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How to make a fantasy book cover: FADE TO BLACK

It’s finally here! Today is the release date for FADE TO BLACK (UK | US | ANZ) by Francis Knight, one of the most hotly anticipated fantasy releases of the year.

The illustrator for the covers of this series, Tim Byrne, did an awesome job representing the vertigo-inducing city of Mahala, the setting for FADE TO BLACK and all the Rojan Dizon novels. We asked Tim to go step-by-step through the process of creating such a cool image:

I started off by doing a very quick sketch of the cover to get an idea of how the perspective might work. I wanted to convey the extreme height of the city of Mahala and how it might be if you were at the bottom looking up. I nearly always start a cover by positioning the type – as once I know where and how that is sitting, I know how much space I have left for the rest of the image.

Sketch by Tim Byrne for FADE TO BLACK by Francis Knight, the first Rojan Dizon novel and a highly anticipated fantasy debut

Next I started blocking in the faces of the buildings/vertical streets using an image of a mud face that I had – which I repeated, scaled and distorted in order to get the perspective to work. This gave me a base on which to start adding bits of buildings and windows.

Stage 1 of a cover by Tim Byrne for FADE TO BLACK by Francis Knight, the first Rojan Dizon novel and a highly anticipated fantasy debut

The city was described as being very organic and growing out of the ground in a random way. So I started to break up the regularity of some of the architectural details by overlaying sections of the image with bits of tree trunk, erasing some bits and leaving others. I also added some towers to give a sense of depth and height in relation to the buildings behind.

Stage 2 of a cover by Tim Byrne for FADE TO BLACK by Francis Knight, the first Rojan Dizon novel and a highly anticipated fantasy debut

I then took a section of some mud buildings and repeated and scaled it to form the central tower and the sections top left and right. I played about with layer blending and masked some sections, as I wanted some of the underlying textures to come through. I continued to add sections of tree trunk and some rock textures in order to get more of an organic feel to the structures. Then I worked on the lighting of the whole image, darkening some parts of the image and lightening others.

Stage 3 of a cover by Tim Byrne for FADE TO BLACK by Francis Knight, the first Rojan Dizon novel and a highly anticipated fantasy debut

I changed the colour palette as I wanted the image to be more monochromatic and gloomy. I also added in the bridges and birds, increasing the sense of perspective. I cropped and distorted the image, making it thinner and included the figure and the type.

When working on an image I keep everything on layers, often repeating them and using layer masks. I usually work on an image building it up in layers till I get to a point that I am happy with, then I save it as a layered photoshop file and flatten it. I then use that flattened image as the base for the next section of work that I’m doing and repeat the process. This keeps everything flexible – allowing me to go back to previous stages of the image, and it stops each layered file becoming to big and unwieldy.

Stage 4 of a cover by Tim Byrne for FADE TO BLACK by Francis Knight, the first Rojan Dizon novel and a highly anticipated fantasy debut

Lastly I took a section of the central tower and overlaid it on the type using a mask – as I wanted the type to appear a little transparent while still retaining the flexibility to move it up or down if necessary.

Finished cover by Tim Byrne for FADE TO BLACK by Francis Knight, the first Rojan Dizon novel and a highly anticipated fantasy debut

FADE TO BLACK (UK | US | ANZ) by Francis Knight is out now. Click here to read the exciting opening . . .

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  1. Paul (@princejvstin)

    February 26, 2013
    at 8:47 am

    Thanks, Tim. It is a striking cover, and the work and steps you outline here show how much work you did in crafting it.

  2. Jamie Gibbs

    February 26, 2013
    at 1:43 pm

    Well, I’ve just found my new desktop wallpaper. I love it, and I love seeing the progression from concept sketch to finished product. Nicely done :)

    Jamie

  3. Samantha Charlton

    February 26, 2013
    at 9:04 pm

    Thanks for showing the progressive sketches for this – what a dramatic, eye-catching image.

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