Science Fiction Book Club Interview

Since Destroyermen: Unknown Seas was showcased at the Society of Illustrator's Spectrum show recently I've been meaning to put together a post on the series that has been so rewarding.  Below is an interview I did with the art director of the series and Science Fiction Book Club, Matthew Kalamidas.  Be sure to check out my posts on the Society show here & opening reception here if you haven't already.  Enjoy!

The four final painted covers for Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen series published by the Science Fiction Book club.

Cover Story: The Art of Destroyermen and Dominick Saponaro

Dominick Saponaro is the artist behind the cover of our August SFBC member’s catalog. It is also the original SFBC exclusive art from the latest omnibus edition in the Destroyermen series by Taylor Anderson. Dominick has created the other three covers in this series for us and I had a chance to ask him a few questions about his influences and process.

MK:  At what point in your life did you decide to pursue art? Can you tell us about the moment you realized that art would be your career choice?

Throughout childhood and my high school years I was exposed to a wealth of illustration by way of comic books, paperback covers, illustrated classics, album art and Dungeons and Dragon’s publications. Marvel’s How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way and an old Molly Hatchet album cover by Frank Frazetta (Dark Kingdom) were probably the most influential in motivating me to draw at a young age. I also had a very encouraging high school art teacher who was an amazing artist by the name of Cheryl Hough. She was instrumental in steering me towards a degree in the arts.  It was at this time that it became evident to me that there were artists who made a living from painting and or drawing for publication. I thought that it would be great to draw all day AND be paid to do so! I then continued my education after high school in the Illustration department at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

Thumbnails sketches for the first book in the series.  Establishing shot showing all three major ships from the initial books.

MK:  Which artists inspire you?

Far too many to list them all, but here are some of the highlights…

  • Jean Leon Gerome: Amazing orientalist academic painter. Such exotic figures and fantastical landscapes.
  • Howard Pyle: Father of Illustration. His Grisaille’s are masterworks of design and value control.
  • N.C.Wyeth: If I had to pick just one, this guy would be it. He was 28 when he painted the illustrations for Treasure Island! 28!
  • Saul Tepper: Studied under Harvey Dunn. Amazing narrative.
  • Mead Schaeffer: One painting… The Count of Monte Cristo.
  • Dean Cornwell: Such drama in his brushwork. So bold.
  • Frank Frazetta: Need I say more?
  • James Gurney: The Dinotopia series was my bible in college. I only wish I had Imaginative Realism and Color & Light back then.
  • Greg Manchess: The hardest working AND nicest guy in illustration today!  Tapped into the brandywine school with a modern sensibility. 
  • Mike Mignola: Absolute master of design and storytelling through simplicity.

Destroyermen: Fire on the Water.  Sketches for volume II.  This time showing a little more of the human element and action from the americans POV.  The series is called DestroyerMEN after-all!   

MK:  Can you describe your artistic process?

Overall general process:

I start with many different thumbnails which explore mood, composition, design, and value.  All the while trying to tweak and perfect the overall design & composition of the image in a miniature little black and white painting as close to my final vision as possible.  I then move onto research & reference.  I photograph models, most often using friends or family for all my figurative work.  From there I move onto a quick line drawing which I will paint over.  After the drawing is put down I proceed to paint a fully realized black & white underpainting building up values, form, and texture along the way.  I then create a few very small color studies and continue onto the final stage which is final color glazing & overpainting.

Detailed painting technique:

I work in a very traditional way, starting with an initial line drawing and building up from a mid ground black and white underpainting by wiping out or erasing.  I then begin modeling the form with heavier more opaque brushwork.  Once I have a fully realized black and white painting I do quick little tiny color studies to  guide me with my palette choices.  I then proceed to color on the final, building up the painting with many different transparent color glazes while still retaining the value from the black and white painting.  After the painting is keyed in color wise to completion I then go in and refine the painting even further with opaque colors so as not to just have a colorized black and white image.  Finally I’ll go in and make any last minute hue, value, or saturation adjustments while pushing textures and refining some of the brushwork.

You can check out numerous step by steps and a video slideshow of my process at my website here:

After the first two covers prominently highlighted the naval battles and warships, for the third cover Matthew wanted to amp up the Fantasy elements.  At first I was hesitant but am very happy we went this direction.  It really expanded the series quite a bit.  This is what makes Matthew such a great AD.  He challenges his artists to push the limits of their comfort zone and in this case resulted in a painting that far exceeded my initial idea.  

MK:  You’ve created three other amazing pieces of illustration for this series in the past. There must be some advantages in working within a series such as your familiarity with the characters and story as well as what design elements you are expecting. What are some of the challenges?

Yes, familiarity with the characters and story do help a great deal when it comes time to sit down and work on a new cover.

Often times the advantage can also be the challenge though.  For instance, the first cover for the Destroyermen dictated the basic jacket layout for the rest of the series going forward.  While this can be quite advantageous in that it gives me a starting point for each new painting, it is also quite challenging because the covers all have to posses their own identity while maintaining a cohesiveness throughout the series.  They have to all relate visually so the reader knows it is part of the series while also being distinct at the same time.  This is a very delicate balance which I start thinking about right at the initial thumbnail stage for each cover.

Some additional sketches, color studies, and the final palette used for book 3 Destroyermen:  Rising Storm.  As I often tell my students...  Prep work pays off tenfold!

MK:  Where else can we see your art?

The best place to see what I’m working on and stay up to date with upcoming shows/events is my website…

Some recent clients, publications my work has been featured in, and events I’ve attended: The Spectrum Art Annuals (All 3 Destroyermen covers featured!), Expose art annual (Destroyermen 2 & 3 covers featured!), Imagine FX, SFBC, TOR, Simon & Schuster, Various gallery shows, & conventions such as Spectrum Live.

I also post recent works and news to Facebook and Twitter regularly so feel free to connect virtually.

For book 4 I really wanted the cover to be from the Japanese POV.  In addition we thought it might be a good idea to switch up the nautical theme with planes.  Keeping in mind the SFBC's target audience I also had to push the fantasy elements even further with this one so I took out the foreground soldier and replaced with several lizard warriors from the story. 

MK:  What do you do when you’re not painting?

I enjoy visiting museums that showcase narrative works such as The Brandywine River Museum (Im only a half hour away and try to visit every couple of months.), The Delaware Art Museum and The Philadelphia Museum of Art.  In addition, I also plein air paint, lecture at local colleges, follow the Phillies, eat great food, and have even been known to enjoy a fine wine with friends every now and then.

The final printed books with some nice words of encouragement from the AD.  Also, Matthew and I in front of my painting for book 3 at the Society of Illustrators.  Such an awesome collaboration!