Tue
Jun 14 2011 5:31pm
The Cover Art Process for White Trash Zombie

DAW Books, for whom I’ve been doing a lot of covers for this past year, contacted me about this job. Unfortunately, my schedule was booked totally solid (mostly with their titles), so I had to decline. Fortunately, the Art Director being wiser than I, decided to try again anyways and called to see if I would change my mind. When the words “zombie romance” came out of her mouth, I knew I had to take it.

Because the deadline was so tight, I had to come up with a particularly simple piece. I also would likely only have time to come up with a single sketch, two at the most. I explained this to the AD, and she agreed.

The AD was very particular that I make the heroine an obvious zombie, but still attractive. Apparently, someone had tried something similar not too long prior, and sales were disastrous. Making the cover more sexy than scary was essential. I sat down, and quickly drew my way through every trailer park and pink flamingo cliche I could think of. Nothing worked. But something about the pink stuck with me. I sometimes sketch in color (one of the great benefits of sketching digitally), and the moment I saw the way the dead grey skin would play off the bright feminine pink, I knew I had my cover.

To me, everything about the sketch seemed so perfect for the story... just the right combo of sexy, quirky and trashy. Yet, I was utterly convinced that they would NOT approve it. A pink book in the Fantasy section?! A cigarette in her mouth?! There was no way in hell the sales team was going to let me get away with this! I sent the sketch along with a short email that said: “Please, please, PLEEEAASE let me do this cover.”

Their response... “We love it!”

As is usually the case with really simple design, I ended up spending way longer than expected on it. Because there is so little to look at, you have to make sure that what is there, is stellar. Knowing that I was going to paint every little eyelash, I shot a bunch of reference. I composed it all in Photoshop, mixing several different photos of 2 different models. From there I re-established my drawing, and transfered it to my board.

It may seem silly to spend time drawing in subtleties like the eyebrows, since they are going to get painted over anyways. But, it actually speeds up the process a lot. That pencil ends up showing through in the end, and gives me a very fine level of detail that is a bit harder to achieve in paint. To ensure that they showed through all the paint, I drew those elements much darker than the rest. The AD had questioned the amount of blood on her chin, so I kept that part of the drawing super light in case I needed to revise it.

Applying a color transparently over a white surface results in a much brighter color than mixing it with white (which tends to make most colors chalky). Since I wanted a sickeningly sweet pink background, I started with a vibrant wash of oils. This also let me see the color relationships almost immediately so that every decision afterwards would be easier to judge. You can already see how much work that pencil is doing for me at this stage.

All that’s left is to just do it. In the image below, the painting is near completion. I typically paint the flesh tones beneath the hair, and then paint the hair on top of it once they are dry. This makes it easy to wipe out brushstrokes if I mess up some of the overlapping strands. Here, I am one coat away from finished, so a few elements as still missing, like the tuft of hair near her ear, as well as the nose stud. I also decided to make the eye a milky blue to add to the zombie theme.

That’s about it!  I sent it off to the AD, who happily approved of it with the exception of a few changes. She wanted to have no blood on her chest, and also asked that I make the eye look human again, feeling that the dead looking eye made her less attractive. Both totally valid decisions. (The pre-change version is below.) The completed image with type treatment is at the beginning of this post. The book, which is getting some great reviews already, is due out in July.

This post originally appeared on Muddy Colors. You can read an excerpt from White Trash Zombie right here on Tor.com!


Dan Dos Santos’ work spans a variety of genres, including novels, comics and film. He has been the recipient of many awards, including a 2010 Silver Medal from Spectrum, the 2007 Jack Gaughan Award for Best Emerging Artist, and the Chesley Award winner for Best Paperback Cover of 2007. His illustrations have graced the #1 spot on the New York Times Best Seller list numerous times. Aside from freelance illustration, Dan also co-hosts a series of instructional demonstrations called ’Art Out Loud’. You can view a gallery of his work here on Tor.com.

7 comments
Galadriel Johnson
1. GaladrielJohnson
I read the excert because of the cover, which is totally wicked, and was not disappointed. Occasionally, its ok to judge a book by its cover!
shrain78
2. shrain78
I can appreciate all the work that went into this. I really like the colors and the details like the hair and earrings. But honestly, if I buy the book, I'm definitely going to buy the kindle version. I just don't particularly care to be seen carrying a book with that cover.
What irks me is that in the short excerpt we've been given, it is clear that our leading lady has very small breasts. Yet the woman you've drawn (surprise!) has rather impressive boobs, which she apparently likes to show off. Just one more message to girls and women that having large boobs is incredibly important.
Secondly, does Angel actually smoke? I didn't see any indication that she's addicted to cigarettes. I imagine she would've been craving a smoke first thing in the morning--unless Rowland's zombies only crave brain smoothies. But of course we only get a small preview of the book. So maybe she is/was a smoker.
However, if she really isn't a smoker, the cover seems all the more inappropriate. I mean, seriously, does our culture still insist on seeing smoking as sexy and cool? Because the only thing less sexy about a dead zombie chick is a dead zombie chick who smokes. =p
Carrie Strickler
3. DyslexicSquirrel
That is some truly epic cover art. If I was a Zombie I'd want to look like that.Lol

On an side note: I think the origional eyes were pretty awesome.
Pamela Adams
4. Pam Adams
shraain78@2,

I can pretty well bet that any one with her level of addiction will be addicted to tobacco as well. Also, I don't think that the boobs as illustrated are big- just on display.
shrain78
5. iola
Good call with the AD on nixing the blood on the chest. It's distracting from the focus and a bit gratiutous. Looks fake or like it's seeping out of her chest. That being said, I liked the original eyes since she's not very zombie-like overall. Love the pink and the hairstyle. I wouldn't care if people saw me with a book cover like this, but I understand what shrain78 is saying about the boobs. "White trash" so-to-speak would say tank top or t-shirt to me, not bikini top. As for the questions about the cover not matching the character, as I understand it, the artist rarely knows very much about the contents of the book. The cigarette fits the "white trash" theme.
shrain78
6. Josh Gentry
My son James, learning by copying the masters.

http://twitpic.com/5o9g5f
shrain78
7. Amy Darby
I disagree. I don't think the boobs are gratuitous. They're not huge, straining against a bikini top. They're cute, look realistic and in keeping with the white trash premise. Definitely no where near the scale of bodice rippers that women write FOR women. I have a nook and I'm purposefully am going to buy the paperback and leave it on my coffee table after I read it because I like cover so much. I was walking through the science fiction section on Barnes and Noble and was struck by the cover in passing so much so I decided to find out who the artist was. I've since happily discovered, unbeknownst to me that Daniel Dos Santos has been almost completely responsible for the fact that I've read almost every fantasy/sci-fi book he's illustrated. Which shows either I'm really susceptible to cover art or that he's incredibly talented. Sorry for the longwinded comment. :/

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