Relentless book cover artwork by illustrator Duncan Long

Relentless book cover artwork by illustrator Duncan Long

I recently created the cover illustration and layout for both the ebook and print version of Relentless by P. J. O’Dwyer. It proved to be a challenging project offering a great payoff with the resulting beautiful cover. It also allowed me to play a small part of the effort to help alert the public to the mistreatment of wild horses in the US and Mexico, as well of the “horse rescue” efforts going on in these two nations.

Here’s the one-sentence synopsis for Relentless:

When six horses go missing, headstrong horse rescue owner Bren Ryan becomes her neighbor’s prime suspect — she’s in the business of saving them, and he’s a kill buyer who slaughters them for profit.”

From there the plot weaves into a murder mystery with enough action and suspense to satisfy any reader.

Needless to say, it has garnered some great reviews. Here’s one:

Relentless is a stirring and intriguing story that intertwines the important issues facing our horses. It made me laugh, cry and left me hanging on the edge of my seat more times than I can count.” –Shelley Sawhook, American Horse Defense Fund Washington, DC

The tough part in creating the book cover illustration proved to be getting the face of the heroine right. At one point or another at least six different faces appeared for the gal and nearly as many poses. Eventually I got it right with this version:

Detail of book cover illustration by artist Duncan Long

Detail from final version of the book cover illustration.

The cowboy in the background proved equally tough to get just right, and finally I simply used much of the artwork I’d created for another book cover that was sitting on my computer hard drive. I’d started that cover but it had never been used since the publisher abandoned the project. So the cowboy and the grassy background and night sky from the older project came back to life with this cover.

The original vision for the cover had also called for a barn in the background, but this proved too complex a picture for the eye to easily take in, especially with an ebook cover (since the book would be available both in print as well as ebook version).

Having spent no little time painting the barn, I lobbied for making it a “bonus picture” inside the book, which the publisher went along with. So I ported the barn from color to B&W, did some touch-up work, and it was pretty much ready to go:

Barn inner book illustration for novel.

Inner book illustration of the barn for the novel.

In painting the horse, I discovered I had some emotional connection to the project. When I was a preschool kid, my dad (who had grown up on horseback and in fact had helped herd horses from Colorado to central Kansas when he was a boy) took me out to my granddad’s farm to meet my dad’s old horse. Armed with a sugar cube, I looked up into the white furry face noting the creature’s amazingly long eyelashes. As I held out the sugar cube, a huge muzzle descended and the treat vanished, leaving me with a damp palm and a memory that will last forever.

That memory became the horse painted into the cover illustration.

So in the end, memories, old projects, and new ideas were all woven into the project. The illustration became that proverbial synthesis of elements that (hopefully) is greater than the sum of its parts.

Here’s the final layout with the text that I added for the completed front cover:

Relentless book cover layout by illustrator Duncan Long

The final layout for the book cover.

You can learn more about the book and its author at P. J. O’Dwyer’s web site.

Graphic artist Duncan Long creates illustrations for novels and magazines, sometimes also doing the layout of book covers. His work has appeared on book covers offered by HarperCollins, PS Publishing, Pocket Books, Mermaid Press, and many the titles of many self-publishing authors. More of his illustrations and graphic artwork can be found at Duncan Long’s Portfolio