Over the last two decades, I’ve created over a thousand illustrations for magazines
and books including Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, HarperCollins, PS Publishing,
Pocket Books, Solomon Press, Paladin Press, Ballistic Publications, American Media,
Fort Ross, Lyons Press, and many small publishers.
I also do book design/layout work and sometimes modify or even design typefaces for
I am also an internationally recognized author with nearly 100 books and manuals
that have gone into print including thirteen novels (HarperCollins and Avon Books).
Originally, I did most of my illustrating work for my own non-fiction books. These
were “traditional” drawings done with pen and ink. Eventually I discovered computer
graphics and got a graphics tablet. Now I don’t think I can easily go back to the
“old ways” of doing artwork. What used to take me several days to do, I can now do
in hours. And no ink splotches on my clothing afterward, either.
Can I use your book cover artwork for free at my Web site?
With a very occasional exception for non-profit organizations, I’m no longer letting
folks use my artwork for free. I have mouths to feed and have lost several book cover
sales due to the use of artwork on sites. Remember, too, that if you display any
of my book artwork (or that of any other book illustrator) without permission, you
not only are breaking the law, you’re also hurting the artist who created the work
What do you charge for creating a book cover illustration?
I’m pretty much in line with what other professional book illustrators charge: From
$800 to $1,500 for a cover – the price is determined by the complexity of the work.
Obviously a battle scene with a “cast of thousands” will cost more, while something
like a simple country scene will be at the low end of the scale.
If a buyer wants to purchase the book illustration rights to a picture I’ve already
created, I can often cut a good deal on these.
I should note that the prices quoted above are just for the right to use the illustration
on a book cover and for advertising that book; for other rights (like mouse-pad,
movie, mug, poster, T-shirt, etc.) there will be small additional charges. I will
also do the lettering on the front cover or even the graphic layout on the front,
spine, and back of a book cover for a small additional charge.
Do you offer a contract when selling book cover illustration rights?
Yes, I do. As you probably know, US Copyright law grants the artist all the rights
to any artwork he creates. If there’s not a contract, courts assume only minimal
rights were purchased in any transaction with the book cover artist. So for the protection
of anyone buying a book illustration, book cover graphic designs, or similar artwork
for any purpose (CD album cover, magazine illustrations, etc., etc.) it’s wise to
have a contract that spells out what rights you’ve purchased. Beware of the book
cover artist doesn’t want to work under contract.
Do you consider yourself an Outsider Visionary Artist?
How do you create your magazine and book illustrations?
I do everything on the computer, though people sometimes mistake my book cover art
for oils or airbrush work. That's probably because I cut my teeth on oil painting
and liked the final product - but not the mess of getting there. (And that mess is
also why most of my pre-computer book artwork was pen and ink for the most part.)
I use a graphics tablet for most of my digital work; at first it didn’t seem much
better than a mouse, but after a couple of days I got used to it and now it is in
the “can’t live without it” category.
What software do you use for your book illustrations?
Whatever gets the job done. Just as I sometimes used this or that brush, a palette
knife, or whatever with oil painting, I often switch from this and that 3D or paint
program and this and that plugin within those programs to obtain what I have pictured
in my mind. Whatever gets the illustration done best and fastest is the tool selected.
I try not to “upgrade” programs too often. Most art programs have so many capabilities,
that it often takes years to really discover all they can do and to gain skills in
using them. A constant upgrade path can derail this progress.
Sometimes I use 3D programs to do the “grunt work” I don't want to do by hand, roughing
in ideas. But these are almost always extensively reworked in a paint program to
get the final look I desire. Some software can come close to producing a quality
book cover illustration with just a render, but generally I’ve found a little tweaking
gives a much better result.
Where do you get your ideas for your book cover art?
Many of my magazine and book pictures are “made to order” for editors and authors.
These are a matter of transforming a writer’s story or an editor’s idea into a workable
magazine or book illustration.
However, the illustrations I do for fun often become the ones that everyone wants
- go figure. Sometimes I set about creating graphic artwork from an idea I have;
often these are pretty straightforward and consist of producing a picture more or
less the way one might a traditional painting, sketching in the components, arranging
them so they’re balanced, then polishing and finishing them.
Other pictures seem to spring up almost on their own. I’m not sure exactly how the
process works or whether it is the same every time (observing oneself without getting
so distracted that the work suffers isn’t easy).
The computer art programs I use often seem to propel the creative process into areas
I would not have ventured into had I been working in oils, pen and ink, or whatever.
