Tokyo Ghost

This is the second commission received this week, and as per my previous post, it will have to remain private until it’s either deemed unsuitable by the publisher or made public via the traditional cover reveal.


The synopsis was as follows:

Tokyo street at night with the silhouette of a lone woman

She is English, mid-thirties, and has gone to live in Tokyo as her husband has been posted there for work. He is very busy at work and entertains clients in the evenings, so she is left alone a lot. She hates the ex-pats wives etc and makes excuses not to attend dinners etc. She learns a little Japanese and explores Tokyo on her own, day and night, and has a few random encounters with men in bars.

The author sent me her mood board which had on it some existing art work depicting streets in Tokyo, and I ran an image search for photograph references to avoid finding myself replicating someone else’s painting. Almost all the photos are of narrow streets with a central vanishing point, crammed with people and absolutely full of lights and ad boards.

I put these onto a piece of A2 then began making paint sketches to try out colours and compositions. In the end, and given the need for a significant space to accommodate the image of the woman, I chose typicality over originality. A book cover has to make an instant impact and give a clear indication of what’s inside, and although this is a collection of short stories rather than a novel, the one identified by the author as standing for the rest, is set in Tokyo. It needed to be original but also typical.

Image board providing mood, palette, and shapes.
First draft in acrylics on A2 cartridge with white primer for substance.
Adding shapes and colours drawn from the photo references. I’ve used a silicon pebble rather than a brush for this, dragging pigment over the surface in blocks. Brushwork is limited to small marks with the bands of light.
This next stage adds brightening to the upper area partly to emphasise the overwhelming nature of the sensory environment but also to provide a ‘quiet’ space for the publisher to apply lettering. My reading of the brief suggested to me that the main character felt very disembodied in this place; lost and unbelonging, a ghost; so I made her figure very small and cut it from a piece of photo paper. I initially held it in place with blu tack before running it by the author. To my absolute delight, she loved it and the idea behind it.

This is the final version. I’ve added gold acrylic to some faux lettering, deepened some of the reds, and emphasised some verticals with Payne’s grey and gold. This is the version the author has said she will be sending to the publisher.

I have, I think, made an image that reflects the crowded lightscape of a Tokyo street without making specific reference to any of the images I used as guides. According to the author, I’ve also read the context for the main character accurately and positioned her as she had imagined with the addition of ghosting. From her own comments, I believe I have met the brief and for me it was critical to have an idea of the story that underpinned it. That dialogue was really important. So now we wait and although the publisher had asked the author for her own preferences and possible sources of cover art, there is no guarantee that this piece will meet his requirements.

13th August. Because I can no longer change this image physically, I’ve imported it into Paintshop Pro to add text.

The text obviously reflects the polluting impact of brightly lit cities, both in terms of greenhouse gasses and escaping light impeding clear views of the night sky. My preference would have been to write the words in with white acrylic pen, the choice of colour reflecting the ghosted figure. In the end, though, I removed them for the submission so that this is now less text-based as text-inspired.

I’ve found making these works to a brief has been challenging and innervating and rather refreshing. I am still not an illustrator and these have not been illustrations, but they have asked questions of my ability to turn what I’ve learned so far with OCA into work that speaks to other people and doesn’t compromise my own sense of myself as a growing artist.

24th August and I’ve heard that the publisher has approved the painting for the book cover. I’m not sure what happens next, beyond a lengthy wait for it all to come together.

17th July, 2022. The author unveiled the cover today with a twitter/Facebook/instagram campaign and so this post is, as of now, OPEN!

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