On Thinking Like A Book Cover

I split my photography between photos for the wall decor industry and the book publishing one. When shooting for book covers, I need to adjust my thinking quite a bit from that of the fine art or decor market, which is more concerned with producing a pictorial image that can enhance a living space.

For the book cover market, I am looking for the story, or the potential story. There are times when the two can overlap, but I usually put myself into a different frame of mind for covers. Since I like a good mystery or suspense story, I often try to think in terms of that genre when out shooting. The resulting images often have a bit of a dark undertone to them. Like this bison skull, below. It has a clear bullet hole in the head. Overall the image tells a story that could be successfully used on the cover for a variety of stories, besides the stereotypical western genre.

A bison skull with a large gunshot wound.

The image below of the old fashioned workshop, could be used on the cover of a suspense novel. Perhaps a story about a mass murderer, or the disappearance of an important person. But it could just as easily be about the breakdown of a marriage. The loss of a grandparent, or a story set in the past. What about a story about a seemingly idyllic neighbourhood with a dark secret. Is it the caretaker?

An old farm workshop with antique tools.

Even seemingly random subjects can make great book covers. I would never have thought when I snapped a photo of our cat on the fence with a specialty camera set up that it would end up the cover of James Patterson novel, but it did.

The silhouette of a cat sitting on a fence.
James Patterson Book Cover

The book cover industry engages my creativity and imagination and allows me to become a bit of a storyteller in seeking out and composing my images. It’s a job I truly love.

You can view my portfolio’s of images for licensing on Arcangel Images and Millennium Images.

Burrington, Monet, And Me

Arthur Alfred Burrington was an esteemed English painter. Although most known for his watercolours which formed the bulk of his work, he was equally adept at oils. Alfred received his training in London at both the South Kensington School of Art and later at Slade School. He went to Rome and Italy to study the great masters. In France he studied at the famed Ecole des Beaux-Arts, under the tutelage of Leon Bonnat. He also studied under Gustave Boulanger and Fernand Cormon. The later taught such famed artists as Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec, Emile Bernard, Vincent van Gogh, and several other highly celebrated artists. 

Burrington spent time at the artist colony at Pont-Aven in Brittany, before finally settling in the French Riviera at Menton. It isn’t known whether Burrington and Monet became acquainted in Brittany or Paris, but it is known that they painted together at Menton. Alfred is the subject of Monet’s ‘Portrait Of An English Painter, Bordighera‘ in 1884. 

Portrait Of An English Painter at Bordighera by Monet

The painting below is believed to be a painting of his father, Edwin Henry Burrington. The Burrington family was well established and highly respected in Bridgwater, Somerset. In 1848 at the age of 27, Edwin published a book of poetry entitled Revelations Of The Beautiful. Edwin was quietly involved in the literary circles, often writing articles in leading London papers, and was on the permanent staff with the London Press as the critic. His book of poems was well reviewed by the press.

A Visit From Grandfather – A Somersetshire Cottage by A Burrington

Edwin Henry Burrington was my husbands great x3 grandfather. Arthur his great x2 uncle. 

I have always likened painting to poetry. The melodic rhythm of the written word and abstract interpretations seem to echo with my thoughts of painting. I equate high realism in art as journalistic reporting. The facts as observed by one person. While impressionist and abstract representational art is more like poetry in its emotive suggestion which allows the reader/viewer to interpret the meaning. 

Many of my landscape and figurative paintings were drawn from inspiration of Burrington’s poetry. A nod to my husbands family history which is so rich in art and poetry.  

Nature Is Revealing – 8×10” – Oil on canvas panel

“The prosers of the busy world are they
Who never kindle mutual faith and feeling,
For such have hearts which waste themselves away,
Yet never know that Nature is revealing
Both love and loveliness by night and day.
The poets of the busy world are lovers,
The truest and the best.

Edwin Burrington

Vision Quest Part II

My Vision Quest series had been going well until someone commented about me not being of First Nations descent. I tried to brush the comment off, but something got under my skin. Then I started hearing other negative comments. People were quietly questioning if I was guilty of cultural appropriation for painting these images, which made me question myself. A long dry spell resulted.

The last thing I wanted to do was insult the people I was trying to celebrate through my paintings. I talked and listened to some other non-native artists who were representing First Nations people in their art. They all seemed to have a relationship with a native person. Some said I needed to seek approval to do my work, so I set off to do this, not having a clue how to actually do it.

The Horse Warriors – 22×28 – Acrylic On Canvas

I spoke to one artist who said I needed to consult with an elder. So I sent emails and tried to make phone calls to find out how to get in touch with an elder. Those efforts all lead nowhere. Calls and emails went unanswered. Finally I talked to another artist who volunteers with our historic park, which hosts an annual pow wow. I figured he might know of someone I could talk with to find out how to find an elder.

The name he gave me lead to a person who worked at a local friendship centre, but she’d quit the day before I called. However I explained my situation and they gave me the number for another organization in town. Finally success. I was able to make the arrangements to meet with an elder.

I was so nervous of how my work would be received. I went in to their resource centre before meeting with the elder and was able to show my work to a small group of First Nations people and the centres employees. The work was so well received. I can’t even say what a relief it was.

