What’s in a Cover? — Put Out the Fires!

What’s in a Cover?

When making the book cover for "Put Out the Fires," I tried to keep two things in mind:

  1. A simple, clean look will be best.  (Not too "busy.")
  2. It will pique interest by giving readers a peek of what's inside.

 Mike Perez was more than willing to oblige and demonstrated an exceptional degree of patience while I tried to make decisions in this regard.  (I've never done this before!) 

In this post, I will share with you the steps we took to create our book cover.  (I love Mike's finished cover, by the way!  I hope you do, too.)


The cover Design Process

We followed a similar pattern to what we had done with many of the other illustrations in the book.

First, I sent a storyboard version to Mike.  Then Mike created several rough sketches (or thumbnails) of the illustration.  (The cover is the only illustration in the book where we looked at several rough sketch variations all at once.)  

Once we decided on a general look and feel, he sketched the illustration.  We made very few tweaks to this sketch.  As with nearly every single picture in the book, he nailed it on the first attempt.

Lastly, he developed the final colored version.  (Hundreds of layers of digital paint in Adobe Photoshop.)

Mark & Mike's Design Process

Storyboard Sketch

Rough Sketch


Final Colored Version

How the Sausage Was Made

It's fun to know how the sausage is made.  (Of course, then you may never want to eat sausage again, but at least you know where it came from!)  Below are all the gruesome details for you.

Here is the storyboard sketch I sent to Mike:

My wonderful storyboard artwork that I sent to Mike.  (Click to zoom in if you dare.)

I had this scene in mind from long before I ever connected with Mike to start the illustrating process.  I was confident this would be a great cover idea.  However, when Mike sent me the rough sketches, I immediately noticed that none of them even closely resembled my storyboard sketch.

Mike's four original thumbnail sketches.  (Click to zoom.)

Once I started studying what he came up with, I realized I would need to give up my original idea that was so dear to me.  Mike had a better way.

We debated these four versions through a few emails.  At one point I made the comment:

Just a thought: this cover image will convey to the reader that this story is about an adventurous guy who fights fires in a strange and beautiful land.  If we get that message across then we are on the right track.


With this recalibration, Mike surged forward to create the version that immediately struck home as the right look and feel we were going for:

Mike's fifth thumbnail sketch, AKA The Winner!! (Click to zoom.)

Next he made the sketch, which required no revisions whatsoever (other than adjusting the display lettering and shrinking Clyde a little):

Mike's near-perfect sketch.  (Click to zoom.)

With that, Mike got out the crayons and started coloring.  (Just kidding!  Believe it or not, Mike didn't use a single crayon to make the illustrations of the book.)

Don't ask Mike about this (because I am embarrassed to admit), but I made the coloring process very hard on him.  I wanted so bad for it to be just right, so I asked him to make a few revisions.  (Okay, fine.  I'll admit: SEVERAL revisions.  I am not entirely convinced at this point that they actually made the cover better...)

My nitpickiness at work.  (I am still blushing about it.)  (Click to zoom.)

Either way, he and I are both happy with the finished product:

Mike's gorgeous finished cover.  (Click to zoom.)

When All Is Said and Done...

This cover was the most difficult part of the illustration process.  I'm still wiping my brow, grateful it is over.  (I am sure Mike is, too!)

Making this book has instilled some great lessons into my heart.  First off, "good enough" is enough.  It is so important to accept "good enough." Especially after I finished my obsessive perfectionist moment with this book cover, I realized how many other times during this book creation process that I have compromised, accepted, and let go of certain things that weren't EXACTLY how I wanted, but I realized were "good enough." Even the text of the book— you might be amazed at how many revisions were made, but even now when I tempted to make some changes (because I still could— there is still time!), I resist the urge.  "Good enough" is enough.

Another great lesson I have learned is to let the artist be the artist.  Mike has an incredible sense of artistry and design, deftly placing natural lines through objects and light that lead the viewer's eye to key places in the scene.  As with my original idea for the book cover, and with countless other examples, the end result was so much better when the artist was given artistic liberty.

A Final Cheesy Thought

The cover of our individual lives is constantly being redrawn, scratched out, painted over.  We must always remember that a simple, clean look is best.  (Not too "busy,")  As we gaze on the covers of those around us, what we see on the outside is only a peek to what is actually happening on the inside.

"Good enough" is enough.

And, with finality, we are all artists who need our artistic liberty.

About the Author Mark McKenna

Mark is the creator of Put Out the Fires. As a dad, husband, instructional designer, and business owner, he enjoys crafting stories and systems that enhance learning and life.

  • Patti Rokus says:

    Wow Mike, what a process. but that’s what it takes to create greatness–lots of revisions, lots of creativity, lots of willingness to be wrong. Just like our lives and our covers as you said. I’m so excited to have your book, and learn from it’s many life lessons, and share it! Well Done!

  • Lynn says:

    Love it. Quite the process but the finished result is perfect! Well done. Can’t wait to get my hands on it.

  • Christine Davidson says:

    Love the illustrations! Can certainly relate to the revise, revise, revise, polish, tweak, etc. ! 🙂

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