About cover art.
This, I hope, sums up--for better or worse--much of the way I approach book cover design.
I had posted most of this quite some time ago as two separate web pages. Since they had originally been created for the edification of Lois McMaster Bujold's readers (largely to explain the philosophy behind some of her new covers), they had a lot of text specific to the covers that had appeared on her work, and comments her fans had made. So I combined the two, revised and expanded the text and added more examples.
Although I add a brief paragraph at the end regarding techniques, I thought I would mention it here as well, in greater length. My covers are all over the place, technique-wise. Some of the covers are illustrations I created in traditional media. This ranges from acrylics to pen and ink. Some are painted digitally. Others include---to a greater or lesser degree---photographic elements. Most are a combination of media, however. To take one example, I might paint something in acrylics and then go back into it with some digital brushwork or the addition of photographic imagery. Regarding the latter... I should probably point out that I am no special fan of stock images. I have rarely--if ever--used any in my cover designs. Probably the only exception has been when a book has dealt with an historical topic, in which case I have turned to the Library of Congress. Otherwise, I depend entirely on my own resources. This includes thousands of photos I have taken myself. Everywhere I go, if I see anything---a texture, a scene, an object---that even remotely looks potentially useful, I take a snapshot of it. (The cover for The Midwich Cuckoos, for example, is based on a photo of a doll I found in a parking lot.) This has resulted in a very large image file, which is subdivided by subject: animals, landscapes, costumes, vehicles, etc. And each of these is broken down into subtopics, such as people engaged in various activities, heads, hands and faces, etc. I will often take photos specifically for a cover. To this end I have depended a great deal on the generosity and patience of my friends and family. My wife and daughter alone have appeared on countless covers. Among the many reasons for preferring to do this is that it gives me complete control over the imagery: I am using exactly what I want rather than the closest thing I can find. I have complete control. Another reason is an important consideration for anyone searching through stock image collections: avoiding the danger of having the same image appear on the covers of a dozen other books. Oh, yeah...and I don't have to pay anyone!