Aug 08

Alternate Susan Box

Here are some pictures of the box I made to use for the cover of my latest novel, Alternate Susan. Typically, fantasy novels have professionally painted oil paintings, unless they’re YA, in which case they have close ups of the faces of gorgeous teen girls.  But, you don’t go to the shelves with the art you wish you had, you go with the art you got.  I’m not the best painter, and I don’t know any flawless 17-year-old girls, but I can make these shrine boxes. Moreover, the only time I’ve seen it done before was for the Interfictions Anthology by the Interstitial Arts Foundation, so it has the novelty factor.

The purpose of a cover of a novel is to let the reader judge the book.  I needed a clear title, and I needed something intriguing that made people feel the way I wanted the book to make them feel.  My thought for this was “Witch’s tacklebox.”  In the novel, Susan has a tacklebox full of odds and ends she uses for her magic.

First I planned the shape of the box.  I made it 6″x9″, which I believed were going to be the dimensions of the novel. Later, I changed the dimensions of the paper version, so I had to skew it a little in gimp. I planned it so that the front and the back would both be hollow. You can see the back of the box in the third picture.  It’s quite a process to make these shrines. You have to paint both sides of a sheet of foam core with acrylic medium, let it dry, measure out and dry fit the pieces (which I calculated myself, since it was custom) then cover each piece with glued-on rice paper.  Some art papers are acceptable, and some are not.  It’s kind of trial and error. I can tell now by feel if it will work or not (usually).

I bought a bunch of different kinds of art paper, so I let some of the natural color show through, but I painted the center solid brown because I knew that’s where the title would go. For the title, I took down some of my favorite fantasy novels, and made my title by copying the font from each one.  I had no idea that my childhood fondness for calligraphy would come in so handy.  I drew the title on a second piece of paper, and then re-traced it in ink, correcting the kerning (repeat: childhood fondness for calligraphy.)  I photographed the final title, and cleaned it up later using gimp to change the colors and make the lines straighter.

I painted the center top part red, to make it stand out, then  experimented with what would look the best in there. I bought the tiny jar, since the tiny jars I made in borosilicate class don’t have stoppers. I filled it with salt, and added tiny spoon and scissors after I cut the loops off (they were charms).  I knew I wanted a mouse skull, and the tiny faggot tied with red wire was pretty obvious.  I have quite the collection of bottlecaps, so I filled one with gravel, then got irritated when the stones fell out, and glued the gravel in there.  The eucalyptus leaves sewn together with red twine just tied the color scheme in together.

I didn’t care as much about my name as I did about the title. Frankly, I’m not Lee Child or Patricia Cornwall or one of those people for whom the author’s name is greater than the title of the book.  Still, my first version, with the cross of sticks for the T in “Kater” was illegible, so I tinkered with it.  This is (I have been told) the weakest part of the cover, and some suggested I change it, but that wouldn’t be exactly easy to do.

I added the dolls last. They were easy to make out of sticks and paper and acorn caps. Does anyone not find dolls at least a little bit creepy? I really liked the grommets that I fed wire through to contain the doll on the right.  It made me think of two Susans, one trapped, one free.  I’m a little sad that the grommets on the right got cut off in the paper version, especially after I worked so hard to skew it to the right proportions and not ruin the circles.

To make the spine, I photographed the side, and to make the back, I painted a rough rectangle in buff and ochre paint, then photographed that.  The text was much easier to superimpose over a smoother background.

I’m pretty happy with how this turned out, and have already begun constructing a box for the cover of the next in the series, Mulberry Wands, which is written but not rewritten and edited.

For the ebook cover, I used a smaller shadowbox out of scraps that I accidentally covered with paper. I’ll talk about that in a later post.


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