Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dear Girls Above Me: My First Book Cover


It seems fitting to mark the start of my fifth (!) year of blogging with a little (big) announcement! 

I am consistently amazed at the depth of this mini universe. It's been incredibly rewarding to meet and connect with hobbyists, design aficionados, artisans, and the generally curious since I started this blog in 2009. Some of these connections resulted in collaborations, such as the styling and photography spread I did for Ladies' Home Journal on real-life clutter, the exhibit featuring a fully-furnished Kaleidoscope house at my local Design Within Reach store, and interviews, articles, and other coverage in publications around the world. In each of these cases, there was a genuine fascination with the modern twist on miniatures, which made these events and interactions even more gratifying. Without a doubt, the article on modern miniature design in the New York Times in 2010 definitely helped to spark people's interest in this emerging side of the hobby.

Just over one year ago, I was contacted by Crown Publishing Group, part of Random House, to design a cover for a book by first-time author Charlie McDowell entitled Dear Girls Above Me. McDowell, a comedian and filmmaker (and son of actors Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen) has an incredibly popular Twitter feed about the actual "girls" who live in the apartment above him. This is Charlie:

Profile photo from Twitter
He cannot help but listen to their chatter, and he shares very entertaining bits of their conversations, addressing them "Dear GAM" ("Girls Above Me"). A few recent ones:
While I had not heard of McDowell, I became enamored with his posts and was excited by the prospect of doing the cover for his book. My contact at Crown, designer Jessie Bright, provided me with some very rough sketches, a color palette, and some screen shots from my blog that she thought would provide good starting inspiration. The basic concept was a cover that had Charlie sitting on a couch on the bottom half and the legs only of the "girls" on the top half. They asked that I keep the setting very minimal, i.e., do not create two whole apartments, and they also wanted me to use dolls so that it looked intentionally artificial. They wanted Charlie to have a retro/hip look and for the "girls" to be very...yes..GIRLIE!

The first step were the dolls. I normally do not use dolls in my scenes, but had some Kaleidoscope House figures, so I started experimenting. I decided to use my Citadel for this job, since it has the open double-height space.




This doll was not quite right (although they liked his legs), so they asked me to research other "modern" dolls. Jasper from "Twilight" was mostly just for fun...and he cannot sit!


I then suggested the Dad that came with the TOMY Smaller Home and Garden dollhouse.

Courtesy of Andy&Shel on Flickr
Crown LOVED this look for Charlie and were not deterred by the fact that his legs did not bend. I thought I had one in my collection, but couldn't find him. I put out word on my Facebook page to see if anyone would be willing to loan one in pristine condition, and the lovely Susan H. came to the rescue! She kindly loaned him for four months as I experimented with Crown. Thanks again, Susan!!!!

In terms of the setting, I researched some modern lamps and Crown liked this one from miniatures.com. The AG Minis topiary was a winner from the beginning. The flooring is wood grain paper from the Paper Source, and they asked that the backdrop be green, to make it easier to PhotoShop the final walls at the end. I shot "Charlie" on a few different couches. Here are some shots showing various couch options:

Too stylized
Too big

Too small

Too uncomfortable

Too contemporary

Just right!
We all liked the grey couch best (created by the lovely Annina), so Crown asked that I do some shots from different angles with a laptop so that we could come up with Charlie's final pose:

Too passive

Too high above

Not quite
YES!!!
With Charlie figured out, I turned my attention to the "girls." I tried a few Kaleidoscope House dolls, but they did not make the cut.





It was a good process to accessorize the space, but Crown decided they wanted it even more minimal. As I was figuring out the furnishings, I suggested using Barbie dolls, since we were going for a truly "girlie" look. I have to admit that I was intimidated by the large scale. I also had to confront the issue of making them stand and pose without stands, since I needed to keep my hands free to photograph. Here's how I did it...

Painter's tape, while crude, did work!




And then I added a third gal, at Crown's request.


The painter's tape approach did work. No Barbies were harmed during the shoot!




I think they worked really well with their lovely little legs! Crown requested that the girls be positioned closer together, and that the middle girl have a more form-fitting skirt. I got some black adhesive felt, which did the trick. I styled the background with one of my favorite vintage Bodo Hennig tables, a Barbie by Jonathan Adler pink lamp, and a cup/saucer and clock by Re-ment. The couch is AG Minis, and the pillow is by minimodernistas. The bag is Barbie's.



With the girls completed, I submitted the photos to Crown in May and they did their magic with the backdrops. As it turned out, Crown had to amend the TOMY doll's face to comply with legal, so he had a bit of a face lift and shirt makeover. They also used the Kaleidoscope Dad's bent legs! But everything else fit into place. 

Here is the final result...


I am really pleased and excited. The book comes out in June and it's neat to see it on Amazon already.


Cool, right??

This was a great learning experience, and the folks at Crown were a real pleasure to partner with on this project. I'd love the opportunity to do more covers and styling in the future!

Thanks, Crown, and best of luck to Charlie McDowell and his book! I'm definitely getting a copy!!!

51 comments:

  1. CONGRATULATIONS !
    The Cover is so Cool!
    Hugs
    Kikka

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  2. Congratulations! I am so excited for you! I dream of being asked to do a setting for a display one day, so knowing people do take interest is awesome. I will have to download the book for a read now. Thanks for sharing the how to's! xx

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    1. Hi, Jazzi! It is really cool for someone to take a little leap of faith and try something different. Crown was very enthusiastic and supportive, which made a huge difference. The book will be available in June, hopefully for downloading too!

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  3. How cool is that?! =0D
    Congratulations on the cover...it looks great

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    1. It was cool for me to have the opportunity. It took quite some time, but that's the nature of the game!

