World Building

Interior Map for Angry Shadows Rising
A publisher I work with, Luthando Coeur (an imprint of The Zharmae Publishing Press) recently released a map I drew as an interior illustration for the book, “Angry Shadows Rising.” Authors and readers alike have expressed a fondness for maps and it seems to really give a new dimension to the world the writer is depicting. Questions like “how big is this world?” and “how much is explored?” are difficult to express meaningfully in prose. But with a map, it all becomes clear and believable.

Interior map for “The Stone” by Bryen O’Riley

I’ve been drawing maps for made up worlds since I was a kid when I started playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends from school. As a dungeon master, it’s very useful to be able to draw maps of all kinds for the purpose of world building: floor plans for castles, maps of countries, continents and kingdoms. The players are always asking for information on this made up world and it needs to come from somewhere. Nothing like a map for reinforcing realism!

The Making of “The Stone”

“The Stone,” by Bryen O’Riley, published by Luthando Coeur.

I completed the cover for “The Stone,” last December, but have been so busy this year I haven’t had a chance to talk about the making of this piece! It’s one of my more elaborate images, as well as the first published wrap around cover in my career, so I think it deserves a blog post about it’s creation. Another “first” with this piece is the additional digital rendering I added, mainly in the lightning effects. That last step actually wasn’t originally planned- I usually set out with the intention to paint everything in physical media, and “The Stone,” was no exception. However, art is a fickle thing and plans frequently change!

I received a request from Luthando Coeur for an action packed scene on the cover of “The Stone,” specifically one that features a psychic battle between an evil wizard and a young woman in warrior/ranger garb. Since the cover wrapped around to the backside of the book, another male protagonist was requested to appear on the back, looking on the dramatic scene. Lastly, the psychic battle featured a lightning attack that lights up the entire landscape. This was a lot to handle!

My final sketch, at the right, featured all these elements, in addition to allowing room for text at the top of the front cover and some quiet space on the back. I knew from the outset that the lightning effect would be the trickiest aspect to pull off.



With approval of my final sketch, I proceeded to shoot reference images of the characters in the scene. I knew the wizard needed to be exposed in the harsh light of the lightning bolt, almost like being caught in the headlights of a car. Also, I wanted an explosive effect as though the lightning was exerting atmospheric pressure, so his trenchcoat needed to be rippling outward from the impact point. This is the kind of situation where I was really glad I didn’t use myself as a model for the male character- otherwise, who else was going to lift those coattails up?

After I’ve shot reference, I typically make pencil studies of all the characters in the picture. Usually, I’m adding some new element or another- turning broomsticks into spears, adding additional details to costumes, or making my models just a little more “heroic.” I almost always do this if I’ve got the luxury of time. I find that I solve many problems by drawing from the reference first and it’s like a warmup round before I paint them. After that, I scan in my studies and photoshop them into place over my final sketch, making sure that it matches what I’ve promised the client as much as possible. If there are subtle changes (and there pretty much always are) my rule of thumb is this: if the change makes the picture better and it stays true to the spirit of the piece, then I go ahead and change it. Thus far, it’s worked for me.

And after that, I projected the final sketch and dove right into the paint. I don’t typically show too many progress images of paintings, but this one demonstrates a particular aspect of the artistic process that I thought was worth sharing. Somewhere in the beginning stages, I laid in paint for the lightning bolt- and it just wouldn’t look right. Something about it was awfully garish, almost like a cardboard cutout of a lightning bolt had been laid over the scene. No matter how much I tried to fix it, it wouldn’t cooperate.



I finally concluded that painting the lightning in the old school way was just not going to work. I could pile on all the white paint I wanted to, but the glowing luminosity of the lightning bolt would remain out of reach. This is one of the tricky things about working in real media- it takes some sleight of hand to achieve real “glowing” effects. An example of this conundrum is when a white piece of paper is photographed. We think it looks white- as in pure white, with no color at all – but a camera will see all sorts of light gray, light browns, and other hues that show up in any digital image made from photographing a “white” piece of paper.

In the end, it was more effective to paint an “aura” where the lightning would be digitally added. The left image above is the physical, final painting and the right image is the same painting with the lightning added digitally. I call that area of yellowish color in the left image the “aura,” because it’s supposed to be the atmospheric light effects generated by the lightning bolt which I added later via Photoshop.


