Rainbow Lights: Analysis of Rainbow Covers

Colour Wheel

Usually covers have a limited colour scheme, using shades of one colour, two colours that work together (either because they’re close together or dramatic opposites), or a bold tri-colour scheme using the primary colours. This is mainly because it’s very easy to make rainbows look like a unicorn vomited on the book.

Which is all very well, but the theme for my collection is rainbows, so an all-green cover wouldn’t exactly fit (no matter how lovely). I want to avoid any of the unicorn-vomit pitfalls, but I also want a rainbow. So before starting my own cover, I looked at other artwork using rainbows. These are my thoughts about using that colour scheme effectively.

Rainbow Rules

My first step was a visit to Google images. I searched for terms like “rainbows” and “rainbow lights”. A few observations on the pictures that came up are as follows:

  • Some images used the vomit method on purpose, such as psychedelic artwork and digitally edited photos of rainbows. These are intended to overload the viewer. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for a book cover, it’d detract from the details you want the viewer to see (the title and the author).
  • For non-psychedelic works, the most effective had de-saturated backgrounds, such as black, grey or a greyish shade of a colour. This made the rainbow stand out and also solved the visual overload problem. White backgrounds were also used for a brighter feel, but the rainbow stood out less against them.
  • Some focused mainly on one or two colours, with only small amounts of the rest. This gave the feel of the rainbow, without too much of a colour explosion.
  • The central colour would often appear to dominate at first glance, even if it was in the same quantity (or less) than the rest.
  • For contrasting areas, some used rainbow opposites. What I mean by this is they’d pair the opposite ends of the rainbow – red and violet. Usually in art, you’d use the opposite on the colour wheel* for this sort of contrast (which would be red opposite green, and violet (purple) opposite yellow). Red and purple wouldn’t be considered to have this sort of contrast, as they’re next to each other on the wheel. However, in a rainbow, the viewer has the expectation that red and purple are opposites, so odd though it is, it works (as long as the picture sufficient screams “rainbow”).
  • Realistic rainbows had more subdued colours for the rainbow itself, because in the real world, rainbows aren’t generally that bright against the sky. Sometimes it’s good to remember that you don’t have to set saturation to maximum when editing a rainbow picture.
  • Rainbow lights often had darker shades of the colour at the edges, with highlights in a bright/light shade. Most of these in the image search were photographs of lights, but the principle would work for a painted image too.

Cover Examples

After looking at rainbow images in general, I found book covers with rainbow colour schemes, and analysed which techniques they used (and how well).

Meant to Be – Lauren Morrill

Meant To Be Cover

The cover takes an inspiration from natural rainbows, both in having the rainbow in rays like a sun, and having a scene in the foreground. There are colours in the scene, but they’re somewhat muted (note the red dress is not that bright, and has been mostly shadowed out… the grass is somewhat de-saturated). It’s focused on reds and yellows, which goes with the feel-good contemporary novel blurb. It’s also used some rainbow opposites to show the city against the sky.

It does a decent job of implying a groovy psychedelic theme, without going into eye-bleeding territory. The thing I least like is the font choice, but that’s not a colour issue. It’s certainly readable.

The End of the Rainbow – V.C. Andrews

End of the Rainbow Cover

Not only did a unicorn have an accident here, but the magic turned it into a rainbow-vomit whirlwind, which ate the protagonist! Also, the title is in a similarly bright colour so there’s no real contrast. Add in the blurb, which talks about devastating tragedies, secrets and hardship, and someone had too many skittles.

In terms of colour balance, red was shifted to pink, and the yellow/green part is smaller than the rest (possibly in an attempt to make the yellow title text stand out a little more). This wasn’t a successful cover, and it doesn’t surprise me they changed it for the newer version (the new cover barely has any rainbow on, so I won’t be looking at it).

Arclight – Josin L. McQuein

Arclight Cover

The black background makes the light beams stand out, with white to outline the face without drawing away from the rainbows. A focus on purples and blues is common for speculative fiction, and has been used to good effect here.

Rainbow opposites were used for the title, making it stand out, but also fit with the rainbow theme. It uses the same patterning as the lights, linking the title to the picture.

