-Dan dos Santos

Here is the latest installment of the ‘Alien’ series I do for Daw books, titled ‘Alien Diplomacy’. This one was a lot of fun to work on. Not so much because of the subject matter, but because of the company.

The deadline on this piece was really tight, and I honestly thought I would have to turn the job down. That’s not something that I, or the client, wanted to do. I had already painted the first 4 covers in the series, and it would be a shame to just hand that off to someone else. So I did what any person does when they’re in a jam… I asked for help.

Knowing there was no way to get the job done in the allotted time on my own, I asked fellow illustrator, and good friend, Dave Palumbo to help me out on this piece. Dave and I have really similar working methods (right down to the substrate we both use), so I knew he would be a good partner on this piece. I also know that he has similar tastes to myself, and was experienced collaborating with other artists.

Dave traveled from Pennsylvania to my home in Connecticut, and over the course of 4 days, we managed to turn out a rather complicated piece from start to finish.

I’ve done collaborations before, and not always with great results. I think this collaboration was particularly successful due to a few factors:
1. As I mentioned, Dave and I have very similar working methods.
2. The ‘look’ of the series had already been established, so we had a clear goal in mind as to what the final result should look like.
3. Rather than both paint a little bit of everything (and likely un-do a lot of each other’s work), we decided to divvy up the various elements of the painting. I would paint one specific element, Dave another.

The collaboration actually started before Dave got to my house. Days prior, we bounced sketches back and forth via email, refining one another’s ideas, and getting the Editor’s approval before Dave drove up.


Once here, Dave and I immediately went reference hunting. We took a trip around town, and even stopped at Wal-Mart, photographing all sort of junk that would help us compose the robotic elements of the painting. Industrial backhoes, Transformers toys, and even vacuum cleaners all made their way into the painting.

We hired one of my favorite models that same day for a late night shoot, and later that night settled on a pose.

Dave helps with the drapery as the model poses.

We spent the entire next day compiling the reference, making sure we were both happy with the composition. Dave then began the process of transferring the image to the board, and did a rough acrylic lay-in.

Once the lay-in was completed, Dave took a well-deserved break, and I began the process of painting the background elements… working well through the night. When Dave woke up the next morning, he began painting the mid-ground. We alternated like this, back and forth, Dave working during the day, and me at night, so that we could clock a good 16 hours worth of work on the painting each day.

Just 4 days after his arrival, we had a pretty impressive, albeit completely wet, painting to show for it.

First thing the next day, we took a drive to a local photographer that I often use to scan my paintings. With a 10 foot flatbed-scanner at our disposal, we were able to get a wonderful hi-rez scan of the image, regardless of it being wet.

A few hours later, scan in hand, I imported the image into Photoshop, and began making adjustments. I digitally added the male figure into background, as well and the furry critters up front. Both were elements that were really important to the story, so they had to be there. However, Dave and I discussed these elements early on, and both felt that the original painting would be much stronger without them. So we knew that we were going to add them digitally before we even started.

The final cover with additional characters.

There are a couple of serious considerations when collaborating with someone on a professional job. Most notably, who will retain the copyrights, and the original art? I was tempted to hire Dave to help me as a work-for-hire arrangement, as this would keep things really simple. Dave would be well compensated, and the painting, for all legal purposes would be mine. I decided not to do this for two reasons.

Firstly, this would mess up my taxes. It would mean me claiming incoming I didn’t actually receive, or possibly having to list Dave as an employee. That is territory I didn’t want to tread.

The other reason, and the more important of the two, was that I thought it would be insulting. Dave is really talented, and I didn’t want him to be a ghost on this project. I wanted his input, and fully expected that his sensibilities would show through in the final work. As such, it was only fair that he receive credit too. In the end, Dave and I each own half the copyright, both received cover credit, and each invoiced the client separately. I currently have the original art, but it technically belongs to both us. Should we decide to sell it, we would both split the income.