And then, I painted the rest, solved all the other problems and voila – book cover finished! Of course, it wasn’t that easy, but once I solved the lightning issue most of the other elements fell into place. The painting is now one of those creations that has an asterisk on it in my studio, as in “*digitally finished.” To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this. I enjoy my work the most when I feel that the original is true to the finish, albeit the usual steps of digital color correction and glare removal. But sometimes, the job just has to be done. I knew that the cover would look best and more importantly, would be finished on time if I executed the lightning digitally. My publisher doesn’t really care if my physical painting is the same as my print file- they DO care if it is a quality piece and fits their needs. As I continue to evolve my methods, I’m sure that I’ll probably figure a way to solve the glowing lightning problem in real media. For now though, I’m willing to use every tool in my arsenal to get around roadblocks, including digital techniques.

If you’re at all a fan of fantasy fiction, do check out “The Stone.” It’s available for sale in print and e-book format, available through the Zharmae Publishing Press online bookstore, as well as Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Thanks for looking!

The Stone and Exile of the Prince – Now for Sale!

Wraparound cover illustration for “The Stone,” by Bryen O’Riley. Published by Luthando Coeur, an imprint of The Zharmae Publishing Press.

I now have two books with covers I illustrated for sale online! “The Stone,” by Bryen O’Riley is an epic fantasy novel that I was asked to illustrate earlier this year. It’s now available for sale in print and e-book format, available through the Zharmae Publishing Press online bookstore, as well as Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I plan on writing a detailed post about the making of this particular cover soon!

The second book now available is “Exile of the Prince,” by Jesse Sterling Harrison. It’s currently available in e-book format on Amazon – I believe a print version will also be coming soon. It’s so exciting to have my art out in the wild! Having been an avid reader at a young age, I feel like I can pass on some of the same inspiration that originally got me into painting and illustration. Pick up your copy today!

“The Stone,” by Bryen O’Riley – on shelves in both print and e-book format!


A nifty map illustration I was also commissioned to illustrate for “The Stone” 🙂


“Exile of the Prince,” now available in e-book format!

The Making of “Exile of the Prince”

Wraparound book cover for 'Exile of the Prince,' by Jesse Sterling Harrison, with F.W. Fife Books, an imprint of The Zharmae Publishing Press.

Wraparound book cover for ‘Exile of the Prince,’ by Jesse Sterling Harrison, with F.W. Fife Books, an imprint of The Zharmae Publishing Press.

I was recently notified by an editor that I work with that a book cover that I illustrated earlier this year has been released, titled “Exile of the Prince,” by Jesse Sterling Harrison. Painting this cover was a very positive experience for me- somehow, the various elements in the image just came together easier with this assignment. As many illustrators know, a lot of this work involves a cobbling together of various reference imagery into a cohesive painting. It’s a lot harder than it sounds!

As always, the process starts with sketches that are selected by the client. From the excerpt I received, it became clear that this novel was set in a post apocalyptic world- but without the overly dark overtones many readers expect of that genre. Two characters, Lucky and Lauren, needed to be portrayed in a somewhat ambiguous fashion that would entice the reader. As this cover was a wraparound illustration, it was key that the main action be placed on the right half of the image- that area is essentially the cover. After some back and forth, we eventually settled on an image of one of the main characters in the book, Lauren looking wistfully out at her environment, while the other main character Lucky is in the background in a more mysterious role.

After receiving approval on the final sketch, I hired one of my favorite models to pose for Lauren. From the outset, I decided to go with natural, afternoon light for all the reference imagery. I knew that it would look the most convincing this way and give the novel an air of realism. I ended up posing for Lucky, the other protagonist in the background. Lastly, the environment was inspired by some landscape shots I took of forests in my hometown of Penryn, CA. I often collect “general” imagery like this- I even had some shots of a railroad, which was also called for by the excerpt I received.

The approved final sketch. The gray line in the middle denotes the wraparound- this is actually very useful as it’s easy to forget that this image will essentially be folded in half.


I often end up being the pinch hitter for male characters. He’s fairly small in the overall composition, so likeness was not a huge priority.


Progress, from start to finish!

From there, I proceeded to make a final sketch from the reference materials and then lay in paint on my canvas. Shooting all the reference in natural light during the same time of day seemed to make a big difference. I wasn’t wrestling as much with attempting to make disparate elements meld together. I can honestly say that this is one of the covers I’m most satisfied with thus far in my career!

For more information about “Exile of the Prince,” check out the publisher, F.W. Fife Books. The book will be available in print and e-book format this coming June!

The final cover, sans type.