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Author Guest Post: R. Scot Johns

the-saga-of-beowulf-bannerI am honored to have fantasy author, R. Scot Johns, guest post on The Book Faery Reviews today.  Before we get into Scot’s guest post about Fantasy Digital Art, here’s a tidbit about the author and his new book The Saga of Beowulf.


R. Scot Johns is a life-long student of ancient and medieval literature, with an enduring fascination for Norse mythology and epic fantasy. He first came to Beowulf through his love of J. R. R. Tolkien, a leading scholar on the subject. As an Honors Medieval Literature major he has given lectures on such topics as the historical King Arthur and the construction of Stonehenge. He owns and operates Fantasy Castle Books, his own publishing imprint, and writes the blog Adventures of an Independent Author, where you can follow his progress as he writes The Jester’s Quest, his second novel.

You can visit his website at www.fantasycastlebooks.com.

The Saga of Beowulf is the first complete and accurate novelization of the epic Old English poem Beowulf, chronicling the tragic wars of the rising Nordic nations, the endless blood-feuds of their clans, battles with mythic creatures in an ancient heroic age, and the final, futile struggle of one man against the will of Fate that made of him a Legend.

The story follows the young Norse warrior Beowulf as he embarks upon a fateful quest for vengeance against the creature that slew his father, setting in motion a sequence of events that will bring about the downfall of a nation, all the while fleeing from the woman he has sworn to love. Based on extensive historical research and steeped in Nordic myth and lore, the saga unfolds across the frozen fields of Sweden and the fetid fens of Denmark, ranging from the rocky heights of Geatland to the sprawling battlefields of ancient France, as our hero battles men and demons in a quest to conquer his own fears.

“An epic adventure 1500 years in the making,” this classic tale now comes to life once more in a bold new retelling for a modern audience.

Let’s now welcome R. Scot Johns as he talks about Digital Fantasy Art…


Digital Fantasy Art

Originally I had intended The Saga of Beowulf to be a graphic novel. Not the kind the resembles an overgrown comic book, but one with a heavy dose of illustrations in the manner of those early 1900’s pen and inks by Arthur Rackham or Howard Pyle, with a heavy dose of Frank Frazetta thrown in for good measure. I’ve always loved artwork, almost as much as I love books, and seeing the two together is sheer bliss for me.

But as my composition grew, taking on the epic scale of the story it retells, there was less room left for art and more reliance on the imagination of the reader. Perhaps this is as it should be, for there is much to be said for letting the reader’s own mind fill in the subtle details, allowing them to shape the characters and settings to their own peculiar tastes. So it was that of all the many sketches I had done, intending them to grace the pages of my published novel, in the end only one found its way into print.


I did this pen & ink initially in pencil, which I then scanned into my computer and inked in Corel Painter using a new digital pen tablet I bought for the purpose. I had done one test version in actual pen & ink, but discovered while adding in the text that I needed to alter the size and layout of the composition to make it fit. This proved to be one of the many advantages of digital over actual ink. Each of these elements were created on a separate layer, so that I could move them about and manipulate their size and shape. The manuscript, by the way, is an accurate facsimile of the actual Beowulf manuscript, in its original Old English hand, upon which the novel is based. That document, our sole source for this oldest of English epics, was penned in two different hands, the belief being generally held that the first scribe died before he could complete the tale, hence the ephemeral symbolism of the snuffed out candle and spilled ink jar.

But all books must have at least one major piece of full-color art, that which will grace its cover, and fantasy fiction is not the least conspicuous in this regard. I knew I wanted something fairly bright and bold, and my basic inspiration was drawn from a painting by Frazetta called Kane on the Golden Sea, which featured the muscular hero staring out across the bow of a Viking-style warship as they sail toward some unseen shore.



Starting with a quick rough pencil sketch, again I scanned this into Painter and with my digital pen set to a light graphite I worked out the basic shape and perspective, roughing in the detail taken from the famous Oseberg Viking ship housed in the Oslo Ship Museum. The headstock was based, albeit rather loosely on a 5th century example found in a Dutch riverbed (see inset image).

