Stuart Jaffe book cover illustration for his mystery novel

Final cover illustration for Stuart Jaffe's mystery novel

This week marked the completion of the book cover illustration for Stuart Jaffe’s Southern Bound. The mystery features the classic 1940’s style, hard-boiled detective — with a supernatural twist to the character (and I’ll not say more as I don’t want to create a spoiler). Basically the author wanted a mystery cover illustration with a film noire-ish look with lighting that gave the character a supernatural or ghostly look.

The Old Gumshoe first try at a book cover illustration for the novel Southern Bound

"Old Gumshoe" -- first stab at the cover illustration for Southern Bound

The first stab at the cover had a frontal view of a tired detective. It got us into the detective/supernatural/art noir neighborhood, but the dingbat artist had forgotten that the lettering for the book was to run down the right side of the cover rather than the traditional top/bottom positioning. (I can only blame the distraction of the flying monkeys here in the studio for this error).

So next came another painting, this time in profile, of a detective on the left side of the cover space.

Second stab at the book cover illustration for the mystery novel Southern Bound

Second stab at the cover illustration for the mystery novel

Now we had the proper layout and a suitable detective for the mystery cover — but lacked the supernatural elements needed. I tried several tactics, including a glowing face (below left) and a glow outlining the face (right) — and as is painfully evident, neither were effective.

mystery cover artwork glowing face versions

Two failed attempts at a glowing face...

This is the point where an illustrator ignores the panicked Muse frantically skipping around the studio screaming, “You’re not able to pull this off!” and instead concentrates on what other options might be waiting in his bag of tricks.

I realized I had three: One was to make the figure become transparent as the lower edge of the picture was approached — but that wouldn’t work with this illustration because it would appear to be shadowing with the black background.

The other two options held more promise: Make him materialize from a cloud of smoke, or give him glowing eyes.

The latter option was likely more in keeping with the story. But it also has become somewhat of a cliché with Hollywood movies, TV, and comic books employing it on a pretty regular basis. Worse, if red eyes are used, one is reminded of the Terminator robots and/or demonic activity, neither of which would fit the story.

However that still leaves a spectrum of other colors.

What about blue?

Let me say that both the author and I had doubts as to whether glowing eyes would work, but I had already shifted the color of the detective toward a ghostly blue during my face-glow experiments, so “No harm in experimenting a little,” I thought. I used that color scheme and quickly painted some glowing blue eyes over it.

And it worked!

Stuart Jaffe book cover illustration for his mystery novel

Final cover illustration for Stuart Jaffe's mystery novel

Thus, the cover illustration which now is becoming part of the layout for Stuart Jaffe’s mystery novel Southern Bound.

While you’re waiting for Jaffe’s mystery to appear in a bookstore near you, you can learn more about the author and his books at Stuart Jaffe’s website.

When not stumbling into the artistic solutions for a mystery novel cover illustration, Duncan Long illustrates a wide variety of book genres. His artwork graces the covers of novels from self-publishing authors, small presses, and large publishing houses. Discover many more of Duncan’s mystery and other genre illustrations at: Duncan’s Illustration Portfolio