Thursday, February 18, 2016

As Long as the Topic isn't "Other Talents"

by Giselle Renarde

My grandmother is terribly proud of the new kitchen light my uncle installed for her. "He's such a perfectionist," she told me. "But he takes his time. He enjoys the work."

"He could make some extra money as a handyman now that he's retired," my mother said.

"No, no. He'd never do that. If this was a real job with pay and clients, then it would feel like work and he wouldn't want to do it anymore."

Same thing with me and graphic design.

I've mentioned before that cover art was, in my mind, a barrier to entry to the world of self-publishing. I knew I couldn't afford to commission quality cover art, but I also didn't know how to create it myself.

That was a big hurdle, but the less I earned in royalties from small presses, the more I realized I needed to make a change--and self-publishing was the best change for me.

I'm a self-taught cover designer. It's a skill I've acquired by trial and error. I won't say it's a "talent" necessarily, because I know some spectacular graphic designers and my covers really don't stack up.

From time to time, I do commission covers from people I consider "real" graphic designers, but the truth is that I've grown to love playing with my design program. Even after four years using it, I learn something new with every cover I create.

I was an artist, as a kid. Teachers told me I'd grow up to be a writer but I never believed them. I only wrote stories so I could draw pictures to go along with them. Maybe cover art is my adult version of book illustrations.

But there's a reason I don't offer up my skills for cash. There's a reason I gave premade covers away for free in December. And it's the same reason my uncle will only do handiwork around my grandmother's house and his own: once you're working for pay, working for clients, it's a job rather than a pleasure.

I want to retain graphic design as my pleasure. I want to keep learning and keep enjoying.

And I'll tell you one thing: when my lesbian novel The Other Side of Ruth came out in the fall, readers (and writers) came out of the woodwork to tell me how much they loved the cover--a cover I'd designed myself. It made me almost as proud of the cover art as I was of the book itself.


  1. That is a beautiful cover! (Is that a stock photo? Or a classic painting?)

    I have a small (and I do mean small) talent for graphic design. For a short time I did some work on the side designing little newspaper ads, and I had firsthand experience of the gulf between my talent and that of the people around me who really had a gift for it.

  2. As much as I know and love about art, I never was able to create. I did have knack for setting up a booth at a high-end antique show, and, that's probably considered an art form of sorts. But it really just felt like placement and balance, using a formal approach with some kind of mass-based balanced symmetry around an arresting centerpiece. The objects I was presenting were true art, produced by the real deal. If you go back to 2013 posts, mine was the last post of the year, (so it comes right up) and shows some of the objects I carried.

  3. I'm in awe of visual artists. I used to long to be able to draw and paint well, but my hand-eye coordination is terrible. Graphic design with computers might not call for as much physical coordination, but I think there's some deep connection I lack, anyway.

    I do think of writing, especially the editing part, as sculpture of a sort--shaping text, carving away and adding on, tweaking the flow of the prose into graceful lines, or harsh, abrupt ones, if that fits the intended mood best. But that's just a quirk of mine.

    I do understand the job-versus-pleasure thing, to a limited extent. I might be able to work at editing for aspiring writers, but that would feel like a job in a way that editing stories for my anthologies (and most of those don't need all that much editing) doesn't. I get paid for the anthologies, if I'm lucky, but those are things I've chosen to do in a way that editing-for-hire wouldn't be.

  4. Hi, Giselle,

    I agree, that's a gorgeous cover.

    Did you also do the one for Mind Your Manors, over to the right? Delightful!

    I definitely get what you mean about how doing something as a job can sap the joy. That's one reason I'd never consider trying to make my living as an author. (The other is that I don't want to live like a pauper LOL.)

    With regard to graphic design talent, I also grew up drawing and painting. I can envision a cover, and identify effective photos. Right now, though, I lack the skill with graphics programs to produce professional looking covers. I've made a few for self-published books, but I've learned not to try and combine two images...just stick with one.

    Fortunately I met Willsin...!

    I should say, too, that I really hate many of the so-called professional covers I see on many books these days. Horrible, both from a design and an implementation perspective!

  5. That is a beautiful cover - plus a kind of ad for redheads. (Too many of the ones I know think their hair-colour is a problem -- & some have been bullied for it.) Giselle, you are multi-talented.

  6. Gorgeous cover! I also like to fool around with cover design.

  7. 'tis indeed a lovely cover, and I think part of why it works so nicely is you've stayed restrained. You used type which works in harmony with the already-lovely image. Importantly, you appear to have drawn the colors for your text from within the image. That's not the only way to go, since contrasts can also work, but with this style of image I feel it's the best way to approach it. Lovely work!

  8. A big part of why I bought that book in print was the cover. I enjoyed reading it, but I also spent a fair bit of time just lying on the floor admiring the picture. Aside from what it has going for it as far as design, I think it speaks to the character of Ruth, her hidden desires, her restrained sexuality, etc.


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