covers are the mostly the result of market department input which mines the target demographic’s choice in trends, but I can tell you that there are tons of covers that just turn me right off.  I’d never buy or read the book, no matter how great everybody claimed it was, simply because I couldn’t stand the feeling the cover elicited.

Here are some examples of covers which completely turn me away from even thinking about looking at these new and upcoming releases (as of the date of this post) from traditional publishers.  There are tons more I could show you from self-publishing authors, but to point those out is to chance death by a thousand text lashings from angry mobs.

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Finishing a Science Fiction Cover Today

Today, I’m finishing an Science Fiction book cover that I agreed to do for an author who got introduced to my work through traditional publishing channels. Today, he’s gone ‘hybrid’, which means he’s ‘indie’, self-publishing some of his own work, sticking with his trad publisher for others. I’m on the final render of one of the elements in the cover, which has an hour to go.

As I wait for the render to complete this final element, I’m putting the fine touches on the ‘space’ part of the image, which has nebulae, a couple of planets, and some dynamic splashes of color and some vectors, suggestive of a battle in space.

Once this final render completes, which has two ships colliding, with debris flying off the point of impact, I’ll layer it in, then superimpose a hazy, faded overlay of the book’s main characters, one a woman, the antagonist, one a man, the protagonist. She’s blonde, blue-eyed, and white; he is brown with a purple tinge to his eyes and his hair. They are both human-looking.

And that brings me to the problem I find with most science fiction. It’s almost always about humans. Why?

Maybe that’s why I’ll probably never release the series that follows A Gathering of Rebels by Aeros. Humans just aren’t interested in reading about aliens. Not really.

Licensing Decisions for CD-DVD & Pre-Made Book Covers

front cover, Planet Space pre-made science fiction book cover

As most of you know, while I make my living as a professional graphic artist, website designer, and webmaster, I’m also an author and a musician with the plus that my husband is a composer. Because I’m an author and a musician, that’s helped determine my final decision about how I’ll be offering my pre-made book covers and CD/DVD covers.

Instead of using a rights management company that I’ve been experimenting with the last several weeks, I’ve decided to go ahead and continue to offer the covers via this website, using my own licensing contract.

The reason I’ll only be selling them here is because I can offer you:

  • perpetual licensing rights, and
  • exclusive rights licensing opportunities.


An artist friend, David Revad Riley, has been using a service called for his POD. The service, according to him, is excellent, better than the majority, and the print quality is superb. Since I trust Revad’s judgement and experience in these matters, despite the fact our art is so very different, I signed up, this, after a long spell of having given up in disgust with the various online ‘fine art’ PODS I’ve tried in the past.

Several weeks in, and I’m pretty happy that I did go with FAA. I even paid for a premium membership.

Now here came the rise of dilemma: Along with POD, FAA offers, via, a rights management and royalty free service…which makes the issue of dealing with licensing rights as well as prepping and uploading the images very much easier. (It’s always easier to let somebody else do it, and I’m not much fond of Getty Images, even though they lead the pack for commercial art and photography rights management.)

Having spent the better part of a month getting my own shopping cart installed here, then working through the nuances of terms and tweaking the download and upload mechanisms, this service came at a very vulnerable moment.  You see, loading the imagery into and prepping my work for buyers to download on demand is very time consuming.

After a week of playing with various schemes, my ethical conscience began putting on the brakes. The big problems were non-exclusivity and a lack of perpetual licensing.


I know how tough it is for clients who have little-to-no budget with which to secure quality images for packaging and promoting their work. I also know how awful it is for a someone to see some image they selected for their cover or for an element of their cover used elsewhere on a competing work. (I’ve written about that issue before.)  But that’s the problem with stock imagery.  And if you don’t have the money or the skills to obtain or create something unique and original, either by changing the stock imagery or by hiring an artist, then, unless there is a source for something original that can’t be used by someone else–at least not legally–you’re stuck.


My personal ethical standard:  I want people who use my artwork, who buy my artwork, to have option to use that artwork for as long as they want to on the cover, case, or film promotional material without worry.  Limiting licensing to two years for the artwork which the public identifies with an author’s, film-maker’s, or musician’s/composer’s work is absolutely wrong in my opinion, and a creative artist, be they an author, musician, or film-maker shouldn’t have to worry about when rights run out for their artwork. Perpetual rights to use the case/cover imagery on the specific product they purchase it for is imperative, along with use on promo- materials for advertising that work…online and in real world applications. The creative expression the purchased artwork packages is the result of that originator’s personal inspiration and genius, and that creative artist deserves not to have to worry that, in two years…or if more than X amount sells, they’re going to have to either stop using that artwork or, worse, are going to be vulnerable to higher fees or even lawsuits.

