Covers to Color: Laying Out the Coloring Book

MM_CoversToColor_page01In the previous weeks in this series, we’ve covered how and why we came up with the idea to create a coloring book of cover art, the legal aspects of creating such coloring pages from existing art, and the actual method to create the coloring page. This week, Guest Blogger April Martinez of Graphicfantastic will walk us through how she laid out the final coloring book.

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There are two parts to creating a coloring book. The first involves the illustrations. The second involves putting all those illustrations together. These do not necessarily involve the same skill set.

As both an illustrator and a print graphic designer, I feel it is important to point that out, especially to anyone who is considering having a coloring book made. There are people who can create artwork but can’t design, and there are people who can design but can’t create artwork.

Illustration can be a very organic and intuitive form of creative expression, whether one does it by hand or with the help of a computer. Design, on the other hand, requires a more technical bent; and good design requires some experience. So, the production of a coloring book might involve the talents of two different people.

Since my skill set is wide enough, I took care of both parts. I’ve already talked about the first part, the illustrations, being done in Illustrator. The second part, the book design, was done in InDesign.

The first thing to consider was how Moni would have the book printed and at what size. She and I agreed on a standard 8.5” x 11” size so she could have it printed anywhere, and since we couldn’t be sure what sort of paper quality she would have available to her, I decided to design the book so that each illustration was on its own sheet — no other illustration on the back of it, just a blank page. This way, if people want to color with markers instead of color pencils, they don’t have to worry about ink bleeding through to the other side, ruining another cover illustration.

My Patterns coloring book was done with a bleed so that the illustrated patterns would go all the way out to the trim (the edge of the page), but for Moni’s book, I decided to have a margin for a simple border. It wasn’t just so that the colored illustrations would present better and lend themselves well to being framed if the colorist wished it; this was also because some printers don’t have the capability to print all the way to the edges of the paper, and Moni or whatever print service she decided to use might not have access to a paper trimmer. So the margins were also for ease of production.

For the front and back cover, I created a “halfway colored” version of the illustrations, as this is a shortcut to communicating to anyone looking at the cover that this is a coloring book.

And since this is a *promotional* coloring book, I set aside some space to show Moni’s other titles.

The result is a 12-page booklet in high resolution PDF form, something that would print out nice and sharp in detail. Normally, such a PDF with this many images at such a large dimension would have a huge file size, but because the illustrations are in vector format (done in Illustrator), it came out to just 9.6 MB, not much bigger than a print book cover flat might be.MM_CoversToColor_page12

After that, it’s up to Moni how to print and produce the physical book.

Can I just say “I love the coloring book April created for me.”  Next week, I’ll share what I did and why in producing the final product.

Covers to Color: Creating Illustrations by April Martinez

MM_CoversToColor_page01The last two weeks I covered how this idea of making a coloring book of my book covers came about and the legal issues all authors must address in order to do such a project.  This week and next, April Martinez, my fabulous cover artist and the person who created my coloring book, will talk about her process.

Creating the Illustrations

When Moni came to me about a coloring book for her, I’d already been mulling over the best way to convert existing cover art into coloring book line art.

Last year, my fellow cover artists and I were discussing how the popularity of coloring books has worked its way even into the romance industry — one New York publisher had already turned their cover art into black and white illustrations that their readers could color, and smaller publishers were considering doing the same. So, when the topic of Photoshop tips and tricks came up, we cover artists began to look for a quick and easy way to turn photo-manipulated cover designs into simpler line drawings. We shared among ourselves links to videos and how-to blogs, debating over the best way to do this.

I was skeptical of all the methods, though, even of the ones I’d shared or developed myself.

See … the thing is, there is no quick and easy way to turn a photo-based image into line art that a colorist would actually want to color.

The best you might be able to create with a few Photoshop tricks is something that looks like a realistic pencil drawing or a textured and artfully done pen and ink illustration. It is not, however, something a coloring book enthusiast would necessarily want to color.

 

Amazon Reviews on Gray Scale Coloring Books

Some Amazon Reviews on Gray Scale Coloring Books

Why is this?

Well … if you look at a coloring book illustration, especially in a popular coloring book, the artwork is fairly simple and spartan. By “simple,” I don’t mean anything like stick figures and children’s drawings; I mean that the artwork is typically uncluttered by textures, highlights, shadows, and details that might add depth to the drawing. It is crisp black ink on clean white paper, no gradations of color such as grays to add shading or 3D shape to the representation on the page. If you think about it, a coloring book illustration is actually quite an abstract version of whatever it’s supposed to be. It’s almost a written language, the world laid down in symbols of black markings, a simple line drawing meant to communicate with uncomplicated brevity a universe of much deeper meaning.

The colorists, mind you, are meant to add all that texture and meaning to the illustration themselves. It is their purpose to give shape and color to the line art, like adding muscles, fat, and skin to a skeletal framework.

So … using a Photoshop trick to turn something into line art doesn’t necessarily work because a Photoshop trick will merely take all the detail in a photo-based image and translate it into black or gray pixels — i.e., turn it into a grayscale image. If there is a lot of texture and grain, or a lot of gradations of color and shadow, Photoshop won’t know how to translate that into its barest form — i.e., solid outlines, the most basic language that a human colorist can understand and work with. It just won’t know what to keep and what to throw out, at least not as well as a human mind could.

