This post follows on from the previous part here.
Part one covers the thinking behind the direction of this cover, but now let’s turn our attention to some of the things depicted in the image.
The main character we see on the cover is kitted out based on more recent recreations of Early English warrior elites. It’s not super clear if this is a man or a woman Ruler being depicted, and that’s all for the good, but let’s call them “he” for the purposes of this blog. The “King” part of the title is right there. (Check our free preview where we discuss the issue of gender, rulers and “Kingdoms”)
If you’re not familiar with the recreated history craft of Wulfheodenas then I thoroughly recommend checking out what they get up to. Likewise their related/sister/splinter (?) group Swehanaz. At their pages you can see a lot of the same research in action. I actually wrote to the Wulfheodenas folks right after completing the cover painting for KING BEOWULF, in case they felt I’d strayed too close to their recreations. I didn’t actually copy their work but it was certainly in my head, and we’re looking at all the same sources and resources I’m sure! They were complementary and very encouraging!
The helmet we see on our character there is based on the Vendel I helmet, which I find to be one of the most beautiful objects. It is by turns frightening and majestic. This was an intended theme for this image – that our central character has had enough. They’re an old campaigner, they’re a grizzled ruler in the vein of Beowulf at the end of the poem. And they’re not taking prisoners today. The rest of their equipment is fairly standard stuff, albeit indicative of a high status.
I particularly love the way seaxes of this period hang from the belt in their unusual sheathes. I think they’re a really good way into the period if it’s unfamiliar to you – These artefacts point to a way of life, a style of fighting, the alienness and high decoration of the era. I’ve seen some really amazing fighting demonstrations where warriors armed with a spear and shield are able to very cleanly drop their spear and draw that cross-hanging seax, should an enemy get inside the reach of the spear point. It’s all very beautiful while being grimly practical. The variety of decoration and styles of sheathes is a field of study all to itself. I especially enjoy the beautiful work of Petr Florianek – Gullinbursti in this area. Petr makes such wonderful things!
The Vendel period pre-dates the so-called Viking age, and is perfect for our time period. When we look at the Vendel I helmet we can see a clear connection with the famous Sutton Hoo helmet. I think we’ve seen enough Sutton Hoo helmets on “Beowulfs” to last us all a life time, so I didn’t use that one here.
Our character there has a shield, because everyone should have a shield in BEOWULF, and in the poem there are allusions to a ruler as helm and shield of their people. All very appropriate. They also wield a sword, indicating their high status. We don’t see a great deal of the sword, but it is intended to be clearly of a similar era to the helmet, with it’s short grip, necessitating hammer-action strikes.
While it forms the background, the whole scene is dominated by the burning hall, indicating something of a doom-laden future in store for Heroes taking up the treasure-seat. Hopefully your Hero will avoid such Northern melancholy!
Here’s the sketch for this cover:
Like most of my sketches, especially when they’re just for me rather than a client, it’s a bit of a mess. But everything I need to know is in there, and you can see that when we look at the final cover. One element which didn’t make it to the final were the crows. I like them in the sketch, and I always put some birds in where I can as a little “minding” of the late great Angus McBride.
The painting was completed digitally, like most of my work. I usually begin with a pencil sketch, and that was true for this cover – I must photograph or scan the sketch, since for the final week I’d like to make it available as a very special add on!
When working on the image, I’ll then move on to the sketch you see above – very loose, all about tonal values and where things are going to go. I usually get a feel for the mood at this point too. Once those things are in place it’s a case of working all across the canvas, usually in a mixture of Procreate on iPad Pro, or Artrage on iPad and desktop, ending up with some Photoshop for final polish.
That’s probably enough waffling from me! The campaign to raise funds to make KING BEOWULF a reality is running for another week and a day at the time of writing. Not long left to make your choice!