Guest Blogging at Valerie Tibbs’s Blog

Just dropping in for a quick note. After I posted one of my latest cover work onto my Facebook page, my friend and fellow cover artist Valerie Tibbs asked me to guest blog at International Heat. So, today I’m blogging about a book cover I designed for Kimberly D. Woods’ Dark Angel.

You can find it here.

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Curiosity Killed My Work Time

Long, long ago, I “liked” a page called Drawing Club on Facebook, and today, Drawing Club posted a link to a page of 3D animated GIFs made with ballpoint pen drawings. At the bottom of the page, a graphic designer named Sydnee Davidson made a guess that it was made with the Liquify tool in Photoshop. My immediate response?

No way. I know my Photoshop. That’s Distort and Displace.

So I set out to prove to myself that I was right. I took one of my old drawings, which I posted here, and created a 3D animated GIF of my own. Voila:

3D Surfer

What I did worked, so I was right. It was Distort and Displace. How did I do it? Easy. Here are the steps.

1. Create a grayscale depth of field map version of the drawing you want to make three dimensional. Save it as a grayscale image in PSD format. For instance, here’s mine:

Surfer Depth Field

Best way to do this is to create a layer above a copy of the original drawing and paint by tracing the elements in your image. Background areas should be black. Foreground elements (the parts that should seem to pop out at you) should be white. Everything else in between should be in shades of gray.

2. Duplicate the original drawing in two layers above it. Name them whatever you like.

3. On one of the two new layers, use Distort > Displace set at 1 pixel horizontal/vertical scale using the grayscale PSD from step 1 as your displacement map.

4. On the other new layer, use Distort > Displace set at 2 pixels, blah, blah.

5. Create an animated GIF. Each layer is a frame.

Too easy. Am I right?

Still, it killed half an hour of my work time. I don’t know why I let my curiosity get the better of me. Experimenting with making this, and now creating a tutorial out of it, too. No wonder I’m so behind in my work.

Posted in Illustration, Tutorials | Leave a comment

Not Quite Like Playing the Cello…

I saw a really neat quote being re-tweeted on Twitter today:

“Why is it that we understand that playing the cello will require work but we relegate writing to the magic of inspiration?”-Ann Patchett

Now … I have a bachelor’s degree in literature/writing, cum laude to boot. Also, I used to teach the piano to students of all ages, and I am now teaching myself to play the ukulele. So this will probably sound a little strange coming from me, but no…

Writing is not quite like playing the cello.

I agree with the quote, to a point, but having a background in both writing and music, I have to disagree also.

How many people do you know can play the cello just from having listened to other people play? I’m sure there are many aficionados of cello music, people who attend Yo-Yo Ma concerts religiously, people who love the sound of the instrument and can truly appreciate a virtuoso. If any one of them suddenly decides they would like to create the same kind of music, I doubt they could just go out and buy themselves a cello and start playing, based on all that they’ve heard, all the cello music that they have soaked in all their lives for the love of it. They could play it without instruction, of course, but the music they make might sound like a dying whale, or like Jaws in his old, old age. There’s a whole lot more to it than just sitting in a chair with the cello between your legs, your fingers on the strings, one hand pulling at a bow to slide across a string for sound. How would you play a C? A G? An F? Let alone an entire song?

Yes, so with that part of the quote I completely agree. It takes a lot of work to play the cello, especially since music isn’t even considered a required subject at most schools. Learning the simple alphabet of music isn’t something most people even get to do, let alone learning how to read music and learning how to play a musical instrument. They don’t get to practice that hand-eye coordination with a musical tool, connecting the notes they see on a page to the movements they make with their fingers and to the sound that a particular move makes. They don’t normally get to learn that special muscle memory of playing this or that musical phrase. Music appreciation can be learned very easily on your own, since you don’t need to know how to read music to appreciate how it sounds; music making, on the other hand, is quite another thing altogether.

That said, reading — the non-musical kind — IS a required subject in schools. The alphabet is one of the first things they teach, and it moves from letters to words to sentences to paragraphs, essays, school reports, dissertations, and the like. From your first year to your last year in academics you’re made to read all kinds of things — stories, articles, textbooks, etc. Then you’re made to write about them in great length, comparing this novel with that one and comparing this author with that one. Even if you’re studying art history and not English, you’re made to write papers. I remember even having to write a few papers in my dance class, where I had to review a performance I’d seen or where I had to describe what a plié was. No matter what you study in school, you can’t escape having to read a lot and then having to write a lot. It is a very heavy part of the curriculum, and it never needs to fear statewide budget cuts.

