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The Depths

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So Kristen said I should explain the creative process.

I had no fucking clue what to do for this cover. Seriously. So much of this process came down to sheer serendipity, I'm not sure I should take credit for any of it. Even after Kristen explained the main plot, I couldn't come up with a single image, not one snapshot, nothing. Oh, how the failure of it mocked me. My muse sat in the corner, eating grapes, and sneered. (I hate that bitch.)

Then Kristen called for a brainstorming session and mentioned her concern about shifting points of view throughout the story. That gave me my first idea: a gallery of photos at the bottom of the cover showing the progression of POVs from one team member to the next.

Then, that left the blank space at the top to be filled. I thought maybe Steve in an oxygen mask, or Steve in the back of the C-130, receiving medical care, or a stock shot of a medevac in a C-130. I tossed those ideas at Kristen, who said she didn't want the main image to be about Steve's injuries; she wanted it to be about the healing process. Good point.

I had no idea how to show that concept.

Halfway through the first edit, Kristen emailed me. "How does 'Out of the Depths' sound as a title?"

Bingo. I had my image: Steve swimming underwater to the surface. Unfortunately, the few screencaps of Steve swimming underwater didn't match the image in my head and couldn't be manipulated convincingly enough to suit me.

After finishing the first edit, I hit Google. Hard. After hours of searching, I found the stock photo seen in the upper right corner of the cover. Perfect! Except it was low res, too narrow, and greyscale. Oy.

And what to do about the gallery images along the bottom? I wanted them to reflect the progress of the story, the progress of healing for both Steve and the team, through the changing expressions on their faces: grim to smiling. Here's where serendipity struck: I needed just one cap of Chin Ho Kelly, looking to his left, with a small smile on his face. I knew I'd seen one somewhere. I found one of him without the smile (the one in the final cover), but not the one I wanted. Kristen and I talked it over.

While there is some humor in the story, this isn't a light subject. It's a tough journey for Steve and it's hard on his team; they have to deal with him and they have to deal with their own issues. Kristen and I agreed to let this cover be serious, let it reflect the subject matter, let the characters' emotions show.

Not finding that one cap changed everything.

Next up, I had to do something to fill the space at the top left, not covered by the small stock photo. Kristen and I batted around ideas until she suggested a simple image of Steve in thought. I went looking for caps and found the one in the cover almost immediately. It's from 1x01 and I knew the black background would make it easy to blend.

Again with the serendipity: little did I know how important that black background would be.

For the top image, I thought a semi-transparent overlay would work well: Steve's face with the swimmer behind it. No. The image just wasn't wide enough to allow for the the bottom gallery; I knew that even before I started composing the gallery. To make it as wide as possible, I butted the two images together, erased the black background along the left side of Steve's face, and discovered there still wasn't enough of the swimmer's image to fill in the blanks. Time to break out the clone and smudge tools.

That done, I started on the gallery. Since the five images came from different sources, and had different cropping needs, I couldn't use a template to crop all five to the correct ratios.

I hate math.

Working from the outside in, each image had to be cropped, resized, and fit under the main image. By the time I had the fourth one done, I knew I was in trouble: there wasn't enough space for all of them.

Remember that black background? Yep! By extending the canvas 100 pixels to the left, I could make the gallery work, then crop the cover as whole. Cool! But the black background wasn't big enough. Okay. It's black; paint a wide black stripe down the side to the new edge of the canvas. Fixed.

Problem: While I had used the black and white filter on the main Steve image to match the swimmer, the gallery photos were still in color and resizing them had made them too dark. They needed to be in black and white too, and they needed to be lightened.

Serendipity again: I tried doing this process to the gallery as a group; it sucked. So I did each one as a selected image. Much better. But the black and white was a bit stark so I threw a blue photo filter over the whole image.


I noticed the gallery first. Remember how I wanted to show the progress of the story through the progress of those images? From left to right, they went from dark to light. I didn't do that on purpose.

Remember that black background I picked because it was "easy"? From left to right, the main image went from dark to light. I didn't do that on purpose.

And the dividing image: I thought it looked like a rope coming untangled. Nope, several people have said it looks like a wave. Bzuh? I didn't do that on purpose.

And Kristen said she wanted the cover to be big. I thought the canvas was good sized when I started but all that painting and extending and cloning made the damned thing huge. I didn't do that on purpose either. *facepalm*

I really like this piece of art. It does what it's meant to do: complement the story. But I'm still not sure how much of the creative process involved serendipity, whimsy, poor math skills, corrected errors, or just my subconscious at play.

I do know Kristen had a lot of input and gave me a lot of inspiration, both with her story and with the brainstorming sessions. If you like this art, give a lot of the credit to her. As I said, she's made of pure awesome!

So, that's how it happened. And it was fun!