top of page

Guest Post: Creating a Look for Cinder Ellie

Today I have the pleasure of hosting my awesome cover designer, Bulbous Squirrel. She's here to share some of her secrets to making a great cover. It's a cool process to watch, and I was thrilled to work with her step-by-step to bring my Ellie to life!


Hi, there, it's me, Bulbous Squirrel (not my real name, I promise. You don't have to call me "Bulby" for short or anything. "Bulbous" and "Squirrel" are, in my husband's opinion, the two funniest words in the English language--thus the name of my studio was born.)

So Cinder Ellie was a particularly fun and particularly challenging cover to design. It's a prequel novella to J.M. Stengl's upcoming novel Ellie and the Prince--which I actually created the cover for first! This means we already had a beautiful model in a ball gown on that cover, and I needed to find a way to match her on this cover.

Problem was, the only pictures I could find of this model were in fancy ball gowns. Perfect for Ellie and the Prince . . . but in Cinder Ellie, the heroine never wears a gown. She's dressed in a maid's uniform. This was the first puzzle I had to solve.

I found this picture of the model:

So pretty, and she's got her hair up in a ponytail just like the character in the book wears all the time. Perfect. Definitely needs an outfit change though. She can't deal with a cinder sprite crisis dressed like that!

Next I found this lovely girl in uniform.

Such a sweet model, carrying a stack of fluffy white towels just like Ellie does in the opening of the book. A good place to begin the photomanipulation magic . . . .

Here was the first mock-up I put together to give J.M. Stengl an idea of what I was thinking for her story:

Really rough and choppy, I know! But you can kind of see where I'm going with it. I also proposed this idea putting a cinder sprite into the image to give it a more magical, whimsical element. When I read her description of cinder sprites, they sounded a lot like guinea pigs to me--only more magical, of course. I added the little horns and ears, and J.M. Stengl liked the look so much, she re-wrote some of her descriptions of the cinder sprites to match what I'd done! (So flattered!)

The author's only critique was that she didn't like how Ellie was looking off to one side at nothing, and she wondered if there was a way I could have her looking AT the cinder sprite. I told her I'd see what I could do . . . but first I went about creating a polished look for that cute little sprite.

Before and After:

So darn CUTE!!!

After finding a slightly different pose for the maid that would allow Ellie to actually look at her cinder sprite, I went ahead and started the final look for this image. This involves quite a lot more than chopping-and-pasting. I combine various filters and painting techniques to get a cohesive image. We agreed that purple should be the dominant color since purple is the primary color in Ellie and the Prince as well, and we wanted the two stories to look cohesive.

Want to see that final result again?

I have done a number of cover designs over the years, but I have to say, this one might be an all-time favorite. There were so many interesting challenges along the way . . . and that cinder sprite!!! (Squee!!!!)

I hope you enjoyed getting a glimpse into my design process. If you haven't read Cinder Ellie yet, go out and grab a copy now! Ellie and the Prince is coming in late March, and you want to be certain you've read this wonderful prequel adventure first.

Thanks for hosting me, J.M. Stengl.


And thanks for the beautiful cover, Bulbous Squirrel!

Recent Posts
bottom of page