One of my favorite books that I read this past year was The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. It was a magical story that felt like someone merged together Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. It has the allure of young magicians learning their trade, plus the excitement of a looming battle to come. To put the cherry on top, the audiobook was read by Jim Dale, one of my all time favorite narrators.
From the very beginning of the book, I was drawn in by the immersive descriptions. The story takes place at a circus that only runs at night, and unbeknown to everyone else, is built by two competing magicians. It was a book I couldn't put down, and that meant that I had to make a cover for it.
The current cover for this book is a beautiful, iconic view of the circus sitting in the hands of an unknown person. This is wonderful cover because it gives us the hint that this circus is under the control of some sort of looming figure. For my cover, I wanted to show the reader the two main characters. The story revolves about the relationship between these two. I wanted to play off the tension between them and allude to the possible events to come.
I began by reading the book, highlighting certain details that stood out to me along the way. I then put my ideas down in my sketchbook, playing with the different ways I could show the two main characters and give a view of the magical circus as well.
Once I felt I had several strong ideas, I then redrew my favorite thumbnail sketches digitally. While my earlier sketches were thinking out movement and composition, by digital thumbnails start to take value and light into play. The idea I landed on revolved around the fire pit that plays a central part to the story. The two characters are standing in poses that resemble the dance the Pasodoble. It's a Spanish dance that emulates the movement of a bullfight. I loved the idea of using a dance that is a fight, but also is embodied with sexual tension.
Sketch and Color Study
After finalizing my composition, I gathered my references and did a full value digital sketch of my painting then digitally colored it as a color study for my painting. This allowed me to work out all the details before I ever picked up my paintbrush. I loved that even though the entire circus is black and white, it's described as being very colorful. So I wanted to use light to create color in my painting.
I really enjoyed working on this painting. To enhance the colors of my light, I decided to use a limited color palette. The paints I ended up using were Indian Yellow, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Viridian, and White. These are all high saturation colors and let me play up the bright colors of the scene.
A special thanks to the judges of the 3x3 International Professional Show No. 15 for the choosing this painting as an Honorable Mention in the Covers category. It's such an honor to be included in this amazing show!