Cover Art Evolution – K’nat Trap

Every book I release has a cover that is produced by myself and my graphic designer brother, Byron. Since we are working in the Sci-Fi, Space Opera genre and in one particular universe, we try and have starships on the cover to get that fact across to future readers. We also have a certain style that we carry over from book to book so that readers get a visual clue that this new novel fits into the same universe as the last one they may have read. Being consistent with the branding helps readers find you and stick with you throughout your series.

All the covers start out with a concept doodle, by either myself or Byron. For K’nat Trap the original idea was mine and I imagined a K’nat starfighter being targeted by another fighter’s computer system or heads up display.

I didn’t have in mind any particular color but knew that the star field had to be blurred to suggest speed and that there had to be some kind of target reticule. The book’s title would be in the same font as the other series books and so would the author name.

The first thing I had to do was build the model of the K’nat Trap. That was already underway and after it was finished, I photographed it against a black felt background and sent the high definition image to Byron. He sucked it into his series book template in Photoshop and then added the text. He used a stock image for the target graphic while he worked on doing his own original version.

The green color was striking and it would stick with us for the whole process. I had a few suggestions for this version; punch up the brightness of the stars and the target. Also, we needed to start adding subtitles that declared the book to be a Star Saga story.

Now we’re getting somewhere! The image popped and the color was still working for us. Now to take out the stock image target and add Byron’s original version.

At this point I decided to try another color. The resulting experiment turned out to be too red and green or Christmas-like.

We tried again, this time going all red. The font changed to what we refer to as the bad guy font or Votainion font and it appears on the Devon’s Blade and The Blood Empress covers. Unfortunately, we felt it didn’t have the right impact so we went back to the regular series font. Byron also added some engine flare in blue.

I showed this one and a green one to some folks at work and they all seemed to prefer the old font an the green color. More comments indicated that the white lines in the target were distracting. So we changed things again, going back to green.

After studying this version I decided to call it done. It was eye-catching and it looked sharp. We could have kept tweaking but at some point you just have to pull back and let it be. This whole process took about a month for us to finish but of course building the model took many months and so did writing the book.




SS Weippe

This is the principle vehicle of the novel I’m currently writing – Corvette. It is a 1/350 scale model with multiple mount points. (For scale reference, it’s a few inches over a foot long.) It’s the first model I’ve built with RenShape material for the core. RenShape is a special polymer block that cuts like wood and allows me to drill a hole for a mount rod and then drill a hole and tap it for a set screw to secure the rod into the model. The rest of the model is simple sheet plastic and kit bashing. I’ll have a page for this model showing how I built it soon. The model does not have any lights but it does have drilled out portholes where lights would go. I later used Gimp to light some of the portholes.

The model was mounted to a tripod in front of standard blue screen and lit with the Master Key, or the sun. The blue screen material covering the mount rod caused some blue reflection on the bottom of the model. So I chose a blue nebula star field image to matte behind it for the finished image. I used Gimp to assemble the composite.



Upcoming Model Builds for 2016


I don’t normally just build random spaceship models these days. I have a plan, as the Cylons would say. That plan is closely related to the cover art of my novels. All the cover art for the first six books of the Star Saga has been completed. I won’t be building any more models of Starforgers Era ships. My focus is on Starstrikers Era ships now. So if you look at my model builds page you can see what has been built and what will be built for each trilogy. If the ship name doesn’t have a link it means I have yet to build it.

Capital Ships

The scale of these models is usually 1/350 meaning an average model is less than three feet long. At this time I’d like to build three models in this scale: the GCU Griffin, GCU Sherman and a Votainion cruiser to be named later. These models are usually very large and very costly not just in parts but in time to build. They usually have fiber optic lights and more than one mount point. They also can cost a couple of hundred dollars in model kits alone to build. Not to mention all the PVC and sheet plastic needed to box out their basic shape.

As my skill increases with each capital ship I build, I will get faster and the models will be stronger and will last longer. The last ship I built of this size was the Renoke and it has a metal pipe and wood frame inside. This makes the model sturdy but also very heavy to move around. I will probably build the next capital ship with similar metal pipe and wood framing.  So my woodworking skills will need to improve and I’ll have to explore new ways to build the models as light and as strong as possible.


