13 June 2013

By Jon Sullivan


jupiter-warDesigning a cover is an exciting process, and I’d like to take you through this using Neal Asher’s Jupiter War (fig 1, right) as an example.

A new email in the inbox appears, titled ‘Jupiter War brief’ – the story containing robots, super-villains, epic space battles and androids. It’s the new Neal Asher brief and I’m psyched.

First off, I’ll read the brief through a few times, just to get an instant idea of how to tackle the cover, jotting down quick-fire thumbnails. These will be simple enough shapes, nothing too complex, that I’ll translate from the synopsis. With the Jupiter War cover, the spherical ship seemed a good starting point, and a central point from which to work my way out.

This then influencing the shape and structure of all the elements surrounding the ship. So, when I’m then satisfied with the angle and design of the central object or ship I would then play around with a basic colour-scheme based around that single simple design. I’d then play with lighting, but keeping it as simple as possible at this stage.

jupiter-war-fig-2With a hardback wraparound cover (where a single illustration is used for front, spine and back), the font layout has an influence on the depth of colour and detail you can achieve within the picture. It’s all about weaving simple shapes and forms together, carrying this through to a result that looks believable. When I’m sure of the particular direction I’ve chosen to go in with the cover, I will email Neal Asher with questions on specific details of his characters. Neal will then send me quite a bit of info which I can use to develop my ideas and continue. Sometimes he will send through highlights from each chapter, choosing those that work particularly well as detail for cover scenes. There is a lot of trust involved that the artist will represent the author’s vision faithfully. I understand how difficult that can be sometimes for an author, so I do try to pick their brains as much as I can to get close to their visual. I’ll then sort through my reference material.

If designing a robot or craft for example, see fig 2 (1-3),  I’ll start working up the from from images I have already created.jupiter-war-fig-2-2spherical-craft-design-reshaping


These are designs I’ve developed, extensively manipulated and crafted many times over. Their purpose is to act as reference points which I can then scavenge parts from, and use these for armour, buildings, vehicles and weapons etc. These references would often have been taken initially from old metal works, car wrecks or anything industrial-looking. I`ll then use a similar process to construct the final piece. The only software I use for all the covers is Photoshop CS2. I’ll use a grid box of nine squares to warp, pull apart and construct all elements in the piece. This involves a huge amount of detailed and extensive manipulating within the Photoshop programme. I may then re-light and colour the resulting visuals at this stage, or leave the whole process of colouring to the end. It depends on how complex a piece it is – and the more complex it is, the more likely it is that I’ll concentrate on colour and detail at an earlier point.

I’ll next create mock ups to send the publishers (see figs 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 below) so they can decide what works and give me feedback.






When I’ve designed all the elements for a picture (see fig 7 image above), I’ll then mix and mash various shapes into a composition with which I’m content. Then, after this stage, I will work on the details and tones – blending all the graduations to build up the final colour layer. This one here (one of several sample designs done for the cover) was not quite there, as the cover needed to be worked on a little more. What needs to be kept in mind when viewing the image is the type placing. The design here would have been a little too confusing, bearing in mind the placing of the font. It wouldn’t give the type enough breathing space which, for a full front cover, usually takes up around a third of the top and a quarter of the bottom of the visual. So all detail should be kept slightly muted on these sections. And above all, it’s about selling the author not the artist.


The colours at the earlier stages tend to be played down as I’m more interested in monochromatic tones at that stage. Worrying about how colours play off against one another has to be done only after I’m satisfied with how well the picture’s actual structure is working. Then, when I’m happy with how all the different elements juxtapose and complement one another, I’ll then introduce more saturated colours. Here, I’ll also be keeping in mind Neal’s signature font colour, and how that will play off against the rest of the final colour scheme.

With Neal’s covers, the aim is to keep them all looking original, so each has its own unique look. However, when these are viewed on the shelves (real or virtual) they must also signal that this is part of the Asher ‘brand’, so fans will quickly recognize his work. It’s not that hard, as there is just so much to play with in the worlds he creates. You can see the final full wrap-around artwork below. 


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Neal Asher's magnificent Jupiter War is out in hardback in September. And click on the links for more information on The Departure, Book One of the Owner trilogy and Zero Point, book two in the series. You can see Jon Sullivan's online portfolio here, and for more on/by Neal Asher on Torbooks.co.uk, click here. 

                     departure-pb1  zero-point-asher2  Owner book 3: Jupiter War