Here’s a book cover I did a while back that just recently went public. This painting was created for the novel ‘The Grimm Files : It’s a Charmed Life‘, by Selene Charles.

The series is a dark, re-imagining of classic fair tale characters. This story revolves around a trans-dimensional siren who hops between worlds solving crimes. Along with her partner, The Mad Hatter, Elle’s latest case leads her to the mysterious world of Wonderland.

There were several aspects that were important to Author that I capture… The doorways which allow for dimensional travel, a magical necklace which allows the heroine to alter her form from her natural mermaid state to a human, and the fact that she is a detective. The Author also had some notes about clothing, but because this was the first book in series, I was given quite a lot of freedom in designing her overall look. Rather than make her look like a modern detective, I tried to give her a little more of an old school “cowboy” flare with the badge and revolver.

Below are some of the cover concepts I submitted. Ultimately, the Author asked that I combine sketch #1 and #2, resulting in the image you see above.

Like usual, I do the best I can to get good reference for every job. In this case, I tried to find a model that looked as close as I could get to my sketch. I sometimes even go so far as to add little touches like the makeup on her forehead. Basically, if there is some element of my sketch that I think might result in something interesting or unexpected, I try to explore that possibility in the photo shoot. You never know what cool things will pop up.

For instance, the water flowing around her feet poses some interesting problems, and possibly some creative solutions I hadn’t thought of. So I went outdoors and explored what actually happens when flows around feet.

Similarly, I originally thought I would have a more obviously light source across the ground from the doorway. Those shadows would be a great compositional element, so I wanted to get them right. So I made a little maquette to help me figure some things out. Ultimately, the lighting conflicted with other more important compositional elements, so I did away with it. But the knowledge I gained from the experiment was beneficial nonetheless.

It’s these little explorations that tend to reap long lasting benefits. A lot of people wonder how certain artists can paint things from imagination, and usually it’s because they’ve actually SEEN those things in real life before. If you don’t know what something looks like, find out! Then, the next time that problem arises, you have a point of reference… whether it was a photo you took, a movie you saw, or a passing moment in real life, you can pull that information from your visual vocabulary in a more believable way.

With all that information in hand, I can go about improving upon my original sketch in a more informed manner, ultimately resulting in the final image seen here.