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.

*********

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: Legal Stuff

MM_CoversToColor_page01Last Wednesday, I told you a bit about how the coloring book of covers project began and introduced my cover artist April Martinez of Graphicfantastic.  This week, I will go into the legal aspects of converting an already existing piece of graphic art into a coloring page.

Yes, this is a great idea for promo, BUT BE AWARE: There are copyright issues that must be addressed if you as author are not the copyright holder of your cover art – and I would venture to guess, most of you are not. Just as an author has all sorts of rights under copyright law for their written words, visual artists have similar rights in their creations.

Now I had an easy time with the legal issues since my cover art was created by the graphic artist I approached to create the coloring page illustrations.  April is the sole copyright holder of my covers.  Thus, our agreement to create the coloring book included hiring her to alter her original artwork to make coloring pages (a new form of artwork) and to do the layout with front and back covers. This process protected her rights of reproduction in her original art work.

The main copyright issue in converting your cover art to a coloring page illustration centers on whether you, or your publisher, merely licensed the right to use the cover to promote your book OR whether the work was “for hire.”

Just a note, most of the e-publishers I have worked with merely have licenses to use the artwork created for their authors’ covers.  It is much less expensive for the publisher (thus lower outlay of capital up front) to license the rights for the life of the publishing contract.  I would also suspect that most self-published authors merely have licenses to use also.

Basic rule of thumb for cover art:

Licensed cover art work – the artist is both the creator and the copyright holder for the original cover art and/or design (some cover art contains other licensed elements such as photos which the cover artist manipulates with permission of the licensing agreement for the photos). The author or publisher requesting/contracting for the cover art will have paid a licensing fee and have restricted usage of the cover art.

“For Hire” cover art work – the artist is the creator, but the author or publisher (contractor) requesting/contracting for the cover art owns all rights and holds the complete copyright in the cover art.  The contractor will have paid for all those rights. At that point, the contractor may reproduce, alter, manipulate, sell, etc the cover art as they wish.

A word about cover art licensing agreements — The terms of the licensing agreement (contract) should spell out the length of the contract and any restrictions on usage of the cover art.  Most licensing agreements between graphic artists and publishers set the term of the agreement for as long as the book is published with that specific publisher and restricts the usage of the cover to promotional and marketing uses only. As many authors whose publishers have shut their doors have found out- – if they loved their covers, they must renegotiate the license to use the covers if they wish to keep using them on a re-publication of the book.

Authors’ rights in a cover — What you, as an author, DO own from the cover art is your name and your brand. This ownership right is recognized under the Lanham Act and has more to do with common law trademark about protection of reputation than copyright. Your book title is not copyrightable by you or the artist.

Visual/Graphic Artists’ reproduction rights — An artist who creates an original piece of art, be it an oil painting, a photograph, cover art, or whatever, may sell the “original” work, but still owns all the other rights to reproduce it. A person buying original art does not have the right to reproduce the art work in any way, shape, or form, or they would violate the artist’s right of reproduction.

Rights of reproduction in visual art include such processes as making print plates from an original piece of art and then issuing prints, and in this particular example, changing/altering the original cover art into an illustration to be colored.

By the way, a print and a coloring page would be considered new pieces of art since there is actual creative activity in etching the plates and creating an illustration.  Thus, if an artist doesn’t claim ALL RIGHTS RESERVED in their original art work, they could lose out if a person who bought the original work decided to make a print.  Most artists understand this — and the language, All Rights Reserved,  is usually found with most art work and sales of such art work. Note: Under U.S. law it is understood all rights are reserved unless otherwise said, the specific language is more crucial for international law. I would still urge all artists (and authors, too) to use the specific terminology in relation to their work, just to be cover all bases in protecting all their rights.

Bottom-line:

If the cover artist has merely licensed the cover art to an author or publisher and holds the copyright, all rights reserved, then only the cover artist has the right to make the coloring page OR give permission for such a coloring page to be made.

Therefore — if your cover art was not made under a “for hire” contract, then you had better seek out your cover artist and get permission to use the covers before you create coloring pages or a coloring book from the cover art.

********************

Next blog in the Covers to Color series will be by guest blogger April Martinez of Graphicfantastic.com and she will share her technique for making a cover into a coloring page.