The meeting with the elder went as expected. I had already known in my heart the answers that I was seeking. I have been given a gift and a voice. It is my story I am telling – my impressions and thoughts of First Nations people and their culture. They can not give me permission to do my work, because it is mine and they have no right to say if I can or can’t do it.

There are certain protocols which could raise concerns, such as if I were to call it Native Art, which I have never done; or if I were to copy existing work, or paint on sacred items such as drums or teepees, or represent myself as being of aboriginal descent.

I was told that those who question me are doing so out of their own insecurities or jealousy. I need to ignore them and not let them get into my head. And finally I was told how to honour and talk to the spirits so that my visions keep coming to me.

Since that time the images coming to me have been overwhelming. It is like the floodgates have been opened. I can’t paint quickly enough to keep up with the visions and ideas. And I am full of gratitude for both the gift  and support I have been given. The spirits have given me, and others who have a similar calling, this gift. It is not up to me to question the reasons behind it, but to follow and honour it to the best of my abilities.

Vision Quest Part 1

I have been working on my Vision Quest series of paintings for several years. I can’t say when exactly it started or exactly why, except to say that I’ve always been driven to represent First Nations people through my work. Even within my photography there are many images that have obvious, and many not so obvious, connections.

I titled my series Vision Quest because that is how many of the images come to me – through visions, dreams, or abstract thoughts. Sometimes the work will be influenced by a story or event, and I’ll try to fit the imagery to the story. Sometimes the image comes first and I try to fit the story to that.

Daylight Dance – 11×14″ – Oil on panel


Why the First Nations people? I have tried to rationalize this over the years, but the truth is I don’t really know. It’s just what I’m being guided to do. In my rationalizations I have come to the conclusion that it’s because these peoples traditional ways represent what is missing in our society today. Respect, freedom, harmony between land, nature, and spirit; honour for the past and future, a sacred knowing that goes beyond science and logic; and living an artful life.European immigrants, of which I descend, tried to strip away the spirit, stories, and traditions of the First Nations people. I don’t know what part, if any, my ancestors played in the horrible treatment they received under the wave of immigration. I hope none since my Scottish history shares some of the struggles of the First Nations people of being displaced from their land and made out to be the savage enemy. They came here in search of freedom to live peacefully as farmers. I know of no direct ancestors that were involved in the political or military shaping of this country. When I dream I see stewards of the land who have taken care of our planet for thousands of years without the damage we have caused in a fraction of that time. Ultimately it is the struggle between freedom and oppression, an uncertainty for the future, and a belief that if we listened there is a way to live in harmony with the environment and each other. It is my hopes that I can give the First Nations people back some of their spirit and help celebrate their culture for the strength, beauty and integrity it deserves.

In part two I will share the some of the negativity that has resulted from this series, and what I’ve done about that. 

Take A Vacation

I just got back from holidays. My trip ended up not being anything like what I’d planned. I had planned for my husband and I to rent a house on the beach of a mountain lake for the week. We were just going to kick back and relax. I’d planned to do some painting and my husband planned to read and soak up the sun.

Before leaving I’d read an article about how nobody takes a true vacation anymore. Sure people go away but they bring their laptops, smart phones and/or tablets with them so they can stay connected to work, friends, and family. Many continue to be engaged in their work and don’t give their brain a rest. I considered this as I packed my paints, cleaned my camera, and gathered my work tools. The article talked about why it’s important to disengage the brain from work. (I wish I’d noted the article so I could link to it…)

Surely that’s for other people though. People who have high pressure jobs or don’t like their jobs. That’s not for us creative types that are living the dream. Right?! Wrong. 

My planned vacation came to an abrupt halt when we arrived at our cosy little beach house to discover it was anything but cosy. With mouse droppings all over the kitchen and an invasion of ants in the living room, we made an about face and left, scrambling to find other accommodations that would accept our dog. We did find other accommodations, but we weren’t on the lake, or even in the same area. The accommodations were nice, but not conducive to setting up an easel on the porch to paint. So my paints remained in the car and I took a true vacation. 

Lowbush Surprise – 8x8x1.5″ – Oil on canvas

Okay….I won’t say I didn’t think about painting, because I did. I read my Sergai Bongart book and Plein Air magazine. I brought my sketchbook everywhere I went, but I didn’t lay a mark on the pages. I also took photographs. I thought about that article and how impossible it would be to fully and truly disengage from art for a week. But my semi-abstinence had some surprising results none the less.

When I got home I found I couldn’t wait to get to the studio. I promptly started a commissioned painting that I’d been procrastinating on, and then the real surprise hit me. All kinds of inspiration for my Vision Quest series started coming to me. Visions I thought had dried up earlier in the year. 

Was it the vacation that renewed my visions or was it something else?

While on vacation we had a few bear encounters. One in particular was a special treat. We got to watch a mom and two cubs up close for an entire day – eating, resting, playing, and peering in our windows to see what we were doing. It was one of those events that won’t be forgotten. A true joy. 

I’ve noticed that I have periods of high creativity after seeing bears. Is it co-incidence or is there something there? The seeing of bears usually goes hand in hand with vacations, so it’s just as likely the vacation is responsible. I guess I’ll truly never know, but will treasure each encounter and enjoy the bursts that follow.

I’m also going to recharge my batteries occasionally and spend some time away from painting, treating it as an important part of my creative process.