Jun 27 2013 2:30pm

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 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.

Cat Hellisen
1. Cat Hellisen
Wow, these are great.

I particularly loved Katie Small's minotaur painting.
Claire (BWB)
2. Claire (BWB)
This is excellent! How did I not know about all this?! I went to Smith College and was only about a 35 minute bus ride from Amherst! As someone who runs a book blog but works in the art business (yay for art museums, illustration zines + galleries!) I LOVE to see students do work based on books. Some of these are utterly brilliant and there is no way that was Katie Small's first oil! It's amazing!
Irene Gallo
3. Irene
Cat: It's such a great layout too...I can easily see a whole series of novels from that.

Claire - I envy you! The area is astounding. It’s such a great atmosphere to be in. And good food.

Anyone that wants to see more photos than you can shake a stick at, here’s a Facebook album full of them: IMC 2013

(You need to have a FB account but it should be viewable once there.)
Cat Hellisen
4. Cat Hellisen
Thanks for the link, will go check the rest out.
Claire (BWB)
5. Ally Albon
That.... is a room full of wickedness! The final products are gorgeous.
Jaime Gervais
6. JaimeGervais
Absolutely Brilliant work! I'm so excited for all of the amazing artists! Wonderful! :D
Claire (BWB)
7. arzvi
Katie Small's scene is the best while Paul Pederson's for the color. Great work. Would love to attend next time around
Claire (BWB)
10. Rjurik Davidson
Such great work. I feel honored. Thanks guys.
Claire (BWB)
11. Sheppard
Ken McCuen's art is absolutely incredible.

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