After finalizing the details, I started in on the painting, using simulated oils with a fine camel-hair brush, working meticulously over the course of several weeks to build up texture and detail in layers. Again I created each element on a separate layer, ultimately reaching nearly fifty layers, including the background image. The overall process required roughly 300 hours over the course of more than six weeks of long daily sessions. In the end I ran short on both time and energy, as my prospective publication date drew ever nearer and my summer vacation came to an end.

ship-paint-beo-only-jpg-600xFor the titles I had originally created this header plaque, due to the fact that I had initially thought to use the dragon battle scene for the cover, with the fire-drake emerging from its cave. The logo lettering was drawn and inked by hand, in both a solid fill and outline version, then scanned into Photoshop, where I modeled it with over forty layers to create the jewel-inlaid-in-gold appearance. At this point you can see I was still considering it as an illustrated novel.picture2

However, for the final layout I dropped the faux-stone background and only used the letters, in order to balance the composition and show the background better. Here I’ve added a variation of the lettering for the spine, my publisher’s logo, and a blurb on the back, although the final ISBN block has not yet been comped in on this image.

Fantasy art has always played a major role in the initial impact a fantasy novel makes upon the reader, from prompting them to pick up the book in the first place to establishing the tone and imagery which sets them off upon their voyage. It was with that in mind that I decided upon the image of Beowulf and his men setting out across the roiling sea beneath a thunderous, brooding sky. It is my hope that in viewing the cover, the reader will know they’re headed for an adventure.

For higher resolution versions of these and other images, please visit www.fantasycastlebooks.com, where you can also read and download the first two chapters of The Saga of Beowulf and view two promotional video trailers featuring this art.



21 Responses

  1. Hello to all you readers of Farrah’s fine blog!

    Thanks for stopping by to read my guest post. I hope that you enjoyed it. Feel free to leave your thoughts and comments and I’ll try to reply as quickly as I can.

    Special thanks to Farrah for the excellent job of putting this art-intensive post together. Unfortunately, the inset image of the actual headstock mentioned in the post was left out for some reason, but you can see it in the video on my website, where it comes sweeping across the screen.

    I’ll be checking in throughout the day, and several times over the coming weekend, so if you have any comments or questions I’ll be glad to answer.

  2. Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever developed so much respect for someone’s artistic achievements over the course of a single short guest blog post before. The sheer amount of work you put into this design is amazing. You did a brilliant job too. If cover art can be breathtaking, you achieved it. I’m adding this one to my wish list for the year, to get once I have the money. I love ‘Beowulf’, so I always like when someone does a new release of it. Thanks for the guest post. I may never have known about this book otherwise. :-)


  3. Hi Tiffany,

    Thank you so much for the compliment. It was very nice to hear, and makes all the work I did worth the effort. “Breathtaking” is far more than I ever could have hoped for.

    As a fan of Beowulf, I’d love to hear your thoughts when you’ve read my version. So please stop by my blog or website when you have a chance and leave a comment. I look forward to hearing from you again.


  4. Sorry about the image Scot! Not sure what happened but it should be there now! Thanks again Scot for stopping by and to all my readers who stop by and chat with Scot about his artwork for The Saga of Beowulf.

  5. Excellent! Thanks Farrah, you rock! Really nice job on putting this together. Thanks again for having me.

  6. Oh my gosh, to possess such talent would be wonderful. I’m impressed (and just a little envious) that Scot can write and draw.

  7. Good morning bermudaonion,

    Fortunately for me I was blessed with a love of art and literature, both of which I delved into at an early age. Unfortunately, I can’t do anything else well at all!

  8. Fascinating. I agree with your take on Beowulf — the saga has such an oral history that a traditional GN would not likely work well. I love the visual aspect of your work; not just the art but the way each spread looks. And you are so right that you’ve found a perfect example of “one of the many advantages of digital over actual ink.”

    The original header plaque on its own is fabulous, but superimposed on the cover art, the faux stone would have been overpowering.

    Although I own a Beowulf or two, I think I’d like to have a copy of your edition in my collection.

    Thanks so much for sharing some of the process with us.

  9. Hi Beth,

    There have been a few actual graphic novels done of Beowulf, but I haven’t cared for any of them. To me they look like Sunday cartoons, which takes away from the depth and gravity of the story. So you’re right that that form isn’t well suited to this work. This proved to be a problem with the recent CGI film version as well.

    But Beowulf is a very active adventure tale which lends itself well to visual imagery, so I still believe a highly illustrated edition is in order. Consequently, I am considering releasing a multi-volume illustrated edition, in either two or four parts, depending on production cost.

    I’m glad that you enjoyed this “inside look.”

  10. Oh my! a multi-volume illustrated edition would be fabulous! I’d love to see that.

  11. […] Author Guest Post: R. Scot Johns – Fantasy Digital Art […]

  12. […] Author Guest Post: R. Scot Johns – Fantasy Digital Art […]

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