September 2012

newsletter #8 laughing trout ha! yes!

I Know Why The Fishy Laughs

There’s more than one way to skin a trout. Or mix a metaphor. Or a perfect martini.
When ad-man, author and man-about-town Jim Ure approached me to design a book cover for his newest release, a madcap adventure that takes place in the world of fly fishing, he was kind enough to supply a plethora of bucolic fine-art illustrations of fishing scenes that he had been offered the printing rights to. But an enjoyable read of the manuscript later, I came to three conclusions: 1) lovely impressionistic images of being closer to god via making a fish’s mouth hurt didn’t convey the right feel, 2) “Plethora” would be a good name for an evil super-villainess, and 3) how am I supposed to make money using someone else’s art? Someday, I want to be a man-about-town, which won’t happen with a rusty cash register.

I decided a cartoon would be in order, because: 1) the book is funny, 2) cartoons are funny, and 3) I’m a cartoonist. I showed Jim three designs. It’s a big decision, and the expectation is for the client to mull it over, ask their friends, hire pollsters, and ultimately sacrifice a black chicken bearing the mark of Zool before deciding. Jim just said, “That one. Do that one.” Well okay then, Jim. Just slaughter my old reality.
I worried about a full cartoon illustration being too busy. It needed a softer background to pop out the inked fish, and a photo of newsprint would read better than a drawing of it. So it ended up a multimedia extravaganza of pen and ink, photography, Photoshop airbrushing,  pencil drawing, and hand-lettering.

All that illustrating does no good, though, if it doesn’t give a good representation of what’s behind the cover. Hopefully, the juxtaposition of the hideous “Lago Poopo” mutant fanged trout and the absurdly happy (considering its proximity to becoming close friends with a bunch of almonds and butter) rainbow trout, along with the teasing news headline will hypnotically induce all that see it to whip out their VISA and net a copy.

Anatomy of an illustration

1. After the pencil sketch was refined, the drawing was inked with one of those pens you dip into a bottle of Higgins India ink. I thought of wearing a frock coat and wig for the full effect, but it was summer.

2. In Photoshop, colors were airbrushed into the scanned fish illustration.

3. The stock photo of butcher block had too big a pattern in relation to the trout. Fish sitting on slats that wide would have read as the size of herring. Shrinking the wood made it too small to fill the background, so I duplicated it a few times, mirror-imaged a couple of the tiles to hide the similarities, and blended them together.

4. A stock photo of newsprint was laid over the table, and shading added.

5. Next came a pencil illustration of the newspaper content. The headlines are hand-drawn; the body text is gibberish strokes that mean nothing, then distorted to fit, making its content less like a newspaper and more like Fox News.

6. Shadows were painted under the fish, so they didn’t look like paper dolls. Paper doll fish have never been popular, mostly because their lack of shoulders make the cunning paper evening gowns and bikinis always slide off.

7. Last step: adding type. The subhead is tricky, since it’s an ebook, and small type rendered in pixels can be difficult to read. And I wanted the big type to be legible when it’s viewed as a tiny thumbnail on Amazon, which eliminated fonts with thin lines.

For being the last step, there was certainly much to be done after, like reshaping for the print version and creating the back cover. But if it all makes just a single reader laugh at the misadventures of Jud Buckalew, then it was all worth it, by golly. We’re going for more than one reader, though.

blue bar

Now is the best time to publish

Google has recently released the Nexus 7 reader. Kindle is preparing to launch an upgrade, and it’s rumored that Apple has something new in the works. Whenever a new ebook reader is introduced, book sales go up; they could skyrocket in an environment with several new products. Other than word of mouth, your book’s cover is its biggest sales tool. A recent report stated that including a cover for an ebook increases sales by 268%. You’ll want not only a good designer for it, but one who really understands books, and how to boil down  its essence into a single, appealing design. Forget the old metaphor: you CAN and should judge a book by its cover, and we all do it. It’s vital that yours says the right thing!

Three cover designs
Three books, three looks, three subject matters, one artist.


Blue divider bar, wide 

Praise It or Raze It

Is there a visual component of your business you’re not sure about? your sign, your logo, your ads, writing, packaging, posters, stationery, superhero emblem? Ask me for a free opinion. If everything looks fine, I’ll tell you. And if there are minor changes you can make to the art or copy, I’ll blurt those out. If the whole thing would be better off scrapped, I’ll put on a somber hat and deliver the sad news.

Contact Jim Hayes at his ridiculously wonderful phone number, (801) 486-8444 for a critique or any other graphic need. You are welcome to forward this newsletter to anyone who may benefit from its healing powers.