If you ever entered the dark depths of Deviant Art a few years back, you would have most likely stumbled upon the name Conzpiracy at some point in your journey. Like a modern-day urban legend, his complex manipulations of the macabre made waves through the DA community.
Conzpiracy's Photoshop tutorials were coveted by users in their DA journals. If you dug a little deeper, eventually, it would lead you to SurrealPSD, a Photoshop manipulation tutorial website where Conzpiracy laid out his tricks and techniques for all to learn. Having used this site as a go-to for my early works, I always wondered who the man behind the curtain was, the wizard of this dark, twisted facade. Sadly, SurrealPSD is no longer with us. But out of the shadows and leaving the Conzpiracy moniker behind comes Dean Samed, with his obligatory sunglasses, walking slowly into the light.
Dean Samed is a UK-based illustrator/cover artist and a specialist in the horror genre. He has illustrated the works of Stephen King, Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft, Graham Masterton, as well as a wide range of genre authors internationally. Dean started freelancing at the age of 14, and throughout his young adult years, worked with promoters and record labels in urban dance music. Later, the e-publishing boom allowed him to switch focus to his first love, macabre art. As a horror specialist, he is known for his complex creature designs and sharp compositing style. He holds a First Class degree in Digital Media and is currently undertaking his Masters in Fine Art. Dean likes to explore horror, occult, sci-fi, and cyberpunk themes in his personal and commercial work. The artist formerly known as Conzpiracy has hundreds of published covers under his belt and an unrivaled work ethic (three covers a week at one point). Dean has recently just arrived back in England after spending time at the Texas Frightmare event, where he exhibited his work and got drunk with Robert Englund (the original, and in my eyes, only Freddy Krueger). Have you been sleeping on one of the UK's most prolific, genre book cover artists? Well, let us open your eyes!
As a book cover artist, at the start of a gig, Samed and the client and go through a consultation process, where he is given info on what's required for the cover art. Sometimes, it's just a few lines of text or the blurb for the book, and at other times, he is given visual references to work from — each gig is different. From there, Samed creates a virtual mood board to create a visual palette, so he can take inspiration from multiple images in one frame (usually as a layer at the top of the stack). With that in place, Samed seeks out stock images, and in the case of character-focused covers, seeks approval from the client before commencing any of the heavy lifting of the artwork, which can save lots of time. Samed's style is geared toward realism/complexity, so the majority of the workflow focuses on compositing various elements, as opposed to heavy processing. Once a preview is ready to share with the client, they discuss the work and make changes if necessary.
Samed says that his professional practice started in urban dance music, but his heart has always been firmly rooted in the horror genre. While he was creating record sleeves and event flyers, he was still doing a lot of horror-flavored personal work, which Samed shared online. It was this work that eventually allowed him to gain traction in publishing, where he works almost exclusively in the horror genre"
I started very young, nearly 20 years ago, before the widespread adoption of Photoshop! For the first few years, it was pure experimentation, with no websites for reference (or magazines). I started producing event flyers for clients at 14 years old, and I learned more from those experiences than any course or degree could ever give me. Even so, I went to university in my mid-20s and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Samed is a big advocate of using the Pen Tool for selections. If a compositing task requires precision masking, then there is no substitute. The Pen Tool is king. Samed says everyone has their way; for instance, an artist may favor a more dreamy/ethereal look, so the precise nature of the Pen Tool may not be for them, but for everything else, he believes it's the ultimate tool for precise selections.
Samed used to run a very successful Photoshop tutorial website, SurrealPSD, which is no longer running. SurrealPSD was a real labor of love for him, and Samed says he learned a great deal operating that site. The site was pulled down due to bandwidth issues, and he lacked the energy to reinstate it. He won't be bringing it back, unfortunately. But, he says he will always be proud of how well that site did and will use the lessons learned from that experience for his new business endeavors.
As a book cover artist, some people feel they are limited in their work to a specific composition or certain aesthetic. But Samed does not feel this way. He says with every genre, there are certain conventions that you (at the very least) need to be aware of. Because written information needs to be included, any work you do isn't pure illustration; you need to keep in mind that whatever you do visually needs to unify with the typographic elements, to be clear and coherent, even at the thumbnail level.
Samed also says it does take a lot of practice, developing the ability to tackle the design elements to a high standard. He says he still has a lot of work to do in that respect:
In regards to respect in the creative industry... I don't worry about the perceptions in the wider scene. My focus is on the market, always. If my clients are happy, I am happy.
Like many cover artists, Samed uses stock images regularly. At present, he uses Fotolia for his stock image needs, and at times, uses some of the boutique sites for certain concepts. There's a huge deficit for certain types of images, though, and that's something he is correcting with his business venture, Neostock.
With the rise of websites like Fiverr offering creative services like book covers and retouching for a budget of around $5, some people are worried, but Samed shrugs it off. He says he is fortunate; he deals with people and institutions who take their products seriously. As a specialist, he is in a position where he can stay well away from the budget market, but he does understand how those platforms can help start budding careers.
Samed claims as a lifelong illustrator, he will always be doing creative projects in some capacity, but his business in the stock and tutorial realm is what he is excited about.
With my experience in book cover design, I believe I can fill the gaps missed by the major microstock sites, particularly concepts for genre fiction, such as monsters, warriors in realistic armor, and sci-fi characters.
In an ideal world, he would have sold his stock photography business and would be living a life of leisure, traveling the world and creating artwork! Dean is very active on his Facebook profile, where he regularly uploads new work and interacts with his followers. His new updated website, Neostock ELITE, is now online.
All images used with the permission of Dean Samed.