How To Build A Fictional Bridge

I’ve had many questions and comments about the cover illustration for my book, “Dropping Into Darkness”.

Book Cover, "Dropping Into Darkness"

The fictional bridge on the cover (can’t say more about its importance without spoiling the plot) was inspired by a real-life bridge, the Trift Bridge in the Swiss Alps. That is a giddily narrow, high, thin, spidery foot bridge. A thing of insubstantial ropes and cables and planks. 570 meters (1700 feet) long and swaying in the wind 100 meters (300 feet or 10 storeys) up in the sky over a glacial gorge.

I started with an open source digital line drawing tool called “Inkscape”.

This was my early line drawing:

I didn’t like the visual effect of the planks running left-to-right. So, my next update in Inkscape was to lay the planking lengthwise, aiming them at the vanishing point.

Lots of bolts to unscrew and redo, and there were safety issues while I worked up there undoing planks, but the end result looked better to me.

I moved the sketch out of Inkscape and into my old friend, Photoshop. There I played with colours, warped the bridge – to emphasize its age and shakiness, added an ominous background and added the cover title and author name.

Many iterations and many blind alleys later I arrived at this waypoint:

I was feeling pleased with the bridge and all the interim versions that got me there, but my son looked at it and shook his head sadly. “Meh.”

“What?” I said.

“Like a bad cartoon drawing,” he said. “The cliffs and the wood planks need texture.” He walked away.

Damn.

I played with Photoshop to create wood grain effects, but they all looked fake.

I wandered into our garage and pulled out some (cedar?) wood planks. Then I pulled out my tripod and camera and got an image of the grain.

I overlaid the photograph on the wooden portions of my fictional bridge and gave the cliffs some texture.

So far so good, but something was still missing. A panicked draft horse on the bridge (part of the story) was beyond my capabilities and tools (someday I’ll get a graphics tablet). The perspectives were too complex. I had to settle for something simpler on the bridge.

There is a moth that plays a key role on the bridge, but when I drew that, I found that moths are boring. Fortunately there is also a butterfly that has a role in the story, so I decided I needed a butterfly on the bridge.

It was late night when I got to this conclusion, and my freehand butterfly drawings were … let’s just say, not good. My other son looked at my butterfly.

“What do you think?”, I asked.

“Very good,” he said. “Amazing. Stunning. What is it?”

It was late. I could practice drawing butterflies or … I could take a shortcut: a photo of a butterfly. Butterflies in my garden are hard to come by during the Canadian winter, so now I was on the hunt for a public domain photo of a butterfly.

After wasting several days of my “shortcut” on dodgy websites that promised me public domain images, along with equally unreliable promises of sure-thing shares in lithium mines in Borneo, and miracle creams for every ailment, I finally found two great sites.

For the benefit of other illustrators, Photoshoppers and photographers I have two words:

pixabay.com and the US government.

OK. Technically that’s five words, but enough quibbling. Pixabay is wonderful site where truly excellent photographers have donated images for just about any use.

The US government was interesting too. US government policy seems to be that most photographs taken by a government employee on duty have already been paid for by taxpayers, and therefore the photographs are considered public domain.

Thanks to that surprisingly liberal policy (probably a very old policy) I found a lovely public domain photo, courtesy of the US Geological Survey, of a monarch butterfly. (For the lepidopterists in the crowd, this is a female butterfly; males have an additional black dot on each wing. However, since the sex of the butterfly in my story had not been defined, this was fine by me.)

All I needed to do was get rid of the greenery in the background, give the monarch a new colour scheme to match the rest of the cover, and warp her wings (digitally, no animal cruelty here) into readiness for flight.

So here we are. The final cover with genuine cedar wood grain. No imitation wood. A labour of love. Hope you like it and the description of how I got there.

Book Cover, "Dropping Into Darkness"

And, if you’re wondering, the book is available across the world in paperback and eBook. Details on https://publishing.staadecker.com/#darkness

Enjoy!

7 Replies to “How To Build A Fictional Bridge”

    1. Thanks, Liz. I’m pleased with it (including the colour palette) too. As you can tell from the blog, a lot of work went into it.

  1. I thought you would just get a graphic artist to come up with a cover but you are truly a cover to cover author Peter. Very well done and it sounds like you had great fun along the way.

  2. An interesting book cover which invites mystery and intrigue. It was worth the effort and great input from your clever sons! Just like their Dad.

    1. Thanks, Coral. Clever sons, the father not so much: he clearly has lots of blind spots especially where illustrations are concerned 🙂

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