Why it’s best if I let my wife handle my book jacket designs


By John Winters


I am not an artist, though I desperately long to be. Walking through any museum, I’m filled with wonder at the imagination and talent on display. This is accompanied by a raging jealousy.


My wife is a painter and photographer, and watching her create around the house made it seem to me that becoming proficient in these disciplines might be within reach. Perhaps it was just the proximity of the act that encouraged me, or her sweet of way not saying, “Don’t be an idiot.”


I learned a bit about photography during my time as a reporter. I’d be handed a camera whenever the real photographers were otherwise engaged (surfing for porn in the darkroom). Over time, I learned the basics and began to enjoy the chance to get behind the lens. Later, I began using my slender photography skills to humorous effect, pasting my face on the heads of male models and otherwise distorting perfectly good images to make my friends laugh and to confirm the world’s belief that deep inside I remain a 12-year-old boy.


Eventually, I convinced myself that I had a bit of the artist in me and should give painting a try. I wasn’t delusional. I knew I wasn’t going to whip up any fancy Impressionistic or Renaissancey stuff, but maybe within reach was the more slapdash modern stuff. I was never fool enough to think I could create beauty, but perhaps with some luck I could come up with an image that at least looked cool. Like something an indie rock band might use for the back of a CD booklet.


With my usual ill-advised abandon, I went to the store and purchased paint, brushes, giant canvases, easels, you name it, and each night went downstairs, put on some cool jazz – usually that strange, late-Coltrane stuff that sounds like his horn has a bad  case of gas – and went at it like a crazed Kandinsky.


What I produced were not so much masterpieces as a ruined carpet, badly stained walls and ghastly pictures where a week later the paint was already peeling as if my canvases had been stricken with a Technicolor version of psoriasis (no one told me not to mix house paint with oil paint with acrylic paint with poster paint with fabric paint with India ink with gouache with watercolors with spray paint with kitty litter with foodstuff and the odd bodily secretion).


Those canvases now lie in our damp basement where even the mold won’t dare touch them, awaiting the day when I haul them to the local dump. Today, my one-time basement studio is empty but for the stains and ruined objects I left behind. I announced to my wife that I was retiring. Too sweet to have long ago doused me with turpentine and set me aflame, she tried to console my wounded ego and reassured me that my work was “interesting.” (Translation: sucky.)


Then I discovered art of another kind. Book jackets. Indeed, for all these books I was putting out, I realized each needed a cover, and with the help of any number of self-publishing sites, I was free to make my own. Here I saw a chance to not only stake my claim as a visual artist but also to put to use the photos I’d taken of my paintings and other artistic monstrosities I’d created over the years. It was like a second chance, or, at the very least, something new to obsess over.


It’s difficult to say when my book jacket hobby became a sickness, but it was likely about the time I started writing books simply for the sake of creating covers for them. That’s when I knew I needed help. Again, my wife to the rescue. A professional graphic designer as well as artist, she has wrested from me the tools of my day-glow debauchery. She now handles the design of my book jackets, and everything is back to normal – well as close to normal as living with me gets.


Below are my design efforts, actual covers I came very close to publishing. At the end is a professional-looking cover my wife produced for my upcoming collection of short stories. I post these in the hope of preventing you from following me into this particular circle of hell and to pay penance to the muses, whose inspiration I so badly abused.


Now to start tinkering with my website. Perhaps a more pastel tone for that banner image would be better…

This photo of me looking like Homer Simpson’s deranged brother keeps turning up on my attempted covers. Why? Is it especially pleasing to the eye? For the shock value? Because I long to write a book called The Madman of Urineville? It’s inexplicable. However, as you will see below, just one day before writing this essay I used it again.



A bit more subdued, this one isn’t half bad. I didn’t say good, mind you, just not immediately cringe inducing. I think the photo was snapped accidently as I was checking the camera’s settings. I looked at the image and it screamed BOOK COVER!




This is a painting of mine. I really have nothing more to say.




A collage I toyed with very briefly. Perhaps not briefly enough. I love the fact that the JW on the left is clearly bald in the mirror and the one on the other end has hands the size of king crabs. If I ever write that book about multiple personality disorder this would be perfect.


Another collage, this one takes me back to my break dancing days. I think the young, hip set will be attracted to it.




Rarely do you get a title and jacket photo so perfectly in sync. Both are incredibly misguided. But damn, look at all that hair I had back then.


This rejected cover image had the advantage of a great title built right in, no other graphics necessary. I’m thinking of holding this one aside should I ever write my autobiography. That same phrase appears on my business card.


The front of this one isn’t bad. It was my design skills, or lack thereof, that made a mess of things. It looks like I have an erection or a large goiter poking out the side of my head. Nothing like a large head growth to attract the female demographic, eh?






We got a new home copy machine a few years ago, and it has a scanner. I used it to scan my entire body, naked, of course. Not only was I likely risking blindness and probably skin cancer in doing this, you can’t imagine what some of my other parts were put through. My wife came home while I was executing this “work” and thought I was humping the new copier. “Just another day in paradise,” she probably thought. Added bonus: This early version of my first novel was the size of a phone book. Nothing says “take me home from the bookstore” more than an oversized tome weighing four pounds with my smudgy face on the cover. (And just be glad it’s only my face.)



While cleaning out a spare room in the basement, I ripped a hair dryer box. Most people would have seen trash. I saw art. I photographed it and made it into a cover. Fearing this might be a touch offensive to women, I cropped the image and reused it for my novel, Murderhouse Blues. It looks even more offensive cropped. Apologies all around.



The return of yellow face. This one was done very recently, and probably the final straw for my wife. No, she didn’t smarten up and leave me. She now insists on creating all my covers. The best part of this one is that my upside-down head looks extremely phallic (not to mention worrisomely jaundiced).


This is my wife’s photo and design. I think we have a winner.



John Winters is a Massachusetts-based writer. He is the author of Murderhouse Blues and Coulda Been Somebody:Short Stories. He blogs and does other things at www.johnjwinters.com

3 replies
    • avatar
      ray and linda says:

      cover image “All booty, no brains”, a very definite Jack Nicholson image. We loved the topic! “Life imitates Art” , who said that? Good work John Winters.

  1. avatar
    Donia says:

    As a painter, graphic designer, and writer this whole post really made me smile – thanks 🙂
    Your wife sounds wonderfully tolerant and I’m glad to read how much you obviously appreciate her.

    As for your designs, the first thing that came to mind (with which I’m certain your wife would agree) is a funny graphic floating around the internet that says: “Comic Sans is never an acceptable font. Unless you are an 8 year old girl writing a poem about unicorns.”

    You (and your wife) might also appreciate this comic about “design hell” http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell 🙂


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