There are two more starfighters to build in this era, the K’nat and the Tache. I suspect they will proceed just as the last few models of this scale have. They will be built with 1/4 20 screw mounts and possibly lights. These models seem to go together faster and take less resources to detail. Most of the greeblies (model kit parts) used on them are small. They are be built up from scratch using sheet styrene.

Miscellaneous Models

There is one more important ship in this era that is the size of the Renoke, and that’s the Nova Starstriker strike ship. Well, I could do the GCU Thrusher, but there are no plans to have it on the covers at this time. Not sure if I will even build the Nova yet but it’s a possibility. Another ship that might be built is the Eclipse. The Eclipse would have to be built to a smaller scale than 1/350 as it’s twice as big as an Alliance carrier. So the jury is still out on that one too. But I do need to build a standard Votainion cruiser warship of this time period.

My next build will be the K’nat fighter and I shall finish the Spieron fighter already started. After that, who knows…



Cover Model – The Blood Empress

The cover of my novella The Blood Empress features a dual KIV-3 starfighter. This is actually a 1/48 scale plastic model scratch built specifically for this cover art. In addition to being a writer, I’m also a model builder. All the starships featured on my novel covers are original designs created specifically for my novels. In many cases they are taken from old drawings I and my friends did when we were kids. The designs have been modernized and my modeling skills have improved since childhood resulting in some pretty cool models.

This model started with some PVC tubes and model rocket nose cones.

The center section is complete with a 1/4 20 screw mount for holding the model up while its photographed.

Details and fins are made from plastic and various other model parts, known as greeblies.

Wings are built from sheet plastic and attached.

The final creation is then painted with acrylics and weathered with pastels. The paint scheme was based on a WWII German Messerschmidt.


The model is then put against a blue screen and photographed with a DSLR camera. I use a Canon camera and high intensity flood lights under blue gels to simulate sunlight. This image is then passed on to my graphic artist brother, Byron, who uses Photoshop to insert it into a scene for the cover. The background image is a modified NASA photo of Mars. He adds battle damage, markings and exhaust flames.

The Blood Empress 10-27-15 High Res

The final design is composed with a title and author name to make an eye catching cover with all the right elements to attract readers who enjoy Sci-Fi. I hope you enjoyed this behind the scenes look at how I build a book cover. You can find detailed looks at all the spaceships I have built under the Model Builds menu of my website. You can buy The Blood Empress on Amazon Kindle.


Weathering the Terrox Model, Part 1

My second favorite part of modelling is weathering. After the details have been finalized and the base coat of primer and paint applied the final step is giving the model a history. That’s what I think of when I weather a model. No machine stays looking factory fresh over its lifetime. Dents happen, weather happens, maintenance happens. Sometimes battles happen and damage occurs. This is the secret history of a vehicle over time.

For the Terrox model I decided to just go with the base gray primer color and instead of adding unit markings and exotic camouflage patterns I’d just concentrate on heavy weathering. This is a front line starfighter in a war that has raged for hundreds of years. Field maintenance, battle damage and modifications are the norm. All of which can be simulated in weathering.


I started with the port wing and the engine nacelles. All skin after the wings has been removed for easy access. The Votianion starforce used a blue-gray color for interior paint. I mixed several Tamiya grays and blue and white to get the color I was after. This color was inspired by the teal blue color inside Russian fighter planes. It contrasts nicely with the flat gray primer base. For the exhaust pipes I went with a burnt brass color. This was to mimic the exhaust pipes of modern fighter planes.


The area along the engine tubes was detailed heavily with mechanical looking model parts. I wanted this to be oily and dirty to add interest for the eye mostly. In this shot of the starboard engine you can see where a panel has been removed on the body of the nacelle exposing some ribs. This was done to suggest a field modification.

The technique I used on this part of the model was mostly a black acrylic wash. I touched it up with a bit of dry brushing of the original blue-gray paint. I then dusted it with black pastel dust and a soft brush.


The panel lines on this wing were done with a Tamiya scribe. I love that tool. Then I accented them with a #2 pencil that was carved with a hobby knife to have a sedge shape to get into the panel. I got this technique from Fine Scale Modeler magazine. Then I went to work on the panels themselves to make them pop. Most aircraft modelers use a technique of filling panel lines with black and then lightly spraying over that with the base coat of paint. This leaves a shadow area around the lines.

