Creativity doesn’t happen on a straight line and sometimes you won’t know you’re done until you’re suddenly done

I’ve self-published five books of my writing and photography. My favorite is A Place to Start, a collection of essays and stories from this blog. The other day I looked for a photograph in that book’s files when I came across these images — the final cover for the book plus two other covers you’ve not seen before.

A few people volunteered to read an early version of the book and give me feedback. I created the first cover above for that edition. It took me all of 15 minutes to make it.

When it came time to publish the book for real, I wanted a cover that didn’t look so slapped together. I made the second cover above — and then I didn’t love it. I thought it was too busy. I liked the typeface I chose, and how I arranged the title and my name, though. I used those elements as the basis for the cover I published, the third one above.

I knew all along that I wanted to use a photo of my first apartment’s front door on the cover. That apartment was the place I started my adult life; a story I wrote about it went into the book and gave the book its title. The photo I used in the first two covers is one I made shortly after I moved in. But as I put together the final cover I remembered that I had a print of a photo a friend had made with me at the front door. I found it and scanned it. The print was borderless; I created a fake border around it in Photoshop for the cover.

The red background includes a texture I found for free online. I wasn’t confident that people would like the red, but it was better than other colors I tried. I chose that yellow for the text so it would pop agains the red.

I wanted to do more with the cover, such as make the photograph look worn and perhaps torn, with a bent corner. But that was way beyond my Photoshop skills.

When I reached this point, I realized that I probably wasn’t going to do any better! So I stopped. This would be the cover, and that was that!

If you’d like to get a copy of A Place to Start, click the button below for more information.


5 responses to “Creativity doesn’t happen on a straight line and sometimes you won’t know you’re done until you’re suddenly done”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Believe it or not the concept of “knowing when to stop” is a huge thing in the arts. I have a pal that went back to art school and got her 4 year in her 50’s and then got a little studio space and started painting again. She’s on a wonderful artistic arc for her later years and will have fun with this way into her retirement. Her number one “bug-a-boo”? Trying to realize how not to overwork the paintings, i.e. “when to stop”. I’ve seen individual pieces of her work go from pretty interesting to “junked up” because she can’t put down the brush. She’s working hard on trying ot realize when this happens.

    Something else that is sort of an under current in your entry: pre-visualization vs. “know it when I see it”. My early hgh school and college photo and art classes back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, concentrated on learning the discipline of “pre-visualization”. Think about what you visually want to accomplish before you start. You certainly don’t want to ignore the “happy accident”, but especailly in the commercial arts, you want to work towards something that has been thought out.

    I cannot tell you how important this is! One of the reasons I got out of the commercial / advertising photography business in the late 80’s and into creative department management, was the lack of education in what was the newer level of art directors. When I started my career, creatives were highly trained and focused, and pre-visualized the ideas. By the time the late 80’s early 90’s rolled around, the art direction seemed to morph into doing things mulitple ways so the someone without a clue could pick one. The only problem with this was the budgets weren’t there to do things multiple ways for a clueless art director to pick one. As we used to say, there’s nothing about the term “art director” that implies that you get no direction. Creatives got stuck betweent the clueless, and the relentless march of of cutting budgets by the end user.


    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I suppose this is what separates the pros from the amateurs. I farted around with a general idea until I stumbled upon something that I realized would work, and that I could probably not make much better.

      For my latest book, I knew I wanted the “Square Photographs Jim Grey” in a square as the major element of the cover. I then went looking for a square photo where I could place that design element prominently. That’s why I chose that image of second base.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        I Like that Thinking! That’s previsualization!

  2. sonny rosenberg Avatar

    Hi Jim, I’m not sure this the right thread for it, but even though I just started A Place to Start, I’m really enjoying it. It’s so open and honest and it reveals a wisdom that is reassuring. Thanks again!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m so pleased you’re enjoying it!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: