A few weeks ago I blogged about the creation of the cover of The Wizard’s Nemesis, the third volume of my trilogy, The War of the Dragons. What I didn’t mention is that although it was the cover for the third volume, it was not the third one I completed. I knew the Book View Café edition of the trilogy would appear at a rate of one book per month. That sort of tight timing meant I was essentially working on all three simultaneously, and I saw no need to handicap my creative process by finishing them in an arbitrary sequence.

That said, I did happen to finish volume one, The Sorcery Within, ahead of the others. But as I contemplated the mock-up I’d long since created for The Schemes of Dragons cover, I decided I was not satisfied with it. I wanted something different. Being the sort of guy who doesn’t rush inspiration, I did not force myself to come up with an alternative at that precise juncture. I felt it was much better to let my muse do its thing at its own pace. In the meantime, I bore down on the process of completing the cover of The Wizard’s Nemesis.

That, as I mentioned, took an insane number of hours, after which I needed a break. I did some editing, some genealogy, and when I did slip back into cover design work, did so by rendering a mock-up for the cover of the BVC edition of Marie Brennan’s With Fate Conspire. Marie, though, was juggling a variety of book projects and did not get back to me right away with her input. On the spur of the moment, I turned to The Schemes of Dragons.

Back when I’d been brainstorming on a design for the cover of Jewels of Darkover, edited by Deborah Ross, I had chanced upon a lovely scene of a forest cave — not because I was looking for such a thing, but because Deborah had pointed me toward some possibilities at shutterstock and the forest cave image was one of those in the banner of items recently uploaded to the site.

I knew a forest scene would be entirely appropriate for Schemes. Much of the main action takes place in a forest. The image mentioned above wasn’t right. It was much wider than tall, and I needed the opposite. But by resorting to the search terms “forest cave,” this soon turned up:

I really liked this. Part of the reason was that after laboring so exhaustively on Nemesis, I craved something that I could easily add to along the edges without a lot of work. I knew that with this pic, I could add plain old black where I needed it. The main drawback was that the view was so narrow. That was easily solved, though. I just used a Transform tool and stretched the whole thing horizontally, as shown below.

Now things fit the necessary frame, with plenty of “blank” area for the title and the byline to be added. This variation includes the trim margin at the top, bottom, and righthand side as needed for the print edition. It was so handy to have that all consist of plain black, avoiding the disappointment I often feel when part of the artwork I’ve prepared is chopped away and the public never gets to see it. If you take a moment to study this, you will note a few other changes. I wanted the cave to be a bit lush. I had cell phone pics of Fern Canyon up in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, so I used portions from one of those to add some greenery.

Really all that was needed now aside from the typographical elements was a human figure. The best bet, to my mind, was to do that in the form of a swordswoman. The fact that the book included a major female protagonist was an aspect I wanted to highlight. The sword was vital to help convey the book’s genre. And from a design perspective, I wanted a figure facing away so that we, the viewers, could be “taken along” with her into the scene.

I found this:

In an ideal world, I would have found an image of a model whose appearance precisely matched that my main female character, Elenya. This wasn’t quite it. But it had the right feel, and I knew I could get close to what I wanted with some straightforward adjustments of the sort I knew were well within my skill set. First I had to switch the hair color. Elenya is not a blonde. Next I needed to reduce the size of the sword. But perhaps most important of all, I needed to flop the entire image so that the figure is stepping toward the left, as in stepping toward the spine of the book and not toward the righthand edge. (Again, drawing the viewer “into” the scene.) When combined, the result looked like this:

Within a fraction of a week I had a completed cover. The experience was just the opposite of what I’d gone through with Nemesis. It was quick, straightforward, easy. But best of all, there was, in my judgment, no drop off in the standard at all. Looking back now more than a year after all three covers were finalized, I can honestly say this one (as shown at the top of this essay) is my favorite.

(The photo of the sun-washed cave is copyright Topaz Labs. The photo of the swordswoman is copyright Jessica Truscott. Used by agreement with Depositphotos. Further use requires the permission of the rights holders.)

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