Cover Illustration & Design – Waypoint Seven


Final Cover – Stephen Embleton 2024

It was a pleasure to create the cover for Sauúti colleague Xan van Rooyen's aetherpunk novella "Waypoint Seven" being published by the newly established Mirari Press in South Africa. It gave me the opportunity to explore my digital illustrating to the extreme by incorporating my design and drawing skills – and it would not be the same if I didn't have an understanding of how physical illustrations (brushwork, pencils, paints and textures) really look.

It was daunting to start – particularly wanting to deliver Xan something that did their story justice – no pressure. But with Mirari Press' Marius du Plessis having a love and understanding of design, he gave me so much free reign to play. And with each of the phases below, he encouraged and gave feedback (mostly Wow! and keep going). This is very rare with clients. And it was with this collaboration that the illustration and design blossomed over ten days.


The brief was excellent, with more details coming as I needed them to build the character and the themes of Xan's world.

The Brief:

A character focused, hyperstylised illustration of the main character, Runo [Runo, is transgender], from a side angle. Runo wears a wooden sparrow around a thong on his neck. The illustration should take inspiration from tarot cards. 

This was enough to have ideas popping, and I was eager to start – even before I was given the go ahead I had the character sketch done :)

First: NO AI!

Beginning with a character sketch (in the suggested pose – side on), I decided what the hell and did it digitally, to explore my pencil brushes in Photoshop, and get more used to drawing on the Wacom tablet (while looking at the screen not at my tablet!). Body straight on gave us the opportunity to show the wooden sparrow necklace.

"Runo" – Digital Pencil Sketch

Even a rough pencil thumbnail layout (to show the client) goes a long way. This gave me the shapes and positions I wanted.

Using Magic Poser's free model tool allows you to get dimensiosn, pose and even lighting as right as you need.

It starts with a background: so much fun with colour and brushes. Even though 80% of it is covered, it's those textures and colour experiments which set the tone to start with.

Building the background paint texture

Loosely combining a whole lot of the main elements gives a quick idea of the layout. This is the semi-sign-off stage you need from the client before you dive in. But having layers on photoshop means you still have the flexibility to shift things, delete, and redo.

Phase 1: Rough layout for sign-off

Gold overlays, clothing.

Face/Portrait detail

Hair, necklace, hand, belt.

Always a nice touch to customise the typography. Starting with the Winsel Variable font, adding flourishes to the W, Y, V and N, as well as the inner line.

Typography. Adding final side panel details and patterns

Ten days, and over 630 layers later (half deleted)...

Final Cover – Stephen Embleton 2024

Detail (Stephen Embleton 2024)

Detail (Stephen Embleton 2024)

The full illustration canvas:

Stephen Embleton 2024

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