When you’re done with school, you continue reading for the rest of your adult life — magazines in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, newspapers on the commuter train, even blogged articles about the latest gossip on your favorite celebrities as you loaf around on your lunch break. There is no end to it. Your entire life is all about reading — and writing. When your high school friends write you an e-mail asking what’s new with you since you last saw each other at graduation, you’re expected to respond, and if you do so in a like manner, you’ll probably write your answer out in a somewhat narrative form, chronologically, like a story of your life from college through today.

And if you don’t write — if, instead, you call your friends to share your gossip — you might go into more detail with more emotion, voice rising and falling, perhaps acting out the different characters in your life, describing situations, adding drama to the emotional or physical struggles you go through, building up the suspense so that your friends lean forward and say, “Uh-huh? Yeah? Go on.” You tell your story.

In other words, we are all pretty much very well versed in our own written language, the form of a sentence, with its nouns and its verbs, its adjectives. Even if we don’t know what to call those parts and pieces — the past participles, the adverbs, the semi-colon and other such things — chances are we’ve seen them used in all ways, for all means, and we know how to use them. We can craft our own sentences because we’ve been taught to.

And for those of us who have read extensively? We’ve done our extra credit. We’ve read piles and piles of books, beyond those we were ever required to read, and we’ve absorbed the various forms and styles of reading material and the people who created them. By internally comparing this story with that one, we begin to understand conflict, a build-up to a climax, and denouement. Again, we might not know what to call those parts and pieces — what a protagonist and an antagonist is — but we understand their function through regular reading and regular storytelling.

This all comes from a cum laude writing major, remember. I have an actual degree in writing, so I’ve been taught all the mechanics of it, and I can tell you this. I didn’t need any of it. I didn’t need that higher formal education on literature and writing because I’d already learned it all myself simply through reading, and I learned it through writing in school about The Scarlet Letter or about Huckleberry Finn. In fact, I was inspired a lot after reading something, and I often wrote little stories, novellas afterward, long before I studied writing in college. It didn’t take much work at all. It wasn’t like practicing the piano, which I hated because it was like work, because it was something I didn’t use everyday in communicating with people.

Granted, writing can be like work, but if you’re already well versed in the craft through practice in school or just for fun, then writing can be like the magic of inspiration.

Playing the cello can be like the magic of inspiration, too, if we were as well versed in that mode of communication. But we’re not, are we? We’re not as a rule taught to play cello from our first years in school. So yes, playing it would be a lot of work.

But writing … hey, if you’re already pretty good at it through a lot of reading and writing, a lot of practice, then it’s not quite like playing the cello, is it?

Try writing a book, and try playing a concerto on a cello. Trust me. Unless you’re already a musician or you have that rare ear and Mozart-level genius, you’ll likely find writing a book much, much easier.

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What’s New After All This Time — One, Still Alive

I was reminded of my blog today when I received an announcement from the Amazon Associates Program. They’re doing business with California bloggers again, so of course I thought to myself, “I should totally re-instate that Amazon widget on my blog again.”

Not that I have ever received a crap-ton of advertising revenue from my blog; the total has been enough to buy myself a few books maybe, but certainly no single payment with which I could ever pay the rent, though I can dream. Plus, I have long ago fallen out of the habit of keeping the blog up, probably shedding most of my audience in the process, so really, is there anyone out there to advertise to? And back in the days when I actually had traffic enough to get 60+ comments on a thread I kept the blog pretty much ad-free. ‘Cause I was so indie.

But hey, it’s the principle of the thing.

I removed the widget when Amazon decided not to deal with Californian associates any more because I couldn’t stand to give them free advertising. I already regularly buy everything from them, and I also already shout their praises to everyone I know. But I had resisted putting ads on my blog for so long that I figured, since I’ve sold myself out at all, I might as well do it for actual compensation. Let’s have none of this free ad stuff going on, okay? I’m okay with working for the man, so long as the man pays.

So as soon as I saw they were willing to give me money again for click-throughs that result in purchases, I shook the cobwebs from this place to put the little storefront back on the sidebar.

But it’s silly, really. I don’t know if I have it in me any more to keep up a blog. Everyone’s tweeting now on Twitter, which is supposed to be faster and easier — public masturbation packaged in the economic size of 140 characters! — but I have even less patience for THAT.

