This is a master piece by Jon Sullivan. I have posted up some of the concept artwork as well as the commentary on just how much goes into a piece like this. This is for Catechism of Hate to be released in January. Here is a link to get your copy.

As far as the full pic, I could not get one to scale up well. Here it is, and if anyone has better or a link let me know or email please. This one is sure to please tyranid fans.

via Jon Sullivan and the Black Library
How do you adapt the references you receive – pictures of miniatures and Codex art – into a coherent design?

Generally, I receive a brief from Black Library. This sets out a short synopsis of the scene and characters and also includes the miniatures, with details of specific banner symbols or armour designs that I need to keep to. I’ll then spend the next half a day collecting as much data as I can on the relevant characters in the scene. Before I can start with any sketches, I need to immerse myself with a character’s profile or the mood of the setting.

The next stage is to start blocking things out in my mind, breaking down possible compositional ideas. I always want to be sure what direction I’m heading in. At this stage I’m confident enough that I can proceed with drawing down shapes that have potential and that are strong enough to use when juxtaposed against other elements in the later stages of the picture. I’m not only thinking about the here and now, but of how these designs could affect the balance of the picture in the later stages.

Your art has an almost photorealistic look – how do you achieve this?

I work digitally on a program called Photoshop CS2. I use it as a very basic tool and I limit myself to using a minimal amount of the aids and tools in the program. It is the only program that I have ever used and I enjoy the craft of designing a huge amount of work on the cover. Up until 2005 I was painting all the covers in oils and started digital work a year later, but the knowledge I gained from so many years painting has been a great help; I still use those skills when designing these book covers.

On Catechism I started with the termagants and hormagaunts, and from all the information I had amassed, I then worked up the mycetic spores, hive ships and various larger aliens. Once the ground troop tyranids were designed and placed in the composition – without any strong light source at this stage – I built up a more detailed set of layers and textures, some more translucent than others to get that hopefully photorealistic look.

Often, I’ll use a piece of reference ¬– like a photo – to build an individual layer, adding textured overlays. Maybe I’ll create some mummified flesh from reference of rotting fruit, of skin peeling away, then create a pattern layer that I’ll take the contrast down on and de-saturate, keeping the opacity low, and then use that, transforming it, warping it into the workings of that area on the tyranid’s skin, then multiplying that to create a texture.

Using multiple layers to get a particular look works perfectly for me. I’ll work on two dozen layers just for a simple arm or a leg, merging those layers together to then work on the whole, duplicating that to create the wounds or the scales. I will then add the light and contrast to each one depending on how strong the surrounding light is, and reflections and tones as a result of the flames and background light. I use this process for pretty much every millimetre of the picture. It’s a long process, but done in the shortest time. I don’t want it to look either painted or like a photo, but I try to give it a more dreamlike, surreal believability. The realism, if it is there, is certainly created by many layers of different tone and hue and texture overlapping to give it that cohesive look.

How much does the format of a cover dictate the composition of the finished product?

The Space Marine Battles covers have to be a designed to a panoramic composition, so I concentrate on the horizontal format and I am not thinking about how the composition will affect the front cover layout at this stage. Later on, I can adapt to suit, but I need to be sure that the design will flow from a sweeping movement from both sides equally, so all the basic concepts have to be worked on with this in mind as I don’t want to alter anything drastically to fit the format.

I don’t want a staged composition, so I’ll have a good idea where everything is situated in relation to where the size of the title and author’s name will be placed and if there needs to be some tweaking or a little bit extra bleed then that’s easy to achieve.

With Catechism, I intended from the off to create the composition as a loop. I hadn`t attempted that before, but the central figure and the encircling tyranids worked perfectly for giving it that continuous look, with both ends meeting so that all the elements in that frame would be forming a circle around the Cassius and looking in on him.

Even though I know that there is a limited amount of artwork that can be used on the covers in the series, I’ll add a lot more to either end just because I think it helps me create something visually more interesting. I also think people appreciate that when it goes on my site they can see a load of extra art to help sell the story to them that much more.

I’m constantly thinking to myself that I don’t want to let the side down. Each piece has to be up to, if not better than, my usual standard. The pressure not to let people down is a strong psychological aid to get me pumped up, casting out any doubts that can arise. Catechism of Hate certainly formed into something bigger than I initially had envisaged. As always, the pressure is to step up the quality in a big way, so that’s the promise for the new year ahead.

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