Additionally, the computer permits endless experimenting until an effect is achieved
that is what I'm looking (yea, even hoping) for.
Sometimes the changes brought through computer modification are somewhat unexpected.
These can also lead down avenues that would never have been discovered with traditional
media, yielding some very spectacular magazine or book illustrations in the process.
Leonardo De Vinci suggested using ink spots, stains on walls, etc., for inspiration
for pictures. I think some of this goes on with the computer and some of the more
exotic “plugins” for graphics programs.
Of course this is an oversimplification of the process. Often the whole methodology
is mystifying and a somewhat seat-of-the-pants operation. When I’m finished, I often
marvel that I had anything to do with producing what’s there on the screen. Or I
will return to an illustration and be somewhat amazed that my name is down there
in the corner (but, of course, I’d rather have my name there than that of someone
else). And, of course, nothing can beat the thrill of holding a magazine or book
and seeing my artwork there on the page.
The following is an excerpt from a recent interview I did with a college student:
You are a writer as well as a book cover artist - which talent did you discover you
Well, I've been drawing since I was able to lift a pencil - my mom claims that, at
an early age, I created some very nice “cave man” drawings on the family home’s walls.
By first grade I was putting together “books” that I wrote and illustrated, much
like what I'm doing now (and at the same level of expertise, my critics would most
I often wonder if being a writer/illustrator was “in my blood.” It certainly seems
I haven't ever had any formal training toward being an illustrator except for a 3-hour
course in college designed to teach elementary teachers how to teach children to
color, cut paper, and other nonsense. That was perhaps worse than no art course at
Fortunately my dad was a skilled amateur artist who showed me how to do a lot and
gave me some excellent books and magazines that got me started with oils and water
colors in addition to my drawing.
There are holes in my technique, but not many, thanks to my more-or-less self taught
skills obtained by reading a lot and observing what other good artists have done
- the latter being similar to reverse engineering used in industry, I guess. I think
if a person were really serious about artwork, they'd get a lot of formal training
so they don't have to re-invent the wheel. If I were just starting out as a book
illustrator today, I’d head to college.
Are there any artists that have influenced your work?
Many. I've tried to become familiar with the whole gamut of work from ancient sculptures
and paintings up to the present. It seems there's always something to learn, a new
way of looking at things to be learned, from studying the works of others. I think
this is really key to becoming a good artist: You’re always observing and always
learning new tricks.
Beginners (myself included in the past) always want to blaze a new trail and do something
that is completely new and different. But that isn’t possible unless you want to
invent a new medium and then can somehow manage to use it in a new way. That might
have been possible in 5000 BC, but surely is not now, barring some new break-through
All good art (whether literature, music, or painting) is built on the techniques
and styles of the past.
We don’t remember the first guy to paint in oils; we remember the people who mastered
the skill to create art that is treasured. The first guy to scrawl a drawing in pencil
is forgotten; the artist that can create a memorable drawing is remembered - even
though technically nothing “new” was created with the medium. I think that what I’ve
learned and have had driven home to me is that the great artists aren't trail blazers
but rather masters of technique which they can then exploit to present original ideas
Since going to the medium of computer graphics, do you still use other methods, as
in oils or watercolors to create your magazine and book cover artwork?
I left oils to concentrate on pen and ink because it seemed more precise and was
easier and faster to work with. The precision was essential for illustrating the
technical subjects I was writing about (which included everything from firearms to
how to write books). I packed up my oils and never got them out again (they still
sit in a box on my desk at my parents’ home, collecting dust for over three decades
Several years ago I started using the computer for illustrating my own books and
magazine articles. One day I realized I hadn’t even touched my pens and drawing tools
for almost a year. Stealth obsolescence, I guess. I packed them up and put the box
on the shelf and have only opened it once to retrieve a ruler for measuring a picture.
Currently, the only time I use a pencil or pen is to jot a note at the phone or to
sign a check or contract. I guess it is pretty weird when you think about how fully
the computer has changed the process of creating art.
Actually, the whole changeover is a very strange event - rather like a child packing
up his toys and never playing with them again. One day your play, never thinking
it will be the last time; the next day the toys are abandoned. It is sad to think
about, in a way - nostalgic, if that’s possible given the pain and agony of trying
to correct a mistake made with pen or oil (no undo or deletes in the “good old days”).
Yet this all seems like a normal progression. What I obtained with my “toys” of paintbrush
and pen is far inferior to what I can do on the computer (or, at least, more quickly
- the old media were much, much slower).
