Blank Slate Books

Guest Post: Joe Decie on Designing The Accidental Salad‘s Cover

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Always judge a book by its cover, especially a comic book.
Some words about the designing of the dust jacket for The Accidental Salad

So, first things first, I wanted the style of art on the cover to reflect the contents of the book. Three things that I think define my style are the G-Nib outlines, the inkwash and my hand drawn letters. So drawing the cover art with a nib pen would be no problem, hand writing the text, easy peasy. However, translating my ink wash to colour is a little out of my comfort zone. I am confident in colouring work digitally, but that wouldn’t look right. So I had to bite the bullet and get out the watercolours.


To this point I’d used watercolours on two occasions. Both times with limited success. I find the watercolour either looks too pale and washed out, or overworked and muddy. The middle ground is what I was after; vibrant colours, confident brush strokes and just enough detail. Knowing when to stop with a wash type painting is a huge learning curve for me. I’ve ruined many pieces by over working them. I’m more confident using acrylics where you can build up and takeaway at will, ink wash or watercolour you get pretty much one stab at it, and if you mess it up you have to live with it. So no pressure then.

Tools I had in my possession were my trusty Nikko G nibs, Windsor & Newton black (the one with the spider) A 2H pencil, a set of West German Marabu watercolours (given to me 24 years ago) A selection of Rosemary & Co  Series 33. Pure Kolinsky Sable brushes (sizes 2/0 up to 4) My lightbox (converted from an old wine case) A putty rubber and a ton of cheap copier paper.

I then had to invest some cash in a good quality paper that would meet two criteria 1) take the nib work without bleeding (Bristol board is best for this) 2) take the watercolour well without falling apart or buckling (watercolour paper is best for this). In my experience paper that fits one of these criteria usually doesn’t fit the other. After a lot of trial and error and discussion with my friends on the internet I found Arches Hot Pressed, a watercolour paper that is quite smooth. Also the most expensive in the shop. I also invested in some larger brushes sizes 10 and 12, as these are just for whacking down big areas of colour I opted for cheaper acrylic blend rather than sable (£6.30 rather than £38.50).

I am a big fan of wrap around covers; a design that moves from front to the back of book. And decided early on The Accidental Salad would be made like this. The book itself is roughly A4 in size, but Blank Slate also wanted a generous 10mm bleed. So I intended to cut down a large piece of paper and worried slightly about how I would scan the piece. OK but what would I draw? Started with a title. The book is a collection of forty short strips, so after writing down some awful all encompassing titles (which I won’t share with you, all evidence of them is destroyed) I went through the collection and picked out a few of my favourite individual titles. After holding a small focus group (my girlfriend and I) we chose The Accidental Salad, after running this by Kenny Penman of course. So the title dictated the imagery, it would be me eating. I also wanted  expanses of space and something else, a building, a background, some architecture. And possibly my girlfriend and son on there too as they feature in quite a few of the stories.

First I thumb nailed out a few ideas, more playing with space and shapes than actual themes and images. What I originally envisaged was a low horizon and at least two thirds of the cover being sky with a white title. Not sure what happened to that idea. Next I went out and took a heap of reference photos, mostly keeping the POV low, facing up, or head height. I wanted some depth too, so went for shots that could inspire a bit of that. With about thirty of those I headed home and sketched out a few compositions. I like to start with the background, then place the figures in the setting, rather than the other way round, it works better that way, looks more natural.

Drew a smaller version of the design I’d settled on and played with colour a bit, it looked awful so I drew another. Shame I missed the cyclist from that one, don’t know why I left him out. Showed this new design to Twitter and it seemed to go down well. So, got myself a extra large piece of paper and set to work on the final piece. Penciling my design, perspective is bloody everywhere, so took some time getting it right, mostly. Took a few action shots of me and the boy for reference. These days I work from photos a massive amount of the time, it slows the process down but ensures I get it half decent.

After I’d finished my pencils it was on to the inking. Working on such a large picture, it was important to work top to bottom left to right so as not to smudge anything. Without realising it, I must have gripped my pen a little too hard as I started to get cramp midway through the inking. Took a break, hands are too important to wreck. Finished eventually, left it to dry then rubbed out all that pencil.

Once I’d finished my blacks I got out the watercolours and painted a whole load of swatches, showing various colour combinations, which I could use as a guide whilst painting.

In addition to paints, brushes and a few pots of water, I highly recommend having some kitchen paper on hand.You can use this to quickly blot up any mistakes or to tone down any areas that are to dark, if you’re quick, gotta be quick.

Painting done I tried scanning the piece in sections on my Epson scanner. It didn’t work, I couldn’t get them to align properly. The nature of scanners is that they collect information in several passes, and trying to align all that using my cheap scanner proved too much. Next I took the picture to my favourite repro shop where they scanned it to disk on one of their lovely high end, well calibrated colour copiers. Despite their insistence that it would work well, it didn’t. Zooming in in Photoshop showed horrible pixelation and the colours looked like mud. So next I took the picture to my favourite pro print lab, where they scanned it for a large sum of money, but well worth it as the quality was second to none and needed practically no cleaning in Photoshop. I did adjust the hue and saturation a little bit, but only because I like to noodle. I also had to add a few mm to the top edge to makeup for the huge bleed required, but the stamp tool in Photoshop is no stranger to me, so that wasn’t a problem.

Right, picture finished and saved at 600dpi, I dropped in hand written text for the title and Jeffrey Brown’s testimony, which I’d been sent a month or so before. I could have asked a few more people for testimonies too, but the last thing I wanted to do was brag, and Jeff’s was lovely. I wonder how many people’s buying decisions are swayed by the right testimony?

Next I put the rest of the text in via InDesign, it handles the font better than photoshop. Or at least many many years ago in the days of Quark Xpress we were advised to do it this way, and I’ve stuck to that. I opted for a standard serif font, which although fine for all the blurb, with hindsight looks out of place on the title. I should have gone for something a little braver for my name on the front, or at least a little bigger.

All finished, I drew a small passport style photo for the flaps, with customary no eyes (I don’t know why I draw like that, it makes showing expressions rather hard) Sent the huge file over to Blank Slate for them to add blurb, barcodes
and logos.

Then I waited, I worried and I waited. But it turned out superb, the printers did a grand job of it, and gave it a lovely coating which made it really special.

Go enjoy the fruits of Joe’s labour! The Accidental Salad is available now in our webstore, priced £5.99.

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