Curse of the Lost Memories – Cover Art Case Study

(Originally published on 5/29/2018)

This article is a walkthrough or case-study for the creation of a hard-fantasy book cover that I finished recently.

The whole project was full of challenges so I like to take the chance to show and tell something about the work I did and why it was an all round awesome experience.

It is the cover for a project successfully funded on Kickstarter by Griffon Lore Games. called Curse of the lost memories and is the first volume of the Chronicles of the Celestial Chains adventure path for 5E or Pathfinder 1E.

My work for the cover was presented on the Kickstarter page as a stretch-goal at $8000 which was a great honor and my aim was to do this amount justice.

Basically it started with a gorgeous briefing, which covered all the details. The initial briefing saw a half-orc to be on the cover with two swords. I’m open to anything, so I carried this idea in the back corner of my mind for about 2 weeks before starting a sketch. What followed was a shame. So much I did not even want to show it here…I did not get a working sketch together. It all felt boring and not inspiring at all.

But going again through the briefing, I was glad enough to find a fun-o-meter in the 10-pages briefing that on page 2 stated this:

So I got back to Anthony of Griffon Lore Games and was as honest as possible about the mishap and he gladly offered me that there were around 10 other characters to pick from!

This was a huge relief for me. Actually I’m not that picky, but when I compare my usual commissioned works with the level I wanted to bring into this project, it was clear that I could not use the same approach.

The references that Anthony sent me where the pieces below that I created around a year ago:

One of my first pieces with Zbrush


“The menk” a Piece created for Ren Garcia

This was an important info for me because both works were created using Zbrush and Photomanipulation for the background. A definitely different style from the digital paintings I used to do and thus a big challenge.

The main difference opposed to the digital painting process is, that in the above shown works, the Figure was created independently from the background and later in the rendering stage the background happened to dictate the mood and was partially chosen to set the atmosphere of the whole piece. The process has more to do with what a director does with a movie.
Below you see the ingredient stock images that were purchased from Shutterstock and bashed together in one composition to get the base started.
Raw stock images


First rough background draft
The initial idea for the background concept was to get an eerie mood such as Simon Marsden has created in his black and white photography. (Huge fan here)
In the creation of this landscape I brought to the table all that I have learned about composition in the past two years or so.
After getting the initial landscape idea together in grayscale, I added a bunch of existing characters and turned them into a silhouette to see what could work for the cover the best.

I used these characters from other artists that I found on pinterest,  but they were never intended to stay final, they should just help us to find a pose that strikes a chord. This “mockup-technique” is something I learned through my work with various agencies in the past. Most often the cover design they have negotiated with the publishers are often finally approved before I even got the briefing. My creative job is then to just paint nicely over what they have put together and create something new out of that. Not perfectly what creative freedom looks like, but that is business as usual.

OK back to work; Number 3 was the right pose for Griffon Lore and that meant I started to go with the theme of a female warrior mage. It was planned that this is the protagonist but that changed through our conversation to benefit a better outcome of the work.

After the background was good to go, I started to get my hands at DAZ Studio to get a figure with a wardrobe that fits the theme into pose before working in zbrush.
The champion outfit was not perfect, because what I envisioned was something like this:

It has to be less Japanese of course (cuz we are talking D&D and Pathfinder here ;), but I liked the costume design and went ahead to build that in a paintover sketch composition in Photoshop to discuss this idea with Anthony before diving into Zbrush and spend around 25 hours for the design.

The initial reaction was positive but the swords had to go and be replaced by something more sinister.

Like the character is opening some gates to hell… That was also the point the cover changed from showcasing the protagonist to being a NPC that should lure the player into the dark realm of the Wailmoor with all its dark secrets…

Since the above sketch was approved, the thorough work in Zbrush began.

After import and getting a different staff (purchased from Cubebrush).
The pose was a bit of an issue (for me!) because the initial idea was to go towards more action and perspective, but when I thought about what I really wanted to do, I found that I had to work with the composition that was created and laid down in the background first, that meant more strong lines and angles in the figure to double the classic look that I just started to create and being consistent with that…

Just as my favorite artists used to do:

Top: Karla Ortiz / lower left: Brom / lower right: James Ryman
Also the idea changed from “just the character” to “character with creepy stuff on her feet that reaches up to her”… this was all my idea and I’m glad I got the creative freedom to do that.

I know it sounds cheesy and every other artist did that, but I knew it would add a strong base to the composition and thus, it was good.

First version in Zbrush with creatures at bottom / also 3d printing base added for later use
Polypainted version from Zbrush. A screenshot that presented a stare that I wanted to bring back in the final version too. Another huge benefit of 3D work.
Polypainted full version before rendering in Keyshot.
Turntable view of the polypainted figure
12 renderings with different materials
The final rendering composite out of 12 renderings from Keyshot with different materials including clown pass and AO
Below is the final version as a wrap around cover (click for full view):
Get the wallpaper in 2.5k size here:

In the final version there was a lot to paint over, adding effects, blend the photography with the renderings and create a consistent image from edge to edge and in a 10k resolution of course.

Since the rights to the artwork still belong to me, it is available as poster print over at the Ars Fantasio shop here:

Curse of the Lost Memories - A2

Curse of the Lost Memories – A2

A2 Print

13 Artikel auf Lager

Or if you are into Pen and paper Roleplaying games, I suggest to check out the adventure over at the shop from Griffon Lore Games as well:

I hope you enjoyed this walk-through. Let me know if there is something you want to ask in a comment.

About the Author Oliver Wetter

Curse of the Lost Memories – Cover Art Case Study
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