Sunday, 13 October 2013

PwDP Assignment 2 Re-Worked

Assignment 2 was to design a book cover and I chose The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart, investigations, research and analysis of the novel can be found in an earlier post here

feedback wasn't particularly favourable at the time and with personal circumstances being what they were it got put onto the backburner as I was researched out and wasn't sure how to progress, develop a different idea? Do a different book?

on that post there are some of the ideas I bounced about in my head when thinking about it. Since then I have seen more photographers' work incorporating surrealism/manipulation of people, for example Levi Van Veluw, Alberto Seveso and Giuseppe Mastromatteo.

The features that interested me about these photographers were the digital manipulation, plain backgrounds, the difference between subtle colour palettes and the vibrant colours and the use of foreign objects covering facial features. Annotated images from these 3 can be found in my physical learning log.

Keeping the main book layout more or less the same I set about experimenting and building up a more surreal approach to The Dice Man. As an aside I found it interesting to note that several other students had chosen to submit covers with a single image yet feedback to these were favourable and they were not advised they were limiting their choices, as per my original feedback. I guess the view of your tutor impacts upon feedback?

Firstly I approached a friend and asked if he would mind sitting for a portrait in which I wanted him to look slightly "evil" and could I also photograph his hands/arms as I quite liked his tattoos which fitted in with the theme of the book... Terry has in the past been quite heaving involved in acting and theatrical events so had no issues about posing and knew all about model release forms. Useful information about legalities can be found here

Both images were shot using natural light coming through patio doors and velux windows, a reflector was used to bounce light upwards to remove shadows from under Terry's eyes. Black velvet was used as a backdrop. I had originally thought to shoot an image of his face, then one with his hands over his face and blend them together using layers but his hands were not long enough to get the effect I required so shot them separately. This meant it was also easier to clone out blemishes and jewellry marks. As I was going to convert the images to black and white I was not too concerned with regards to the perfectly normal difference in colouration between his face (out in all weathers) and his arms which had spent the Australian winter under wraps. (yes, the poor man came to visit all the way from Australia and got nabbed to pose for me!) Wanting a more symmetrical face I created a duplicate layer of the left hand side and flipped it. Hands/arms were elongated and made thinner.

Portrait, complete with adjustment curve layers, black and white conversion and then initial blending results looked like this....

In the novel Rhinehart writes lists of things he could do and rolls the dice to see if he will carry these out therefore I wanted to incorporate a list, I didn't want a clean square piece of paper so ripped a piece out from a pad until I got one the size and shape I liked, wrote a few scenarios onto it and shot it from different angles. Wanting to incorporate dice somewhere but not sure quite where I also shot some of these. Again using natural light and black velvet the other elements looked like this.....

Putting It Together...

Version 1

This gave me a rough idea of how it looked what I needed to alter with positioning and brightness/contrast. So I could also get an idea of what each element would look like I split the back, spine and front. 

I posted onto the OCA Flickr forum and my personal Facebook page for initial feedback. I didn't want to continue developing the idea if initial reactions were totally unfavourable. Luckily for me they weren't. (Terry was pleased with his portrait, an added bonus) Suggestions were the black was too stark and the single red dice possibly drew the eye too much. I also thought that when split into sections the front image looked unbalanced and needed a corner continuation of the list.

Version 2

Although I had thought when split the die did not lead the eye away, I did still have lingering doubts as to its impact therefore reduced the size and added  the second. So with two dice instead of one and the list added the cover looked more balanced, however I noted that I needed to brighten the corner as it did not show up very well. I ran test prints to see what it printed like and found that despite calibration and thinking my monitor was set up reasonably well the colours were not as punchy and the whole cover printed out rather dark.

Version 3

Although uploaded here as versions 1-3 there were actually more than this created and saved as each subtle alteration was done, but too many to inundate the blog with. Eventually I was happy with the brightness of the main image and could think about reducing the impact of the black background.

Version 4

At first I experimented with gradients but none of this was working to my satisfaction, on chatting to a colleague at work who is an art teacher he suggested using a textured overlay and that concrete, bark or lichen was rather effective. Playing about I decided lichen worked for me, reduced opacity, a blending mode of Screen then feathering the edges using the rectangular marquee tool seemed to give me the subtle result I was after. Shadows were added to the dice so they didn't look like they were just floating mid air.


Personally I like books that have simple plain backgrounds and research showed that there is a trend towards this kind of cover as shown by my earlier research. The plain background works especially well with a surreal approach as you can focus on the main image being presented. The list and the dice allude specifically to events that happen within the novel. If you are aware of the story you immediately pick up the visual clues, if unaware then they give implied meaning. Red in our culture infers danger and also picks up the colour in the publishers logo helping to retain a limited colour palette.

The model was deliberately chosen - being male, of the correct age and his appropriate tattoos worked within the story line.

