I have, I think, over a thousand sketches, drawings and paintings of the various scenes and characters in my books. I love commissioning artwork–it’s a bit of an addiction, I think.  When I was a kid I loved all the illustrations in my Chronicles of Narnia books. I’d stare at the pictures by British artist Pauline Baynes for hours. Baynes also illustrated JRR Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham, which I also loved.

A manga painting of Sygillis of Metatron by Bea Kimera

A manga painting of Sygillis of Metatron by Bea Kimera

I swore if I ever managed to collect the crazy ideas in my head into an actual book I’d have it plastered with illustrations.

Flash forward about thirty years. I made good on my promise. With an average of twenty-five maps and illustrations per book, I’ve got over 200 in print and counting.

A Picture is worth … a thousand less words.

The practice of adding illustrations to the interior of books seems to have vanished in modern times. When folks pick up my books to have a look at them, they almost always fan through the pages–what are they looking for??  Most books don’t have anything but printing in the interior and checking the pages for them usually comes up with nothing. But, imagine their surprise when they flip through my books and come to a page with a beautiful  illustration. It’s a genuine moment.

Illustrations are also helpful when you’re dealing with a fantastic, completely made-up world like what I write. You have to describe everything, and that can derail the plot. Modern readers don’t like that, plot is very important Instead of spending a couple thousand words going over one of my whacky creations,  why not toss in a cool picture and go a little lighter on the descriptions?

Princess Marilith Covered Up_001

Princess Marilith of Xandarr, by Carol Phillips

A Creative Symbiosis

I usually give my artists a lot of freedom when they create an illustration. Some authors can be quite exacting in what they expect, me, I’m easy. I rather enjoy seeing how the artist interprets the subject. If I see something I really like, I’ll often add it into the writing, it’s only natural to do so.

Take this image of Princess Marilith of Xandarr by Carol Phillips. This is one of the first commissions I got from Carol, going all the way back to Book 1. As you can see, it’s a nude. I don’t recall asking Carol for a nude. Princess Marilith is an angry, spurned, blue-haired woman, heartbroken and vengeful. However, my early visualizations of her were fully clothed. Carol’s painting of her captured those various feelings–you can see how upset she is in her painted face. Her unexpectedly nude body is strong and beautiful. I was captivated by what I saw. Inspired, I went through and re-wrote the Princess, making her essentially nude in the story. She comes from Xandarr, a very hot and dry place, so it seemed to follow. Wearing only light veils or nothing at all, daring you to look her in the eye, has been her trademark ever since.

An early painting of Professor Hannah-Ben Shurlamp,  by Eve Ventrue

An early painting of Professor Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, by Eve Ventrue

Revving-Up my Creative Process

I usually come up with an idea or a character years before they actually appear on the page.  Typically, as the image clarifies in my head, I get all excited and commission a drawing of it. Seeing the finished artwork gets me going every time and influences what happens in the books.

Take Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, EVoR. I was sitting at a Burger King several years back when I came up with a foil and opposite number for The Professor–Lt Kilos’ brainy husband. I imagined a tall, rather swarthy woman dressed all in white, her skin powdered to pearly perfection, her raven hair tucked up into a large white wig. I immediately sent a note to my friend, the amazing Eve Ventrue, gave her the details and waited a week or two to see the results.

Eve came up with Hannah-Ben sitting in an opulent padded study. As usual, I incorporated her study into the writing, the image of Professor Shurlamp sitting in her fine red room is her standard calling card.

That first painting of Hannah-Ben was stunning, she was beautiful, but I thought she was missing a little something.  She was too demure, too unassuming. Professor Shurlamp is anything but unassuming–everything she does is big and bold and in-your-face.

Professor Hannah-Ben Shurlamp as a mile-high hologram on the planet Eng (Carol Phillips)

Professor Hannah-Ben Shurlamp as a mile-high hologram on the planet Eng (Carol Phillips)

Not enough wig, not enough eyebrow and piercing stare. I wanted something beautiful, yet sort of horrible as well, rather like Gerald Scarfe’s work on Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Just like that. I wanted something cool, but a little creepy.

