Artist James Beveridge discusses creative process

November 1, 2016, a revised and updated version of Leslie Gadallah’s Cat’s Pawn will be released by Five Rivers in both print and digital. We asked cover artist, james Beveridge, to discuss his creative process for the cover for this, the first of the Empire of Kaz trilogy.

Hmmm…where to start? First, let me give a little space to my background and history illustrating SF&F.

I’ve been an avid consumer of all things fantastic since I was young. One of my first inspirational meetings was with Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories. While the stories were wonderful and intriguing, it was Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations that captured my imagination. They were detailed, yet nuanced, and I spent a fair amount of time gazing at them, lost in wonder. When I discovered fantastic fiction in my early teens, it was the cover visions that really got me. Since then I’ve read and enjoyed hundreds of novels and anthologies over the years, pondering how the artists connected with the stories, and tried my own ideas to see if I could find the same.

Now I get to do that, for real.

Having been an avid student of the sciences, also from a very young age, I’ve had the chance to study the earth geologically as well as the cosmos astronomically. I was also fascinated by human physiology and structure, from elementary school age and, needless to say, my notebooks were not bereft of diagrams and pictures all through my school years whether it was history, geography, physics, chemistry or biology. So, when asked to illustrate a cover, I have quite a bit of background knowledge from which I can pull a myriad of ideas and concepts to construct the components and overall theme.

Just as important as having a good-sized mental box of things, and at least a fundamental understanding of the mechanics of life and the universe around us, is making sure that the elements of the piece are accurate to the narrative. Details from the story, whether they be the settings such as landscape details or physical characteristics of the characters, must be as true to the author’s descriptions as possible. It’s taking all of this into consideration that’s important when I pick up my stylus and begin

Working in my graphics program, I begin by sketching elements from the story. I do this as a feedback mechanism to familiarize myself with characters, objects or places. These drawings help me to build a visual 3D mental image to place in tableaux that might work for a cover. For the Cat’s Pawn cover, I was given access to several chapters and reading the story gave me some visual ideas with which to start playing. I started with character studies, one for each race that stood out in the story. The first character introduced was a feline-humanoid space-travelling ambassador. I wasn’t sure how, or even whether, the fellow was dressed, so tried to strike a compromise as his native planet was hot and desert-like. I then sketched another race that appears in the story and the human about which much of the tale involves. I sent the sketches to Jeff at Five Rivers to let him see how I was seeing the characters.

Bill and Lleveci

I also played with a spaceport concept, and from the sketches along with the title Cat’s Pawn, I came up with two separate concepts. I considered giving the spaceport idea a gameboard feel with ground lights in a grid-like layout, but the character of the Ambassador crept back and I envisioned him in front of a portal with the spaceport in view, and him standing at a holographic console that he was using as a strategic device evoking a space game. While working on that one and reading more of the source material, another concept formulated with more characters to give a bit more of a larger scope. When I sent these two in, Talan (the Oriani Ambassador) was selected. I then went to work detailing and fleshing out the scene.

Colour concepts with spaceport

For the immediate background I went with some tech but kept it generalized in order to give it a futuristic impression but also seem integral to the normality of it and not overpowering to the scene. As for the view through the port, I tried not to specify whether the viewer was on a starship or one of the port structures, but still have fun with the buildings and ships as close-up elements from the game board of the display. While working on the ambassador, I was trying to figure out what style, if his race was prone to fabric coverings, would he wear, given he has a fur coat and clothing would be extraneous and most likely slightly uncomfortable for a desert planet.

Original and reworked Oriani

After I sent an update to Jeff, he in turn sent it to the author who politely informed me that he should appear more leonine and the most important detail, that his race has no use for clothing. Although I had initially given him a wardrobe, I did work out his anatomy somewhat for the earlier concept with the protagonist looking down on his playing pieces. Reworking all the details then fell into place and tossing a shadow across to highlight his gaze finalized the piece.

Talan first and final concepts

After finishing the cover, I went back to a couple of the earlier studies and corrected the Oriani in the sketches. Just in case I need to revisit the city.