Author Becky Chambers is preparing to release her first Science Fiction novel, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. Becky contacted me Spring of 2014, looking for cover art for her book and the finished cover is finally revealed.
The book will be released digitally July 16th, followed by a print run shortly thereafter. Check it out!
About the Process
Becky contacted me about her book project, and described what she wanted for her story. Much of the story takes place on the Wayfarer, a spacecraft owned and operated by her characters, so it should be featured prominently on the cover. It was apparent that we had similar tastes in spacecraft design concepts. “I want something that feels like the Nostromo from ALIEN – a trusty but well-worn vessel made by humans.”
As it turns out, I had just received a copy of The Art of Chris Foss, whose work was pivotal in the design of the space tug Nostromo from ALIEN. Foss’ wild spacecraft designs were already floating in my head and making their way to my sketchbook. A wonderful coincidence, yes. We quickly settled on the project scope and terms.
In my mind this was a great opportunity to work through the design process with a great science fiction book, and I ran with it hard. From sketch to digital comps, to the final piece, it was a real joy.
Becky sent me her descriptions of the Wayfarer, characters from the story, and the places that were to be visited. According to her description, Wayfarer was an older ship that had been knocked together over the years with components from a lot of other vessels. It wasn’t pretty, but functional. It carries a wormhole generated of alien manufacture, grafted to the hull, which looked like an aggressive spike. The crew also maintains a dome-covered botanical garden which helps with atmosphere processing and acts as a refuge. With these elements in mind, I had a good picture of where I wanted to go with the Wayfarer design.
Ultimately Wayfarer #04 felt the most correct, so we proceeded with that as the design for the cover.
The story features a “Small Angry Planet” covered with volcanic activity, significant enough to warrant inclusion on the cover. Becky also wanted to see the elements set against a killer nebula background. We talked about having the crew featured somewhere within the scene but felt that would dilute the image. Perhaps we’ll visit that later.
I began with small thumbnails of the cover, to get a sense of the design elements. These led me to a layout that worked well with the chosen design for the Wayfarer.
Much of the color was dictated by the relationship between the featured planet and the Wayfarer. A volcanic but habitable planet would naturally fall into the orange-red hues. Playing with complimentary and tertiary colors I created digital sketches in Procreate on my iPad. This was also my first pass at the title fonts, which would change later.
My first inclination was to go with deeper blues and purples for the background nebula, but neither of us like the result as much as the version that also stayed in the orange-red tones.
I ended up using the blue / purple tones in the Wayfarer’s shadow zones, which worked well by separating the ship visually from the similar background colors that would otherwise have washed together. It was challenging, but I worked each of the elements quite a bit until they each stood out on their own.
I created the final cover art in Photoshop CC, using my Wacom Intuos art tablet. The Wayfarer was built up with a number of found textures from my own photography, heavily painted over and drawn by hand in Photoshop. As I painted the ship, I followed the same style I use in my traditional painting, which is almost impressionistic. The planet was also crafted in Photoshop, and the nebula background was hand-painted.
We worked through several iterations of the font style before settling on the retro-looking receding treatment seen in the final.
The background extends to the left for the benefit of a print version. In the end I believe we were both quite happy with the result and I’m looking forward to seeing a copy of my own. Be sure to check out Becky Chambers’ book when it’s released too. Tell her Chris Doll sent you.
And if you or someone you know is working on their own science fiction novel, I would be thrilled to create a memorable cover. Contact me for details!