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I’ve been working with Richard for quite some time and he usually gives me quite a free hand with what I do, but not this time.

Getting a brief like this can be quite intimidating:

Swords of the Damned cover art © Keith Draws

Swords of the Damned cover art © Keith Draws

“The setting is a dank and dismal dungeon, illuminated by strange luminescent mold on the walls, not bright but bright enough to illuminate our heroes – the dungeon itself is an ancient tomb, strange symbols and markings carved into the cracking marble. Two heroes are engaged in battle,one of them a rougish-type fighter wearing leather armour, carrying a sword, the other a raven-haired sorceress wearing a long, flowing robe – the colour of which I leave to you, whatever you think looks best, preferably with some strange and arcane symbols on it, and her hand is raised, crackling with eldritch blue light. They are fighting some nasty skeletons – think the Harryhousen type from ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ – armed with shields and swords. There are some ‘dead’ skeletons on the ground, and some sort of horrible creature up above about to catch them by surprise.”

There is a lot going on and a lot of characters appearing in the image so how to go about bringing it to life in a way that will sell the book?

Well, the image needs to draw the viewer into the scene so a view into the temple with perceptive to draw the viewer in and lighting to create a focal point seemed like a good start.

First off I laid in a Golden Ratio 9 section Grid as a template which I would use to help balance the image.

Next, the background/temple was laid in making sure there would be enough air for the title and Author in the top “third” of the grid.

Now onto the characters. I decided to place these in layers from back to front in order to help enhance the depth. I sketched in the rough positions.

Starting with the giant octopus creature in the background, making it dark and almost unseen.

Next came Sorceress, I placed her to the right of the center section of the grid she’s kind of hovering in a dramatic almost Christlike pose, bathed in light, casting a spell. I placed a bright surge of magic power behind her that is reflected in the floor and this serves almost like vertical arrow drawing the eye up from the base right to her.

Next, I painted the green smoke surging off to the sides which also serve to lead the eye in but this time from the sides.

The next depth layer is the three skeletons were placed in the mid-distance, heads just below the centerline and slightly to the right of center. I painted then quite dark with stark highlights so they stand out well and at the same time look quite eerie.

Now comes the second hero, dodging a blow from one of the skeletons. He’s much closer to the viewer and so much bigger in the frame. I placed him below the center and in the left section of the grid. He is painted in heavy contrast creating drama while standing out from the background. There is now also a good balance of tone and shape.

The broken skeleton in the foreground again painted in high contrast adds another layer of depth while at the same time framing the base of the image.

You’ll notice that by positioning and lighting the Sorceress and the Hero as I did I made them the “Stars” of the image.

Now the rough was completed I sent it off for approval and fortunately, Richard liked it and so I went on to work it up to what you see here.

The title, series name, and Author typography were all based on the existing Series name logo. Again it took a little thought but I was able to make it all tie together with the layout of the image.

I left this until last but in hindsight, I think it’s always better to design the typography first since it can have a great impact on the final image. In this case, I was fortunate in that I had to make few changes to the overall painting, and of course, since I work digitally this is much easier to do. Had I painted this in oil I would have had a much harder time of it.

I won’t make that mistake again.

Richard’s Blog can be found here

And his Facebook is here

Posters and prints of this painting can be purchased here