The Process: Creating a Cover Painting (Part 1)

Before each book can be prepared for print, a cover illustration must be created. A lot of the time, this happens well in advance of a tangible release date. While the illustrative work for some of my other books has been largely character-focused, for this project I wanted to try something a little different.

As such, I set about to record the steps in creating this piece.

This illustration is for a future stand-alone (read: not Realm of Tah'afajien) novel, slated for release some time in 2019. The project has a name, but I'm just not ready to share it just yet. That I was already working on the cover art work over a year in advance isn't out of the ordinary. The book itself is written but will need multiple edit runs before it sees the light of day.

Note: These were taken with a camera rather than my usual process of scanning in the artwork. As such, some of the pictures will probably be blurry, off-scale and off-color. There was some effort to correct the worst of this, but I assure you the final image will be digitized with far more care. To be honest, I didn't realize how bad some of these were until I was two stages along.

Stage 1

After creating a digital mock-up in Photoshop, I transferred it to the board. Usually this process involves re-drawing the framework of the painting's major elements (often by using the Grid Method), but I actually printed this out to scale and used toner transfer this time (in a nice, well-ventilated place because Xylene fumes are brutal). As you can tell, this really allowed me to see the outlines of major elements without a lot of excess drawing on my part. Instead of spending days sketching, I was able to move on to the next stage. While there are a lot of finer details lost in the transfer, what does come across is good enough to get right into painting almost immediately.

Stage 2

Early on, I added in base colors to block out the background elements. While the architecture in the distance will eventually be mostly dark hues (a mixture of blue, brown and black), I used gray as a undercoat. Above this is a sky box layered in yellows, oranges and burnt sienna. A lot of the middle is left untouched at this point as I know I'll need to drawn in the outlines of the major elements before I start adding paint.

Of note is that I applied a base of white acrylic on the surface before I began to cover up some old paint that was on the board. The plus side? It provides a small bit of visual texture when painting over it using a dry brush technique. The down side? Water-based paints need to be applied thickly or they bead up like water on a freshly-waxed car.

Stage 3

I wanted to lock in the sky box early on so that overlapping darker structures closer to the viewer could be painted leaving minimal white space. After applying the darker tones, I cut out a mask from a sheet of acetate.

With a mouth atomizer, I sprayed a mixture of yellow and white over the top to add a bit of visual texture to the clouds.

As you can see from the photo, I make use of prescription bottles as storage for pre-mixed paint.

Detail 1

As you can see here, I'd started drawing in the details of the mid-ground structures, using ink, pencil and chalk for the highlights.

Stage 4

At this point, I started adding in the details, mostly with unmixed paint straight out of the tube. This is a lengthy process of sorting out where each of the buildings are in relation to each other. In some spots, color is just added to give me a starting point. Blues, grays and browns are layered to show deeper shadows.

As you can tell by the bridge, a lot of the foreground elements are multiple steps from being anywhere close to done.

Stage 5

Another step on the way towards completion. If you compare it to the above image, you'll see slight differences as I touch up each area. More details are fleshed out with each pass.

While there are some distinct details added to fill out foreground elements, a fair amount of the color added is base paint layers that will be covered up well before this is complete.

Stage 6

While I usually tend to shy away from the use of black (for artistic reasons) in my work, this time around I felt it was important to the finished piece. It allowed for a deeper, darker piece that wears its German Impressionist influences on its sleeves. There is still a fair bit that needs to be done, including the main character and foreground structures.

Below are details of the illustration at this stage.

Details 2 & 3

Click here for Part 2 where there are more layers. So many layers. So many finer details to be drawn and painted in.