Oct 12 2010 12:31pm

The Art of Spellbound

Spellbound by Blake Charlton, illustration by Todd Lockwood

Far as I can tell, authors should be to cover art as cheerleaders are to a football game. Lemme ’splain. Just as cheerleaders might inspire their team by throwing each other around, so authors might inspire their art directors and artists by submitting various passages, describing a feel for the book, and advising how the cover might improve the reading experience. This general lack of control is a large source of anxiety for many authors. We had control of every single letter inside, but now that we’re on the outside…well…we have only metaphorical pompoms.

So, if we’re smart, we jump about with inspiration for our art department, and try to shake off any bad-cover nightmares that (if one writes epic fantasy) include metal bikinis or other artistic no-nos. Fortunately for me, my team is one of the best: Tordot’s own brilliant Irene Gallo carries the art director’s whistle and clipboard; fantasy-art-minor-deity Todd Lockwood plays starting pigment slinger. After the beautiful art they produced for my first novel, Spellwright, I had been eagerly waiting for their art for the sequel, Spellbound, due out Summer 2011. They’ve exceeded my every expectation.

Sometimes a dragon is more than a dragon. Let’s talk a bit about the books. In the world of The Spellwright Trilogy, magically written words can be peeled off of the page and made physically real. Especially skilled spellwrights can create texts so complicated they can think and act for themselves. The most awesome and difficult to understand of these constructs is the dragon. To visually represent the textual nature of my dragons, Todd produced beautiful detail on the dragon’s skin: witness the runes along the horns and the bright language appearing on the crest and wings.

Spellbound by Blake Charlton, illustration by Todd Lockwood

Interestingly, I wrote this language to be bright red, but Todd realized that crimson runes would disappear on a coppery-red dragon and brightened the runes more toward pink and orange.

Let’s take a look at Todd’s creative process.

The scene inspiring this cover was suggested by the lovely Megan Messinger (who was one of my valuable beta readers). For this cover, Todd and Irene faced an additional challenge. At the heart of Spellbound lies a mystery as to what, fundamentally, a dragon is in this world. It’s more complicated than you might expect. Much of the action is devoted to trying to discover and understand two hidden dragons. For this reason, when I saw the first sketches I began doing cheerleader back-flips to make sure that the cover couldn’t “spoil” the story. Through various methods that can’t be discussed without spoiling, Todd and Irene created an image that will keep the reader guessing as to exactly what kind of a creature is on the cover. Things are not as they seem.

After the dragon, one notes our protagonist, Nicodemus Weal from book one, standing center stage. Todd did a great job illustrating Nico and imagining of the traditional clothing of the Spirish Kingdoms.

Spellbound by Blake Charlton, illustration by Todd Lockwood

Atmosphere is just as important as character. Much of Spellbound occurs in and around the city of Avel in the kingdom of Spires. The culture of Spires was inspired by a teenage summer I spent in Morocco and research into Al-Andalus, a medieval caliphate on the Iberian Peninsula (present day Spain) where Muslims, Christians, and Jews coexisted more peacefully than most anywhere else. Spires is something of a mash-up of things Moorish, things Castilian, and things I made-up. To illustrate this, Todd painted some beautiful Moorish-inspired architecture in the background and decorated the floor with Arabic-like calligraphy.

Spellbound by Blake Charlton, illustration by Todd Lockwood

Spellbound by Blake Charlton, illustration by Todd Lockwood

Spires is also the home of the hierophants, a school of spellwrights who write a magical language that moves within cloth and when cast out of cloth transforms into blasts of wind. As such, Spires is a kingdom of master traders: their ships can hoist sails capable of producing their own wind. More fun to write about, an individual hierophant can gather cloth to create a “lofting kite”—think parasailing with chutes that produce their own thrust. A group of expert hierophants can join together to write large sailcloth constructs into airships. There are many types of airships. On this cover, Todd imagines a destroyer class with his massive lofting sails and complicated hull.

Should you want to support a freelance artist and are especially enamored of Spellbound’s art or Spellwright’s, or any of the other amazing covers Todd Lockwood produces, you can order a copy on his personal website.

So how pleased is this cheerleader with his cover art? Time to break out the marching band so they can spell EPIC WIN on the field.

Blake Charlton has had short stories published in several fantasy anthologies. Spellwright was his first novel. The sequel, Spellbound, is due out in Summer 2011.

Aidan Moher
2. aidan
Hey, that's even better than Todd's art for Spellwright! Hopefully the typeface is a little tighter this time around.
Blake Charlton
3. brc
Thanks gents, I'm super happy with it. I've seen one draft with the lettering, a dark blue that goes well with the bright blue sky.
Amanda Makepeace
4. almakepeace
Stunning! I can't wait to see this on the shelves.
5. colornerdy
Great insight on the cerative process.....glad to see everything has very subtle meaning, just like Spellwright.

And yes Blake, you are acknowledged: this is 50x the awesomeness!
Blake Charlton
6. brc
@Amanda :-D me either! Trying to make the days go by faster.

@mymanCN, glad you agree i wasn't exagerating!
8. Moonsanity (Brenda)
It truly amazing, especially the Runes, which I didn't notice until you pointed them out. The attention to detail is wonderful. I say given an entire parade for the cover, marching band, dragon float, and cheerleaders wearing matching colors!
Tomas Andersson
9. Tirpen
Absolutely stunning and brilliant cover. I never pick up a book based only by the cover, but if I did I would probably get this one.
Blake Charlton
10. brc
@Brenda ooh, how could i have forgotten a dragon float. good call!

@Tirpen, there is that old saying about judging a book by its cover; however, i think you might like the words that come between the covers...but...i'm a bit biased ;-)
11. dwndrgn
I adore the calligraphy covered floor. I want one. Does Todd sell his pencil sketches too? For some reason I love his concept sketch almost better than the final. I'm a pencil/pen&ink fanatic.
Tomas Andersson
12. Tirpen
Ok, you convinced me to look it up, it seems promising based on the reviews. Spellwright is now on my List, but it will probably take some time before I get to it. Happy now? ;)
Blake Charlton
13. brc
@dwndrgn, I'm not sure, but I would imagine it would be possible. He saves a lot of images on his hard drive. Couldn't hurt to ask.

@Tirpen, very happy. my evil bald-man-in-white-coat plan for world domination-via-dragons-and-airships is one step closer to becoming a reality ;-)
Brit Mandelo
14. BritMandelo
Dude, awesome cover!

(Thumbs seriously up to Irene and Mr. Lockwood; that's so cool. And I don't really like dragons, so. That means something. *g*)
Blake Charlton
15. brc
Thanks, Brit! Glad Todd won over a Dragon-doubter. He's a master at the painting. I think I've got a few surprises up my sleeve regarding the portrayal of these two dragons, and I hope I can pull off a similar feat with words ;-)
YouDont NeedToKnow
17. necrosage2005
Is there a way to get this amazing art as a wallpaper for my computer? I love it!

On the flip side of great artists there are ones that, although famous, (for the life of me I can't see why) should be beaten with the talent log to within an inch of their miserable, talentless life. Yes, DKS, I'm talking about you! What that person has created for The Wheel of Time can never be forgiven by anybody that has read the books.
18. Duncan Long
Interesting article... the progression of the cover from sketch to finished layout is really nice, too.

--Duncan Long
Book illustrator for HarperCollins, PS Publishing, Pocket Books, ILEX, Fort Ross, Ballistic Publishing, Asimov's Science Fiction, Moonstone Books, and many other publishers and self-publishing authors. See my illustrations at: http://DuncanLong.com/art.html

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