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June 17th, 2011

Step by Step: The cover for Intruder, by CJ Cherryh, from DAW books

Step One: Sketches

Intruder is the thirteenth book in a long-running series of science fiction classics by award-winning author CJ Cherryh. This was a tale of taught political intrigue, and a good read, as always. But as an illustrator, it was a challenge. Much of what happens in Ms. Cherryh’s books is in the heads of the POV characters, and action is usually not of the chase-and-gunfight sort. Reading the book entirely is essential, to get a feel for the characters and the arc of the story. I read this one once, and then skimmed through it again before I knew what I had to do.

The main protagonist in the series is Bren Cameron, a human spacefarer who serves as the paidhi-aiji, something of an ambassador of the humans on a world of big, dark aliens called the Atevi. He has been on every cover but one. Various Atevi are also seen, and for this cover the client specifically wanted to see Ilisidi, the Dowager and leader of one of the battling factions of Atevi, and her nine year old grandson Cajeiri, who had not been seen on a cover yet.

The first trouble I had is that the Dowager appears in only one scene – the very last; I don’t usually like to mine the end of a book for material because it can give too much away. The second problem was that Cajeiri wasn’t in that scene with her, or with her anywhere else in the tale. The third problem was that there was no action at all in this book of the sort that lends itself easily to a cover—no guns, no chases, no space battles. It all happens indoors, and the tension is built upon political sparring.

In this book, two visuals stood out as good metaphors for the story arcs that I might use without giving too much away—a beautiful porcelain vase, and Cajeiri’s troublesome pet, a monkey-like creature native to the Atevi homeworld.

I set to my first sketches knowing that the vase was the primary Star of the painting, though Bren, Ilisidi, and the boy and his monkey had significant co-starring roles. Sketch number 1 is the barest form of the idea, loosely laid down with big strokes. It suggested a series of sketches of which number 2 was one, with Bren contemplating the vessel of his machinations (almost literally), and the others gathered round. Boring! I pulled back to a banquet scene for sketch 3 and found it far too staid and symmetrical, though there were some first hints at how the values might ultimately be arranged.

I did a number of sketches, moving in and out of the banquet setting, until it finally occurred to me to separate the boy from his monkey. It was only right, and added the narrative kick that sparked my interest. It was in this same sketch that I began to feel the relationship of Bren, Ilisidi, and another faction leader named Machigi. Also in this sketch I began to look for a way to make the vase alien and strange. Several stages later, simply turning Bren’s head made their grouping start to gel. By number 6, I began to see how this would work.

Sketch 7 was part of a series I did simply to reaffirm for myself that closer was better, because this was such a character-driven story, and that I did still want the vase to be centered in the scene. It gave it solidity and importance, and allowed the monkey to be out of sight of everyone, including the boy who is looking for him. The only kinks remaining were to find the best place for the boy—behind his grandmother’s back, not Bren’s—and to realize how important it was that the three adults not look like they were at all aware of either boy or pet.

I resized the sketch to be certain that it fit the book format and negotiated some background elements to add the final lines of movement. With the approval of the client, I was ready to shoot and gather reference, with this drawing as my roadmap.

Step Two: Reference

Good reference is essential. There are artists who make everything up out of their heads, and if you know your stuff you can do it. I do it more than I like to admit, but even if you understand light and perspective and anatomy very, very well, good reference will fill in the holes in your knowledge and add realism and life to the final image.

If I have learned anything in my career, it’s that when you find a good model, keep him! My son Tyler is a fan of the sorts of books and games that I illustrate, but he is also a theater major and a fine character actor who gets the subtleties I look for. Plus he has good facial features that are easy to adapt to my needs.

Other reference comes from my files of images I have shot over the years or gathered off of the internet. I spend a good day going through the pictures I’m going to use, organizing them and choosing the ones that best fit my vision. I arrange the chosen images together on my left-hand monitor, then take screen-snaps of them, name them and file them. By the end of this session, I had several reference collages, of everything from previous covers to old ladies, from architecture to vases.

It’s important in this day of copyright hyper-vigilance to never copy without permission. Nothing I find on the internet ends up in a painting. I only ever use “scrap” to add to my understanding of photos I have shot for myself or things I have invented: What makes one old lady look like a hag, but another look regal? What range of values should I expect in a white room? How does the light shine on and through the glazes on a porcelain container? And so on. Stealing is bad. Don’t do it. Moreover, it’s limiting. Why tie yourself to an image you’ve found which is probably not what you really had in mind to begin with? Let an idea drive the build-out; don’t start with a piece of reference and try to build an idea out of it.

With the reference collages stacked on my left monitor, I’m ready to start the drawing.

Next up: The Painting

Posted by Todd in Art!


This entry was posted on Friday, June 17th, 2011 at 3:57 pm and is filed under Art!. You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

18 Responses to “Step by Step: The cover for Intruder, by CJ Cherryh, from DAW books”

  1. Jessica says:

    That’s so cool! I love your art, and often I read books just by browsing through your website and looking at the covers you’ve done. I discovered you when I was reading R.A. Salvator’s books and I realized you were the one doing the covers. Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!