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  4. Oh WOW, really cool! Congratulations!
    I loved seeing the different stages and choices which you made and then seeing the end result. Yes, really cool.

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    1. Thanks, Josje! It was fun to review in pictures all the steps I took. I had forgotten how much work it was...good thing it all took place over a series of months!

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  5. muchas felicidades por ese excelente trabajo y gracias por compartir todo el proceto creativo , me encanta

    besitos

    Mari

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    1. ¡Gracias! Quería compartir la mayor cantidad de proceso que puedo recordar!

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  6. That's so cool, congrats! You don't realize how much work goes into something like that.

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    1. Hi, Maria! Yes, it was a lot of work, but lots of fun, too. :)

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  7. What a cool opportunity! I love the final result, and that you showed how long it takes (often) to get there. There's always something to tweak :)

    If the book is as funny as his twitter feed, I'll be picking up a copy, too!

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    1. Thanks! True, always something to tweak, or someone sees something new to do. They were really nice and great to work with, though, which made it all a breeze.

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  8. Cool! Congrats! You are keeping us in the front line of art! CM

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    1. Hey, CM! Thanks for your nice words!

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  9. So clever and cool!!!! Congrats on the book cover!

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  10. Congrats! Hopefully many more books and magazines will recognize the attraction of miniature people and furniture. Very good job!

    Best, Neen

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    1. Hi, Neen! There's a lot of potential for some creative endeavors out there...!

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    2. That's what I keep telling my brother, the ad-man, I sent him your brilliant book cover!

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  11. Awesome. Thank you for sharing the process. It's interesting to see the final product and the work that goes into it!

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    1. Hi, Linda! Glad you enjoyed the post! It was a fun process to piece it all together again!

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  12. Wow! This is so much fun to see! Thanks for sharing the styling process. I love the final results! Can't wait to read Charlie's book. :D

    Congratulations! Job well done!

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    1. Thanks so much, Kathi! I appreciate your sweet words! I hope Dylan is doing well!

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  13. Congratulations, Chris! Fantastic that they asked you, fascinating to see the process - and what a great end product! I'll look out for the book. Um, why did they want the background green, when they photoshopped it pink and beige - and from squares to lozenges?

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    1. Thanks!! I'm glad they decided to take a risk and hire me! I believe the green color background is best when replacing in other visuals, as long as the color green does not appear in the image! This is done a lot on TV, too. Crown knew they wanted to use stock wallpapers for the background, and they put those in once the images were final. While I did look into possible backdrops, they ended up with stock images.

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  14. Bravo, Christine! I enjoyed the sequence of how you and Crown put the cover together. A lot of give and take on both sides...but the result looks great. :)

    Martha B.

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    1. Thanks Martha! While it did not always feel like a linear sequence as I was working on the cover, it does now! Glad you like it!

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  15. OMG. How effing awesome!!! Wow, thanks for documenting the progress, it is so cool to see where you started, their feedback and your finals. Insert magic of photoshop and BAM that is one amazing cover. I love how they combined and updated Charlie, he definitely looks retro/hip, love the beard. Too too too cool!! CONGRATULATIONS!!
    (Oh and I love minimodernistas pillow, that is my favorite one).

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    1. Thanks! I do think this Charlie looks more like the real Charlie, especially with those expressive eyebrows! I was sorry that Doris' couch did not work, but so glad her pillow did!

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  16. You already know that I think this is crazy cool--but I'm leaving an "official comment" anyway. HA! So far...I think that Citadel has served you well, wouldn't you say? Wink--it's the good luck dollhouse.

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    1. Thanks, man! I thought that too, about my trusty Citadel. I really don't think I could have done it effectively otherwise. And YOU, my friend, provided me with the inspiration four years ago to get this whole thing started. So, I owe you LOTS of thanks. THANK YOU. :)

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  17. Too bad no barbies got hurt. There are so many of them. :) Big Congrats to you Chris. Way to go, atta girl and keep up the great work. You are so inspiring.

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    1. Hey stranger! It was an adventure with the Barbies, but they were cooperative :) Thanks for your nice words -- miss your posts!

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  18. What a lot of fun! Thanks for the step by step details. It was really interesting.

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    1. You're welcome! Thanks for reading it all ;)

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  19. Congratulations! The book cover looks great. :)

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    1. Hi, Tiffany! Thanks for your good wishes! I am happy it is done ;)

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  20. That is amazing! And thank you so much for showing your process, which was just fascinating. Many congratulations and hopes that this leads to more fun opportunities like this one.

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    1. You're welcome, Stacy, and thank you! I do hope it leads to more jobs such as this -- it was great to apply the hobby in this way, and nice that people were open to it!

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  21. Hello! I'm really impressed by your job. I am crazy about miniatures, especially doll houses! My name is Mariana, I'm from Brazil...one of my dreams is to have one of these houses...I need to know: do you sell these houses or do you know someone who sells?? I need one!! :)
    Congratulations! I just loved!

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    1. Hi, Mariana! Thanks for stopping by! I do not sell dollhouses, but I certainly like to buy them! This house, the Citadel, is quite rare and not easy to find. I found mine on eBay. I have also found houses on Craigslist...perhaps there is an equivalent site in Brazil? You can also find treasures in thrift shops, antique stores, or at auction. Good luck!!!

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    2. OK, thanks so much!I don't know any site like this one in Brazil, but I will try to find one doll house for me in somewhere in this world!Maybe one day, when I visit USA again...
      Thank you one more time!Have a nice week! Mariana.

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  22. Replies
    1. Thanks so much! I love your Small World Love Show piece! One of my favorites!

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  23. Thanks very much! I love your design skills and ideas here. I would follow this blog if it were Wordpress.

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