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Monday, September 23, 2013

Graphics (a sort of Perils of Pauline... er, Diana)

We all know how important graphics are, whatever you may be doing.  The right graphics (the design for a box of saltine crackers, a book cover) may persuade you that This is the item to toss into your cart (or onto your online shopping list).

I have seen some pretty terrible book covers that provide the outside skin, if you like, for the inner substance.  Even if you know the book, the wrong cover can give you a bad taste.  This happens a great deal in historical fiction.  Somehow, a book about the Wars of the Roses (50+ years before Henry VIII) is not well-served by a painting depicting a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I. 

For that matter, there's a famous painting depicting Queen Cleopatra of Egypt calmly watching as her people conduct poison experiments on convicted criminals.  The colorful, well-executed painting can be cropped any number of ways (and, indeed, has been), but I, who am familiar with the painting, am inclined to give the book a miss.  Besides, if you're talking about Pharaonic Egypt at its height, a depiction of one of the Ptolemies (a dynasty started by a Macedonian lieutenant of Alexander the Great, some 1,000 years after Egypt's height) is not persuasive.

But I digress.

I took out an ad on a blog site for October.  It was intended to highlight a part of my work.  I write stories set in Egypt, the American Civil War and 1830's Paris, but the Egyptian work was my concern at the moment.  The banner had to be short and wide.  And it had to get attention.

What to do? 
I came up with this, sort of:

It had all my writing.  And it was rather like a diet of graham crackers.
I tried again:

Second try...
This wasn't exactly bad, but it wasn't particularly good, either.  Besides, two of those covers pertain to books that are in the works, rather than published.

Hm.  What I wanted to highlight was a series - a cycle, if you will - with a connection to the grand old city of Memphis.  It is called The Memphis Cycle, and I have four stories published and another moving along at a rapid pace toward a 2014 publication date.  They are standalone stories, but concern the same family over 150 years.

So, what's near Memphis?  Well, the pyramids, for one.  I looked for public domain photos of pyramids:
 This one was impressive, but it has a problem.  It is too 'small' an image.  Blow it up much beyond this size and it gets fuzzy.  I liked the color, but wasn't sure that a plum-colored sky was what I wanted.

I looked further.  Lots of people are generous enough to take photos of the Pyramids.  I found the perfect shot (from a composition standpoint) after a little more hunting.  The cluster of pyramids was wonderful, and the morning light was better still. 

It seemed to lack something.  Perhaps the sky was too pale?  Hm. What could I do?  It certainly needed a helping of 'oomph'.  Make that a double helping.  I wanted something to express color and still have the mysterious connotation that those huge tombs have...

I found the perfect photo after a lot of searching among the public domain photos:

This is, to me, one of the loveliest photos I've ever seen.  I work in graphics (sort of.  I'm an amateur) and while this may well have been manipulated (though I've seen sunsets like these in the south Pacific) it is just perfect.

So...  How to incorporate it into the image I wanted?

I did some concentrated thinking and had the idea of combining the silhouetted line of pyramids with this splendid sky.  It came out like this:

I wasn't crazy about what looked like muddy green sky to the left.  Besides, it wasn't wide enough, and I would want text and book covers, as well.  So I fiddled with it and came up with a final banner ad:
This pleased me.  It is not fuzzy (blogger can play havoc with images) and I like the colors.  the sentiment is pretty good, too (I think...  You may not agree).

So I tweaked it one last time for use as a header in my website:
It was fun, I'll admit.  But it was a LOT of hard work.  Worth it?  Well, I like it.  I hope others do, as well.


  1. I think it looks great--it would definitely catch my eye, with all those lovely colors! Nice job! :)

  2. Hi Diana .. I think the last photo is the best - you're keeping it simple. Seeing it in context will bring your ideas to the fore ..

    All I can say is good for you for getting the bells and whistles to work! Congratulations .. Hilary

  3. You nailed it with the last one, Diana. Familiar, yet mysterious. Definitely a magnet for lovers of Egyptian history.

  4. Diana, I think this is wonderful. Your hard work really paid off in the end. Thanks for sharing the process.