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Art for the Unartistic Author

Back in high school, I aced my writing class…and balanced it by failing art class. Years later, when wielding a pencil, I’m still at the “stick figure” level, but fortunately, the advent of technology makes beautiful art somewhat attainable. More importantly, as published authors, it’s sometimes necessary to develop marketing materials or even book covers. I’d like to share three of my favorite (and FREE) art programs with you.

We’ll start with one of the most accessible: MICROSOFT POWERPOINT

Say what?

Yes! Microsoft Powerpoint was created for presentations, and it includes several picture formatting functions that will allow you to put together basic but attractive layouts. Starting out with only my 2D and 3D book cover image (jpeg) files, I created this book advertisement in Powerpoint.


Microsoft Powerpoint provides the basic functionality of any image program:

  1. It can resize your art, and flip them 90%, 180%, etc (The image of the couple above was resized, cropped, and then vertically flipped.)
  2. It can alter your images by adding tints, changing transparency, etc
  3. It can create layers of images. (There is a grey, semi-transparent layer over the picture of the couple to create the darker background.)
  4. Finally, it allows you to group your images and then “save as picture.” Voila, you now have a png file that you can use anywhere.


Canva is another one of my favorite online art tools. A free personal account gives you access to many templates and a selection of images and fonts. In some ways, Canva is more user friendly and intuitive than Powerpoint, with a simple drag-and-drop functionality. Below is the Canva dashboard from which you can pick a template based on what you’re trying to design, e.g., Facebook Post, Presentation, etc. You can even select a template for a book cover, or use custom dimensions.



In Canva, you pay a small fee if you use any of their paid images, or you can upload and use your own images for free. In the picture below, you can see several book cover design templates on the left (some are free; others are not.) Dragging the design into the section on the right will then allow you to manipulate the image (e.g., change the picture, the layout, the words, the fonts, etc.) For now, you can see the book cover I designed in Canva with images I’d purchased from stock photo sites. It’s a decent picture, although not quite perfect. Blending images can be a challenge in Canva. (If you look closely at the right, you can see where the lights in the river are abruptly cut off and the bottom picture begins.)




Finally, my third free art tool is GIMP, which is often touted as the free Photoshop equivalent. It’s hard to say if it is indeed equivalent but it’s certainly far more powerful than Powerpoint or Canva. I’ve scarcely tapped the surface of what GIMP can do, and my explorations in GIMP are very much driven by something specific that I’m trying to do. For example, I wanted to learn how to create romance covers in a similar style to the cover of “AROUSED” that I had purchased from a cover designer.

I spent about 8 hours recreating AROUSED on GIMP. My biggest challenge was the see-through font in the title, but a simple YouTube tutorial cleared it up (literally, hah!) The 8-hour investment is now a 10-minute exercise for each new romance cover I create, saving me about $40 per cover. In a 25-book alphabetical series, that’s $1,000 saved.


So, if you’re in need of something artistically simple, or if you’re willing to invest some time in developing more complex art techniques, check out Powerpoint, Canva, and GIMP. Save often, use the Undo button often, and enjoy!

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Follow Jade Kerrion:

Jade Kerrion writes at 3 a.m. when her husband and three sons are asleep. Her science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary Life Shocks romance novels aspire to make her readers as sleep-deprived as she is. She is the author of the Double Helix series which has won eight awards and features her favorite female character, the assassin Zara Itani, who can wreak more havoc with love than most people can with hate. Visit Jade at her website

3 Responses

  1. Ann Henry
    | Reply

    Thank you, Jade! Very informative.

  2. Bill Johnston
    | Reply

    To imply that you can compensate for a lack of artistic ability by getting your hands on the right presentation software is like implying that you can compensate for flunking English composition by acquiring the right word processor. How many of us have yawned our way through conferences with one too many “wall of words” PowerPoint presentations? Some of us are old enough to remember when desktop publishing software first became widely available. The world was suddenly awash in atrociously designed newsletters (but they sure had lots of fonts!)

    Fortunately the samples you show of your own work demonstrate that you actually have a good sense of design — something that no software program can impart.

  3. Eugene Orlando
    | Reply

    Thanks for the tip, Jade. This is valuable information for the art challenged like me. I will definitely try those programs.

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