Shelf Candy – CHRIS MCGRATH, Cover Artist for Thieftaker

June 9, 2012 General, Interviews, Shelf Candy 19

Shelf Candy is a weekly meme hosted by the lovely Five Alarm Books.  This meme gives us an opportunity to highlight a cover we love and the artist who created it.  Please click the button above to find out how to participate and to see what other covers are being discussed this week.


This week’s Shelf Candy…Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson,

cover art by Chris McGrath.



What I love about this cover is what I love about all of Chris McGrath’s work: it’s dark, mysterious, dramatic, and cinematic.  Because of its period setting, this one in particular looks like an old master painting with a touch of magic. And the use of light and texture is pretty phenomenal.  It really is beautiful work.


Chris McGrath is a native New Yorker and a graduate of the School of Visual Arts.  He has been an illustrator in the publishing world since 2001 and has done work for such authors as Jim Butcher, Kat Richardson, Rob Thurman, Seanan MacGuire, and Brandon Sanderson. 


Without further ado…Chris McGrath.



SWR:  Describe the moment you realized you wanted to make art your life and profession.  And what were some of the major influences that put you on this path?  

I would say it was when I was around 11 or 12 years old.  I had been drawing my whole life and really into sci fi , but one evening I was at my uncle’s apartment and he had a Frazetta art book on the table.  When I saw that book I was blown away and right then and there I decided to get into illustration.

From that point on I never looked back or changed my mind. Although I do have other interests in the arts as well.


SWR:  How did you get involved with creating cover art specifically? 

When I was in college I just stuck to my guns on being a sci fi fantasy illustrator. There were teachers of mine that were doing book covers at the time so I was able to get a good idea of what I had to do to get a job. Plus my good friend Dorian Vallejo was already doing covers so it gave me a certain insight as to how to approach art directors. His advice came in handy for sure.


Sci-Fi Geisha


SWR:  Looking at your gallery of work, one thing that strikes me is how dramatic and cinematic the images are, almost like a frame grab from a film.  Does film influence your work at all and, if so, what are some of your favorite films?

Film is definitely an influence as well as some photography but I like the pretty standard stuff such as Blade Runner, Alien, Star Wars and so on.   My list is pretty similar to everyone else working in my field.




SWR:  How would you describe your style and how do you think it has evolved over the course of your career?

I’m not sure.  Pretty dark at times. Subtle in symbolism maybe.  I was very into Caravaggio and Rembrandt in the way they used light to get ideas and symbolism across.   I wasn’t really looking for a style. I just did the type of thing I wanted to do and it found me I guess.


SWR:  How did you get involved with the cover art for Thieftaker?

The Art Director at Tor books thought I would be a good match for the look of the cover.  Probably because of the work I do for the Dresden Files.


SWR:  Had you read the manuscript prior to creating the art, and, if not, what kind of direction did you get from the publisher?  What was the single most important thing you wanted to convey in the cover?

The Publisher gave me a scene that they really liked but were not glued to it.  I read the first several chapters which were great.  I’m actually looking forward to reading the book when it’s released, but the time period and setting was super intriguing to me and I had always wanted to do a colonial period piece. So getting a spooky, colonial vibe across was important.   I tried out a few different ideas in the sketch stage but ended up going with the scene that the publisher had recommended.  Once and a while I’m happy with a cover and this was one of them.  Though it’s far from perfect and there are still some things I’d like to fix on it.


SWR:  What, if any, are covers, or cover artists, you consider iconic or influential?

I would say Frank Frazetta of course, Michael Whalen, Keith Parkinson and many others had a big influence on me when I was young and looking for inspiration.




SWR:  If you were given the opportunity to create the cover for any book, past or present, what would that book be and why?

I would say Dune or Elric of Melnibone.  Hard to choose which one but both had a big influence on me and both offer the opportunity to do something visually different and exotic.




SWR:  What side projects, passion projects, or upcoming cover art would you like to share with us?

Well, my other big passion is music.  I’ve been playing guitar for 24 years and have finally gotten around to recording some stuff I’ve built up over time.  If I ever get it done it will be a guitar instrumental record.  We’ll see.  I’m almost done with a couple of songs.  I also have a story I’ve been developing for quite some time that I would like to write and have a whole set of visuals for.

