- Etka G Schwartz
Chisels, Styrofoam, and Other Adventures in Cover-Making
I never thought designing the cover of A Veiled Truth would involve hacking at a resin figurine on my kitchen counter Sunday morning, but there you go. Life is full of surprises.
I'd always wanted an arresting image for the cover of the novel--something that trumpeted wedding as well metaphor, disaster and comedy, preferably in frosting. My first sketch attempt (and let us focus on the word attempt, here) looked something like this:
You may note the neon yellow coloration of the frosting. This was less for artistic reasons and more because it was the only light-colored marker I could find in the box. Moving on.
These days, most book covers are created by manipulating stock photos digitally, but as a former graphic artist who has spent far too many hours of my life fiddling with reality down to the last pixel and beard-hair in Photoshop with my Wacom tablet (an Intuos 2 if you must know, at risk of dating myself), I knew we would need a real image for the cover--especially if we wanted it to carry so much metaphor. It's hard to represent an intangible idea with something your brain knows, at some level, never really existed.
The cake was the easy part. I reached out to Tzippy Braude of Teesbites, a cake stylist, and we started brainstorming on frosting design--frosting, not fondant, because we needed something elegant but gloriously, oh-so-metaphorically messy and sticky.
It was the figurine meant to represent Fish that presented a problem. Sitting grooms, it turns out, are not very popular as wedding toppers. Oh, I found a standing figurine that looked almost exactly like the Fish in my head, but unless we went the dreaded Photoshop route, we couldn't exactly hack him off at the knees--and standing him on top of the cake might have readers wondering if the book was about divorce or a lonely groom, not at all optimal. Unless we tried this sort of shot--
Nah, this wouldn't work either. (The 'frosting' here is actually from a tube of Neosporin I had on hand.)
Back to the drawing board. I looked into creating a custom figurine (both by hand as well as digitally modelled and 3-D printed), but the process would take weeks and even then run the risk of looking too much like an actual person instead of the frozen, slightly anonymous resin look I was hoping to imply. I ended up overnighting two discontinued Wilton cake toppers from a vendor somewhere and having hubby do some careful chisel surgery to isolate the gloomy groom. The first guy chipped his elbow by mistake, but the second try was perfect (once we glued his toes back on).
Ah. Some distinctly un-wedding-like imagery here. Well. Sausage being made, and all that.
Now off to blocking out the cake! Veteran food photog Hudi Greenberger suggested we use styrofoam layers instead of a real cake, which would make the cake easier to transport and longer-lasting, if inedible (to the disappointment of my kids and cleaning lady), so this part of the process was crumb-free.
Our little dude came sitting on an inconvenient lump of resin, so Tzippy worked some flower magic to make it appear as though he were sitting on the cake when, in fact, he wasn't.
Two days later, and voila! I was having real regrets on going the styrofoam route, because I wanted to eat this.
So pretty. Love how each layer's got its own design theme going on. That's all Tzippy!
A bit more frosting cover for the seating arrangements...
Off to the studio for the photoshoot!
Fish was an exceedingly patient subject during this process.
It was a lot of fun watching Mr. Greenberger work. Capturing the essence of an inert object and preserving it in an image is an artistry itself, a form of storytelling completely different from my own. Watching that story being written, as it were, was fascinating.
Aaand the final product...
See what I mean? The cake almost looks real-er here than in real life. I want to cut into my screen with a spoon.
Our second Fish! A little on the tall side, but too perfect. If that's not a Client smile I don't know what is. What do you think?
At this point the images were whisked away to our cover artist... and our little ramble draws to a close. Check us out next week for the cover reveal, so you can see how it all turned out!
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See you next week!