Wrong, wrong, wrong in my opinion.

So, bottom line, I’m going to suffer the indignity of having to use harder rather than easier because my conscience says that you deserve the opportunity to purchase exclusivity and perpetual use.

What a Lot of Images

Geo54 Front Book Cover

I’ve been sifting through old images I’ve created during my tenure as a professional graphic artist. Most of it is “commercial,” and very targeted to its demographic audience and its micro-era. Some of it is startling, some is absolutely beautiful, and some makes me roll my eyes because I remember the project and/or the client for which it was created.

There’s the grunge, the slick, the deco, the minimal, the busy, the colorful, the monochromatic, the realistic, the surrealistic, the abstract, the…you name it.  In the business of creating custom graphic art, I wind up creating artwork I never dreamed I would, and it’s very interesting to walk back through it all.

As I pick and choose images I want to upload to Fine Art America and those which I want to license and/or provide as Royalty Free over on, FAA’s rights management branch, I realize that, yep, I’m going to be at this for an interminable forever. I’ve just scratched the tip of the iceberg, and that iceberg isn’t melting, but only getting larger every day, because I create at least one piece of art every day…or almost. Most days I’ll create a dozen for various projects, from something as a border for someone’s business card to something for a furniture brochure.

I haven’t decided whether to transfer all my pre-made book covers over to the rights management company or not. I may continue to offer them here. I’m working through my options so I can concentrate on creating artwork for my clients, not spending time fussing with Net interfaces. So bear with me through this transitory exploration.

Custom Graphic Art Means Original

The whole thing started over a design drawn with a ball point pen on a bar napkin. It started a small war between a soon-to-be-bride and her soon-to-be mother-in-law.

Bride-to-be’s BFF was and is a kind of radical young lady with an eye for the unique and different.  This BFF and the bride-to-be were having a girl’s night out when the subject of wedding announcements and wedding motif/theme came up. Bride-to-be didn’t like the stuff she’d been sorting and sifting through.  She wanted something truly unique.

In spur-of-the-moment inspiration, the BFF asked the bar maid for her pen and drew up a very unique and interesting idea right then and there on the slightly damp bar napkin that had been under her drink.

They brought it to me.  I rendered it exactly as the BFF drew it, and it was very, very unique, interesting, and delightful.  The bride-to-be was ecstatic.

She had the design incorporated into her cake decoration, on her guest book and other wedding “stuff”, as well as on her wedding announcements, emboss printed on very fine linen paper, her mother paying for the custom printing at a high end printer in a city to the south and west of home.  And that’s when the troubles began.

Husband-to-be loved the design.  He felt it truly represented what they had together.  But when he showed his mom, his mother was absolutely horrified.  She wanted high-end traditional, and, while this was very high-end, it was anything but traditional in both color and design.

The woman came to me, demanding that I talk the bride out of the design, offering me money to do it and offering to pay for a more traditional design to be created by, as she put it, “a professional.”

I distinctly remember her saying to me: “I want a truly customized design, not this [expletive].”

Long story short, I declined the “bribe” and the job as diplomatically as possible under the circumstances, explaining that, gee, I think that Mom-in-Law should probably consult with the bride’s family, first.

In the end, the bride and groom kept their chosen motif, and the wedding went on as planned, albeit with a disgruntled mother-in-law, and the whole was a success, if very unique and untraditional.

So, okay. Here’s the fact of the matter: It does NOT take a professional graphic artist to create custom graphic art.  Anyone can create custom artwork.  Custom means originally, uniquely designed, and created, usually for a specific project or customer. That’s all.  Your any relative, friend, or even a complete stranger can create for you a piece of custom artwork. They don’t have to be in the business; they don’t even have to use specific tools, supplies, and/or equipment. A crayon and some sort of media upon which to create the art is all that’s necessary. So don’t think for a minute that you have to secure a particular someone’s or company’s services for custom graphic art. It just ain’t so, and, with art, “good” is in the eye of the client, and not anyone else. Remember, a good professional graphic artist can take anyone’s idea and anyone’s sketch, then work it up for you to professional standards.