by Howard Lyon

I have had the good fortune to do several covers over the last couple years for Michael McCloskey, an independent author.  Working for indie authors is a little different than working for a publisher.  For one, there is a lot more input from the author and I really enjoy that collaboration.  A downside is that there isn’t an Art Director involved.  A good AD can help you lift a piece from good to great, and without that, you have to be very diligent in your self-critique and/or solicit the input of friends.

A focus of mine over the past few years has been on process.  It started with the recognition that nearly every one of the artists that I admire: Caravaggio, Rubens, Bouguereau, Waterhouse, Leyendecker, Rockwell…  they all used essentially the same process to get from A to Z.  This is outlined in a great book, Norman Rockwell: Illustrator. (You can get the book on Amazon for pennies, literally.  As of today, there are several copies for 1 cent and few dollars for shipping.  Go get one.  The really good stuff is in the back of the book!)

Their process is:

Larger drawing
Value and/or color study
Head/hand/feet/fabric studies
Full sized drawing
Final painting

If it was good enough for them, why not me?  More importantly, if they thought it was important enough to do all those steps, then how can I expect to paint to their level if I don’t even put in the same work?

I was delighted when picked up James Gurney’s book, Imaginative Realism a few years ago and saw not only the same process outlined, but some additional steps that aid in the rendering of the impossible and how to make them appear real.  It is hands down the best book on illustration I have read.  It changed they way I approach the fantastic.  Go get Gurney’s book too, you can’t go wrong.

For this cover, done for the book Force Cantrithor, I needed to invent a new creature called a vothrile.  I started with a series of small sketches like this:

Once I had the creature approved, I did a small quick sculpture:

With the sculpture available for reference, I did a small thumbnail for the cover layout and created the background in 3D.  I have been using Blender for my 3D work lately.  It is free and has enough features for the simple backgrounds I need.

Then I enlisted my son and wife to stand in for some photography.  My son is a good sport, it seems most of the time I paint him, he is getting eaten by some monster.  I used a small strobe placed at a high angle above him to get some raking light and used the ambient light in the room as the fill light.  Nothing too elaborate, but sometimes that gets the job done

With all those elements, I put them together in a final value sketch that gives a good idea where the final will go.

After the value study, I do a quick color study, and then it’s on to the final!

I also had the chance to do the layout and typography for this book.

Howard began his career studying illustration with artists such as Don Seegmiller, James Christensen and Robert Barrett. Over the past 15 years he has worked in the video game industry as an Art Director, a concept artist, and freelance illustrator for clients such as Wizards of the Coast, Blizzard Entertainment and Electronic Arts.

Howard’s work has been featured in collectable annuals such as Spectrum, as well as Ballistic Publishing’s Expose, D’artiste Digital Painting and Painter. Howard is also a featured artist for Corel’s product “Painter

You can see more of Howard’s illustrations, and check out some of his amazing personal work, at his website: