Is it possible to start with a stock photo and wind up with an artistic rendering of that image?

An example will depict what I'm trying to do

See the image of the cornet player wearing the straw boater. Suppose I had a photo image of that cornet player in some suitable format. Is it possible to convert via some suitable workflow the photo image to an artwork image and wind up with that cover art Joanna Penn is discussing? I'm an indie author with 2 novels and a short story I wish to design cover art for. I want to do it myself, not pay someone else for covers, and I want them to be my covers, my ideas. I can learn anything technical but I don't know whether this is even possible? Thanks for reading.

2 Answers 2


It's possible, yes. Most would use Adobe Photoshop for this, but you could use Gimp or any number of software packages.

With stock images you need to carefully read any license agreements. It may very well be against a license to use an image as a book cover since the image would be a primary driving force of sales. Many stock images also have usage limits and as a book cover you may surpass the number of impressions a license permits. Every site selling stock images will be different. You'll just have to read the license agreements.

As for doing it yourself. Sure you can. It's not rocket science. But it's not as simple as finger-painting either. There is certainly nothing wrong with doing things yourself. However, consider this.... Design is a profession for a reason. Designers go to college and spend years learning and honing their craft. A designer may be far more aware of aspects regarding what will and will not work for a cover.

  • Thanks for the licensing insights. I might even use my own photos. I'll try gimp. Would Apple's iPages work? The problem with anything custom is $$$. You have bespoke boots made in London and you're talking about big bucks. Custom book covers are no different. As an indie, I have a tiny budget that does not permit hiring a graphics expert. That's why I'm indie, because I have to do it all myself, from writing the books, building the platform, marketing, selling and designing the covers. It's DIY or not do it but I have ambitious ideas for how it should look.
    – perlboy
    Jul 26, 2013 at 19:55
  • Scott, does the process I described have a jargon name that anyone familiar with graphics design would understand? If I'm discussing this with an expert (I'm not; I'm a retired SW engineer now a F-T writer), how should I describe it? What keywords would I use in Google for searching for notions related to the process of going from picture to art?
    – perlboy
    Jul 26, 2013 at 20:19
  • There is no catchphrase or jargon which is used specifically. It is merely the design of a book cover.
    – Scott
    Jul 27, 2013 at 1:17

The possibilities are really endless when you have powerful software and someone who knows not only how to use it, but how to make ideas come to life visually.

I can appreciate the fact that you want to customize the covers to make them uniquely yours. Often times in my own pursuits I feel like I'm the only one who truly knows how to express my ideas from conception to completion so I am often hesitant to allow someone to help me. I know the feeling. With that being said though, a good graphic designer will be worth the cost every time.

If you allow me to I'd like to explain why.

If I had a baby and he had come down with a terrible illness I would without question take him to see a doctor and in the same situation I'm sure you would as well. The reason is that these are professionals and no matter how much I much I read on how to solve this myself I'd rather trust the health of my baby to someone who has dedicated their lives to their profession.

Graphic designers are no different. In this case, your baby is the book you've authored. Like any good parent you don't want anyone or anything to touch it. I don't blame you, you should have a significant hand in how your baby turns out. When it comes to exposing it to the world and allowing to impact people, you have to trust the professionals though. The survival of your baby might depend on it. Reading something like the Non-Designer's Design Book will allow you to have a small understanding of what it means to design, but will only scratch the surface.

We're in the fairly awkward position as graphic designers that every non-designer who looks at our work says to themselves, 'meh, I could probably do that' not knowing the decisions that went into it or the problems to wade through. The contemplation of how to connect to a specific target audience. The typographical choices that resonate with the content.

I'm not saying it's not possible to do it, I'm saying if you really want a professional result, you'll have to trust a professional. Great graphic designers know how to translate your vision and empower your idea.

You've expressed that cost is a big factor I would argue that the biggest cost is what it might cost you to have a cover that fades into obscurity and doesn't catch anyone's attention.

After all that, if you still aren't convinced, maybe this is something that you yourself want to pursue anyways. Designing is an awesome experience so I recommend that as well! In a roundabout way of answering your question what you want to do is possible through many photographic editing software programs. Chief among them is the powerhouse Adobe Photoshop. There are many great tutorials, books, and screencasts to learn the basics of Photoshop. There are also free alternatives to Photoshop such as Gimp. These software programs allow you to take photo stock and combine them in ways to make an incredible book cover-- this, among a vastly huge array of other graphical things.

I recommend looking into these programs and the large amount of content written about these programs if you choose to create your own book cover.


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