As I promised, I’m about to take you on a behind the scenes tour of the cover of my upcoming novel Stronger Than Magic. Creating cover art is a lot like writing a story, with a visual twist. Also a few headaches, a lot of angst, several changes in direction and much gnashing of teeth. Wait, I do that when writing too. Maybe the two processes are more alike than I thought.

From the beginning I knew I wanted my main character, Tarian, on the cover. She’s the reason the story exists and I thought she deserved a face to go along with the name. In my head, Tarian is average height, athletic, with long dark brown hair and blue eyes with a feisty attitude.

When you’re on an indie author’s budget, you can’t really afford to hire a lot of models for things like this, so improvisation takes center stage. I happen to have some pretty awesome friends with amazing skills. One is a former model, one is a photographer, and then I bring some graphic arts and Photoshop skills to the table. We held our own photo shoot, and it was amazing. There were a lot of giggles, fumbles, and funky shots, but among the over 400 that we took there were some real gems including several that just shouted “Tarian”.

Here’s the original photo of my very lovely friend, straight from the camera:

As you can see, she’s not a brunette. Beggars can’t be choosers, and all that, although she did consider dying her hair for me. I thought that was a bit extreme so I decided to work Photoshop magic instead. You might also notice her eyes aren’t blue. Her expression, though…you can’t buy that. Well, you can, but I’m very happy I didn’t have to!

So now I have my Tarian, but her hair is wrong, her eyes are wrong and I can’t just use her straight up. The tone is wrong for the type of story I’m telling. Stronger Than Magic is an urban fantasy, so it needs to look a bit darker, a bit more mysterious, a bit…magical.

First, I added some texture that did two things: add the gritty feel I needed and darkened her hair.


So far, so good. I liked this tone because it conveys the darkness that surrounds part of the story. Tarian is looking out from it as something she might need to escape, but her eyes say that’s not going to be a problem. Yes, she’s a cocky, self confident woman!


Her eyes are still wrong, though, and her face isn’t popping quite like I’d like. Photoshop is great for things like that. Add some make up, pop some colors, and change those eyes…voila!


Is this cheating? Yes, yes it is. But now you see the reasons why it had to happen. Now you can’t really tell she was blonde, or green eyed…now she fits the story I was trying to convey. Her expression was the key thing, for this project.

Typography also plays a big part in the overall feel of the cover. For the title I added a bit of wood texture and some bevel/emboss tricks to make it look dimensional, almost like it was carved. Tarian’s home is on an island in the Pacific near Hawaii, so the natural feel of wood is important to her. Also, the symbol that creates the “o” is a variation of a celtic symbol made from a circle of dolphins. Tarian is the heir to the Dolphin Throne, so that symbol is a part of her life and a part of the series. It will appear on every book cover in the series.

I had several other comps going before landing on this particular one. Hours of staring at them, combined with feedback from others, plus simply liking the feel of this one the best, led me to move forward with this.

Stick around, on Wednesday I’ll show you the Photoshop trick for making eyes pop, no matter what color they are.