Empire Beneath the Ice book cover by artist Duncan Long

I recently completed the cover layout and illustrations for Stephen Quayle’s Empire Beneath the Ice.

Steve’s book deals in part with the German Nazis who worked on “flying saucer” aircraft as well as those Germans who explored Antarctica before and during World War II. So to bring both elements together on the book cover, I created a picture that placed one of the Nazi saucer designs in an under-the-ice fortress. Since the book won’t be marketed in an ebook version, I was also able to add a lot of detail to the cover illustration that wouldn’t be practical with the smaller resolution of ebook reading devices.

Here’s a “closeup” of the UFO I created (and duplicated for a fleet of saucers). For this saucer, I started with a 3D model which I rendered in DAZ Studio. Once I had that, I greatly modified and reworked it in my paint program. During this process I placed a couple of figures standing to the left of the turret on top of the saucer and have a gunner peeping up out of the top turret — which should be barely visible in the print resolution of the cover. I always try to add figures to a structure like this to give the viewer some concept of the actual size. I also add some “distance bluing” to make them appear farther away (oxygen is slightly blue, so objects become “bluer” when they are farther from the viewer).

Nazi UFO illustration used on the book cover of Empire Beneath the Ice

Here’s a “closeup” of the details in the foreground of the painting (and, yes, two figures to help establish the scale of the structure). Since the Nazi SS troops were generally involved with the work on special projects including the UFO aircraft designs the Germans worked on during WWII, for this book cover illustration, I opted to dress the soldiers guarding the complex in SS uniforms. Snow was added to the roof of the turrets and railing to tie the foreground to the background. At the same time the building was given the “no frills” look of a military complex. To add realism, I painted in various stains and imperfections into the concrete and railings.

Nazi base details in art for the front cover of Empire Beneath the Ice

After painting in a snow/ice “ceiling” over the scene with a bright area to act as an opening from the outside word, I added some distant icy peaks. And that pretty much completed the cover artwork.

The author loved the painting so there were no modifications made to the original. From there, the next task was to create the cover layout and position the illustration to its best advantage on the cover.

Nazi base and UFO artwork for book cover

One of the first tasks of creating a cover is selecting an appropriate typeface. Typefaces are like flavoring: You want just a hint but don’t want to beat the taste buds into submission. The font must not call too much attention to itself.

After searching through my collection of fonts, I finally settled on a humanist sans font similar to those used during the 1930s — in this case, Zaph Humanist, which would eventually also be used inside the book for the text layout in combination with a slightly modified version of Palatino (which pairs well with Zaph Humanist since both were designed by Hermann Zapf).

Since the German Nazis were “into” the use of ancient runes (with the SS insignia actually being created from one of the rune symbols), I created a typeface based on the set of runes the Nazis had adopted, and placed these in a light gray down either side of the back cover blurb text. I’d been using a lion based on English heraldry on other of Steve’s books that I did the layouts for, so I added this to the bottom of the page over the press information (and also used it for the spine icon). Here’s the result of the back cover layout:

Back cover artwork and layout

Once I had the spine width (determined by the page count and type of paper used) from the press, I finished the book cover layout:

Final book cover layout and artwork for Empire Beneath the Ice

You can learn more about Stephen Quayle and Empire Beneath the Ice (along with his other books) at his website SteveQuayle.com.


Duncan Long is a book illustrator and graphic designer who regularly creates artwork and layouts for publishers. You can see more of his artwork at Duncan Long’s Portfolio.