Thursday, October 11, 2007


This image was done as the cover illustration for the book, The Alchemist's Apprentice, by Dave Duncan. The story centers around the apprentice of legendary alchemist and prophet, Nostradamus. Talk about a cool job! The story takes place in 16th century Venice and it's a great read, full of intrigue, action magic and the feel of Venice at its height.The art director wanted the cover to have the look of an old painting and also to convey the alchemy theme. Lucky for me, they haven't changed Venice in all that time, so I was able to start with a current photo of the Grand Canal. I had to cheat a bit to get a view down the canal from a balcony, which doesn't exist. I made that in 3d and other objects in the scene, but not the armilary sphere. That beautiful astrological device would have taken me too long to make in 3d and I had a good picture of one in a museum somewhere, so it was blended in. The young man went through quite a lot of turmoil. As it turns out, the art director, editor and others were uncomfortable with the first guy I had , who was dressed accurately in striped velvet pantaloons, tights, a doublet, etc. The whole Shakespear look. They were concerned he might not convey the "manly look" they wanted. So after various attempts to macho him up, we replaced him with the guy you see here, wearing clothing much more fitting the 18th century. I guess mass market books just aren't ready for the pantaloon! I gave the image several brownish "glazes", the same as I would do with an oil painting, and then added a semi-transparent crackle. This looks best when it's not an all over effect, but rather, appears in patches that fade out into a painted look. I could describe the technique further if anyone is interested.
Please leave your comments!


~Nancy said...

Beautiful! Makes me want to run out and buy the book.

James Griffin said...

Thanks for your comment, Nancy. I read this book in manuscript form and really liked it. Lots of intrigue and a very nice feel for that time period in Venice.

Dave said...

I have had 40 US covers in my writing career. I rank this and one other as 5-star. Stupendous! I knew Alfeo could never be shown realistically, so I wasn't too disappointed. (Did you see the contemporary Vecellio drawing I sent to Anne? It's a hoot!) Thanks for the complimentary comments on the book, too. Today I mailed off the MS for the third book in the series, and I certainly hope that Ace gives you the contract! Keep up the great work!
Dave Duncan

James Griffin said...

Hi Dave, I'm so happy you like my cover for your excellent book! It's a real thrill to hear it directly from you. I am looking forward to the next book in the series, having grown very fond of Alfeo and his exploits. The guys in that era dressed like peacocks, especially the Venetians. I did see that drawing and it was over the top. But I do think the reading public could handle the correct costumes. They responded well to Shakespear in Love and Elizabeth movies. My favorites for the look and feel of Venice in that period are Merchant Of Venice, with Al Pacino and A Dangerous Beauty.
What I really admire about your writing is how you are able to paint scenes and characters with words that I can see so clearly in my mind. Thanks for your exciting book and your kind comments!

Diane Coffin said...

I purchased this book recently, in large part because of the gorgeous cover art that caught my eye at the bookstore. I finished reading it this morning and have just learned there are two sequels. I'm delighted! Congratulations on this beautiful, beautiful cover. Without your art, I might have missed out on a really enjoyable read. Thanks!

James Griffin said...

Diane, There isn't a better compliment for a book cover artist than saying you bought the book, because the cover caught your eye! I'm so happy to hear that! Of course it really is a nice surprise, when the book turns out to be well-written and exciting, as these are!