Crewel – Gennifer Albin

Crewel Cover

Another speculative book with a different approach. One trick here is the extremes have been minimised. There’s only a hint of violet, indigo and blue. Red is softened to pink for most of it. Saturation has also been used – most of the background colour is less saturated (more subtle than using a grey background, but it’s still there). The swirls are the most saturated parts, and draw the eye (the focal point of those being near the centre, close to the title).

I liked the choice of the pink swirls and red lips as the central colours. It’s playing with cover colour stereotypes, as such colours are usually put on chicklit books. But it’s using them in different ways, with an overall composition that’s more dreamlike and suggests a speculative book. This goes with the blurb about becoming a beautiful and deadly spinster.

Much like Arclight, the title interacts with the picture. It’s dark, so it stands out, but has reddish sections where it crosses the picture.

My Plans

My original idea was a rainbow squid in a black ocean. Arclight was very close to my colour scheme ideas, so I’ve seen it can work.

The debatable point is how bright to make the squid. It could be lit up, as though it’s self-illuminated. It could also be fairly dark, as though a light is being shone onto it. Or a mix of both, with small points of light. As the squid body will take up a fair bit of the cover, I’m leaning towards a darker approach, with some points of light.

Colour-wise, purple/blue is often associated with speculative work, so would be a sensible dominate colour scheme. I liked Crewel‘s play on the cover colour stereotypes, but it’s more of a risk for self-published work. Making the genre easier to identify increases the chances of a reader looking at the book.

I preferred the covers where the title and the picture went together. Meant to Be worked as far as the picture was concerned, but the text seemed separate, as though it was an afterthought. But this decision can come a little later, as I’ll be adding the title digitally. The next step will be drawing the squid, which is a story for another post.

* See the top of the post for a picture of a basic colour wheel.

Meaty Story in Nature

“Dead Meat” is in this week’s Nature. It’s out today in print and appeared on their website yesterday. Yay! [ETA: A number of people have commented that this is pretty graphic… I don’t react the blood quite that way, but if you do, be warned… the meaty part is quite literal.]

Link: “Dead Meat” at Nature

This story is a number of seconds. It’s the second story I’ve had published by Nature. It’s also the second I’ve had published about the arts in science fiction (the first was a horror story in ChiZine). There are times when it feels like people forget that drawing, singing and other forms of expression aren’t things that go away because we have nifty new gadgets. Odd considering creative writing itself is one of the arts.

That’s my thinky thought for the day. Mostly I’m in the yay space, so this is as about as thinky as I get.

The Spots of Yayoi Kusama

Context

I went to the Tate Modern for the first time a little while back. I had a mild fever by the time I got home, so I took aspirin, laid down for a bit, then got up and write a story about artists and tentacle monsters*.

The fever wasn’t because I was sick. It was sensory overload. When I walk into a crowded room, it’s like I’ve walked into trippy dayglow land. My reactions range from general distraction, to seeing lights and shapes in front of my eyes. I used to think this happened to everyone, but I came to realise that for most people, a busy room is a plain and stationary affair.

Sensory overloads aren’t always bad. Art is something that sets it off in a good way. I may well see spots and have fever symptoms, but I enjoy visiting galleries. I’m attracted to bright colours, bold shapes and light rooms (where the room in dark, apart from points of light). Modern art has plenty of those.

This time when I visited the Tate Modern, I looked over the paid exhibitions**. I was immediately drawn to Yayoi Kusama’s work, as it it was bright and covered in polkadots. Finding out she had hallucinations***, which led to some of the repeated images, made me even more intrigued. I don’t think she sees things for the same reason as I do (there’s no discussion of sensory overloads in the interviews), and I’ve never felt the things I see were real (they’re translucent, like an overlay on reality), but I was curious to see how it influenced her art.

Infinity

The art is mostly laid out in chronological order. Her early paintings are smaller abstract works, with a focus on colour and patterns. Once she’d moved from Japan to America, the canvas size gets bigger. One room is taken up with ‘infinity nets’ – repeated white circles on large canvases. These wouldn’t translate well as prints, but full-sized on every wall of a room, they have a calming effect. It reminded me of being on the beach on a calm day, as the infinity nets had a similar sensory impact to waves.

