View Full Version : 80's sci-fi book cover style?

08 August 2011, 07:27 PM
Hey, I was recently really wowed by the works of Dan McPharlin (, specifically the album covers for "Making Up a Changing Mind", "Warp Riders" and "Glowing in the Darkest Night". I'd really love to paint something in a similar style. I was wondering if anyone had any tips or tutorials on the techniques involved. Especially replicating that sort of thing in Corel Painter or Photoshop rather than using real media, but anything would help. If anyone knows of any other artists that paint in a similar style, specifically sci-fi oriented I'd love to take a look at some more works.


08 August 2011, 01:11 AM
It's not that hard to replicate a specific style if you understand how to deconstruct it.

Generally speaking, there are only five things you need to be concerned with when dealing with surface treatment of any artwork. The following is a short excerpt from week five of the workshop I teach (linked in my signature below):

One thing I want to point out here is that when you work on any drawing or painting, every single line or brushstroke must have a purpose--don't "noodle" around without knowing exactly what that line or brushstroke is supposed to accomplish. There are only 5 possible things that any line or brushstroke could be conveying:

Drawing - The actual shape, contour, curve, angle, proportions...etc.

Value - Is it a shadow? A highlight? Is it a middle tone? How does it contribute to the modeling of the form or depiction of surface type (specular, matte)?

Color - What's the hue? How saturated should it be? How does it correspond to the value level for the desired level of chroma/brightness (or lack of)?

Edges - Is it a hard edge, firm edge, soft edge, or lost edge? How does the edge contribute to the image's overall dynamics, visual balance, and readability?

Texture - What is the texture being described? Is it rough or smooth? Is it hairy? Is it consistent or random? Is it fine-grained or gravelly? Is it porous or lumpy? Typically, it's easier to break all textured areas into three tiers of detail--the largest texture shapes (using the larger brush sizes), the average level of detail (medium brush sizes), and the tiny details (tiny brush sizes). It's really fast to get textured areas right if you break them down into tiers.

When you deconstruct another artist's brushwork and line quality, using the above list is the best way to figure out how/why that artist's work is unique.

You should be able to get very close to that style no matter what software you use, as long as you are meticulous about which brushes you use. I came from a traditional mixed media background originally, so when I look at his work, I automatically think it looks like a mixture of pen and ink, watercolor, gouache, and possibly acrylic. So my mental process for replicating that look is to try to replicate the visual properties of each of those mediums that I have had traditional experience with. I would say it's probably easier to replicate that look with Painter than with Photoshop, simply because Painter was design for that sole purpose--to emulate traditional mediums. If you have a wealth of knowledge about Photoshop's brush engine and is quite advanced at customizing brushes, then you can probably do it in Photoshop too, but I find only the most advanced artists have that ability in Photoshop, while the large majority of other artists tend to be kind of clueless when it comes to using Photoshop to make artworks look more traditional.

08 August 2011, 10:35 AM
Maxfield Parrish is a primary influence of this style. You may also want to look at the work of Roger Dean, another Parrish influenced artist as well as major influencer himself, especially in the album art arena.

My question to you, since you donít have any 2d examples in your portfolio, is how are your 2d skills? If theyíre marginal to negligible, you wont be pulling off this type of work. Most skilled illustrators would not have to ask how this stylistic look was achieved. Frankly it is pretty straight forward. Even though a lot of the work done in this style was done traditionally (using everything from crayons to airbrushing, excluding the kitchen sink), it is easily reproducible digitally due to itís graphic, collage-like and somewhat posterized nature. Parrish did incorporate collage elements in his work. A lot of hard edged masking is required. I would use Photoshop for this. You can find many texture pattern brush sets on line and on this site, created by generous artists who share them freely. Natural texture images can be pasted in for some of the water-color washed backgrounds.
Also, design is a key feature here. Youíll need the chops for that too.

10 October 2011, 10:33 PM
I have a huge love for Maxfield Parrish and his way of creating supersaturated colors by dint of ,many thin layers of color. But he built on another style. Which the majority of sf and fantasy covers relate to as well. The Pre-Raphaelite movement. It would be to your benefit to study this style of painting.

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