Saturday, October 23, 2010

New Book Cover: At the Queen's Command

I found this online today: At the Queen's Command, by Michael A. Stackpole was recently released by Night Shade Books. The cover illustration is mine, done early in the summer.

The idea was to replicate a John Trumbull painting depicting the French and Indian wars. The horses of the English were to be replaced by wingless dragons, and the French were using both Native Americans and zombies. Art Director (and fantastic illustrator ) Dave Palumbo gave me a couple paintings as reference, including this one:

It was daunting to say the least. I knew I would have to tackle as many figures as I could but still do something within the deadline. Plus, there were a certain number of characters I had to include. I did a quick sketch to show Dave my idea and where I was planning to put the characters. The rest of the figures were to be filled in if I had time.

Admittedly, it was a quick sketch. I decided to replace the dead horse with a stone wall and eliminate a few of the riders behind the main character. I tried to imagine myself as an 18th century painter in designing the dragon. I thought that since the horses in the Trumbull painting looked a little thin and unimpressive, I would tone down the dragon a little. I figured an 18th century painter would be working from stories and maybe quick sketches, drawing dragons that looked more like medieval depictions of the creatures. To my surprise, the sketch was approved to go to final on the first round.

I got to work, and two weeks later, I sent the final to Dave.

But he had some concerns. To a certain extent, I had misunderstood the concept and look they were going for. They wanted a more fierce looking dragon, since it was to be the focal point of the cover. Also, I gave them a color intensity that might have existed in a new John Trumbull painting and they wanted a more "aged" appearance. This was Friday evening. I was leaving for a trip to Utah early the following week.

I raced back to the studio and got some paints and a piece of illustration board. I took the original sketch and transferred the dragon sketch to the new surface. I drew a more, in Dave's words, "bad-ass" dragon over the previous design and started painting, using the same color palette as the painting.

The following morning, I went back to the studio and photographed the new dragon head. In Photoshop, I took the new dragon and pasted it into the original painting. I had to use a few color matching techniques, but it worked pretty well. Finally, I used a few color layers and adjusted the levels to get it more yellowed and darkened. The result is what you see on the final product:

I hate using the computer. I really do. But in this case, it definitely made the piece better. More exciting, more moody. So kudos to Dave Palumbo. I just need to make sure I understand the goals of the project a little better right from the start, so I don't need to scramble at the end.

Click any of the images above for a better view. Here's a detail:


  1. This is a really terrific image.

    It's also interesting to see a little of your process when art directors want last minute changes. As much as you dislike working on the computer, I'm sure you'd rather have the ability to manipulate the work digitally than letting someone else do it.

  2. True, true. As I said, it is definitely, without question, a better image with the digital alterations. The only frustrating part is knowing that the original painting is not what appears on the book cover.

    But certainly a SI entry for this year.

  3. wow! fantastic work.

    I do prefer the end product - the aged look and fiercer dragon just feels more dramatic than the more subdued blue dragon.