  2. Jane Fancher says:

    Todd, this is WONDERFUL.Can’t wait to the see the final product. It’s perfect for the book. I love the way you’ve used the light and dark.

    BTW…I really adore all the covers you’ve done for this series. You’re sooooo good!

  3. Todd says:

    Thanks, Jane! This one was a challenge, to be sure, but I’m really happy with the final result.


  4. CJ Cherryh says:

    I love it! Jane found it, and also loves it, and pointed me in this direction. Brilliant!

  5. Jon Foster says:

    Todd, I love seeing the behind the scenes photos, and your thought processes in the making of your covers. Thanks for sharing. You are an inspiration.


  6. Robert Knight says:

    Todd, I’m still freaking out that you don’t use a Cintiq for working, even with the transition from traditional. It’s kinda convincing me that I don’t need one either, haha. I love seeing these work processes, thanks for sharing!

  7. flow says:

    Hey Todd! Awesome work – thank you for sharing this making-of! It is very helpful

    greetings from austria

  8. Todd says:

    As far as the Cintiqs are concerned, it’s mostly enertia: by the time a Cintiq was offered that didn’t have horrible lag time, I was so used to painting the way I do that it was hardly an issue. Not only that, but I’ve grown to like not having my hand in the way while I draw. Also, I HATE greasy hand and fingerprints on my monitor … and I’ll be damned if I’m going to paint digitally with a mahl-stick!

  9. Todd says:

    Also regarding Cintiqs: one of the liberating things about using a Wacom tablet is that you aren’t chained to the board, so to speak. You can sit back with the tablet in your lap and draw comfortably, or move in and out as you draw. Who wants to spend an entire day twelve inches from their monitor? Not me.

  10. louzie0 says:

    Really enjoyed reading and looking at this. I love the books and the covers suit them admirably. I now have an extra thrill waiting when I see the next one on sale. Thanks for the step-by step creative journey, especially in the first series of photos.

    ‘Bren’ is brill!

  11. DL Taylor says:

    If Ms. Cherryh confirms it I will live it, but nowhere in several readings of the complete Foreigner series have I perused any mention of pupils in Atevi eyes. The differences need to be not subtle but sharply defined. To me, if you illustrate Atevi with pupils, now they are just larger, albeit coal black, humans and their alien quality is lost. But what do I know, just voicing my 2p.

  12. MDF says:

    Mr. Lockwood,

    I love your art.

    It has been some 20 years since I last picked up a pencil or brush. Now that I have the time and means to rekindle my first love of drawing and painting, I find recent inspiration in both young and established artists and their work in digital media.

    I greatly appreciate you sharing your work, as well as tips on how to achieve outstanding results. Your comments on reference material, for example, represent the type of reminders I need to hear.

    Having worked with Corel products in the past I am looking forward to getting into Painter. And I also look forward to seeing more of your own work as well. 😉

    Again, thank you for sharing.

    – MDF

  13. Todd says:

    DL: This is the sort of thing that drives illustrators crazy. We do our best to be accurate, but the most sincere fans of any series will always have one up on us. For my part, I do my best to bridge the gap between written word and illustration. In the case of a long-running series like this one, that includes trying to bridge the additional chasm created by every other artists’ visions. I also can’t imagine how pupil-less eyes would function and still be gold (though I have certainly painted dragons and demons that way!). Proof that you can’t please everybody … :/

  14. Karey says:

    As always, your covers are the reason I even bother opening the book. Old school, I guess, in still subscribing to the theory: the cover is everything! Not to mention, your art is STILL my muse ;D
    All the best, friend.

  15. Intruder is In! « Closed Circle says:

    […] for that gorgeous Todd Lockwood cover, check out his cool step by step slideshows on how he made it. New Releases, News    Looking Good! […]

  16. Jane says:

    Just got the books in and it’s even more gorgeous than I expected. I’ve linked the Closed Circle “book birth announcement” to this page so all her readers can come oooo…ahhhh…

    Thanks again for doing this. Love love love seeing the process!

  17. Jane says:

    Re: the Cintique… I totally agree re: the versatility of the wacom. Never thought I’d adjust to the disconnect between the tip of the “pencil/brush” and the rendition, but it was surprisingly easy. (Playing a lot of spider solitaire helped in the early stages! :D)

  18. CJ Cherryh says:

    Actually atevi do have pupils. Their eyes reflect gold light like a cat’s, and in dim light they appear to have none. They see far better than humans in very dim light, but humans have the advantage in very bright light. Atevi also have the advantage in hearing—an atevi whisper is very soft, otherwise there’s no point in whispering around them. Humans do have the advantage of being able to get into skinny little places atevi can’t, and a really good human sprinter might have the lead for a while, but atevi walking strides are long if they’re in a hurry. Bren’s bodyguard has to make that adjustment or they’ll wear him out.