The volume of tweets in that world just boggles the mind, and more than half of those tweets are inherently inane belly-button lint type of stuff, people posting about where they are and what they’re eating, and all of it done in the most unentertaining, most unfunny, most unedifying way. Photos of things they want to buy, things they just bought, or just plain things directly in front of them right now.

Oy vey.

However, it does become interesting when something like the Titanic sinking happens. People navigating around the sliding deck chairs, hanging onto the rail for their lives will tweet something like, “Am about to jump ship. May not be able to tweet for a while. Will probably ruin my iPhone.”

No. When something like that happens, it’s very, very interesting.

But anyway … I’m back online, and it’s thanks to Amazon. So let’s test this Quick Link widget thing, shall we?

Fortune’s Fool by Jane Sevier just came out. It’s one of the things I worked on recently. It’s probably ideal for reading while lying on a deck chair, so long as your ship doesn’t sink. If it does, though, be sure to tweet about it.

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RT Virgin No More, Part II

It seems criminal that it should have taken me this long to write about my first full day at RT, but what can I say — I’ve been working, and working is a good thing; it means income and the ability to pay off bills, like the big one I’ll get for attending RT.

Anyway, I got up early on Wednesday so I could line up, officially register, and get my badge — the passport to all RT events, they like to call it. That was easy enough to do, though it did disturb me a little that no one asked for my ID. But I guess no one would want to walk around RT with the name April Martinez around their neck — well, except maybe me. I think I’d rather walk around RT with the name Nora Roberts around my neck and see what THAT gets me.

There was another line for the registration bag full of goodies, including two novels and a bunch of promotional material from attending authors. This turned out to be the first of many free bags that come my way during the entire event, and let me tell you, these free bags come in very handy for all the stuff people keep giving away in the hopes you’ll buy their book.

Then I went downstairs and attended one of the orientation workshops available, called RT Convention Virgins, hosted by Sahara Kelly and Amanda McIntyre. They handed out RT Virgin buttons for us all to wear so that everyone else can tell who the newbies are. No one gave us wedgies or threw us in the lockers, though, so the branding of the neophytes was not a bad thing. Questions were answered, suggestions made, and then we were all let out to go stampeding through Promo Alley (OMG, freebies galore!) to the Goody Bag Room FULL of books, and — be still my beating heart — they let us look around and pick nine, yes NINE, books to take for our own. As often as I buy books, read books, and even get books for free in my line of work, I always, always get really excited walking in a room full of books. Most of the authors were completely unfamiliar to me, though, so I selected books either by the quality of their cover art or because of the fact that they were hardcover or signed (“Hm, that’s pretty! Hm, this looks expensive. Hm, this one’s signed!”). I did recognize a couple of author names, though, so I selected those books, too. So when I left the Goody Bag Room, it became necessary for me to pluck another free bag in Promo Alley, and Jade Lee’s big green tote was perfect for all my books.

By this time, I had befriended a reader — whose name I have completely forgotten because I’m an idiot easily overwhelmed by names and faces — and we went to the Welcome Party upstairs with our books in tow. There was tea, coffee, and pastries, to which we helped ourselves, and we waded through the human sea of readers, authors, male cover models, and other industry professionals, looking for a free table with open seats. Keynote speeches were made, and I discovered that on either side of me and my reader friend were a bookseller who won an award at the party (she started to shake when she realized that the presenter was talking about her) and the author Brenda Jackson, whose free Harlequin book I’ve actually read. Gifts were handed out — wine glasses with hand-drawn decorations — and at the end of it all, everyone filed out.

My reader friend and I went downstairs and took a peek at Club RT, where many vendors were still in the process of setting up. We perused all the gift baskets being displayed before it was time for them to be raffled off. Many of them had candy, bath products, and books, and a few had actual e-reading devices. I didn’t sign up for any, but I did enjoy looking around. A Thai bookseller who had attended RT Book Camp the day before came to greet me, and we chatted for a while about our work. Later, Tina and T.A. Chase showed up, with Lila Dubois, and I chatted with them for a while as well. Then it was time to head to my first workshop of the day: E-Book Business: Digital First: Is It For You?

The panelist was Angela James. I probably already knew whatever she had to share with the attendees, but I wanted to attend the panel because it was the only one in that time slot about e-books, and e-books just happen to be my bread and butter. I wanted to see who would attend, how many, and if there would be anyone there whom I should meet and with whom I should exchange business cards. From Angela’s assessment of the room, it turns out that more people attended this year than last … because the e-book business is growing.

