Some weeks ago, I had the privilege of working with Yanni Kuznia at Subterranean Books, for a cover of a novella by Greg Egan, entitled Phoresis. This was a tough assignment, but having come off 124 paintings for Timberline and all that snow, I figured I’d get this one figured out! Painting snow is all about subtlety, accented with bright passages of color.

There are two frozen planets in the book that revolve around each other and because of the action of the snow and ice, geysers create ice towers in the frigid temperature. There’s also an ice bridge that people help create to get to the other planet. Planning a cover to entice a reader’s interest is not about getting a single scene of detail from the story correct. It’s more about getting an overall balance of feelings from the story that drives curiosity. That keeps the reader returning to the cover while reading the novel.

I worked on a dozen thumbnails trying to create the bridge between the two worlds, but everything looked rather weak and brittle. I narrowed the selection down and after talking it over with Yanni, we finally settled on doing something with an ice tower, to capture visual interest.

I wanted to include the geysers as well since I’d recently been to Yellowstone National Park and studied the way Old Faithful spouted, it’s steam drifting beautifully away on the wind. We added some figures for scale.

I sent a few thumbs and we all agreed on the main drawing, with the sister planet in the background. The tower is dead center, but I used the geysers and foreground ice to build depth, to keep it from being too formal. I did a final sketch.

Trick was, everything in the visual is pretty dang white.

To drive interest to the cover, I decided to push the color around a bit, even to the point of putting color into the outer space between the planets. The deep black of space would’ve been too much contrast for the overall scene and would’ve jumped forward out of a mostly light color scheme.

I’d been studying transparent ice formations when I painted Timberline so it felt natural to show that as the tower rose from a snowy base the upper section of ice became clear. This let me push the contrast in the top part of the cover.

I worked with a palette knife to keep the colors edgy and distinct, then used a brush to blend where I wanted softer transitions. I added the stars, one at a time, after the base color had set up. I don’t like the way a tooth brush dipped in paint scatters fake stars. The sky doesn’t really look like that. In fact, the illusion is so obvious it looks exactly like what it is: paint splatters.

The overall effect for the Phoresis cover is a cold, ice-strewn world, inviting a reader to find out why. Snow is wonderful to paint. The color shifts and blends adding natural depth and beautiful light to the values and shapes. Tiny amounts of color added to straight white will alter the white pigment hue to warm or cool with very little effort.

Painting in white is brilliant for training to paint in oil. Subtlety is key. It teaches one fine control.