Saturday, August 26, 2006


Ok, In the interests of being informative and because PC Cast expressed an interest, I'm posting the photo used as reference in her cover, Divine By Choice. To recap the process a bit, I do a sketch, set up a shoot, pick the model, interpret the costume, ( in this case bringing in yards of gauze), specify the lighting, point of view and general pose. In the New York phot studio, the photographer, the costumer and me all run around like mad to achieve this result, wind blowing, fabric being wafted with lots of help, while the model, Maria, becomes the goddess, - all in one hour! In my studio I select the shot from about 90 frames and begin creating my illustration. It's not easy to describe how I do this. It is a bit like collage, mixed with painting, but also something else that the computer bring to it. I have to be mindful of the vision I have, no matter how focussed I get on the details. Back in the days of straight painting, we illustrators used different methods to help keep perspective, like looking at the painting in a mirror, or through a reducing glass, ( which makes the image very small), or even taking the painting outside, where it always looks tiny, pale and weak! But it's helpful to see the image with fresh eyes, to gauge whether it's getting the look we wanted. Nowdays on the computer, I can reduce the image on the screen, flop it, print it, whatever.
With this illustration I wanted to get across her divinity and her relation to the old tree, which I think is a portal to the other world. I wanted the tree to have a spirit, and envelop the girl, but also let her stand out in all her glory. I remember trying various electrical rays and lightning behind her, to show her magical power, but the art director wisely talked me out of it. The tree itself was inspired by several different ancient trees, one being a huge tree called the Angel Oak. It is really out of scale with her. She would have have to be very tiny in the picture or the tree would be just one massive wall of bark. So I just used some limbs from that, the trunk from another tree and the moss from yet another tree, which I then added to. I was trying for the whole scene to look like it was a sacred, ages-old place, and felt it needed a special stone, perhaps created by some long lost culture, to mark the spot. The stones were made in 3d, using Cararra with some wonderful, lichen textures I collected from somewhere and then given the embossed symbol and lots of chips, cracks, encroaching moss, etc. in photoshop. I sound very technical but it actually feels like painting.
It is essential with figurative painting, to get the figure to "inhabit" the space. There are techniques, like making sure the perspectives agree, the lighting and shadows, but also the artist has to"feel" the figure's gravity intuitively. I envision a line of weight, running from the top of her head right down to the soles of her feet. When we stand, our weight is often carried more by one leg than the other. Paying attention to that leg helps visually anchor the person in the scene.


PC Cast said...

Wow! Thanks so much for posting this, and for the explanation. It's facinating how you create such lovely covers. The two you have done for me represent the novels perfectly - you evoked the essence of the books so well! And, yes, the tree is an ancient portal to another world, just as the selenite crystal boulder in the cave is another portal (in Divine by Blood).

I love seeing this! Thank you!

Shannon McKelden said...

This is really great to see this process! There's a lot more involved than I would have believed. Now I want to go find out who the cover artist for MY cover is and what inspired him or her to create my cover they way they did.

james Griffin said...

PC, I'm glad I was right about the tree being a portal! Can't wait to get the assignment for your next one!

Shannon, Hi! I'm glad you enjoyed hearing about the process. Your artist probably has a completely different approach. I looked at your website. Venus Envy looks like a great, fun read, - and that's just from the cover!Good luck with it.