This is how my desktop of the moment looks (click on all images for 1920×1080 versions):
This is a painting by Richard M. Powers for a 1974 paperback book, The Mountains of the Sun by Christian Leourier from Berkley Medallion Books. Powers’ art visually defined science fiction for many fans in the 1950s and 1960s because of his book covers for Ballantine Books.
Now I don’t know if this is legal by copyright standards, but I like to find images from science fiction book and magazine covers, and format them for my computer desktop background. I’m going to provide some basic instructions on how to do this, but they’re specific for Windows 7. Max OS X and Linux users can also have desktop backgrounds, but you’ll need to know your system to customize these instructions.
All computers, tablets and smartphones come with a method of changing the desktop background. Most devices have built-in programs for cycling these images. And you can install programs with various levels of sophistication that take folders of photos and cycle your desktop images and use the photos for a screensaver.
Finding the Photos
When I discover a book cover I like I go to Google and click Images and search on the book title. Usually somebody has already scanned it for the web. Google will show you an array of images. Here’s what a Google Images search looks like for “Richard Powers Art.”
Look for the highest resolution with the sharpest scan. I right-click on potential images and select “Open link in a new window” and then click on “Full-Size Image.” That gives me the image in a browser page by itself. You want the largest possible version you can get, because unless the image is the same size as your desktop it will be blown up to fit your screen and small images can become very blurry. When you find one you like, right click and select, “Save image as” and save it into a folder for collecting your desktop SF art.
[FYI, IE will shrink an image to fit within the browser window. If it does, you’ll see a little magnifier with a + in it. Click the image and you’ll see the full size version. It will be bigger than the browser window sometimes. Sometimes much bigger. Right click and save that version to get the absolute best results.]
Repeat this procedure until you have a little collection of art.
Formatting for the Desktop
Most pictures you collect won’t have the same aspect ratio as your screen. If you want to preserve the original image do nothing. This is especially true if you are collecting book and magazine covers. However, your screen will end up looking like this:
But sometimes it’s fun to crop part of the art to fit the screen to really show off the art. Like this:
If you click on this image to look at the full size image you’ll see that my blow-up looks a bit fuzzy. However, it’s within my acceptance range, but I’d prefer a sharper image. If I see a better scan someday I’ll grab it.
[FYI, I was inspired to grab this cover by Joachim Boaz’s Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Eye(s) in the Sky.]
Cropping for the exact desktop size is a bit tricky. It helps to have Photoshop or some other program that let’s you crop by pixel height and width. Luckily, there’s a free online Photoshop clone you can use at http://pixlr.com. Go to that link and click on –> Open photo editor <-. Then click on “Open image from computer.” Browse to your art folder and select an image to edit.
Then click on the crop tool, under Constraint at the top, a small pull-down menu, select “Output size” and in the Width and Height text boxes put in the dimensions of your monitor. Mine are 1920×1080. Then click on the upper-left corner of the area you want to crop and drag down the mouse to the bottom right. Let go. You’ll see a frame outline that you can reposition. Double click on the crop to finalize. Anything you crop will be in the exact dimensions of your monitor. Then in the Pixlr File menu, select Save and put the picture back on your computer. I usually renamed crops so they have the dimensions as part of the name. For example, eye-in-the-sky-1920×1080.png.
You can also use pixlr to punch up the color, brightness, contrast, and other image variables, and even fix bad spots.
Basic Manual Setup
Now that you have some images ready, we can turn them into backgrounds. If you aren’t running a background changer, meaning the image on your desktop never changes, we’ll install one of your new images manually. Go to your SF Cover Art folder and find an image you want to use. Right click on the image filename and select “Set as desktop background.” Your image should now be the desktop background. Minimize all windows and admire. [There is a button at the far right of the Windows 7 Taskbar that will close all windows on the desktop so you can see your art unhindered. Clicking it again brings back your windows as they were.]
Automatic Desktop Changer
If you right click on your desktop background and select “Personalize” you’ll see something like this:
At the bottom is a link to “Desktop Background” – select it. You’ll then see:
I normally use another program for switching backgrounds, but Windows 7, and most other OS systems, have a simple desktop changer built in. You can select the built-in program for Windows 7 up at the top of this screen, it’s called “Windows Desktop Backgrounds.” Then hit browse and find the folder with your art. Set the “Picture Position” to Fill, and “Change picture every” to 30 seconds. You can change this to a real time interval later, for now this will quickly show your images to you for testing.
For years I used a program called Webshots, and it’s wonderful, but it wants to show pictures in its file format. You can add your pictures to its format, but that’s extra work. Recently I’ve discovered John’s Background Switcher. Gizmo’s Freeware has a whole list of Wallpaper Changers. I like John’s Background Switcher because it can handle many sources for pictures, including online galleries, and even images from my Webshots folder.
I have other galleries other than SF Cover Art, like astronomy photos and copies of famous paintings. If you search around for Desktop Art or Background Art, you’ll find a myriad of images to collect. Here’s an astronomy desktop.
I’m also fascinated by historical photographs, like this street scene.
Having photos, or copies of artwork blown up and randomly shown is very stimulating. Photos induce interesting contemplative states of mind for me. I’m very inspired by visuals. At my work office, visitors often sit across from me and stop talking because they get mesmerized by images on my computer screens. I have a dual monitor setup at work.
I’ve always loved book, magazine and album cover art. I’ve collected art books for decades. I hated when LP covers shrank to the size of CD covers. Paperbacks are naturally small to begin with. So putting this kind of artwork on a 23” 1080p screen really showcases the art. If you have a HTPC, you can also use the same techniques for putting art on your large high definition television screen.
My art books seldom get looked at, but stuff on my desktop gallery gets looked at every day. It’s a visual reminder of how big the universe is when I’m sitting in front of a 23” monitor all day long.
One reason I switched from Webshots to John’s Background Switcher is that program makes it easy to add new photos to my desktop galleries. Whenever I find something good on the net I just do a right click, save image as, and put it on of my desktop background folders. I also have a folder in Dropbox so I can save images from any computer I use.
Back in the early 1970s my roommate Greg and I would use macro lenses and photograph covers of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Astounding & Analog, Galaxy & If, as well as book covers and show them at our SF Book Club meetings. People loved seeing the SF/F art blown up big. Putting covers on your desktop is much easier and you get to see them everyday.