Given the recent release of the new Undertaker's Moon cover by
horror artist Alex McVey, I thought it would be fun to take a look at
the many trial-and-error steps that an illustrator goes through, taking
a basic image idea from infancy to completion. In this case, Alex began
with black-and-white sketches and progressed to a full-blown oil
painting of the savage beast that now graces the upcoming book cover.
I hope you enjoy this look into the creative process of one of the best
(if not the best) horror artist working in the industry today.
This is the first experimental werewolf sketch that Alex did. Alex
says that it seems more demonic than the familiar image of the
traditional werewolf that everyone knows and loves (?). Alex went
hog-wild with this rendition; notice the bristling mouthful of uneven
fangs, overly-long ears, and feverish eyes. A nightmarish image to be
In the second drawing, Alex goes for a more traditional look. The
face has a more angular construction, complete with protruding brow and
the canine-like snout that werewolf fans are more accustomed to.
Skip ahead several months. Alex has now figured out the type of
lycanthropic image that he wishes to tackle. This werewolf is most
definitely of the traditional kind... more wolf than man, reminiscent of
the creatures in great werewolf movies like The Howling and A Company of
Wolves. Alex has refined the rough edges and settled on a canine
inner-structure on which to build upon.
Here, Alex decides that a full-face werewolf staring straight at the
viewer suits his needs better than a profile rendering. He lays out the
basic facial construction in a diamond-shaped pattern, with an open
mouth, bristling with fangs, an exposed tongue, and bestial drool
dangling from the lower lip. The depth of the eyesockets cloak most of
the eyes in shadow, leaving the orbs themselves as little more than
reflective circles. Alex has elevated the image toward the top,
providing ample room below for the cover text. This is the basic image
Alex has chosen on which to build the eventual cover painting upon.
Taking the above image a step further, Alex scans the drawing and
employs the computer's digital paintbrush to add color. He fills the
bottom half of the picture with black shadow and chooses eerie tones of
blue for the werewolf itself, along with red hues for the inner mouth
Alex now shifts into high-gear. Having successfully mapped out the
image he wishes to create through preliminary sketches, he now attempts
to render the image in an actual painting. Alex prefers oils over
acrylic, finding it a more accommodating medium. Here the image of the
leering werewolf grows more defined and detailed. Like most great
talents, Alex works by instinct, adding the correct amount of off-scene
moonlight across the cheekbones and around the fur of the ears, as well
as battle scars on the brow and snout. Although Alex originally sought
to depict the pupils of the beast's eyes as merely reflective, like
those of a dog, they appear to the viewer as though they are twin images
of the full moon, which is just fine with Alex.
Here is the completed cover, complete with the text of the author's
name (yours truly!) and the title, which was masterfully rendered by
artist Zach McCain. Looking closely, you can see several changes from
the first image of the oil painting. Alex has added more shadow to the
contours of the face, as well as lengthened the canine teeth of the
upper fangs. Ever conscious of the most minute detail, Alex was
concerned that the canine teeth were a bit too long and, had this
painting been an actual werewolf, wondered if the points of the fangs
would have pierced the beast's lower jaw when the mouth was closed. In
depicting both human and animal subjects in art, the artist must possess
a working knowledge of physical anatomy, both inside and out, as well as
realistic strengths and limitations.
So there you have it... the finished product. The hirsute image of
the perfect werewolf... courtesy of master artist, Alex McVey. And,
fortunately for us all, a horrifying nightmare that will haunt us for a
long time to come!