I discovered a new publisher during that panel — Chafie Press — and I exchanged business cards in case they needed a cover artist. Networking. Go, me!

The next panel I attended was E-Book Business: Money Matters! ‘Nuff Said, hosted by Jackie Barbosa, Tessa Dare, Lindsey Faber (Samhain Publishing), and Shelli Stevens. Honestly, though, I don’t remember much of it. I should have taken notes, since I can’t for the life of me recall a single audio or visual hint from the depths of my murky mind to even figure out if I enjoyed the panel or not. I might even have to entertain the possibility that I wasn’t there and merely thought I was, though it is more likely that I attended as it was in the same room as Angela James’ panel.

It was also in the same room where Self-Publishing: Digital DIY: The Pros & Cons of Digital Self-Publishing, which I know I attended because I expressly wanted to meet a couple of the panelists. The program lists the panelists as Lori Armstrong (aka Lorelei James), Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, Sylvia Day (aka S. J. Day), Delilah Devlin, Lindsey Faber (Samhain Publishing), and Gennita Low. Mark Coker, however, was sick so couldn’t make it. But Sylvia Day and Delilah Devlin, the two authors I wanted to meet, were there, so I introduced myself before the panel started. I’d done covers for them both and wanted to give them some goodies for their book signing later that week. Delilah was especially sweet and asked for a pile of my business cards to give out to anyone who might ask, and she let me know that Jimmy Thomas was in Club RT and that I should drop by and say HI to him.

The panel was to last from 3:30-5:45 pm, a pretty long session, and I honestly wanted to stay the entire time, learn what they had to say about self-publishing — especially as that’s one of the things I do in my line of work, help authors self-publish — and maybe meet a few people that might help or need help. But I also wanted to be at the Publisher Spotlight for Liquid Silver Books, which was only a half hour into the panel. It’s only right that I attend the LSB publisher spotlight, as I happen to be the art director at LSB and have been working at LSB for almost eight years. Plus, I wanted to be there for Tina and the LSB authors. Makes sense, right? That pretty much meant, though, that I could stay only long enough at the self-publishing panel to hear the panelists’ introductions, and then I had to slip out quietly. Oh, decisions, decisions.

I’m glad I went to the publisher spotlight, though. I met Tuesday Dubé, one of my cover artists at LSB, and she was sweet, warm, and enthusiastic through and through. I met many of the LSB authors who came to RT, too, like Pepper Espinoza, who said Vivien Dean would hate to have missed me (she was back in the hotel room, resting). Some of the authors were new and didn’t even have book covers yet, their books still early in production, like Becca Jameson, whose first cover with us I had actually already assigned to Tuesday, though at the time I wasn’t really aware of it — with so many names and faces at RT, I was hard put to try to remember where all the books were in production and to whom I have assigned what project.

Afterwards, I stayed for a little while and attended the Total E-Bound publisher spotlight so I could introduce myself to Claire Siemaszkiewicz, the publishing director with whom I’ve corresponded and worked with on my Total E-Bound covers for three years now. Nikki, who sends me all the contracts, was there, too, assisting with the presentation. They had a very interested author in the room asking really great and probing questions, so I didn’t really get a chance to introduce myself and get to know them before I had to leave quietly to make it to the Happy Hour event that Tina was hosting for all the LSB authors.

The happy hour get-together was where I met more of the authors, especially Vivien Dean. Let me tell you, working as I do at LSB, I get access to all the books there and can read whatever I want, but I’m a slow reader and tend to have eclectic tastes, so I haven’t actually read that many of the LSB books. I have read two of Vivien Dean’s books at LSB, however, and I’m a fan — maybe not a rabid fan, but a fan nonetheless. I’ve always thought that Under a Rogue Moon would make a great movie, and given Vivien’s film background, I’m actually not surprised. Nico Rosso was also there, the only male author in the bar, and I made a mental note to myself about one of his covers in my work queue (new logo!).

Anyway, I had a mojito and tons of spicy buffalo wings, thinking that would be my dinner, but someone suggested dinner at an Italian place a block from the hotel, and so I went, too — there were at least eight of us. Having eaten so much, though, I had only a hearty soup with the evening conversations. I sat between Vivien Dean and Becca Jameson.

Afterwards, I called it a night. I skipped the evening socials, like the Ellora’s Cave Fantasy Party (the theme was Bollywood), and decided to stay in, chat with H.E. on the phone, check e-mail, and go to bed.

More next time…

Posted in Travel, Work | 4 Comments