An American artist and book illustrator is known for his cutting-edge modern and gritty style illustrations. Chris McGrath is a two-time Hugo award nominee in the Best Professional Artist category and has worked on multiple best-selling covers for various New York Times authors.
Chris is a master science fiction and fantasy illustrator who has applied his cutting edge, modern, and gritty style to best-selling covers for multiple #1 New York Times best-selling authors such as Jim Butcher for The Dresden Files series, Brandon Sanderson for The Mistborn series, and Troy Denning for Microsoft’s Halo Franchise. He has twice been a Hugo Award nominee in the Best Professional Artist category.
How and when did you come up with the idea of becoming a book cover illustrator?
Chris: I had long been into illustration since I was very young. In particular, sci-fi and fantasy, but I never thought about becoming a cover artist because I wanted to originally draw comics. It wasn’t until I was eleven or twelve years old, that I decided to become a book cover illustrator, after seeing the artwork of Frank Frazetta. I was so taken by his art, that I decided right away that that was what I wanted to do.
What does your daily routine look like?
Chris: I’m pretty bad at getting out these days with a heavy schedule. My workday is mainly me sitting at my desk working on projects, but I do have some photo shoots I have to do once a month or so for my reference. For the past few years, I have been teaching at The School of Visual Arts NYC, which gets me to socialize a bit with young artists. It’s been a nice addition to my lifestyle and work.
What were the challenges you faced as an illustrator?
Chris: Managing my schedule has gotten out of control quite a bit, but keeping things fresh is always a challenge to most artists I think. Especially when you’ve been working in the industry for a long time. After doing a few hundred covers, it gets more challenging to come up with new ideas. So I’d say the sketch phase at this point is the most difficult and often time-consuming.
What is the process or style that you follow to make an illustration?
Chris: It starts with some notes from the art director and then from there, I move into doing sketches. Once the sketch is approved, I start gathering references which may include a photo shoot or making something in 3D for the project. And then I begin with the final illustration in Photoshop.
Who or what is your muse?
Chris: Honestly I’m not sure right now. Lately, I get a lot of my inspiration from a few 3D concept artists, as they help keep me moving along.
Tell us about The Dresden Files series and the inspiration/story behind it and the mediums or techniques used to create it.
Chris: The first cover that came around in 2004, was pretty career-defining for me. It was probably the first cover where I truly developed my “style” as an artist. I wasn’t really aware of it but people started recognizing my work. The book is about a wizard living in Chicago, trying to keep his head above water and make a living, as well as saving the world from demons and supernatural entities and such. My technique is pretty much the same as I mentioned earlier – sketches, photoshoot, and then start with the cover, which usually takes about a week more or less.
Could you please name a few clients you have worked with in the past?
Chris: Random House, Penguin, Scholastic, Microsoft, Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins, and a few more.
Which medium or technique do you prefer using the most while creating a drawing?
Chris: I prefer painting in Photoshop while creating an illustration.
Could you please tell us about character traits a successful illustrator should possess?
Chris: Putting together a compelling image that makes the viewer pick up the book and want to buy it. Hopefully, it also transports them to that world as well. Having an eye for design and impact graphically is also key in getting those images to jump out. Also, being professional and respectful to the clients, as well as reliable is super important.
Which style of art do you like the most?
Chris: I guess I’m drawn to realism, though I do like stylized stuff too.
Sci-Fi and fantasy Illustrations that stand out for their atmospheric qualities and realism of weight and proportion
Could you please tell us about your genre/ type of illustration and why did you choose it?
Chris: Sci-Fi and Fantasy are definitely my stomping ground. It’s what I’ve been into since I was a kid and it’s where I feel most comfortable. I really enjoy those types of stories and the imaginative visuals that the artist creates for them, so that’s where I wanted to be.
What has your journey as an illustrator been like?
Chris: It’s been very good and very busy, so I can’t complain much at all. I’m very lucky to have been working as a freelancer for 20 years now. Not many people get a long run like that and I hope it keeps going and evolves for the years ahead.
An American book illustrator who puts together a compelling image that makes the reader pick up the book and buy it
Do you consider yourself lucky to create art as your real job? If yes, why?
Chris: Yes. Though that was the plan at a young age, there was a lot of hard work and studying involved; and also suffering and starving for a bit too. So I’d say not all of it is luck, you have to work for it and pursue it even when things look grim. I think only those who stick through the tough times, in the beginning, go on to have a career.
What is one thing that you really look forward to doing someday in your career?
Chris: Getting to work on my own art.
What are you working on next?
Chris: Planning a vacation!