But that’s probably a few years away.




SWR:  Finally, I am a Game of Thrones fanatic.  Every family has a motto – the Starks have “Winter is Coming,” the Lannisters have “A Lannister always pays his debts.”  What is the Chris McGrath motto?

Haha, that’s easy,  “Don’t Panic”


Expected release date is July 17th, 2012 by Tor Books


Let’s get pretentious for a moment…the Pivot quiz.  Chris was cool enough to humor me and play along.  Here are his answers:


What is your favorite word?

Not sure I have one

What is your least favorite word?

Same, not sure

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?


What turns you off?

Doing something just for the sake of it.

What is your favorite curse word?

My mom might read this.

What sound or noise do you love?


What sound or noise do you hate?

Construction out my window at 7am

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?


What profession would you not like to do?

Anything with math

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

You are way too early, go back.



Please visit Chris at his favorite spots:


Take a moment to learn more about D.B Jackson, author of Thieftaker:


19 Responses to “Shelf Candy – CHRIS MCGRATH, Cover Artist for Thieftaker”

    • shewolfreads

      The Sci-Fi Geisha piece is incredible. Realistic with fantastical elements. Love it. I love your pick this week too!

  1. FABR Steph

    Your description is dead on. It has all of the wonderful elements that you have mentioned. The cover fits perfectly to the tiny blurb on the front of the cover.
    Great post. Thank you for introducing me to this talented artist.

    • shewolfreads

      Glad you enjoyed it, Steph! And I love your new blog design.

  2. Maria Behar

    Hey, Lee!

    I congratulate you on another of your fascinating, excellent, Shelf Candy posts!! You never fail to amaze and interest me with each one1 They’re so detailed, so well done!

    I had never heard of this illustrator before. His work is absolutely fabulous!! He is meticulously detailed, and yet, he never loses sight of the total design. I recognized one big name he mentioned — Frazetta. Such a master, that one!

    I completely agree with your comment about McGrath’s work having a cinematic quality to it. Most definitely! I can also see the Rembrandt and Caravaggio influences. Those are two of my favorite artists, by the way.

    Thank you for such a well-researched, interesting post! And thanks for adding to my knowledge of book artists!! (I’ll check out “Thieftaker” as well.) <3
    Maria Behar recently posted..Shelf Candy Saturday #23: Beneath the Surface, by Joya FieldsMy Profile

    • shewolfreads

      Maria, thanks for the wonderful comment. I appreciate your support of my Shelf Candy posts. I really have a good time with them and I love seeing what inspires these incredible artists. I also love Caravaggio. I love the use of light and the DRAMA in his work which might be why I appreciate McGrath’s work so much.

      • shewolfreads

        Things have gotten so hectic that I needed to take a bit of a step back. But no worries…Shelf Candy will be back! 🙂 Thanks, Maria!

    • shewolfreads

      Thanks, Jess! I can see Alex Ross in the Awakenings cover in its composition. Thanks so much for the comment!

      • shewolfreads

        His work is pretty amazing. And Thieftaker looks like a cool read. Looking forward to its release. Thanks, Thuy!

  3. Carl V.

    Great interview! Thank you Shelf Candy for doing it and Chris McGrath for playing along. I’ve admired McGrath’s work for a number of years and have spent a great deal of money on books, some that I’ve even read, because a McGrath cover just *had* to come home with me. And the cover for Thieftaker has me itching to bring it home. It really does have an Old Masters look to it.

    One of my favorites is THE DARKEST EDGE OF DAWN and I’m so glad you posted it as part of the interview. It is very seldom that I see an artist do the “gun facing the audience” thing where it actually looks right, and in this image it is amazing, as is the whole of the image.

    Thank you Chris McGrath for the work you do, look forward to adding more books to my collection with your cover illustrations (now to run out and track down the new Warren Hammond. The KOP covers are incredible!)

    • shewolfreads

      Carl, thanks for the great comment! I think what I also love about McGrath’s work, especially Darkest Dawn, is its intensity. Its so cinematic.