Tools of a Cover Designer’s Trade: Digital Art

Posted on Oct 14, 2015

dagear

This is a continuation of my series on the tools I use to create my custom book cover art for indie authors. You can catch my previous post on my photography gear here.

I’ve been drawing since I was two and my art took a turn for the digital nearly 20 years ago (I had to double check my math. It turns out I’m old). The technology has improved in that time, but I still keep it pretty simple. After all, it’s the artist who creates, not the tools, and digital art is just another artistic medium.

Computer

You will hear a lot of people say that designers use Mac’s but I am still a PC girl. My last couple computers have been custom built from NCIX and I highly recommend them. I was able to pick out the components I wanted and they were able to tell me if they would work well together. And then for $50 they built it for me. All the joys of custom without having to actually know how to build a computer.

My computer was bought in late 2014 so likely anything I tell you will be out of date already (and honestly I forgot most of it as soon as I was finished researching, apparently I never saved it to my long term memory) but I will say that I have two hard drives. I have a solid state drive that only has my operating system and my Adobe CC apps installed on it. Then I have a 1T hard drive for storage and all other programs. This allows Photoshop to work really well and I can use large files (I always work at 600 dpi) with no lag.

If you have any questions about my computer, feel free to drop me a note in the comments and I’ll try to remember the specs. It’s a lovely machine, and it does what I want it to do (and what my gamer husband wants it to do).

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Dual Monitors

Dual monitors were more of a necessity before I got a widescreen monitor. If your aspect ratio doesn’t allow you to fit both the artwork and a reference on one screen, then two are handy. I often have my reference, my art, and another window of my art zoomed in to work on at a time. I should post about that another day, it’s such a great trick.

Honestly, my second monitor usually contains nextflix and/or the Seanwes community chat while I’m working.

My main monitor is a Samsung 2HDMI, it’s alright. It’s what I could afford and it’s much better than average but you do get what you pay for. My secondary is terrible and I should buy a new one. Netflix looks much too washed out 😉

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Tablet

This is my tablet. It’s a Wacom Graphire 2. It is…wait for it….11.5 years old. I bought the cheapest Wacom brand tablet that I could find to see if I liked it. I liked it. It’s starting to glitch a bit so I will have to replace it soon, and sadly the new models do not have a reputation for lasting a decade of daily use.

I’ll be ordering in a week or so and I’m pretty settled on the Intuos Draw, it’s just a matter of deciding on the size. I know that the Intuos Pro has more features, but I’m not sure that I really care about them, especially as from the reviews it seems that I’ll be lucky to get two years out of one before replacing it.

I don’t want to be an old cane shaking granny complaining about how they don’t build things like they used to but…they clearly don’t build tech to last anymore.

photoshop

Photoshop

Oh Adobe. Sometimes I dabble with trying out new programs, but after two decades (geez…old) of using Photoshop, I’m really comfortable using it. Another program would have to be very intuitive and robust to compete at this point.

People think that because I’m an Illustrator I would use…Adobe Illustrator. I have no idea how to use that program, and I almost never need to, because I don’t need to create vector files. Don’t think that you have to be an expert in all sorts of programs. Figure out what you need to know for what you want to create and specialize in that.

I use Photoshop for all my art from sketching to finished illustration. I use if for the fiddly bits of photo editing. I also use it to put together the covers and create the PDF Files for my clients.

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In the Background

I do the majority of my cover design work early in the morning or in the evening when the kids are in bed. While I love to be by myself, I do need some background noise. I’ve heard of a lot of artists listening to fiction audiobooks while they write, and while I like that in theory, in reality I get annoyed with the slow pace (I’m a speed reader) and I’m a hard sell on narrators. I do however, love podcasts!

Podcasts also get me through housework, because honestly, washing dishes is super boring (check out my list of my favourite podcasts here).

As I mentioned earlier, I often have netflix up on the other screen. I tend towards girly shows because they usually have a lot of dialogue and you don’t actually have to look at the screen to follow the plot. Currently I’m watching Hart of Dixie, but I have burned through a lot of netflix while working. It’s also an excuse to watch shows that I know my husband has no interest in 😉

Lastly, I listen to music. I really should listen to more music and less netflix, because I think I’m more productive with the right music. But it depends on my mood. I always write to music. Currently, my favourite work music is either Lana Del Ray (I don’t know why, I just work really well to her stuff…and I can’t play it when the kids are awake because she swears too much. So take that as a warning) or the Southern Gothic playlist on Spotify. I like electronic music for writing, and my current novel has been written to the music of Pretty Lights.

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Upgrades

As I mentioned before, I’m getting a new tablet soon, and I really should pick up a better monitor at some point. There are a couple other toys on my radar such as:

Spyder: This is a screen calibration device. I do pretty well with manually calibrating my monitors, but I’d love to try one of these out. Especially when you work for print, it’s important to have your monitor as accurate as possible.

Surface Pro: I want a tablet (and does it confuse anyone else that “tablet” now refers to two completely different categories of tech?) and I want a laptop, and really…I’ve always wanted a digital sketchbook. It looks like the Surface Pro 4 would meet all of these needs but I would love to see one in person, and I’m not sure which one I would need to go for. It will likely be my next big purchase though (sometime in the next 6 months), and I’m looking forward to playing with it.

I think that’s everything I use for my digital art. I’ll have one more post in this series talking about my traditional art supplies (yes, I do own pencils!), and how I integrate them into my digital workflow.

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