Behind the Design – Del Ryder and the Crystal Seed

Posted By Roseanna on Jul 1, 2015 | 4 comments


I recently joined a fun site called 99 Designs, where the customer posts a design job to be done, and then designers can submit options. It’s like a contest–dangerous for this competitive girl. There are all sorts of categories, but I’ve been focusing, of course, on book covers.

In my first week on the site, I saw a contest for the cover of a middle grade fantasy called Del Ryder and the Crystal Seed. In the story, a modern girl of about 11 years old stumbles through a portal into another world–a world where the trees are sentient and glow with an inner life. I like the idea of this–having a middle grade reader, I knew the story sounded right on…but at first I decided to forgo this one–I had absolutely no history of designing fantasy covers for kids! But it kept niggling. Because I’d found this image that was just begging to be used.

Isn’t that FUN? At first I didn’t know what to do with it, but then I woke up one morning seeing in my mind’s eye a tween girl peering into that circle, a glow in the middle of it, and I thought, This could work.

First I tried it with a random girl from Shutterstock. I took this girl in the yellow shirt and tweaked her a bit.

It ended up looking okay, and I submitted it, but she wasn’t quite right and didn’t fit perfectly. Already I had a plan, though. A plan that was confirmed when the author commented on the submission asking for a girl wearing long pants instead of shorts. My plan just had to wait another hour or two…for Xoe to wake up. 😉

See, ever since my niece posed for a book cover four or so years ago, Xoe has been asking the same question: “When do I get to be on a book cover you design, Mommy?” But I could only reply with, “When someone has a character who looks like you, sweetie.” I just didn’t know when that could be, since WhiteFire doesn’t do kids’ books. And she was, at the time, all of 5.

But I knew the time had come. The title character in Del Ryder and the Crystal Seed is an 11-year-old girl. Kinda tomboyish, brown hair. Now, Xoe isn’t 11, but another of my nieces will be in a week, and she and Xoe, standing side by side and from behind, look enough alike that I knew she could pass.

So after I’d given Xoe time to wake up, I went stealthily into her room, picked out a simple outfit of a fitted T and dark jeans, tossed them into the bathroom, and said, “Hey, sweetie, put those clothes on and then model for me. I need you for a book cover!”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen her get dressed so fast. 😉

Now, given the position I wanted her in, I put her in our living room, against an outcropping of white wall that she could put her hand on much like a tree trunk. I took a variety in similar positions–and Rowyn took a few too. Honestly, I would have used his if he had managed to get a full-length one–that kid’s got some talent with a camera! Far more than his mommy, who is so bad that his papa will constantly joke that I can make any picture blurry…

But hey, I did okay this time! I decided to go with this one.

Now, if I was using this as a photo, it wouldn’t have worked–the lighting isn’t right. But she was going on an illustrated background so would have to be illustrated herself, so I knew that it wasn’t that big a deal.

How to turn her into an illustration? Photoshop had my back. I applied an Oil Painting filter, and then a surface blur, and suddenly my little girl looked illustrated too. =) Of course, then I still had some color changing. I darkened her hair to look browner.

I really like this. =) You’re also seeing a glow I added to the circle, which was quite simply an off-white circle that was blurred quite a lot and whose opacity was turned down to give it that hazy-glow effect.

Now–the title. I’d downloaded a great fantasy font a while ago and was just waiting for the chance to use it. It’s called Jupiter Ascending (after the movie, though I had no idea it was a movie at the time, LOL). I used that, added a nice drop-shadow, and then arched it to match the bend of the tree.

As someone with a lot of kids’ books in the house, I knew how I wanted to format this title. The Del Ryder part would be larger than the rest, so that in subsequent books we could leave it as-is and just change the part following and the… I also wanted that “and the” to be in a different font that was cursive but still easy to read for those not learning cursive anymore (let’s not get me started on that…). I chose the public domain Lobster for that part, and voila. The title.

Plugging that in, we get…

Leaving room, of course, for the author’s name…

I wanted a fun divider between title and name, something I could use on the spine and back too. I’d already downloaded a gazillion styles of flourishes, so I went hunting and came up with one I thought would totally work for this:

I thought this appealed to the “Crystal Seed” idea, what with that diamond shape hanging down, plus it was slightly curved, which fit my overall design. I popped it in.

The author really liked this, so Xoe and I were quite stoked. =) Of course, this was a full-cover design. On the spine he wanted a tree as a kind of series badge, and I carried over the other elements as well. I loved that the circle of the tree gave me a perfect place to write back-cover copy!

The author, Matt, quite liked this but asked if we could see the shirt in different colors. Which was very easy to do…

He decided on blue…which gave us the final!

But of course, this being a contest, that wasn’t the end of the process here. Xoe kept asking me how we were doing, very excited when we were named a finalist. Then over-the-moon when Matt sent a message letting us know he’d made his final choice and was going with this design. =) I only later went to his website and realized he’s a pastor as well as an author–pretty funny that the first win I had on a site with all sorts of projects ended up being a Christian author, just like I’m accustomed to working with.

We ordered a paperback the day it became available on Amazon, and Xoe’s reading it now–a very happy cover model indeed. 😉