Monday, January 26, 2015

Tinkering with Art When One Is Not An Artist

Diana, reading a newspaper affixed to an easel
Artists run in my family.  There is so much sheer talent among my family members, they could populate the Royal Academy or else serve as Staff for the Rhode Island School of Design.  I must have been busy elsewhere when the artistic ability was handed out because I most emphatically am not one of them.  My drawing ability is limited to stick figures and somewhat fantastical horses. 
No false modesty, no hiding my talent up my sleeve: I can't draw or paint and that's flat.  But I do enjoy designing book covers for my work.  Fiddling with images is not the same as drawing or painting, but it can be rewarding.  Sometimes.  Then there are times where you want to tear your hair out.  

Book 1: Tuileries
I have a series in the works, with the first book out.  It is set in 1830's Paris.  The series is called The Orphan's Tale.  The second is, I'd say, 80% finished.  The third is not too far behind.  Because Book #1 is published, it stands to reason that it has a cover: 
The lady, who is Elise, the heroine, is taken from a portrait of that era, and the structure in the background is the Tuileries palace in Paris.  It stood opposite the Louvre, but was destroyed around 1870.  This painting, executed some 20 years after the setting of my story, shows a party at the palace.  It works very well with the lady's hair and fashion.





The second book is not out yet.  Projected release is year's end.  I do have that cover designed.  The boy, Larouche, is taken from a Victorian genre painting.  I really wanted to use his whole form, but was forced to drop that idea when I realized that the full-length painting depicted a newsboy peddling the New York  Times, a publication that would have been difficult to find anywhere outside the United States.  The building is the Hotel de Cluny in an old quarter of Paris.  The painting, executed by a Californian in the 19th century, is titled 'Christmas Morning'.  The book ends with Christmas Eve, and the painting works.

Ummm...  No.
The big problem arose with Book #3.  It originally had Larouche in place and, it taking place during one of the periodical riots that plague Paris, was appropriate.  Or so I thought.  Unfortunately, some of my nearest and dearest pointed out issues with the painting.  The fellow motioning to the rough-looking crowd is rather dopey-looking.  The face fungus appears out of period, the apparently dying boy (who somehow appears  strong enough to hold up a flag straining in the breeze) is not an asset, and the dopey young man is wearing striped trousers.  Enough said.  Besides, I needed a depiction of the main male character, Paul Malet.

That was difficult.  He is described as a tall man.  His hair is thick, dark, and graying, and his eyes, set under straight, dark brows, are a light brown, almost green.

When you are working in period, as opposed to simply trying to set a time-like feel to the story, you have to be careful about facial types.  The western Europeans of two hundred years ago do not look the same as they do now.  There has been a blending of peoples.  One forensic anthropologist, often called upon to identify bodies found on a certain battlefield, said that he could usually tell by looking at the skull.  In my case, I needed images to work with, either to be purchased, or in the public domain.  I started looking among portraits of the era.  Sir Thomas Lawrence was a portraitist active at that time.  I strolled through his paintings.  I wanted someone who was under 50 years old, moderately refined.  I only needed a head.

I found one.  This fellow, one Sir Codrington Edmund Carrington, was a distinguished and well thought-of aristocrat.  Perhaps a little too refined, not to say effeminate.  Paul Malet had been an artillerist in the armies, was a swordsman (they used edged weapons in the military - in Malet's case, heavy, long swords).  As a high-ranking police officer, he would still carry a sword.  But he had dark eyes while this fellow had gray eyes and, unfortunately, a cast in the eye on the right.  That was fix-able, I thought, and I broke out my Photoshop and set to work.



I came up with this.  The coloring is appropriate, though he still looks delicate.  Still, I had been looking and LOOKING, and this was the best I had.  A little refined, but setting the head in a uniform coat seemed to help for the moment.  Now to look for some appropriate settings.
  

Well, there was Lawrence's portrait of Admiral Pellew, who fought in Britain's navy during the Napoleonic wars.    The body looked pretty good from the neck down.  From the hair, crew cuts were a Napoleonic invention, but I didn't plan to use the head.  It only remained to paste the head I had designed atop the body.  I set to work and finished it fairly quickly.  The proposed image is below:



A Frenchman in the Royal Navy?  Uh... No.
The big problem with this, aside from the apparent olive color of the uniform coat, is that the hero, Paul Malet, would have been the last one to wear an English uniform, admiral or not.  I was aiming for historical accuracy.
I tried another uniform, just to see how it would look.  The hero, being a veteran and a police officer, would have worn a uniform.  This one was a little better, though the man who posed for that one was Russian and, for reasons unknown, had stopped in the middle of doffing his cloak.  
May I take your coat, sir?
The general effect is rather awkward.  And this ruddy smiling fellow, also painted by Lawrence, was Russian.  Hm...    I found I could not take the painting seriously.  When I added the head of my character, the result was especially laughable. 
It was worth a try, but the result could be summarized with the words...






Uh...  No.
The possible solution was to simply use an inset head on the cover with an image I wished to use.


