The creative process part 1: Arik Roper

The creative process part 1: Arik Roper

After many years of faffing around I have finally finished my novel. More on that in a later post. In the meantime, whilst trying to figure out what to do with it (ebook, most likely), I’ve been commissioning some illustrations. This has given me a lot of pleasure, on the whole; it’s meant I can work with some of my fave illustrators and see them interpret key scenes from the book. I did have a hit-list of talent – individuals who have a certain aesthetic and who I trust to interpret my words in the ‘right’ way. Also, I can’t separate the words I wrote down from the music I often listened to at the same time, and I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with illustrators who have created artwork for some of my all-time favourite bands.

This is the first in a series of posts outlining the creative process with each of the artists, from conception to completion.

Arik Roper was high on the list. His imagery is an fascinating blend of retro / psychedelic / sword-and-sorcery, using watercolour and pen & ink to create pieces with real style, depth and complexity. He’s probably best known for his High on Fire artwork and, before that, Sleep; but he’s also worked with The Black Crowes, Sunn O))) and Earth (the amazing ‘The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull’ cover.)

It turned out we both had a similar taste in old-school fantasy artists: Jeff Jones, Michael Whelan’s Elric covers, Bob Haberfield and Bob Pepper, which was a great start. We agreed on a scene to illustrate; a key plotline in the novel involves an Ifrit (or evil Djinn in Qur’anic lore) called Kabikaj, the Djinn of Insects. After providing some initial guidance, this was Arik’s first cut:

The Ifrit looks suitably bestial and predatory and, as the Djinn of Insects, is shrouded in a thick cloud of flies. But we agreed that more of the body needed to be visible. We also took a look at period depictions of Djinn, including the c.16th illustrated manuscript of the Hamsanama, which shows them with tails, jewelry and shaggy coats. So this is what Arik sketched up next:

This is much more in line with those ‘traditional’ depictions, and the cloud of insects has been knocked right back to reveal the full body shape. But I did feel that the pose was too relaxed and the physique not muscular enough. So onto the third version:

For me, this highlights what a great talent Arik is. I think the sketch is a brilliant drawing in its own right, ticking all the boxes for me in terms of look, physique, pose, mood and details; it’s a truly modern twist on those early Persian illustrations, which is key – because the novel itself draws from, and pays homage to, a variety of myths and traditions.

From this sketch Arik developed a full colour painting, which will appear in the book. Trust me, the finished piece is fantastic – but you won’t see it in all its glory until the novel becomes available in a couple of months.

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