Cover Graphics and How They Grew: Brewing Fine Fiction

NaNoWriMo is over. Rub your bleary eyes, shake the tremor out of your typing fingers, and enjoy this blast from the past. The NaNoWriMo Story Bundle is available for a few more weeks, and features among many other writing books our own Brewing Fine Fiction. I painted the cover for it, and here is my blog post about that effort!

by Brenda Clough

Digital photography is easy — you can take many, many shots and toss all the duds.  Painting a cover steps it up to a different level.  But what can you do, when you have an idea?  When editors Maya Bohnhoff and Pati Nagel decided to title our collection of writing craft blog posts Brewing Fine Fiction, I knew exactly what the cover should look like.   Brewing Fine Fiction

Words fuming out of a cup of coffee could I suppose be done with energetic photoshopping, but you get quite a different look with paint.  I enjoy working in watercolor but acrylic shows up more boldly and is easier to handle.  And quality watercolor supplies are expensive!  I went to the local craft store, armed myself with a piece of paintboard and some cheap Liquitec basic colors, and was all set.

Everyone agreed the mug should be red.  I don’t happen to own a red mug, but these are details.  Like all writers, I own dozens of coffee cups.  I went through my cupboard and found one with an easy and pleasing shape.  Patrons of Starbucks probably recognize the silhouette of the one I used.   Still lifes are easy if you use a strong side light and pick a good background hue.  It only took me an hour or so to paint the basic image in a loose impressionistic style.  I’m not a fussy enough artist to produce a more photorealistic image, and hey — if you want a photograph, use a camera.

What did take a lot of time was the lettering in the steam.  Luckily I have considerable experience in lettering legible words with a teensy paintbrush.   If you are very well read and examine the image closely you might recognize the words.  I briefly considered using famous literary quotations:  Call me Ishmael.  Is this a dagger I see before me, the handle turned towards my hand?  Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!   But then I came to my senses and went for scraps of sentences from BVC fiction.

The final and unexpected challenge came after the paint was dry and I scanned and mailed the raw image to Pati.  I had bought a piece of paintboard exactly the size of my scanner, 9 x 12 inches.  When Pati wanted more background to the left, to accommodate the names of the contributors, I had to tell her that she had all the painting that there was — ain’t no more!  But with cunning digital manipulation she was able to make the image discreetly wider on that side.  I doubt if anybody can tell where the shift is!

Lastly, there is one sneaky advantage to acrylic paint — its opacity.  You can paint and repaint over it as long as you have the original canvas,  and I do.   Those words in the steam could be adjusted to fit some other project.   SFWA prints a directory of members every year, so they’re constantly in need of cover graphics.  I think an unfurling stream of last names would look good:  Gaiman, Pournelle, LeGuin, Arnason, Pohl, Bujold, Niven, Sparhawk, Brin …
My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out exclusively from Book View Press.

I also have stories in Book View Cafe’s two steampunk anthologies, The Shadow Conspiracy and The Shadow Conspiracy II, as well as in BVC’s many other anthologies.



About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.


Cover Graphics and How They Grew: Brewing Fine Fiction — 4 Comments

  1. Jeez, Brenda: you can write, paint, knit, sew…if you tell me you can do brain surgery I 1) will believe you and 2) will shrink in awe.

    It’s one of my favorite of our covers.

  2. I’m afraid ROCKET BOY will always have my heart. Also I hope we can flog it off to some scandal sheet in the future, when the cover boy is up for a Senate confirmation hearing or something. (“Mr. Murdoch, I have a photograph of the candidate, nude! on the cover of a sleazy book! Igor takes Paypal …”)