Friday, February 16, 2024

The Velvet Starfish

Once upon a time, there was a velvet starfish. This is a true story. How can it be a true story about something that doesn’t exist? Don’t worry, it’s not the main character.

A writer was trying to design a cover for one of her books. She gathered some items relevant to the story… a paper house, a pair of shiny black turtles, a strip of lace and some flowers. She arranged those things in a myriad of ways on several different backgrounds, taking pictures of everything. Then she took those pictures to her computer to see what she could learn.

She learned that it takes some people more than forty years to consistently take pictures that are not blurry. She learned that the lace was too narrow to frame the title of the book. She learned that the turtles no longer looked like turtles when flattened to two dimensions. They looked like black blobs. She also learned that the burgundy velvet made the nicest background, great color and texture.

The writer took many more pictures – with her new knowledge and without the turtles – on the best background. She tried to create a cover from one of those pictures. One attempt was unbalanced. She saved that and started over. One attempt was washed out. She saved that and started over. One attempt appeared to have a house floating on top of a flower and was just super weird. She saved that and started over.

Whenever it became clear that a cover was going bad, she saved it before she started over because this wasn’t her first cover. She had learned through years of experience that some good might be mixed in with the bad. She might eventually look back at previous attempts and realize that the effect on cover11 worked better with the higher contrast image on cover23.

Enlarging the lace had solved one problem. But the writer had been so focused on getting the title right that she hadn’t paid enough attention to the picture. Once her attention shifted, she noticed that there were some odd wrinkles in the velvet. The wrinkles met in the middle to form a shape that bore an uncanny resemblance to a velvet starfish. The writer did not want to explain to anyone why there was a velvet starfish on her cover. She saved that one and started over.

The writer gathered her supplies again. She paused to knock her head against the wall a few times, then snapped another big batch of pictures. She tested the new pictures behind the prepared title layer. None of the new pictures came close to working. Somehow, the flowers were sideways in several, carpet was sticking out in a few, at least one was blurry, and the writer could only conclude that she hadn’t actually been <i>trying</i> to take good pictures. Rather than another round of photography, she started sifting through the images from the beginning.

Those black blobs that were supposed to be turtles were still black blobs. A few images might work if they could be magically zoomed out. The house floating on a flower was so weird it could almost pass for intentionally unconventional. Except almost. Finally, she did find one image with decent composition. Composition was even a good, arty word. The writer believed she was onto something. She pasted on the title layer, added a cool effect. Yes. It was beginning to look like a real cover possibility. And then she saw it. The velvet starfish was back. In her desperation, the writer had let that annoying velvet starfish creep back onto the cover. Argh. She saved that and started over.