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On Storytelling Terminology: Covershoot

Last week I half-apologized for a temporary and unexpected hiatus due to my busy schedule, and then it went and got busier. The weekend featured the first major event by my publishing-company-slash-engine-for-world-change, the Consortium.

You can read a summary of the event that I wrote for the official page, but you’ll get a clearer image if you read the description of the Consortium that Courtney put together on her blog. Either way, you’ll see evidence of an event that attracted nearly a hundred people and put on display more than thirty creative works across half a dozen media.

And I was there.

I’m not saying I made it happen. Sure, the event kept me busy, but I did little more than show up. I want to say Trish made it happen, after seeing how much work she put in, but the reality is that the Consortium made it happen. A lot of people put in a lot of time and money and effort to make that event the success it was.

And that’s not what I’m going to talk about today.

Instead, I’m going to talk about the event that went on before the event. Friday night, I joined a tiny subset of the Consortium at a dance studio down on North May, and we made magic.

This subset included:

  • Joshua Unruh, our Director of Marketing and generally well-connected gentleman
  • Courtney Cantrell, our Vice President, novelist, painter, and photographer
  • Julie and Carlos Velez, our Master photographers who also proved themselves remarkable musicians on Saturday

But, as  I said, we’re not talking about Saturday. We’re talking about Friday night, and on Friday night the Velezes were on hand as photographers. As students, really, at the feet of another master.

And me? I was there as a lurker. That’s how Joshua introduced me at the top, and I went ahead and justified that description for the rest of the evening. I lurked against a back wall (just as you’d expect me to do in a dance studio) and chatted with Joshua and occasionally with Courtney.

I suppose I should mention (at long last) that the brightly-lit, mirror-walled dance studio doubles in its off hours as a photography studio. And the man who owned it (a friend of Joshua’s) was busy capturing digital archival images of a dozen of Courtney’s paintings.

Among them was one that showed a stormy, moonlit night behind one of the most amazingly sinuous and scary dragons you’ve ever seen. On the ground before the dragon was a wizard, arms raised and spell readied, and on the back of the dragon was another wizard, this one wielding magic and a sword.

Joshua said it looked like the cover for a metal band’s album from the seventies. I said it looked like the cover for my next novel (which, of course, it was).

I’d had a couple opportunities to drool over the painting before, and I’d already spent some time worrying about the photoshoot. No matter how lovely an oil painting is, we’d have to turn it into a digital image before we could make it a book cover, and this one had me worried.

The dragon’s smooth black hide stood against an ominous black night. The wizard on the ground below was wrapped in the same dark shadows that cloaked the earth. It was a powerfully dark scene and Courtney did an amazing job painting it…but I just worried the subtle contrast would be lost in the transfer to digital.

I worried about the glossy sheen of the still-wet paint, too. I worried about the fine detail Courtney had had to cram into such a tiny canvas. I stood back against a wall lined with paintings we thought we might get to if things went well, and just secretly hoped we would have time enough in those two hours to get one really good shot of my cover.

The good news was that the man we’d hired to do this session knew his business. He’s an extraordinary photographer with lots of experience shooting all kinds of work, but digital archival photography was well within his range. And, out of the kindness of his heart, he volunteered to teach our photographers how to do it for future projects.

So Simon stepped up to the painting, explaining technical issues all the while to Julie and Carlos. He held up a light meter and did several test flashes. He stepped over behind his camera, checked the view, maybe made an adjustment or two, then snapped a shot. He invited Julie and Carlos over to see what that first shot looked like.

Then to my great surprise he sent Carlos to grab another painting while he set my cover painting carefully to one side. It was finished. It had taken maybe five minutes. When they finished shooting the next item in line Julie came over to tell me how very much they were learning, and how exciting it all was.

This is what I love about working with artists. I’ve spent twenty years now writing books (yes really), and for most of that time I was quite happy in the knowledge that writing is a lonely profession.

But in the last year I’ve learned how easy it is to recognize talent and admire mastery even in arts I couldn’t possibly pursue. I’ve learned how much we all have in common and how invigorating it is to share those experiences. And I’ve learned some small measure of the extraordinary things the people around me are capable of achieving.

Friday night was one example. Saturday was another. My whole last year has been full of them, and I’m looking forward to making a whole career out of it. Long live the Consortium!

Photo courtesy Courtney Cantrell

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