Evolution of a book cover and a work of art

by Alden Cole on March 19, 2015 · 1 comment

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…” – William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

ChessGameFeb78B&W:WPIn early 1978 I was handed an assignment to create a full color illlustration to be used as book cover for a paperback entitled Evolution Through the Tarot by Engish writer Richard Gardner. The author had supplied a rough sketch as an idea for the cover, in which he had portrayed the Devil and the Fool – cards number 14 and 0 (or the unnumbered card) of the Major Arcana of the Tarot – playing a game of world chess using human figures. Jim Wasserman, Weiser’s office manager, let me know that we were not compelled to use the idea supplied by the author as a guideline for the cover – authors almost always wanted to have input on the designs of their covers, but their ideas were often overruled as impractical, unworkable, or sometimes downright silly. However I was drawn to this author-suggested idea and proceeded to develop one of the more elaborate b&w pen & ink drawings that I produced during my entire twelve years working for Weiser’s.

EvolutionThruTarotWPOnce the drawing was finished, I showed it to Jim, who was thrilled with the art, giving me the okay to proceed to color. Other people in the office saw the art as well, and were highly complimentary. However, knowing I had departed rather significantly from the author’s rough sketch, I proposed that Jim send a photocopy to the author in England, asking for his approval before I started colorizing. In short order Mr. Gardner responded with an emphatic “No, please do not use that art on the cover. The figures are too specifically male and female; they need to be more androgynous.” Well needless to say, I was rather disappointed; but since I was the one who had suggested we seek the author’s approval and hadn’t gotten it, I was forced to go back to the drawing board to quickly come up with a new illustration that adhered to the author’s stipulations. The resulting illustration published as the final book cover is seen above.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite the author’s rejection of the original drawing, I proceeded with my plans to colorize the art; for my own satisfaction as well as another sample for my growing portfolio of book cover illustrations. However instead of adding color to the original b&w drawing, I made two same-size photostats of the art, then colored one using luma dyes, those brilliant but color-fugitive paints that I so loved working with during this time due to their intensity of color. The particulars of when and where the painting took place are forgotten now, but a major chapter took place a few years later. The first colored version was hanging on the wall in my kitchen in Portsmouth NH that summer evening of 1983 when my friend Mary P brought another friend – a potential patron – to take a look at my work in the tiny apartment that was my first in Portsmouth. When asked how much I wanted for the painting, I responded $300, to which Mary’s friend responded “Is that all?” to which I responded “Well then how about $500?” without missing a beat. By the time they left that night, I had accepted $485 cash as full payment, along with the promise to have the piece framed appropriately. During the month of November, the newly framed art, marked NFS, was featured in a show which I shared with artist friend Nancy Goodwin at the Cafe Petronella in Portsmouth. My new patrons were unable to retrieve their art during December, so I was invited to their New Year’s Eve party welcoming 1984 at which time I delivered their new acquisition which was placed above a sideboard in their dining room, where it was prominently displayed. I remember that the husband approached me at some point that evening to let me know nicely that he liked the piece, but found it somewhat unsettling and even spooky. Other than that this successful real estate developer who was obviously quite wealthy didn’t have a lot to say, so our conversation remained brief. The upshot: shortly into the New Year my host was arrested in one of the major drug busts of the Seacoast area. My knowledge of the art’s provenance went blank until last year, when the wife who had originally purchased the painting and was then living on the West Coast contacted me to see if I were interested in purchasing the art back, as she was in the process of moving and downsizing. She supplied me with the photograph above showing a badly discolored and faded piece of artwork, which I passed on redeeming. This particular artist has yet to be flush enough to buy work back.

ChessGame#1ColorWPThe Chess Game • oils on photostat paper 16″ x 22″ • collection of the artist.
Sometime after moving to Philadelphia in 1986 I decided to colorize the second photostat made from the original b&w pen & ink drawing which I had sold in the meantime. This newer colorized version has weathered time better than the first, even prompting me to consider making a few more additions, when I looked at it critically the other day while photographing it. Time will tell…

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

nancy wysemen March 19, 2015 at 5:26 pm

Good story!


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