John Backus book cover layout with finished illustration artwork

This week we finished the cover for best-selling author John Phillip Backus’ The Sisterhood: After the Fall, Book Three. The novel is a post-apocalyptic science fiction series.

For our starting point with this book cover illustration, John selected one of the digital paintings in my online gallery “Virtual Friends.”

Virtual Friends original illustration for book cover.

As the project progressed, much of the background was darkened to allow lettering to be read more easily and also to reshape the face slightly. Then runes and an icon John had commissioned were added to the composition. Originally the icon was placed over one eye as shown here and rune “scaring” was painted down the other side of the face.

Book cover illustration with icon over eye

The plus of this design was that it avoided a very symmetrical layout. However, as the work progressed, it seemed the layout wanted to be symmetrical, so instead of fighting things, I finally moved the icon to the center of the forehead (for a “third eye” feel), rotated the face so it was plumb with the world, and ran the runes down both sides of the face. This seemed the best solution and everyone was happy.

At first…

Then we noticed an odd “mental glitch” caused by the scar-like runes. Up close, the runes looked great. However with a reduced picture (which was likely to be seen in catalogs, distant viewing of book shelves in stores, or perhaps even on the ebook cover version of the title), the scarring was transformed by most viewer’s minds into facial hair.


Yes, we had the bearded lady on the cover rather than some mystic-looking gal the author had hoped for. (I’m not sure what mechanism in the brain causes this; but if care isn’t taken in painting a female face, any darker color, shadowing, or extra texturing tends to be perceived as five-o’clock-shadow or even facial hair, often creating an effect the artist prefers avoiding.)

The solution was to smooth all the runes except those right under her eyes. Once this had been done, she become what everyone was wanting to see.

Final illustration used for the book cover

You can read more about this book as well as a sample chapter from it at John Phillip Backus site.

When not inadvertently creating bearded ladies, Duncan Long illustrates book and magazine covers. His artwork has appeared on a number of books from self-publishing authors, small publishing houses, as well as large presses. You can find many more of Duncan’s illustrations at: Duncan’s Book and Magazine Illustration Portfolio