Creating the Cover for The Summer Dragon: First Book of The Evertide

Throughout my career as a cover artist, finding the right image for a cover was never difficult, until I was faced with covering my own book. I struggled with it the entire time I was writing it. I didn’t want just a scene from the book. I wanted something iconic and representative of the story. Finally, a friend said to me, “Why not the statue in the ruins?” Bingo. I knew he was right. The Summer Dragon is very much about Maia’s quest to understand her world and the opposing forces that push her into her adventure. With a concept to chase down at last, I began work.

I knew early on what I wanted, so I began with simple explorations:

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I drew that upper dragon many times. I couldn’t get what I was after:

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Finally I realized that this was a painting of a sculpture in relief, not of a 3-dimenional statue in the round. I turned the dragon’s head and things started to come together. The faint outlines you see around the border are the three most common book dimensions. They’re there to keep me honest about my trim dimensions and my “live” space:

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I explored compositions next. I even tried adding a couple of figures, but they ruined the mood I sought:

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When I decided on fog and a monochromatic approach, the value study arrived. This is the image I shared with my art director and editor, Betsy Wollheim of DAW Books:

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With approval, the drawing begins:

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Just enough detail to serve as the “cartoon” in my painting to come:

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Some colorizing readies the drawing for the printer. I will print this out on watercolor paper and mount it to 1/2 inch-thick birch plywood:

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I know from past experience that watercolor paper expands more in one direction than the other when it absorbs moisture. Part of the process of mounting the drawing involves soaking the paper so that it doesn’t expand and create air bubbles. I print out a grid on the same paper, 20″ by 20″ made up of 2″ squares. To my surprise, the print is 20-3/16″ on each side—slightly larger than it ought to be. When I soak it, it barely expands at all in one direction, lengthwise relative to the roll, but expands by over 1/4″ in the width. I take careful measurements, then do a little math. I prepare a new file that has been reduced in size slightly, and then narrowed by an exact percentage. I say quiet thanks to my high school math teachers:

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Here is the board and print prepared for the mounting:

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I mount the print to the substrate in the same way, using the same techniques as in the video I posted on YouTube a while back:

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I put down several layers of bright color in acrylic so that I wouldn’t be painting over white. Then I augmented the values in the darkest zone with Holbein’s water-solubale oils, using Burnt Umber. It goes down nicely, responds well and is easy to adjust with water to get the right consistency. Because it’s an earth tone, I expect it to dry quickly. I’m not sure if the water-soluble paints are my best option for later stages, but they certainly worked here.

The dragon won’t be so brown. The next layer over that will be transparent Indigo, with highlights popped out in opaque color. It should look like cool, black stone:

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A fairly satisfying day of painting. I’ve worked on the background down as far as the base of the statue’s pedestal. Next I’ll take a first pass at the dragons.

I used only paint. No driers, no thinner (except to give a first rinse to my brushes a few times, following up with a rinse in walnut oil to cut the thinner back). I was able to paint for several hours without the sore throat and headaches that plagued me before. I know this is going to take forever to dry, but I was able to WORK, which is worth its weight in time.

Er… how much does time weigh?

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First pass on the black dragon:

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First pass on the white dragon. Only the foreground remains, though I will go back and add texture and depth to the statue in several more passes:

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And here’s the finished painting:

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And the mock-up of the cover I showed DAW as I worked out the typography. DAW was most gracious in allowing me to design the typography. I wanted something classic and elegant, not too trendy, and I wanted to avoid some of the fantasy design tropes that can look dated:

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