Murders - Science Fiction Book Cover Art

I recently had the pleasure of creating the book cover illustration and layout for Anthony Pacheco’s novel Wælcyrie Murders, the second book in the Lexus Toulouse science fiction mystery series.

Here’s the blurb that sets up the story: “Out of the Gifford-Pinchot Forest stumbles a wælcyrie, shot with irradiated bullets, and radiation poisoned unto death. To kill a wælcyrie, a slowly dying species engineered by humans in the war to help them fight is an unforgivable, vile crime. Investigator and Princess Lexus Toulouse vows to bring the killer to justice, even if she has to go undercover in one of the worst places she can imagine: High school.”


The process of creating this cover illustration was a little tricky since the first book cover established the appearance of the main character Investigator Lexus Nancy Toulouse, ex-soldier and princess who’s regularly on the warpath. The second cover had to preserve her appearance while still being enough different to let readers see it was a new book with the same character.

The author had seen my “Lost Dreams on the Kansas Plains” painting and initially wanted to purchase it for a wrap around cover for the book, perhaps adding the character to the scene.

Lost Dreams on the Kansas Plains by Duncan Long

After talking to Anthony about the cover, I suggested a new, similar picture that would better fit his story. He opted for this suggestion and I was off to the drawing tablet.

The first step was to create a narrower abandoned farmhouse, thereby allowing for a larger main character on the front. That was followed by a contemporary model car that by its rusted out appearance would suggest the story is taking place sometime in the future (as this science fiction story does).

Once these were established and grass and sky painted behind, in front, and around everything, it was time to tackle Investigator Lexus Nancy Toulouse.

And at that point I ran down a few dead ends since she basically had to share the front cover with the house — ideally without either of them having to be too reduced in size. I made several false starts with stances that were too wide (like this one):

Murders - pose that's wrong for a book cover picture

Eventually I created a profile pose that worked and allowed her alongside the house without the loss of depth. To tie her to the background, I painted her dress a color that matched some of the clouds in the sky (as well as some of the rust in the car).

Since the layout dictated leaving out her sword (which in turn had dictated a flowing skirt to mirror it), we instead added a sheathed combat knife she often carried on her thigh; I opted for a modified K-bar knife since in the story she uses a Japanese sword, and I reasoned her fighting style would lend itself to a single-edged knife (I know, obsessive compulsive details).

After adding the cherry blossom tattoos that cover her body, she was ready to go.

Which led to the final picture layout:

WÆLCYRIE MURDERS wrap-around book cover painting

Next came the lettering, always tricky on a cover that tends to be in the center of the contrast spectrum: Not too light, and not too dark. It’s easy to lose lettering in the background with these mid-tone colors. My solution for the front was to add a thin black outline to white lettering.

Waecyrie Murders book cover picture by Duncan Long

For the back, I added a box behind the small text, using one of the darker colors from the clouds. The result was text that was easy to read while only covering sky which really wasn’t too essential for the “story” of the picture.

And so the final layout:

Waelcryie Murders-final book-cover-art-Duncan-Long

You can learn more about Anthony Pacheco’s novel Wælcyrie Murders as well as his other books at the author’s website.

Duncan Long is a book illustrator and graphic designer. You can see more of his work in Duncan Long’s Book Illustration Portfolio.