Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Cover Design ~ String of Pearls by Melody Carlson

It's been a while since I've gone behind the design of a book cover...and since someone asked me about it last week, I figure it's time for another example. But what cover should I feature?? Always a question--and since I can't always release a cover publicly when I design it (gotta wait for the author to do so, after all), I'm not always sure when I can feature a cover.

But in this case, there's no question as (a) it's a WhiteFire book and (b) it releases October 15! So today we're going to take a look at Melody Carlson's String of Pearls, the third book in the Mulligan Sisters Series.

Let's start by looking at the first two books in the series.

As you can see, we have a theme established for the series. In the foreground we have one of the sisters--starting with Bridget, who joins the Army Nursing Service at the beginning of WWII, and then moving to Colleen in book 2, whose dreams get all tangled up in heartache as she pursues a Hollywood career. In the background of each book, I used a public domain era photograph which I colorized.

On book 3, we knew we wanted Molly, the youngest of the 4 Mulligan sisters. Molly looks a lot like Colleen, so my first challenge was going to be finding a model who could look like the sister of #2. I tried a few different girls but ended up using this one.

Of course, the body wasn't right--but I liked the face. She bears a nice resemblance to the model for Colleen, coloring's right, and I loved her smile. And I had already scoped out an image of a 40s style woman with a camera--and Molly loved photography.

I started by just putting the blond's head as-is on the brunette's body, but Melody requested some more 40s style hair. So I took this lovely lady's curls...

Lightened and brightened them, put them on the first blonde's head, and plunked them both on the brunette's body, to get this.

But I didn't want to keep the same coloring on the clothes--especially since I'd recently used another shot of the brunette in a different cover and preserved that red sweater in that one. Here, I decided to go with blue. So I copied the sweater and the skirt, made them new layers, and used the Hue/Saturation option to change them to blue.

But what to use as a backdrop? I tried a few modern photographs behind her--shots of San Francisco streets. But modern photographs just don't look the same as 1940s photographs, and it gave the cover a whole different feel from the first two books. So I went hunting for photos I could use from the 1940s and eventually found this one.

The only problem with this is that it was going the wrong direction--I needed my lines pointing at my model, not away from her, in order to balance the image correctly. Now, flipping an image is easy-peasy...until you realize that there are signs which are then backwards. *Sigh*. But I just flipped and resized all of those as well.

Then the tricky part--colorizing it. This isn't my forte, but I've been learning how to do it. In general, the method is to create a new layer, set said new layer to a different blending mode--often Overlay, though occasionally a different option works better, just depending on the color being used.

Now, I didn't bother colorizing the whole photo, just the part visible behind Molly. So it looks a little funny like this, LOL.

I referred to the modern photos of this street to get some color inspiration for the houses, and chose red for the car because it would show up nicely against the dark tones of the black and white photo, and also provide a little pop of color.

Of course, we needed a beautiful sky. Each of the first two books had very bold, rich skies. So I searched for a photo of San Francisco with a gorgeous sunset sky and found this one.

So putting that behind the blank sky of the city, and it all behind Molly, we arrive at our basic design.

The title and series were already designed, so it was a pretty simple matter of plugging those in and adding some shading behind them to make everything stand out. I chose red for the title, echoing that pop of it from the car and the sign. My final step was to add a photo filter action to draw it all together and add a bit more depth to the colors. In this one, I used X-Pro (a filter Instagramers will recognize.) And there we have the finished cover!

So what do you think? Do you like the style that mixes old photos with new? Do you have a favorite from the series?

And if you're a Melody Carlson fan, definitely go snatch these up! They're a really interesting look at WWII through a family on the home front.


  1. Thanks for the post! It was fascinating to go through the process with you. I haven't read this series yet but like Melody Carlson's writing. Will have to get the series soon.

  2. How interesting! Neat most. Thank you. I knew it took at to design a book cover but I sure didn't imagine it took all that. The thing that really got me was the direction of the buildings. That part of the design never entered my mind.

  3. Really fascinating to get a look at the steps to put a cover together! I noticed the shutterstock emblem. Are those expensive? I steered another writer to a picture from them but I don't know if she used it or not. Do you purchase rights to the individual picture or pay a fee to use any from that source? Just curious. Thanks for the behind the scenes info.

    1. Shutterstock's very reasonably priced. If you're buying just one photo, it's maybe $15. I have a subscription and have virtually unlimited downloads for $150/month. When you download, you're getting their standard license, which gives you the right to use it for most things--up to 100,000 print copies, etc. It's my favorite of the stock image sites--pretty good variety for a great price and very reasonable license!

  4. Ro, these covers are GORGEOUS! Thank you for sharing the process.

  5. I had NO IDEA this cover was so involved. I'm stunned by your talent, friend!

  6. I SO want you to do a cover for me in February. #amazingstuff I am saving my dimes like a boss. Lol. Jacqueline Kimball

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