Getting it done without money and models

by jbyron

That could be a rap song.

I don’t show much of the commercial work i do on this site anymore. I don’t know, for a while i think i felt that it somehow compromised the integrity of the fine art that i do. I prefer fine-art. There’s no compromise in it and it’s an expression of me and not a paying client. But considering i haven’t done any fine-art in over a year, i look at that perspective now with some distance and it feels somewhat pretentious and silly. Anything i create is a reflection of me, if not in concept, in style – and more often than not, even with freelance, commercial gigs, I give my 2 cents worth. Anyway, all that is just a lead up to something i thought i would show you fine people. It’s a book jacket I designed a few months back. I’m proud of it but that’s not really why i want to show it here. Instead i thought i would use this as a tutorial in how to design when the concept requires location scouting, models, photographers, props, all that, but when there’s no budget (or time) for any of it.

So with this job, the client had very specific suggestions and ideas for what he wanted. Too specific. I run into this a lot in advertising (my day job). Clients know the ingredients they want but don’t have the knowledge, experience or foresight to envision whether these ingredients can or should work together in the end. So after whittling down the grand scheme to focus more on the central tone that the client wished to project – things got easier – but not much. He wanted to show a 50’s era diner, with 50’s era cars and kids, including a fighter jet flying over – all this in addition to the book’s title, which is quite a mouthful: “Real American French Fries in Dickesview, TX or How To Kill A Pumpkin.” See?

No problem. Only it’s not the 1950’s and I have no budget to find models or cars or the location itself. Enter google images. But wait… it’s not that easy. As an artist, I don’t want to steal photographs and repurpose them for my own work. So the trick is to just take a piece here, and a piece there and to stylize to a degree that it’s unrecognizable from the original. But that’s no easy trick. First, angles and perspectives have to match. This is where i’m going to start peppering this post with images that I pulled off the web that would make the final composite. First I needed the diner.


But the author of this book, my client, had invented this diner within his narrative – it wasn’t an actual place. So with that in mind, i didn’t want to use an actual diner, i wanted to construct one myself. But i’m no architect. The above diner worked well because it’s obviously not in use anymore.  It’s like how i feel better about putting “public art” on an abandoned building versus somebody’s storefront. Whatever. In the end, i connected the side of a completely different diner to it to create my own original structure.

Next, cars. This got tricky because, as i mentioned above, now that i had a diner with a specific perspective, the cars had to match or things would look wonky. Also, adding to the difficulty, the client asked for certain models. Here we go:


By now, i began to cut out the pieces i wanted and compile everything into a photoshop composite. Let me back up for one second – normally when someone comes to me for work, whether it’s fine-art or commercial, they are familiar with my work or familiar with something i’ve done, hence the reason they looked me up in the first place. I use this to my advantage by working in the style that got them to contact me. For example, if someone is a fan of my stencil work – that’s the angle i use; if someone likes my more conceptual work and style isn’t a factor, then i start by using my time to come up with an idea and that idea will usually dictate the style; and so on. But this client got my name from a relative of mine (what up, Jeff) and i’m fairly certain he was unaware of my work before contacting me. So while this is freeing from a creative perspective, it also ramps up the difficulty level because it gives me too many tools to choose from. But if i can work strictly within the computer from beginning to end, that’s what i’m going to do because the level of control and ease of which i can make revisions trumps any organic methodology that may be limited. So that’s what i did.

Now i needed my cool, 50’s teenagers.



By the way, if by some miracle of chance, the owner of one of these photographs is reading this blog – i hope your’e okay with me using it here. And if not, let me know and i’ll take it down. End disclaimer.

I can’t find the final composite that i used after the client made revisions. But this composite shows how i used all the above photos (and more) to create a unique image that i then redrew, getting even further away from the original photos.


As you can see, the diner is called Frosty’s Burger Heaven. The client wanted an American Flag in the background (or either i put it there because of the book’s title – i can’t remember). After using the above as the foundation to my illustration, the client requested that i add more kids and lose the guy in the suit. Oh, and the jet:

Lockheed F-104G

That exact jet was another specific request from the client. Happy to oblige.

So after toying with various color combinations and font treatments and various other design options – the final result goes a little something like this:


DFW is the author in case you couldn’t figure that out.

Before, i said that this is a book jacket. That’s actually not true. It’s just the cover, designed strictly for the digital market – think Kindle. However, when i started the design, i laid it out as a true, paper book, complete with front and back… cause i knew it would be easier to crop the cover now than try to redesign it with a back in case the need ever arose one day. Did that make sense? Anyway, here’s how i intend the design to work if it’s ever published as an actual book. The space on the back is for a possible photo and blurb about the author and/or a synopsis of the story. I’ll have to increase the width to include a spine (a big one considering the book is over 500 pages) if that day ever comes.


That’s it. Thanks for taking the time. – jbn