Monday, December 28, 2015

A Psychochronography in Chrome

Well, this is a little awkward.  Usually I write these posts and time them to coincide with the launch of the book they're about.  In this case though the good Doctor Sandifer released it on Boxing Day (That's December 26th for those of you who don't know), which is also the day after Christmas, so I forgot.  Sorry.

Anyway, we're here now, so lets get on with it.  As ever you can catch up on the previous Psychochronography posts by clicking here and working your way back to the beginning.  You don't need to do that though; the short story is that I do occasional book covers for Philip Sandifer, who writes critical analysis of (usually pretty geeky) things.  This is one of those.  The explanation for using the word Psychochronography I'll let you dig out for yourself.

So back in June Phil contacts me about doing the next cover in his TARDIS Eruditorum series, and just as an aside he mentions this other book of essays he's working on called  Guided by the Beauty of Their Weapons: Thoughts on Science Fiction in 2015.  Do I want to do the cover?

After some general back and forth this was my reply.  I think I've already included this in the speedpaint posts over the last couple of months (since it was one), but that was without the text; this is the one I actually sent Phil.  He wasn't keen.  Well, maybe he was, but he wasn't keen on it for this book in particular. I was busy on the Eruditorum 6 cover then, so it sort of sat on the back burner.  He pointed out that the ship in the background looked like a Cyberman, was this intentional?  It wasn't, but in retrospect it really does.

A while later I had an idea of something to speedpaint and thought "If this works, it might make a good cover", so I did the speedpaint about three times the size I usually do them, and ended up with the above, but bigger - a lot bigger.  Slapped some text on it and mailed Phil the following.

He was keener, but felt the colours and layout were too similar to Eruditorum 5.

Well, easily fixed thanks to the magic of computers.  Phil seemed happy, I was reasonably happy.  I Did a new custom logo this time too.  I don't remember the genesis of it, except that the rougher paint style suggested wear and tear to me, so I wanted the letters of 'Weapons' to look a little chipped and worn.

Months pass, and I decide I should take another crack at the idea for the cover.  It's not that I dislike what I'd done before, just that I didn't feel it fit as well with the theme of the title essay as it could (The effect of the Sad  and Rabid Puppies on 2015's Hugo Awards.  Look it up, it was quite a mess).  The above was the first go at it - took about 35 minutes I guess.

And then I did this revision before cropping it and sending it to Phil.  More enthused than before!  Got what I was going for! The Hugo award is traditionally a Chrome Rocket (based on a 1950's hood ornament).  This doesn't look exactly like one, but close enough, and he liked that.  So all I had to do now was make it ten times larger and we're good to go!

This is the sad image.  I was going to extend the piece into a wraparound illustration, but for reasons I'll get to it didn't happen (yet).  Other than that this is basically the quick painting above (which I'm also counting as a speedpaint by the way), but with a little more work on the rocket design.  That left part may yet happen incidentally, but obviously not for the book, since it's available to buy.

I got busy at this point.  I had a lot on at work, and a trip to Russia to plan, and Fallout 4 came out, which basically evaporated a week of my life (I don't game as much as I used to, so 20 hours in a game is a big deal these days.  I've played a lot more since, but not with quite so much focus).

Right before I was going to head to Russia Phil emailed me.  Could he get the cover in two weeks?  Not the whole thing, just the front, for the Digital edition.  For some reason if you don't get your final cover set a few weeks before they cancel your preorders, and there were some.  The slight ridiculousness of the Digital version needing to be finished before the Print version is not lost on either me or Phil (since, in theory at least, a print version is more immutable than a digital one).

I wrote off the back cover part of the painting at that point.  I realised there was just no way I could get that much done in time.  I hoped I could get it done for the print version, but realistically it wasn't going to happen. With that in mind I knew I should focus all my attention only on what was on the front.

One thing I wasn't terribly keen on in my sketch was how the rocket was lit, or more technically how it was reflecting (pure metal has no diffuse response y'see?  It's all just reflections).  To combat this I made a rough rocket and made it chrome.  Took about half an hour, and gave me a rough lighting reference (this was from Marmoset, using one of the default environments).

Then I started on the trees.  The colours were taken directly from the rough, and I built them up in three layers.  I knew there were going to be more trees in front of them, so I deliberately kept them sketchy so as not to take too much time or to draw to much attention to them.  With the background trees done I turned my attention to the rocket, adapting the rough to the sketch I had, and to the environment, and to the colour scheme I was using.

Then I went to Russia.

I could write a lot about Russia - Saint Petersburg to be more precise.  I'm not going to though (at least in this post), but suffice to say I had a lot of preconceived notions about what Russia was going to be like, and other than the Airport (which was very much as I expected) I was wrong.  The city and it's people were all wonderful (at least that I spoke to), and the food was amazing.  Also a shocking number of people speak flawless English, and even those who speak less still speak it very well (and they'll tell you "My English, it's not so good," when it's clearly exceptional).  Anyway, digression over.

Jetlag is no fun.  I've had Jetlag a number of times over the years.  Usually on a Trip to the UK I'll get it for a few days, then relax and enjoy myself, and then get it again on the way back.  Well, Saint Petersburg is three hours further away, and turned a fairly unpleasant  thing into the most crushing fatigue I've ever had, and just as I got over it I came back and had it all over again.  And I had a front cover to get finished, now within 48 hours.

I had planned on the Jetlag being the same, more or less, as what I get coming from the UK, just lasting longer.  Well, that was wrong. It was hellish. Did the cover anyway. I just can't remember much about it to relay to you.  You'll want to click on that image to enlarge it by the way - you can do that for most of the other images in the post too.

The only thing I can really remember about the process, as shown above, was that I used a technique and setup much closer to that I use when I paint Acrylics with real media.  I'm fairly confident I could paint something pretty close to this on a canvas; just much, much more slowly.  In ArtRage (which I used) this basically means taking the Oil Paint tool and lowering the pressure and the amount of thinners, then making the brush a lot harder.  The result felt a lot like the real thing to me, except I could sample colours from the image, instead of needing a palette (the initial colour scheme being defined in the rough of course).

After that lot, all that needed doing was adding the birds, and them putting it in Photoshop to apply the rest of the cover trappings before cropping it and sending it off to Phil for publishing.

So I got it done on time, with a few more days to spend on the rest of the cover for the Print version (most of which I spent at work or asleep, because Jetlag).

It was only after this that I noticed that due to my being drowsy while working on this version of it the logo had an issue with spacing and I wanted to get it fixed for the print cover.  It's minimal, but it bugs me, and will probably bug me every time I see the Digital cover - or maybe I'll forget and bever notice it again.

And here is the final cover for the print version.  The shape of the rocket ended up being a motif elsewhere, especially on the spine, but also as part of the area for the Barcode, and as a silhouette on the rear cover.  Other than that there are some minor layout differences to the version shown in progress above, and for the first time (since it's not era inappropriate) there's the address of Phil's site on the back, as well as a credit for me.  Overall I quite like the result - the cover painting has just enough retro to it to evoke what I was going for, but the overall design of the logo and the cover feels pretty modern and fairly fresh (IMO).  Mission accomplished.

Now I just need to get around to finishing the rest of the painting...

You can by the book from the following locations:

US Kindle   US Print
UK Kindle  UK Print
Smashwords (epub version)

And Phil's launch post is here.

Covers so far for Philip Sandifer:

1 comment:

  1. Nice to hear about your memories from Russia - it is really pleasant place to be and communicate. None of our prejudices are met there! Fortunately! :)