Fantasy Cover Art Appreciation Part 03
16 February 2023
Sharing the Third Batch of Book Covers
As explained in Part 01 of the Fantasy Cover Art Appreciation post, I went to a yearly second hand book sale called Bookfest by the charity Lifeline and book photos of the book covers which appealed to me.
Click each cover to visit their edition metadata on the speculative fiction database when available.
In this last post (for now), I am sharing the top five covers of remaining I photographed. I sourced the author and series name.
Adrian Cole wrote a mixture of sword and sorcery, horror, and fantasy. The illustrator of Thief of Dreams (1989) is Lee Gibbons, and I managed to find an interesting interview with him about his design process for a cover.
James H. Schmitz
Sydney J. Van Scyoc
Stephen DonaldsonStephen Donaldson wrote Lord Foul's Bane (1978).
Unfortunately, this edition has the artist completely unknown. It is not the artist of previous editions, Peter Goodfellow, although he probably could execute it, this cover is not credited on his website so the artist remains a mystery.
Why document these covers in the first place?
Searching for inspiration
As an artist one thing I've come to learn is to trust my instincts. If something catches my eye and curiosity, and evokes a sense of wonder, I should pay attention. One day I hope to create artwork that can come even slightly close to replicating this feeling. How can an artist distill imagination into an image? What exactly evokes that sense of wonder? We've known it since children, yet creatives are faced with the challenge of evoking memories, thoughts, feelings - as an artist I find myself asking what I want to recreate, what do I want to communicate? As I push on into developing more original art, I find myself searching for sources of inspiration and direction - a path forward.
Images that catch my eye do so for a reason, and in putting them all together I have been able to make some observations. There are a lot of styles I like, but which is the best option for communicating the feeling I want to convey?
Environments that communicate unfamiliar places
These styles of covers usually have a clear distinction between foreground, middle ground, and background. They create a sense of depth, a sense of place, time, or location. To take you to another place. Many of the dress or garb looks foreign to modern life, it is either inspired by medieval times, older cultures or non-western cultures. On that note, many of the environments are unusual, they look like they could exist but they are unlike anything real.
Rare lights to depict the magical
Light and colour is very distinctive in each of these covers, they are often over-saturated and magical - like a dream-like fantasy. From some research, the lighting and colours are chosen based on the materials and the feeling to be conveyed. Sunsets, sunrises, or light filtering through different materials like lava, ice, or clouds are all uncommon events - rare in time, you're lucky if you get to see some of them. I think it's partially due to their rarity and natural beauty that it appeals to our senses - we are constantly seeking the new and different. Applying these colours to things that don't normally have it (like mountains) help elevate something otherwise mundane like a mountain into a fantasy mountain (for lack of a better way of saying it). Putting the common and mundane into the supernatural.
The adventurers and wizards
Who are the characters on the covers? Without having read any of them, here are some observations from the covers that do have them, from Part 01-03. There are wizards, knights, dragon tamers, a magical queen, a mystic, an angel, and good old fashioned travellers. They communicate the genres, obviously, but they fulfill a visual purpose - here is the promise of the unfamiliar, of adventure, of mystery, and magic. Even a knight, who features on more than one of the covers, are interacting with a supernatural object or creature (magic sword or dragon). They're not just knights, after all, they're knights that interact with the unknown and something unfamiliar to us, the observers.
I put surreal composition because many objects are overlaid in situations they wouldn't normally be - like a woman's face overlaid over the skies, floating magical objects or relics in a contrived situation (nevertheless effective as an image). The composition is trying to fit multiple layers of information in a single scene to add to the complexity of the image (and possibly, hinting at the contents of the book).
Thank you for reading these blog posts, I'm curious if you've read any of these stories and if some of my observations are correct (e.g. about complexity). I hope to return to this topic in future as my art style develops, to look back and see how successful I have been in terms of communicating science fiction or fantasy realms.