Have you ever wondered what it takes to illustrate a book cover?
Think about it.
The book cover is the most important device for attracting potential readers. It is the first thing a reader sees. In book stores, more often than not, all the reader sees is the book’s spine! At least with digital books, an artist has the entire space of the front cover to play with.
The cover must invite the reader to read/buy the book. A tall order.
I’ve agonized over my book’s cover designs. At one point I thought about just designing the logo and some text — this seems to be popular with fantasy fiction today. Personally, I miss the wonderful paintings of John Howe. Then, I decided to paint my cover populated with 3D animation-type characters. However, I quickly realized that option seems more suited to 9-12 year-old audience. Though Warriors of Virtue begins as if the book is written for that age range, as the characters grow through their journey, the subject matter becomes mature and too disturbing for children.
In the end, since I really miss the old painted covers I grew up with, I decided to paint the covers with realistic-looking subjects. YA fantasy books these days usually feature photographs of teenagers, often with their faces hidden or turned away. I presume this is because it’s easier for the reader to pretend he/she is the hero/heroine if they do not know what exactly the hero/heroine looks like? Sometimes these covers work for me, but I prefer to see the characters’ faces. Therefore, for Warriors of Virtue each Episode Cover Art will features one of the main characters from the book (The first episode features both Cornelian and Artemis, because they are always together.). You can see the completed covers here.
If you scroll through my Mili Fay Art Facebook Page, you will see the progression of my work as I designed each cover. Currently, I’m working on Episode 6.
I’m painting my first dragon ever! Finally!
Episode 6 is the first cover to feature the opposing side, and instead of beginning with the other main character of the series, I chose Vert Swiftwing — the main character’s Captain of the Guards and best friend. I did this for a reason, but I will not share this reason, because it may spoil the story.
As mentioned, I never painted a dragon before. I’m also still new to digital painting, so I decided to take my time.
I’ve figured out the size of my final cover from Amazon, then I decided to make the image slightly bigger (3600px x 5200px), just in case I need to make adjustments in the future.
Vert is a green dragon, so my background will be green — just like the previous cover. However, this time the green will be brighter, shinier, like the scales of a lizard.
Since the dragon is in the background, I worked on the dragon first. I blocked in the basic shape, colours, light, and shadow of the dragon.
At first I thought Vert will have the front leg structure like that of a horse, or a lion, but after considering the movements he makes, the ball-and-socket joint of the human arm seemed more appropriate.
After sketching in the shape, I worked on figuring out the anatomy using ArtPose iPad App for reference.
The anatomy of the arm seemed OK, but I’ve lost the sketchy feeling of the painting. I reworked the arm to bring it back. Then, I added some texture to the background using the leaf-stamp brush provided by Photoshop.
The dragon was looking solid enough, so I felt the need to begin designing scales. I can’t recall the last time I painted scales. Though I love lizards and snakes — I think they are interesting to look at — I prefer fuzzy, cuddly animals. When I draw animals, I tend to draw ones with fur.
As reference for Vert's scales, I found a few dragon images on Google and I also used my own photograph of the bearded lizard I took at the Toronto Zoo.
I spent over an hour working on the scales, when my tablet died, and I lost all the work! I usually save my work as I go along, but I must have been concentrating too hard to notice that my battery was running low. The good news — because I was forced to rework my drawing, the scales] pattern looks even better!
If, like me, you have no idea what you are doing, it is important not to rush the painting process as you are trying to figure things out. Remember: fast is slow, slow is fast. Once the scale pattern has been established, I began adding more light and shadow, defining the shape and detail of the scales. Since the head is most important, I began with Vert’s head.
Once the head looked good enough, I moved on to the body. I’m trying to keep the sketchiness in my work by defining and losing edges, placing more detail in the focused and light areas, losing details in shadows.
By this point, the dragon is 90% complete. Now, I need to begin painting the man.
Until next time consider my choices. Do you think my idea for the cover is interesting enough? What do you think could be better? If you are working on a fantasy of your own, what kind of art would you like to have: realistic, painted, photographed, graphic...?
Below, are the images of my favourite cover art of all time: