Right before the portrait project came in, I finished up a fantasy book cover for Scott Grant. I thought this might be a good opportunity to share my process for a piece of illustration work.
Scott had already decided on a scene from the book he wanted to show on the cover. It features one of the main characters riding for his life after his city has been set ablaze by enemy forces.
First, I put together rough thumbnail sketches showing the scene in a few different ways:
Scott chose thumbnail #1 as his favorite layout, so I moved on to a more developed full-scale sketch. For this stage, I looked at a lot of photos of horses as well as cities and cliffs overlooking water. I didn’t copy any one reference photo directly, but was informed by different elements of them.
Scott was happy with the sketch as-is, but it’s at this stage that there’s normally the most back and forth with a client. It’s much easier to make changes to the image now than it is once I’ve actually started on the painting.
I transferred the sketch to the final watercolor paper by coating the back of the sketch with graphite and tracing over the basic shapes of the image. I refined the drawing by hand. At this point, everything needs to stay lighter and neater than in the sketch, since I’ll be painting directly over it.
This was the first version of the watercolor:
Scott and I agreed that even though the city is supposed to look farther away than the rider, it was too light, and the overall color scheme of the painting was too pleasant for the scene taking place.
In its final state, I’ve given the city more contrast, and I added an overall subtle reddish tint to the whole scene to give it a more unsettling quality:
Scott’s book is called The Sleeping Gods. I asked him for an official synopsis to share with you:
“The Crystal Throne and the kingdom is in danger of collapse; assassination and political machinations have undermined the publics’ faith in the government and a plague has weakened the government-sanctioned faith. Conquerors from another continent eye the ripe fruit of the dying empire hungrily as the outcast Free Cities to the south rise in rebellion. Amidst this turmoil, a young noble girl named Leyna, a young Magi named Eryk and others are drawn into the struggle as a dark force attempts to exert its influence over the fate of the mortals. But others struggle to wake from their ancient self-imposed sleep to join the battle…”
He’s in the process of self publishing the book, and I will update you with a link when it’s available.