The Illustration Master Class Produces New Art for Game of Thrones, Neil Gaiman, and More

Each year just under 100 students (of all ages and all abilities) and a dozen instructors meet up at Amherst College for a week in June to attend the Illustration Master Class. With 12 hours of active instruction—a mix of lectures, reviews, and studio time—it’s a high-energy super-charged week of learning. The IMC was started by Rebecca Guay 6 years ago and remains a highlight of the year for those that attend, many who come back year after year.

Since the course is only seven days long, assignments are given about three weeks before class begins. Attendees spend those weeks working on loose thumbnail sketches. These are critiqued on the first day and then students immediately set about revising them, gathering reference, and moving into the final piece. Since I have the honor of making the assignment list, it’s a guilty pleasure of mine to focus on favorite topics and to see how different artists interpret the same material. While there is no “best in show” at the IMC—it’s the goal of every instructor to help each student imrprove their skills, regardless of current ability—I couldn’t help but to show off a few of the pieces here.


Assignment #1: Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book

Scott Brundage

Scott Brundage, for Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book.


Steven Hughes

Steven Hughes, Neil Gaiman's A Graveyard Book


Doug Bell

Doug Bell, for Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book.


Assignment #2: Rjurik Davidson’s The Unwrapped Sky

Rjurik Davidson’s Unwrapped Sky, which will be published by Tor Books in the upcoming year, was a chance for the students to work with an unfamiliar story before being influenced by what the commissioned cover will be. They worked with the same few paragraphs of description and synopsis that the hired cover artist received:

A hundred years ago, the Minotaurs saved Caeli-Amur from conquest. Now, three very different people may hold the keys to the city’s survival. Once, it is said, gods used magic to create reality, with powers that defied explanation. But the magic—or science, if one believes those who try to master the dangers of thaumaturgy—now seems more like a dream.


Paul Pederson

Paul Pederson, Unwrapped Sky


Alicia Vogel

Alicia Vogel


Katie Small (Her first oil painting!)

Katie Small


Assignment #3: A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream

Renae Taylor

Renae Taylor


Andrea Sipl

Andrea Sipl


Assignment #4: Viking battle

Meant to be as wide open as the students wanted it to be.


Annie Szabla

Annie Szabla


Tom Fagrell

Tom Fagrell


Assignment #5: A Game of Thrones

This assignment specifically asked the artists to steer away from depicting the characters and settings as they’re seen in the TV show.


Ed Ko


Ken McCuen

Ken McCuen, A Game of Thrones


Assignment #6: Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea


Lauren Saint-Onge

Lauren Saint-Onge


Jamie McKiernan

Jamie McKiernan


Assignment #7: Daniel Wilson’s The Nostalgist
A story currently being made into a short film.


Sarah Gonzales

Sarah Gonzales


And Marc Scheff went rogue and did an Elektra comic book cover:

Marc Scheff


…as did Dan Cohen, with this CD cover:

Dan Choen


There were a few more assignments and a lot more great work. It’s a privilege to be part of this program each year. My thanks to Rebecca Guay (the mastermind behind it all), my fellow instructors, and to all the students. I think it’s safe to say we all come out of it energegized and inspired…if a bit sleep-deprived.

This year’s students and faculty:

Illustration Master Class

2013 Faculty: Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell, Rebecca Guay, Donato Giancola, Greg Manchess, Dan Dos Santos, Scott Fischer, Irene Gallo, Iain McCaig, Lauren Panepinto, Mike Mignola, James Gurney, Scott Allie, Mo Willems, Peter De Seve.

Irene Gallo is the Art Director for Tor Books.


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