The hands have many interpretations: when you have problems you put your head in your hands, as a psychiatrist Rhinehart dealt with his own problems alongside those of others, he held their lives in his hands with the advice he gave, hands are used to roll the dice. The split indicates a split personality, one supposedly in control- the psychiatrist- and the other with a personal life he felt was falling apart; of the two choices you can make, do it, not do it. I feel that the image is striking enough to gain the potential audiences' attention and make them pick the book up to read the blurb. Combined with the list, the complete cover gives a fair indication of what in contained within the pages without being obvious.

Often the first view of a book is its spine. This design has all the information you need; the title, the author, the publisher's logo and an image of an usual list of things to do which should intrigue potential readers. The list was positioned so that the audience would read "Be anybody" "Steal" and "Rape" along the spine, if the book was displayed on the shelf this would hopefully intrigue them enough that they would pick it up. The white text a contrast against the dark background with the texture adding interest. The limited color palette keeps the overall effect clean and clear.

The next thing you look at is the front cover. Facial features, especially eyes, will grab the attention immediately. There is then an implied triangle between the text with the diagonal lines of the hand written list to lead the eye around the page. The texture adds visual interest and makes the plain black background less harsh. The monotones, along with the crisp, serious gaze, create a menacing atmosphere which suggests the novel contains dark themes.

The back cover contains the blurb and other useful information, such as reviews and price. The text being kept to two colours, the red and white, is in keeping with the design as a whole. Red is an extremely dominant colour and even a small amount will draw the eye. It's the colour associated with love, passion, anger, heat, fire, and blood.Within the art world red is often said to symbolise excitement, energy, passion, love, desire, speed, strength, power, heat, aggression, dominance, danger, fire, blood, war, violence, all things intense and passionate. As many of these were themes within the book it seemed logical to opt for red dice and some red text.

It is important to note that the symbolism of colour does vary within cultures, in China for example red is associated with joy and happiness!

The tumbling dice represent the dice in the title and the story, the diagonal corner of the list invites you to turn over and look at the front.

As a book cover would ultimately be printed and I want to provide prints for assessment I experimented with papers and settings. As I have a fairly basic Epson printer which I cannot get profiles for the other manufacturers paper I tend to stick with Epson papers. I chose to print on Matt Archival, Premium Glossy and Semi-gloss papers. I also printed on Epson paper through my Kodak printer just to see the results. I also printed using Relative Colorimetric v Perceptual.

  • The Matt Archival paper didn't seem to print the image out as sharply as I prefer and didn't resemble a book cover. Also the portrait image came out quite grey.
  • The Premium Glossy for me was too shiny
  • My favourite paper was Semiglossy
  • The red Dice did not appear as close to the image colours when using Perceptual
  • Final images at first were coming out a little too dark. reset the brightness and contrast, recalibrated and the results were much improved.
Catherine commented as to whether or not I would mock up a book. I decided I would and after playing about with foam blocks pieces of paper to cover and printing the cover to fit here is the final result.....

to send the final image to a publisher research has shown that they prefer to have PDF files useful information was found here


I am glad I decided to rework this book cover and am much happier with the final result. Taking more time to think about what I was going to do and further research into surreal images and manipulation of the human form gave me more ideas to work from. Feedback from my tutor gave me much food for thought, constructive criticism can be very useful although at the time (and even now) it still seemed more critical than constructive in places.

Technically I worked with only one light source, set a custom white balance and thought about how I would pose my model and take individual photographs of each element to build up the final design. Images were shot in RAW, any adjustments made in RAW and then saved as Tiff's. I worked on a tiff image building up the layers as I added each element.

Photoshop has enabled me to create the final image. Many layers, blending modes etc were used for each section with layers grouped together for the spine, back and front of the cover. Saving each version individually gave me the opportunity to adjust elements and go back to things I felt had worked better without starting from scratch.

Doing test prints help me decided if elements were positioned correctly or if my calibration/monitor was ok. I think I need to adjust the brightness of my screen slightly as this was really the only main issue I had. The hard work of text/layout design had been done previously on my initial submission but some minor adjustments were made to text size, position and colour.

If I were to redo this assignment there are some simple things I would alter from the outset, for example ask my model to remove his necklace, although not a huge issue it was something that I had to initially remove from the portrait shot. I'd also ask them to pose without a t-shirt as the neckline caused more work when adding and blending the arms.

Overall I am pleased with the final design, think it sums up the book, fulfils the brief and has given me the chance to explore several aspects of photography: portrait, still life and manipulation.

What have I learnt from the re-working? That it is always good to reflect subjectively on constructive criticism. To be prepared to let go of original ideas and go back to the drawing board. Leaving projects to one side for a time can be useful. Brushing up on technical aspects of lighting or your camera is always a good idea. Approaching people inside and outside of photography for feedback is brilliant as you get ideas from technical and visual aspects. Looking at other photographers work can give you inspiration and switch on a light bulb.

research links


  1. It's a fascinating book in itself and I think you've really done it justice with the all the work you've done here. Are you going to get a dummy book printed Jan?

  2. Stunning work Jan. Dave

  3. Thanks Catherine and Dave :o) I hadn't thought about that there somewhere that does that kind of thing then? I must go and look :o)

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