She also moved onto sculpture, being known for covering everyday things with items that caused her anxiety. The ones people focus on represent her anxieties about sex, but I noticed the clothing covered in flowers. Sex is not an uncommon anxiety. The objects with pasta on aren’t a surprise from someone risking starvation in a country with plenty. But flowers struck me as a more unusual thing to be anxious about. Some of her interviews mention seeing fields of flowers as an example of an infinite thing – that the flowers go on forever. For me, the fear/wonder that comes with imagining the true scale of things made for a more interesting sculpture. But I guess for most, sex sells more than infinity flowers.

Her later pictures included collages, which have a melancholy feel to them. This shifts slowly into her most recent work – bold acrylic paintings with a cheerful feel (something I’ve seen criticised… but I don’t view happy emotions as less artistically worthy than sad ones).

The highlight of the display were the two room installations (both of which I’d call light rooms). “I’m Here, but Nothing” is a dark room, set up like a room in a house. Fluorescent spots cover everything, lit by a UV lamp. Though you can see the items in the room with the faint light, the glowing spots dominate. From my perspective, it was like an inversion of sensory overloads, where the spots are no longer the overlay. They’re the reality, and the room is the unreal layer.

The second light room was “Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life”. It’s covered in mirrors, with multi-coloured lights hanging down. The lights shift through various colours, creating an endless expanse of lights in the mirrors. Almost like a starscape.

Reflections

Armed with a copy of Alice in Wonderland (illustrated by Yayoi Kusama), I headed home. The family member who came along got a collection of postcard prints (we did the shop before heading in, so also played the game of spot the original in the exhibition). The gnarly mutant polkadot pumpkin cushions were out of my price range, but fun, as only gnarly mutant polkadot pumpkins can be.

It sounds strange to say, but I hadn’t considered why I tend to put spots all over things. My spots are much smaller and not of the polkadot variety – often they’re smallest dot I can make with whatever media I’m using. But they’re there. I suppose because I’ve always been aware that the spots aren’t really there, I didn’t consider why I was making them real in my pictures.

* This story was “Visions of Destruction Series, Mixed Media”. On the first visit, there were a lot of art series on display.

** The Tate Modern itself is free, but the special exhibitions need paid tickets. I recommend booking in advance. The ticket collection queue had about ten people. The ticket purchase queue went all the way to the main door and back again. I was glad we’d booked.

*** One criticism is that Kusama apparently didn’t discuss having hallucinations with friends when she was younger. Some take this to mean she didn’t really have them. But not only is it difficult to discuss seeing things that aren’t there (people don’t exactly take the news well most of the time), it’s not immediately obvious that it isn’t something everyone experiences. We tend to assume we experience the world the same way as everyone else, until proven otherwise. Saying, “Well, of course it’s obvious people don’t see spots, because I don’t,” is proving the point.

# The Tate asks for people not to take photographs in the ticketed exhibits, and to only use photos taken in the other galleries for personal use. I’m honouring that request… however, I have included two pictures taken outside the main galleries. The polkadot beach balls were dangling down outside the Yayoi Kusama display and the colourful perspex is the donation thingy at the main entrance. Pictures from the exhibition itself can be found on the BBC website and more information about Yayoi Kusama is on her website.

Banksy Visits St. Leonards-on-Sea

The street artist Banksy was recently in my local area* – he left a picture of a child making Tesco sandcastles**. Needless to say, I went down to get some photographs. The local council stopped it from being removed by the anti-graffiti team and covered it in a clear protective screen. Other graffiti appeared around it, including some from the feud between Bansky and King Robbo.

The Tesco in St. Leonards is really big. Not compared to space, but compared to supermarket sizes. The store is some ways inland from the coast.

The Banksy itself

Banksy art: A child making Tesco sandcastles

Detail of the child

Banksy: Detail of the child

The Banksy with the beach in the background

Banksy with shingle beach in background

A crowd gathers

A crowd looking at the Banksy

* The location is St. Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, England. If you’re in the area, here’s how you get there: starting at the Hastings / London Road side of St. Leonards, walk down the seafront past the Marina (the large building shaped like a boat).

The Banksy is on the side of one of the steps leading to the beach. It faces away from the direction you’re walking.

** Banksy has confirmed it’s one of his.