Friday, July 11, 2014

Cover Story: The Mermaid Stair by Maggie Secara

I just realized today how long I've been procrastinating writing up the cover design for Maggie Secara's newest book, The Mermaid Stair, published in May by Crooked Cat in e-book and paperback.

This one was fun because I got to do some hand illustration, and who doesn't like to draw Mermaids?

Late last year, Maggie contacted me to see if I would be interested in doing another cover for her newest book in the Harper Errant series. The main thing she asked for that day was a line drawing of a famous mer-creature that appears in a Pictish stone carving in Scotland. This twin-tailed creature would be the Morven and would play heavily into the plot of the story.

The Morven sketch done, I turned my hand to the cover of the new novel. This time, we would go blue, naturally, and I wanted to get my hand in with a real pencil. I began to draw Mermaids of all sorts, mostly tiny doodles the size of my thumbnail (hence the term) and finally settled on an idea that would blend the digital and the handwork.

For the sake of blending the series covers together (I hate it when they change covers midway through a series and they no longer look good together on the shelf) I stuck with the same font treatment and the 2:1 arrangement of the color field.  The blue field naturally leant itself to this as a stylized sea.

My first pass was of the Morven drawing, this time treated as a block stamp as I'd done before with the Dragon Ring and green man of the previous covers.  This lacked the oomph we were looking for, so I went back to my sketchbook and biggie-sized my favorite of the mermaid sketches and began to play with it in Photoshop and Illustrator.

The goal, once again, was to get the woodblock effect even though I was now working with a more naturalistic drawing than in the past. To play with that effect, and inspired by several genuine old woodblocks I had found in a Dover book, I added erratic horizontal lines to imply sea and tide...

I was closer, but it looked a bit too busy and didn't - to my mind - echo the time-travel aspects of these stories. The first book featured a dragon that had been derived from a line drawing by a noted folklorist, Ari Berk, and the second utilized a 16th century embroidery pattern as the basis for the green man.

I turned to one of the images that had inspired the sea lines in the previous pass and with a bit of juggling of elements, discovered that it fit beautifully within the curl of the mermaid's tail. The whole image encapsulated the present/past nature of Maggie's hero and his friends and, I thought, did an excellent job of carrying the cover.

Thankfully, Maggie and her publisher agreed and we were settled. For a fuller discussion of my approach to cover design and the use of color and imagery in the digital bookselling world, visit this post:  Judged by its cover: And introduction to book design.

Click the image below to visit the author's blog and webpage to learn more about the writing of the series.

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).