This is especially the case when the artwork you want to convert is a beautifully textured image, artfully lit, fading one element into another in a pleasing montage-like collage. In fact, the result is often just too finished or too busy to do anything more with it. It might be utterly beautiful in its detail, but a colorist looks at that and thinks, “That’s not something I can color.” They may not even want to. Why bother? There’s no room for their own interpretation.

So, when Moni came to me, not only had I already weighed the pros and cons of each Photoshop trick I’d come across or developed, but I had also already seen some Amazon reviews on coloring books created in this quick and easy way (see above) — and I had already learned a few things in creating my own coloring book, which I’d created from scratch with no Photoshop filters. I decided then that Moni’s coloring book would be a good opportunity for me to really test my own theories on this.

And here is what I did:

1. The quick-and-easy Photoshop conversion

Moni gave me four titles to work with, the first being Prime Imperative. This being my first attempt at converting one of my covers into a coloring book illustration, I decided to give some Photoshop methods a good college try.

False modesty aside, I have “mad skills” in Photoshop — über-mad skills — and I’ve written the tutorials to prove it. None of the YouTube videos people recommended were revelations to me; I already knew most of the tricks. Yet … I couldn’t find a single way in Photoshop to turn Prime Imperative into simple line art that someone would want to color.

Not only did I try multiple ways, but I also combined a number of different ways to try to get the best result. Parts and pieces of the image that already had good contrast and large expanses of color, I did in one way. Other parts and pieces that had a complex gradation of colors and a lot of detail, I did in another way. I did a lot of versions. I did them in layers. I did them in stages, and I did them with the different settings and options tweaked. It was one giant trial-and-error session that proved to me that the “quick-and-easy” way was far from quick and far from easy.

The very best I could come up with was this:

 

converted

PhotoShop Method, (c) 2016, Graphicfantastic, All Rights Reserved.

 

2. The time-consuming hand-drawn method

By this point, I’d figured drawing the illustration by hand would take less time and yield better results. I was wrong about the time, but I was right about the results.

I imported the cover art into, not Photoshop, but Illustrator, and I imported it as a template. I then used the pen or pencil tool — anything with a 1pt. stroke, really — and actually traced the lines in the artwork. Given the detail in the artwork, it was as time-consuming as one might expect it to be, probably more than a full day’s work, maybe 8-10 hours with a Wacom pen and tablet, simply laying down line by line, using my human brain to decide what to outline and what to leave out.

For an artist like me more accustomed to working with stock photos and Photoshop tools, the work seemed overly slow and tedious. Despite my early experience with hand-drawn art, I’d gotten way too used to the instant gratification of photo-manipulated work. So I was practically brain-dead by the time I finished.

But I was relieved to finally be able to send Moni the two experiments — the Photoshop-converted version and this hand-drawn version:

 

handdrawn

Hand-drawn Method (c) 2016, Graphicfantastic, All Rights Reserved.

 

Which of these two would you color? If you’re anything like me, you’d prefer the second one; there’s just more room for interpretation.

This made me cringe as an artist trying to make a living, though. Creating a coloring book illustration by hand is just so much work. I would have to charge a full day’s pay for each drawing, at least, and who would want to pay that? Oy.

But the hand-drawn version really did end up being the better one, so I did the other three by hand as well.

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I loved the results April produced with the hand-drawn method. 

Next week, April will be back and discuss the laying out of the coloring book, which includes the amazing front and back covers.

Covers to Color: An Introduction

Front Cover

Front Cover

Covers?  Coloring?

Putting them together for book promotion?

A super idea hatched by my author friend and former PR guru KaLyn Cooper.  We Liquid Silver Books’ authors wanted a joint promotion for this year’s Lori Foster’s Reader Author Get Together which would surpass the Charming Author Hunt we did in 2015.

KaLyn suggested a coloring book featuring one cover from each of the attending LSB authors.  Colorful Liquid Silver Authors! What a great idea! All of us jumped on board immediately.  For those who are lucky enough to be attending Lori’s RAGT this year, I’ve seen a draft of the finished product and you are in for a treat (and some other fun with the coloring books besides coloring).

Then … I was thinking … as I often do. 🙂 Why not do a small coloring book of my own with just a few of my covers? Use it as a free promo at book signings and as a give-away during FaceBook promotions. See the fabulous front and back cover April created for my special coloring book above and to the left and at the end of this blog post.

Since the majority of my covers have been designed by the talented April Martinez (http://Graphicfantastic.com), I approached her about the concept and she was excited and immediately went about deciding how to get the best picture to color from the covers I suggested.  I am totally fascinated with how she did it and with the end result. She is the best.

Since there are legal/copyright implications in using cover art and differing approaches on how to create a coloring image from an existing artwork image, I asked April to join me on a series of blog posts about those very issues. She enthusiastically agreed (didn’t I say she was the best?). We hope you will enjoy seeing how we approached this project and benefit from our experiences.

Schedule of Up-Coming Covers to Color blog posts:

April 6th:  Copyright and Legal Issues in Converting Covers to Coloring Pages — Monette Michaels

April 13th:  Creating Illustrations — April Martinez

April 20th:  Laying Out Illustrations — April Martinez

April 27th:  Printing and Assembly:  Costs — Monette Michaels

 

Please join me next Wednesday for the legal issues in creating coloring pages from cover images.  Just a hint — there are copyright issues and most authors only have the right to use their book cover “as is” and for restricted uses.

Back Cover

Back Cover