I don’t do that with these starfighter models. For this one I used my own process of dusting the panel lines with black pastel dust and then hitting the middle of the panels with white pastel dust and rubbing it all in with my fingers. It’s a tad bit messy but the results can be pretty good.


This image above shows my pastel brushes and chalk dust covered paper towel. Someday I’ll have to do a video showing me dusting panel lines.


The next area of focus was the port nacelle. The blotches were done with a dry and wet brush of gray and black dabbled on with a brush. Then I hit the area with a fine sand paper and repeated the blotching. I was quite pleased with how it came out and hope to emulate that all over the model.


I just had time to continue the blotching a bit on the front of the nacelle intake.


I’ll do another post as I get further along in the weathering process. Since I’ve taken these pictures I’ve begun adding a few smaller decals. That process will be explored in the next post.


Mock-Up Models

Sometimes I have an idea for a starfighter model but it’s not completely fleshed out on paper and I don’t know if the actual design will work. Or I may be working from a twenty year old semi-orthographic drawing, as was the case for the K’nat fighter.

Bat Winged Votainion Starfighter_2686969458_o

If you really start looking at this drawing you realize that it’s not even remotely accurate enough to actually build this fighter. So either I re-draw it or I make it and start changing things as I go. Sometimes the later route will let you find new aspects to the design that you can’t see with a drawing. Like a 3D artist with the ability to rotate his art around and look at it, building the model in posterboard let’s me see it from all angles.


This is what I came up with using posterboard. It looks a bit like a sparrow to me. Very bird-like anyway. There are some things I like about it and some things I don’t. I will mess around with it more before finalizing the design.


Here is the mock-up under it’s predecessor, the Terrox fighter. They are similar in size and even in some design cues. This is on purpose. Ships should look like they have evolved, same as airplanes from the same manufacturer.


Dual KIV-3 Model Build Part 1

Sometimes when you build a really cool model in one scale, you start to look around at your collection of junk and realize that you could probably make this model in another scale. You only need this or that greebly to make it happen.

This is what happened to me on the large scale KIV-3. I realized that I could make a dual fuselage version of the KIV-3 pretty easily. So I did. It was only later on that I realized that I might have a use for it on a book cover. Halfway through this build I began to add the mount that I would need to photograph the model with.

The scale of this particular model is about 1/48th inches.

I started with two nose cones from model rockets. Actually four nose cones. Two were later modified into the exhaust funnels. Above we have the fuselages mocked up using PVC pipe.

I needed to make the fuselages thicker so I decided to use strips of plastic and then wrap them in thin sheets of plastic. In retrospect, that was probably not such a good idea.

Here’s a close up of the PVC covered in strips of plastic.

I used the rocket nose cone caps as adapter pieces from the fuselage to the engine funnels. They are the clear pieces you see in this image.

With the funnels cut and installed behind the adapter rings, we are starting to look like a real KIV-3.

I used tank wheels inside the funnel to simulate engine exhaust.

Here are my  two fuselages with strips applied.

This is Kron my KIV-3 pilot, helping with construction. I have wrapped plastic around the first fuselage.

The center section of the KIV-3 dual is made from a piece of scrap plastic. here is the bottom of it already covered in greeblys and plastic.

Then I decided this is where a mount point would go. So I cut some wood to fit and inserted a 1/4 20 inch threaded hole.

Now on to drilling holes for the fuselage mounts. I had to buy some new drill bits for this, not a bad thing as drill bits are always needed in the garage for other projects.

This image shows one of the fuselage’s with pins on it for inserting into the center section. This pin and hole construct is common for model builders everywhere.

Here’s the model up on the new mount system that arrived in the mail. I use a PanaVise 883-T camera mount for this scale of model. I just screw it to a board and now I have a great, adjustable mount.

Here is a view underneath. The camera head is adjustable so I can move the model around as needed. That’s all for part one, stay tuned to this site for part 2 as it happens.

KIV-3 Cover Shot Build Part 4

The model has moved forward quite a bit in the past few weeks. I’ve completed covering the fuselage, at least what shows for the camera shoot. I’ve worked on one wing details and added a nose cone. Finally, the cockpit has received some attention both in details and in its shape.