I don’t feel all the years with oils and ink were wasted, however. Many of the techniques
I used are now employed with the computer artwork produced to illustrate book and
magazine stories. The abilities I gained with pencil, pen, and brush all go right
into the strokes of the graphics pen to produce today’s book cover illustrations.
Plugins and filters are useful tools with paint software, though care must be taken
that they don't become an end to themselves rather than part of the set of painting
tools. Sometimes when using these the computer almost becomes a graphic art “assistant,”
generating ideas or layouts I would never have considered in working without the
modifications the program generated. This dynamic element of the computer is something
that has really made my book cover graphics “spread their wings” and venture into
areas I would have been incapable of journeying to without the computer-assist. Ditto
with “sprays” of pictures that can add amazing textures to an illustration in just
The best part of computer book illustrations, though, is that there're no turpentine
Which of your magazine and book illustrations is your favorite?
That's like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. I think my work that is
dark and more abstract (though never totally abstract) tends to be my favorite, though
some of my more realistic pieces I’m quite proud of. I tend to put my favorites in
my online portfolio of book illustrations, so probably that would be a tip-off to
my current favorites.
Of course my favorites magazine and book illustrations aren’t always those of the
viewer. I’ve found one big plus of the Internet is that there is now the space to
display many of my illustrations so people can see them. What I’ve found in doing
this with my online galleries is that illustrations that would otherwise never been
seen (or purchased for use in a magazine or book) are sometimes the favorites of
some viewers, though only marginally attractive to my own eye.
Bolstered by the favorable response from visitors to my site in the past, I now put
more illustrations on the Web and continue to be surprised at how people may choose
this or that illustration for a book or magazine when I felt that piece of artwork
was hardly worth saving. In the past such artwork would have been stored away and
forgotten or even destroyed. Now I can put them up on the WWW with little effort
and often have the joy of seeing them employed in a magazine or on a book cover.
In effect art that would never have been seen can now be enjoyed by viewers.
By the same token the numbers of viewers of my artwork is amazing, thanks to the
Web. If I were trying to display my artwork locally, I’d be lucky if I had several
hundred people view it. Today on the Internet, my main graphic art gallery has scored
almost a million hits and my pictures have been viewed in even greater numbers. That
order of magnitude is staggering.
I think eventually the web is going to give art students, and those who appreciate
illustrations, a true wealth of material that has never been available in the history
of the world. People will be able to sit in their home, school, or public library
and have more art to enjoy than has ever been possible in the past, regardless of
how wealthy you might have been. From the standpoint of art and culture, we are living
better than royalty did in the recent past.
Do you have any “words of wisdom” for young illustrators?
Go into another line of work. I’m only half joking.
It’s a really hard task to make ends meet as a magazine or book illustrator, especially
when starting out – just as it is in any of the arts these days. Today some really
talented writers, book illustrators, and composers labor at the most horrid of jobs
because they devoted their education and time to their art. I know the average writer
in the US makes about $10,000 a year - and I suspect the average graphic artist or
illustrator makes half that. And for musicians, dancers, and such are probably even
lower on the pay scale.
Unfortunately there are few if any real patrons these days who will hire innovative
artists. And large corporations tend to see graphic arts as sources of expensive
clip art only suitable for selling toothpaste or cars; such attitudes don’t bode
well for serious artists who are viewed by too many employers as just a step above
the janitorial staff.
My advice to budding artists: Don’t quit your day job and have another way to make
a living. The art of book illustration seems to be headed toward hobby status.
What books have you written?
My nonfiction subjects include everything from a health manual to how-to books -
including one (now sadly out of date) about making a living as a freelance writer.
Three of my manuals were used by the International Correspondence Schools (I think
that group has since pulled up stakes and perhaps operates out of England - I'm not
sure this is the same school).
Currently, I’m working to produce my own publishing company that will reprint some
of my novels as well as print and ebook versions of original work.
I have had a weird career path: Some of my firearms and chemical/biological warfare
books are in the private libraries of the CIA, US Marines, FEMA, and other US agencies
as well as the private library of at least one foreign embassy and the EPC (Emergency
Before becoming a full-time writer/illustrator, I secured an MA in music composition
and have enjoyed working at a variety of jobs including rock musician (where I possibly
earned a total of $330 over four years); private guitar teacher (more lucrative);
public school teacher (a nice living); and a very, very short stint (one week, part
time) as a mail carrier (enough money to take in a movie). Since I started writing,
I hosted my own talk radio program for about a year (mostly talking on the subject
of firearms and politics). Some years I haven’t made a lot of money, but things have
never been boring, except perhaps with balancing my checking account.