Cover Design – Mockups

Oh goodie, art!

The actual designing of the cover started with quick sketches on paper to work through possibilities. This helped me define, eliminate, and refine the various ideas and flashes running through my head. Some worked, some didn’t.

“A cleaer and striking image” caused me problems. There are two main things this cover has to do: scream “ALASKA” and “SCIENCE FICTION” both at the same time. Not an easy thing to do. A pure Alaska scene, even a simple one wasn’t going to do it. I started half a dozen sketches and then didn’t finish them because I knew they were all wrong (and no, I’m not going to post those horrid attempts).

One came across as a definite possibility:

With the above attempt I had to focus and simplify. I ended up focusing on the two really big themes: the aurora and the spaceship. The aurora image ties into the title of the book, and the spaceship ties into the book description. The train tracks  give a hit to another big plot point, but I tried to keep it understated so that it didn’t compete with the other two big design elements.

Sometimes at this point I’ll do rough colors over the sketch to see what works, but the colors in this were pretty straight forward. So, I moved on to the next stage.

The mock-up.

While I know what the Aurora and landscape looks like in Alaska, I didn’t want to go on blind instinct when producing the cover art. I needed more to go on to be efficient in getting it done, and done right.

I knew I was going to be doing a digital painting of this cover, but I needed good reference to help with the process. Not necessarily the colors, but the shapes, form, and composition. This is where I used Photoshop.

Using pictures I put each design element on a separate layer. This way I could manipulate each layer without affecting another.

The aurora was a simple place-holder. Part of the magic of painting, even digital painting, is seeing what happens in the paints themselves. For the mountains I lowered the opacity, so they were a haunting glow. This is a common affect in the night air in Alaska.

The train tracks were scaled to fit the foreground, and a few extra trees placed along the clearing.

The foreground was much more problematic. This wasn’t a story only about Alaska. It was also about aliens and spaceships (which I knew, consciously, from the list of major elements in the book that I made at the beginning of this process). I didn’t want to design an alien to go into the cover. Because of the research on categories and perception, I thought this might have a detrimental affect on the book sales.

The other major element was the spaceship. It’s featured quite prominently in the description, so it was a good choice to echo in the cover design elements.

But not a flying spaceship. That didn’t fit the book at all, and in my mind would have been false advertising. But the spaceship is hidden. I could work with hidden.

The result is the below mock-up.

Cover Design - Mockups

But there was a problem. It did not shrink down well. There was too much happening in it.

So, I tried to cut down on the clutter in the middle, but to be honest, nothing looked right. So I changed around the entire format of the cover so that the verbage was in the middle:

Cover Design - Mockups

Much better, but still a bit busy. Too much couldn’t be seen when shrunk down, so why have it there?

So, I worked on it again, and came up with the following mockup:

Cover Design - Mockups

Definitely better. The mockup is still rough, but I like the general concept.

At this point I let it sit, just like I do with a novel rough draft before revising it. I let my eyes rest. I worked on other things. Worked on other art.

A few days later I came back to it. And tweaked.

Only then did I start the digital painting.

NEXT: The Digital Painting – A Cover


“The E-Book Experiment” chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will it fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!

I hope the details of this journey will be a help to other authors. As the process proceeds to selling the final products I will also share hard data that might be useful in the decision making process of other authors who recognize that only they can take charge of their careers. For a listing of all the posts in this series, please click here.


If you find this information useful or interesting, please encourage others to come on by and visit.

Liked it? Take a second to support J.A. Marlow on Patreon!
Cover Design - Mockups

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.