Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Dagger Quick

So it turns out, 10 years into the business, that job opportunities to paint pirates come around about as often as those to paint Hobbits or Fairies. Thanks a lot Howard Pyle, Edmund Dulac and N.C. Wyeth... liars...
BUT WAIT!! (You were about to give up weren't you?) Land AHoy! A pirate job on the horizon?

The Dagger Quick

I had a great time reading this book. It was a rollicking voyage. Its about pirates chasing other pirates. If you have ever wondered about my process, here is a sort of sketching process.

Step 1
read the book AND take notes on character description

Step 2
start sketching characters and have lots of fun. These are the first images in my head I just want to get them on paper.

this is the first sketch and though similar to the final, the main character is totally off

Since this is the cover obviously it has to represent the whole of the book. Different age groups publishers and genres have different looks and styles. MY cover has to stand out but also fit into its genre. SHould it be a scene from the book, a portrait, a montage- that kind of thing.

Step 4
My main character is a twelve year old boy. He is a tough kid who protects his brother. He is the son of a blacksmith and works hard therefore must be strong. He is in WAY over his head and a tiny bit scared, but also isn't going to back down for love or money.
All those things I think about while trying to get the right expression and gesture in his figure. TO me, the MOST IMPORTANT thing in my work is Body Language, also called gesture. That is the body's ability to communicate emotion and expression without words.

I start doing some research on ships (in this case Frigates and Sloops). Or whatever details that appear such as, in this case, costume, rigging, daggers etc.

Step 5
Put all this together into a sketch and send to art Director. Then follows a dialogue which I use to find the best solution.

Step 6
SO after the cover sketch has approval, THEN I take some photos of a model. I never "copy" the photo, because for me the result ends up being very stagnant and disappointing. The photo reference is for achieving better light, correct drapery and more precise anatomy.

I think the exact emotions I was going for were " I am going to stab you and then I am going to punch you."

Upon approval I transfer the image to paper and paint the damn thing.

Here is the final cover with type designed by Laurent Linn- the art director


  1. I could tell immediately that Evan was your model! I love hearing about how you approach your work Amy. So cool. You are so cool.

  2. Yes, I agree with Emily- that is a very Evan facial expression. You did it again, Amy June Fabulous Barrett Bates. I love your work and I know I'm not just biased.

  3. Great post, Amy. Interesting, to see your process!

  4. My teacher, Brian Eames wrote this and thinks you did a great job, as do I!

  5. I am glad you liked the pics!
    Anon Y. Mouse I am so glad your teacher liked the cover. I REALLY liked the book. Can't wait for it to come out.

  6. my son brought this book home from the school library yesterday (because of the cover art)...awesome!!