Enter Carol Phillips, the Queen of the League of Elder who has contributed probably 40% of my massive art inventory. Carol went to work and produced the second painting of Hannah-Ben.

Working with Carol for so long, she is often able to pop my head open, pull out the mess that’s inside and paint beautiful things with it. The painting Carol created of Professor Shurlamp was absolutely perfect. She was a mile high, she had the wig, the eyebrow, the “You are nothing to me” expression … everything was perfect. Even her snowy white gown was perfect–look at the frills, the buttons, the tight waistline and the bows. So many bows …

Seeing this thrilling painting gave me the added “oomph!” to finish The Shadow tech Goddess, a tome that had taken me four years to write.

Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, by Carol Phillips

Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, by Carol Phillips

And then came Stenibelle, another book where Hannah-Ben Shurlamp makes a notable appearance.

I wanted another image of Hannah-Ben for the book, I thought it would be a nice touch, and this time, Carol came up with a true masterpiece–the ultimate image of Professor Shurlamp holding her Glyph with scores of data orbiting her head. This image gave me chills when I first saw it (really–no kidding!!)

Seeing that giant wig, those curls, that glyph-wand in her hand helped me figure out the various twists and turns in the story that had been giving me a few minor fits.

So, when in doubt, get a piece of artwork and let it fire your imagination, you’ll be glad you did.

Copyright 2015, Ren Garcia, Carol Phillips and Eve Ventrue 

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The Process of Cover Creation

February 16, 2012

Now that the Temple Trilogy is out in the world, we continue forward with LoE Book VI: The Sands of the Solar Empire. This is always my favorite time as we knock heads and come up with the design of the book. The manuscript is totally done–finished it about a year and a half ago. Of course as I go through the edited copy I’ll, do doubt, make a few changes here and there, but that’s all minor stuff.

It’s time to get the cover of the book going. The Cover creation goes in a very orderly progression, first from my head, then to Carol Phillips, then to sketch and then to paint.

I thought I’d illustrate the process using Book II, The Hazards of the Old Ones as a template.

1)–Concept
First I come up with an idea. I usually have several floating around in my head. I then give them to Carol and I let her pick out the ones she’s most interested in painting (you’ve got to keep your artist empowered and excited). In the case of the Hazards, I took a photo of my favorite idea. My wife standing there represents Lt. Kilos, Tweety is Carahil and my house represents the mountains. Usually my ideas are pretty simple and uncluttered–I leave it to Carol to fill up the composition. Note how I imagined the painting from directly behind the characters.

2)–Sketch
Carol then comes up with a series of simple sketches which get progressively more detailed until we come up with a final sketch. I give Carol a fair amount of freedom and her final product is almost always much more elaborate than what I had initially dreamed up. Note how Carol has tilted Lt. Kilos and Carahil so that you can see their faces, she also sketched the Mountains much differently than I had envisioned them. That’s part of the creative process–things never quite turn out exactly as you originally thought they would.

At this stage of the process being small comes into its own. We don’t have a legal department or a Board of Executives or a line of editors waiting to throw their two-cents in–we do what feels right without having to get it past a committee. What you eventually see, for good or ill, is exactly how we intended it to be.

3)–Painting.
This is by far the longest part of the process. Carol Phillips usually takes about two and a half months to complete a cover from end to end. I try to leave her alone during this grueling part of the game, but it’s unbearable sometimes–like waiting for Christmas to roll around. Fortunately, Carol has a lot of patience with me. Note: we always choose to make use of a Wrap Cover, one that goes all the we around from the front, across the spine to the back.

4–Nixies
We almost always come up with a few extras that we hadn’t thought of at the outset. I sit there and dream something up, pitch it to Carol and then she adds it in. Often times these Nixies don’t jive with the continuity of the story, but we toss them in anyway because we think they look cool. In this example you can see the reflection of Mabs the Cat Goddess in Carahil’s shiny body. That was a late add-in.

Building the cover is always a labor of love, but the end result is always worth it.

Bowl Naked
RG

copyright 2012, Ren Garcia and Carol Phillips