This past week I worked on new cover designs for Summerworld, one of the tougher books in my collection to create art for. After some scavenging, I settled on two images I wanted to use: the "cityscape" image, and the "portal" image. This was the first attempt at making use of them:
I wasn't happy with the placement of the elements, so I tried a few more minor variations:
None of those appealed to me in the way I'd hoped, so I tried a different set of composition treatments.
At this point I decided the whole "portal" image wasn't working out; it just added clutter and confusion to the layout, and I couldn't get it to work with the "city" image in a way that didn't clash or look ugly. I ended up seeking out a completely different image and using it for contrast in a new way:
I'm still not wholly satisfied with it, but I'm less dissatisfied than I am with the others. Not just because of the choice of elements, but the way they were composited. In this last image, we have something that is very self-consciously a montage, and that feels entirely different from the blurring and blending effects of the previous takes. I did try another version that had a softer edge on the circle, but that just said to me, "Hi, I'm Photoshop." Fakery all the way through. This design, though, brings to mind more the way design worked when design was unambiguously about compositing physical elements — when you cut out and pasted up actual pieces of paper or film and used that.
I find myself running into countless examples of this. In some movies, for instance, we see scenes where not a single thing being photographed, and not even the camera itself, is a physical object. And yet the filmmakers go through the trouble of adding all the things we associate with real photography: lens flares, bokeh, even things spattering on the camera lens itself. The net effect is to make us feel, both in the large and in the small, that a real camera is photographing some real thing in a real space.
I sometimes wonder how effective those skeumorphic techniques will continue to be. A whole generation of moviegoers, of media consumers, now exists that have been trained to accept media that have no connection with anything physical at all. But maybe the real world intrudes enough on their senses to remind them of what such things are like, and so those techniques still hold power.