A couple of years ago, after the cover art to Jim Butcher’s Ghost Story was announced and I subsequently fell in love with it, I tracked down the artist to ask about the possibility of getting a print. That artist was none other than Chris McGrath—who I then had the pleasure to meet in person at New York Comic Con 2010, just a month or so later. Since then, I’ve gotten to know Chris a little better, and have been able to readily identify his work without too much trouble when I see it on the shelves at the local bookstore or library. And so, when Stephan and I started cooking up this Dresden Mania idea, I knew that we needed to get an interview with Chris to share with you all.
How did you get your start in being a cover artist?
Well, since I was about 12 or 13 years old, I always had the goal in mind to become a cover artist for sci-fi and fantasy books. When I was in college, I met a lot of people that gave me good advice, my teachers and so on. But one guy who had graduated a few years before me and who was actually doing book covers would stop buy and sit in on a class and show his work. That was Dorian Vallejo (son of Boris). He gave me some good advice and we soon became friends and have been ever since.
After I graduated, I did some odd part-time jobs and gave guitar lessons to make money. The industry was changing with Photoshop 4 at the time and it seemed like that was the way to go, so I taught myself how to use the software based on the same way I would do an oil painting. It didn’t look so great, but at the time I had a few oil paintings in my portfolio along with the digital stuff. I felt I was ready to start showing my stuff around, so Dorian passed along the name of his art director at Ace Books. I showed her my work and she called me back with a job about 6 months later but wanted it done in oils. So, my first book cover was done traditionally—Which I’m glad of; I got at least one old school cover in during my career. It’s on my site titled “The King” if anyone is curious.
What’s your typical day look like?
Haha… Not sure if I should say. Actually, like everyone, some days are busier than others and some more hectic than others. But it basically goes like this: Wake up, have coffee, answer emails for clients, talk to my agent and go over my schedule, work on sketches if I’m not working on a final cover. Then I usually try to stop work around dinner time and go out for a bit. Sometimes I’ll have to work at night if the deadline is tight, and weekends make no difference. If I have to hand a job in on a Monday—which is often—I’ll work the weekends, too. My off days are random.
What’s your general process for creating your art?
I read the notes or manuscript from the art director, then do sketches. Once a sketch is approved, I find models, costumes, and book a photo shoot (which I do myself). Then, once I have everything, I get to work at home using Photoshop and my Wacom tablet. Everything is the same as setting up a traditional oil painting, using the same methods I was taught in school.
Your art and style have come to define the urban fantasy subgenre for many. I’ve even heard you called the “face of UF.” Reactions?
The face of UF?! Cool. I can’t complain about that. It’s actually flattering. I had no idea I would end up doing any UF covers. At the time, the genre was not something I really noticed until the jobs came my way, Dead Beat being the first and Night Life the second. After that, I got a whole slew of UF jobs. I”ll do the covers as long as they are around, or as long as I’m in the business.
How strenuous does your workload get?
It can get really over-booked at times. Sometimes projects and series for whatever reason end up falling close together in the same months. At that point I have just learned to take things one step at a time or I’ll go crazy and panic. I try to never have two covers going at the same time. It’s just not a good idea to work that way.
What was it like, meeting Jim Butcher a couple years ago at NYCC? Had you met him before then?
I met Jim at Icon in NY several years ago. It may have been right after I did the White Night cover. Jim was cool! What else is there to say? I’m glad he can talk up a storm because I wouldn’t be able to get the ball rolling with a crowd like that. After a while with me, you would hear crickets. I can see why Jim is a writer. He has an awful lot to say or else he might explode.
What have been a couple of your favorite covers to work on?
I really enjoyed The Alloy of Law, Andromeda’s Fall, and Thieftaker for sure. Dead Beat was an earlier one I enjoyed, as well as doing the Clone series.
Are there any artists that you would say you draw inspiration from, or hold as role models?
Well, Frazetta for one, but there are so many at different times. I love John Singer Sargent, Rembrandt, Odd Nerdrum, Steve Assael, Enki Bilal, and a ton of others.
But that’s to name a few.
If you could have a drink with one superhero, who would it be?
Of course Spider-Man—but not the one from the last movie.
And, finally, chocolate or peanut butter?
You can find more examples of Chris’ artwork on his website—or quite possibly in your own local bookstore! Details on ordering art prints directly from Chris can be found here, and t-shirts and mugs can be ordered here.
Chris also tweets sporadically, and you can find him at @cmcgrath72.
Last but certainly not least, don’t forget to enter into our giveaway of a print of Chris’ latest The Dresden Files cover, Cold Days! Follow this link to the giveaway announcement for more information!