Continuing my book cover project, I got a request this weekend for a book cover featuring this very famous historical photo.


This is the perfect kind of photo for a book cover. It demonstrates its time, place, subject matter, characters, and tone all in the same image. And it’s in portrait orientation! Blessed day! My first job is to find a source that proves it’s public domain. Then I start making it fit.

There are two issues with the photo as-is. First, Tesla is creeping in the background like a creeper. I need to move him closer in: it makes a nice parallel design if he’s the same distance from Twain as the cabinet thing. I also want the ability to adjust the focal point of the book cover–I think I want Twain at a third of the way up, not halfway–and there’s not that much neutral space above him.

Moving Tesla takes three layers, all duplicates of the same photo. In one, I delete everything but Tesla and small a halo of green around him. In the second, I use a layer of transparency and the eraser to blot Tesla from existence. Then I use a third layer underneath that to fill in the blank space where Tesla was, by shifting it around and deleting leftover Tesla until it looks more or less seamless. Once that’s merged together, I move the isolated Tesla inward until he’s better aligned. I am really enjoying saying the name “Tesla”.

To gain more positioning leeway, I use the old copy-and-flip trick. I duplicate the photo, flip it upside-down, and carefully match ends with the original. It’s easy to notice, but elegant and quick. (I did the same thing on the final blue cover, here.) I repeat that process, flipping them backwards and matching them up. Now I have more space to the top and right, so I can position Twain and his electro-magical sphere where I want them.

Mark_Twain_in_the_lab_of_Nikola_Tesla;_1894 vs photo_rearranged

I’ve been wanting to try a watermark-type of look on a book cover, and it’s the perfect way to add a special touch to a well-known photo. I type out the alphabet in a mathy font and fiddle the letters around until there aren’t too many similar symbols side-by-side. I overlay it on the picture. It doesn’t look quite right, so I use the eraser to remove the letters from over Twain and Tesla. That helps define them, especially Tesla, who’s still creeping, the creeper.

I want a handwriting font for the title, and this one looks just like chalkboard scribbles: perfect. I decide on serif fonts for the rest of the text. In the title, I add a gradient to “The” and “Age” so it looks a bit like the word “Glowing” is letting off light. I put a glow behind the author’s name as well. Et voila.


The book doesn’t exist yet (sorry!) so I made this a quick job. If it was going to press, I would take more time with choosing the title and author fonts. I don’t think the cover needs any supplemental text, but a row of “By the author of” probably couldn’t hurt. Another thing to consider when using this photo on a book cover is that it’s famous and free. A cursory search didn’t turn up any other books using this on the cover, but they have to be out there.

Does this book cover look professional or homemade? Is there anything missing from the cover you wish it included? What would you change?


  • Andalus
  • Homemade Apple
  • Traditional Arabic Bold



  • 1.5 hours plus about fifteen minutes of Googling

See all my book cover designs here. Inquiries accepted.

I write fiction too!