I was recently commissioned by Lauren Panepinto of Orbit books to create the cover for the upcoming novel, ‘Son of the Storm’, by Suyi Davies Okungbowa.
Some clients come to me with no idea of what they want to see on the cover. They give me a manuscript, and just let me see where it takes me. Other clients already have very specific ideas in mind, and come to me because they know I, in particular, can achieve the solution they are going for. Orbit Books in my experience tends to be the latter. They take a lot time and care discussing options ahead of time, ensuring that they are keeping up with trends and capturing the right market for that specific author.
‘The Son of the Storm’ is written by a Nigerian author, and the Fantasy epic takes place in a world not too dissimilar to West Africa. Because of this, Orbit knew they wanted to capture a strong sense of ‘Afro-Fantasy’ (Consider it the genre equivalent of Afro-Futurism), if you will. They wanted to play up the distinctive tribal markings of the main character, and his unique, cultural garb. Because the story also has larger-world political themes as major narrative elements (ala Game of Thrones), they wanted to find a way to capture that sense of epic world-building, while not losing the focus of the main character. They thought perhaps a decorative mural, or headdress that eludes to the larger culture might do the trick, and also give the opportunity to add some gold tribal patterning that would make for striking cover. It was because of this decorative gold element aspect, and this portfolio image of mine exhibiting my experience painting such things, that landed me this job.
Like most jobs, the hardest part is taking all of the the clients suggestions, and trying to distill them into a single style of image that I feel encapsulates the overall ‘flavor’ they are going for, and really represents the book well, while still meeting all of the cleint’s needs. I started be doing a lot of visual research on different African cultures, looking for themes, props and textures I could utilize in my cover. Once I had a good feel for the general aesthetics of the culture, I sat down, and began painting my concept sketches.
I always sketch from imagination, so as not to get too bogged down with reference and accuracy. I usually start my sketches in greyscale, but because the gold was so important to the final image, I found myself concepting in colors. Often times, the colors were more important to me than the narrative of the sketch.
Below (and above) are a partial selection of some of the sketches I submitted to Orbit for their consideration. Typically I only do about 3 sketches for a cover, but because many of these were variations on a theme, I ended up producing a LOT more, about 13 or so.
Lauren presented the sketches to her team, and they decided that we were on the right track, but wanted to mix the best elements from several different sketches. They wanted the decorative background of one image, but with different character styling, and also asked I have him making eye-contact with the viewer.
I quickly worked up a revised sketch the make sure I got the right look they were after. They approved the new concept with minimal critique, and then it was onto final!
Typically I end up doing an elaborate reference shoot to aid me in my final painting process. But because so much of this cover was decorative elements, the reference phase was incredibly easy. All I needed was some good head reference so that I could tweak my anatomy a bit, which was getting too stylized in my sketches, and wouldn’t translate to realism quite right without some modification.
Overall, this was a relatively simple execution. I worked digitally, painting directly over my sketch, so I was able to utilize a lot of the same elements and colors in my final art, polishing only what was necessary as I went along.
I handed in the final art, and Lauren had a few subtle critiques that were really easy fixes and made the final a lot better! You can see the final art below:
And lastly, here is how the final cover came out, with type treatment by Lauren Panepinto…
If you’re interested in this story, io9 recently did a feature on the book and cover art, and has posted an excerpt you can read right here:
And for anyone interested in the art, prints are available right here: https://www.dandossantos.com/store/son-of-the-storm
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