Nostradamus Duncan Long tabloid illustration artwork

Nostradamus -- Or Is It? -- Illustration by Duncan Long

As noted in my previous post, I sometimes create illustrations for newspapers, magazines, tabloids, and non-fiction books. In the case of historic figures, there’s often no reliable references to what the person looked like, and few historic paintings as well. In such cases an illustrator is often called upon to recreate the figure, working on very sketchy details.

Yet the finished picture must look “real” to the viewer and ideally will capture some of the mystery or personality of the historic personality,

I often use models and photo references for my digital paintings. Occasionally this can lead to amusing results.

One such time occurred when I employed myself as the model for a Sun tabloid story about Nostradamus. About all the specs they had were based on one old painting that might — or might not — have actually looked like this cryptic and perhaps visionary writer.

Basically, he was an old guy with a beard and a long nose.

Well, as the flying monkeys in the studio will tell anyone who asks, there’s one old guy who works here that meets these requirements. So I was enlisted to provide the reference photo — shown below.

Nostraduncan reference photo for newspaper-magazine-tabloid illustration

Reference photo used for newspaper tabloid illustration of Nostradamas

Originally the Sun‘s art director’s plans called for “Nostradamus” to be holding a book (hence the pose in the reference photo). However we soon modified the concept to be just a closeup of the prophet’s face. After lengthening his/my hair and beard, etching in wrinkles, and altering his nose a bit, the illustration was completed (and inhouse became known as “NostraDuncan”).

"Nostradamus" cover illustration for The Sun Tabloid

"Nostradamus" cover illustration for The Sun Tabloid

I work on a number of projects at any given time, often leaving family members blissfully unaware of the chaos that’s ensuing on book and magazine covers around the world as my illustrations make their way to various presses. This means that the first time a cover illustration might be spied by relatives is when it appears at its final destination.

In the case of this portrait of Nostradamus, the surprise was sprung on the artist’s spouse as she checked out at Walmart. Waiting in line, she was horrified to discover that, up and down the checkout lines, right there on the front of the Sun tabloid, was her husband’s sorry face. Or at least close enough to his sorry face to be recognized as him.

A moment of fear gripped her heart as she wondered if the story might be about a missing ax murderer, an alien in human form, or the like. Imagine her relief to discover it was only the portrayal of a respected historic figure.


Such experiences teach a spouse not to panic.

Readers with an eye for detail will notice that 2003 didn’t prove to be the year Armageddon happened.

But there’s always 2012, right?

Duncan Long creates illustrations for both fiction and non-fiction books, tabloids, and magazines. His illustrations have appeared on magazine and book covers from the Sun, HarperCollins, Pocket Books, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Enslow Publishers, and many other presses and self-publishing authors. Enjoy more of Duncan’s illustrations at: Duncan’s Art Portfolio