I tried it.  Truly I did.  It should have worked.  The background image was perfect, and I had my adjusted head.  Unfortunately, I learned to my dismay that while the head, somewhat over-refined, was not so bad from a close vantage point, when you put it at a distance it looked somewhat like a snipe.  Or,  perhaps, like Bob Hope.  In fact, it reminded me forcibly of a cartoon by Honore' Daumier:

Blast!  It was back to the drawing board. 


Fortunately, I found the perfect image when I wasn't looking for it.  In fact, I caught a glimpse and spent a good long time trying to find it again.   
General Maurice-Louis Gigost d'Elbee











This man was one of the royalist generals who fought in the counter-revolution during the Terror (French revolution). 
Freedom of Worship had been denied, the king was imprisoned, and the Terror was in full swing under Robespierre.  Led by a peasant, wearing the emblems of their faith, aristocrat and commoner, wealthy or poor, they fought with courage and firmness.  The 'Republican' government's suppression of the revolt, is considered genocide.  It was a terrible time, but heroes and heroines arose, as happens during such times.  This man was one.  I am surprised that he is not better known, but then people tend to shy away from those who lose wars.  Napoleon, by the way, came to power while the strife continued, though weakened.  He made inquiries, realized that the people were fighting for freedom of worship, and stopped the war and the killings.  The portrait was commissioned posthumously by Louis XVIII after 1817.

Uh, no...
...And, on a less impressive note, I had an image I could use.  It was in the public domain, and I could not imagine that Maurice d'Elbee would object to my borrowing his portrait as a basis for a character that was also a hero.

I adjusted the image: the epaulettes were out of place, the hair out of fashion.  During the action of the third book, the hero is trying to make his way out of a riot.  He would not be in uniform and the uniform would not, at any rate, look like that.  He would, at least at first, be carrying that heavy cavalry sword (it's a sword, for thrusting, and is straight: sabers, used by light cavalry for slashing, are curved) I tried the earlier cover: 
There is too much going on.  Too many bodies, too tangled.  And the expression, looking grimly to the left, does not work with the background.  He doesn't appear to be paying attention.

I liked the flag, but ...  No.  I needed something to show tumult.  I also needed to find something to go with the theme of the earlier covers, which incorporated monumental buildings. 

I had an idea, and I tried something else:


This is a little better, but rather boring, truth to tell.  It's a good thing the Chief Inspector is placed where he is, because if his hips were not in that exact spot you would see the Duke of Orleans, who became King Louis-Philippe of France, riding his bright bay horse across the cobblestones with his doffed hat in his hand.

In fact, the cover was boring as all get-out.  And another thing: the white silk sash (used by the counter-revolution to show support for the Bourbon kings) was out of place.  I decided to remove it.

That took some work.  I had to reconstruct the man's coat, which involved constructing the double-breasted placket down to his waist, creating cloth and blending it in.  I admit that it was fun:
While I was at it, I added what I thought were lively people on the left, complete with tricolor.
It being Christmas day, a friend asked me what on earth Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim were doing there.

Errrrrrr....

Almost there

They had a point.
What the heck to do?
I sat back and thought...

You can't get much more monumental than the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris on the Île de la Cité.  Placing the figure on the other side of the composition provided balance.  It worked.

Well...  Maybe.




Picture

















I sat back with a frown. 
Aside from the fact that my hero appeared to have a light saber embedded in the heel of his right boot (on our left) with the blade beaming downward, it was OK but not really good.  So what to do...?

I eyed the design, reached for my mouse...

Done.
...now all I have to do is finish volumes II and III.

Piece of cake.

...and avoid watching my nearest and dearest as they draw and paint. 


Yes, M. Gustave (Courbet) I know the feeling!
*Sigh*

12 comments:

  1. Lovely. Nice work on the waistcoat, too. Can't wait to read the stories.

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    1. Thank you, Beth! I found myself wishing I'd been able to use the sort of artwork that made up some of your covers. They would look good framed!

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  2. Fascinating story. It's wonderful how you've managed to turn into quite the digital artist even if you don't have the artistic talent of the rest of your family. You're doing a great job of your covers, Diana!

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    1. Those people whom I admire for the beauty they produce, in words, pictures, whatever, seem to make it seem effortless, and yet I know how hard they work at what they do. Truly a 'labor' of love.

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  3. Your covers look beautiful, Diana. I nominated you for a blogging award. Please stop by dhdunne.blogspot.com to find out more. Congratulations!

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    1. Oh, gosh, what a compliment! I'm mulling over who to choose (so many fabulous ones!) and what to say. Thank you so much, Deanie! (And I just love your books' covers. It seems that good artists tend to run in your family!)

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  4. There's a lot of work that goes into a great cover, I can see that. Keep up the good work!

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    1. Thanks so much! You have a great cover (and book, too!) featured on your blog at the moment!

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  5. One doesn't have to draw and paint to be considered an artist. Creativity and art extend well beyond the imagination, so it appears (in my book anyway) that you are indeed an artist! Regarding the work you put into your book covers, all I can say is, Wow!

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    1. thank you, M. J.! Interestingly enough, I was talking to a notable needlewoman (crochet, knitting) and she had read your A to Z from two years ago involving those crocheted flowers you produced for each type, A to Z. She said, and I agree, that they were a tour de force!

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  6. I nominated you for The Very Inspiring Blogger Award!

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