Sometime this week, a friend pinged me with a question. I was at work, but promised I’d write up a tutorial later… Sorry, it’s going to be even later. You see, the question was about Filter Forge, and using it to make photos look painterly, and therefore suitable for SFF cover art. It’s a great question, and I do have Filter Forge (it’s not cheap) and don’t use it much. You see, I have a new laptop, which has no optical drive (you’d think if you dropped almost a farking grand on a laptop, but nooo) and my copy of Filter Forge is on a disc. So I can put it on here, with an external drive, but it’s been a busy week. However! There are other ways to achieve painterly cover art without resorting to plastic dollies of the CGI rendered sort, which frankly fall in the Uncanny Valley and should only be used as a last resort. Sometimes? Sure, I suppose, but even those ought to be run through something like the below process to render them less, um, plastic looking.
I am using Affinity Photo below. Unlike Adobe Photoshop, you can pick it up for a one-time license purchase, and it’s pretty cheap. Even cheaper if you catch it on sale, which happens every couple of months. However, if you want to be even cheaper, this can be done with GIMP, the tools are available in all of the above. I haven’t got GIMP on this laptop, haven’t needed it. I’m also using Fotosketcher, which is a freeware painting program to convert photos to, well, drawings or whatever you want.
What follows is a quick overview of a tutorial. I highly recommend you get familiar with whatever program you want to use. There are so many videos on youtube it can be overwhelming, so here’s a couple of things to look for: photocompositing, oil painting effects, photobashing, matte painting. Those will get you pointed toward some techniques that are valuable in this sort of work. Keep in mind this, too. I’m not really an expert. I’m just bodging along best I can, constantly learning. I’ve been doing this for years, now, so hopefully I can help you all get better faster than I did.
First challenge: pick a model. Actually, pick more than one. Keep in mind your cover is a marketing tool, not a representation of a scene from the book. I’ll keep pounding that lesson in best I can… Also, pick a background if you want to, but you don’t have to. There are other options. I grabbed two images for this tut, in the hopes of keeping it simple. If you look into photocompositing you’ll learn that ‘many’ is a good number of images. I used Pixabay, for free images I can use without worrying about copyright. There are quite a few free sources, paid are even better as you’ll see less of other covers using the same element (although that’s still not a guarantee). Also, don’t just grab an amateurish photo that you or your friend did in their garage. Trust me on this, it’s going to look like garbage even after you filter the heck out of it. Lighting is important, costumes are important, expressions are important… although I have painted a smile on a grumpy model. It’s not optimal, though, and selecting a good photo to begin with is crucial. If you want it to look good, start with good ingredients.
Next week I’ll be back with a Filter Forge tutorial, and to answer any questions I can’t answer in text via comments.