Wrapping the the fuselage with thin plastic sheets cut into panels just like a real aircraft resulted in a hand crafted look to the model. Not as precise as I would have liked, but then again, this bird is shot up and no longer in fighting condition. This lets me get away with some unevenness here and there. A nice little touch visible in the image below is the fluted cones as some kind of air intake or space intake or something. Anyway, they look cool.

On the green plastic lid at the stern I added some white colored pieces from a laptop keyboard to make that area more interesting. Oh and look, we have a tail fin. It’s a forward sweep design which makes the ship look like a funky Klingon knife or something. I built it like the main wings, sandwiching plastic together.


This version of the is a KIV-3 and thus has a slightly different look to it in some places than the smaller model. The wing tip canons are integrated into the wing better. I still have to scribe some panel lines in the wing, but the surface details are otherwise complete.

I love to put on the wings and take pictures because lets face it, the design is freaking cool. Did I mention that it was first drawn some thirty years ago? The shape is iconic, and timeless.

Nose Cone

My kids are building some flying model rockets and I decided to purchase one just for the plastic nose cone. At first I worried that the cone was too big. But now I think I like it that way. One thing was for sure, the angle of the cockpit walls was way off, as you can see in this wide shot.

I had to extend out the cockpit walls a bit to match the nose cone’s lines.

This angle of the bottom shows how off it was. I decided to just do the sides for now as that’s all that will be visible in the final cover shot. Below is the other side with the pilot sitting in there for scale.


After making the cockpit wider I went back in and attacked it with detailing. My boxes of model parts are pretty thin on small details so much of this is built from scratch stock and improvised.

At least now the pilot has some controls to grab onto and some interesting cockpit doodads. Painting will come next. I had to decide whether to make the canopy as long as the nose or to shorten it. I think you can see for yourself which direction I went with that. The interior will be gray and black and the dashboard area will be flat black.

KIV-3 Cover Shot Build Part 3

This time I get to finish construction of both wings and I begin to wrap up the fuselage. Both wings were built up in unblemished fashion. I’ll be adding battle damage to the top or starboard wing at a later date.

This picture shows both completed wings resting in the final position along with the tail pipe. Sometimes I like to piece things together to give some scale to the finished model. And it just looks cool.

I like this picture of the wings side by side on the workbench. Makes it look like I’ve got an assembly line. When you build something twice and you have no directions, it’s best to do them one after another or both at once so you don’t forget how you did it.

Had some fun advertising for my favorite regional genre podcast – Seattle Geekly.

Here’s our intrepid pilot, relaxing in his still half built cockpit. You can see he’s already in the process of turning black. I also started painting the other interior details shades of gray. Sometimes you have to paint the interior before you glue the outer panel onto the fuselage.

Back to the wings for a moment as I work out the details of the wingtip laser canons. This shows the plug on the back end of the cannon. Below we see the business end of the barrel.

Not sure if the above treatment will be final, as I haven’t glued things down there.

Battle damage panels are now getting applied to the fuselage. You don’t build interior details and then not show them off. This is just the start of the damage, more will follow.

This is where I left off on it this afternoon. More panels are filled in and the model is starting to have some heft to it. It’s also starting to look like a starfighter. Albeit a heavily damaged one.

KIV-3 Cover Shot Build Part 2

After taking the summer off to write, I’m back to the model bench in the fall. This time I tweak some of the details and take my first stab at a wing.

We’ll start with our unfortunate Votainion pilot. I used a Star Wars Clone trooper as my base and added things and took away things and well, it’s a work in progress at this point.

The tank treads in the background are going to be seat belts. The shoulders had to be puttied to eliminate joints. The face shield was added after a quick brush with a hobby grinder and a knife. I’ll probably add some more details as I go to ensure he’s not mistaken for a Stormtrooper.

Here he is in his seat. The details have been painted a primer gray but no other painting has been done to the interior pieces.

Here’s a view of the other details, some of which are not yet painted gray. I had lots of fun doing these details, I hope they show up in the final image.

Now it’s time to cover the cockpit walls with thin sheets of plastic. Not all the model will be covered like this, only the parts that we can see in the picture. But the ones that will be seen are molded to fit by bending the pliant plastic into curved pieces. This is pretty much how modern airplanes are built from aluminum panels.

The first panel was not bent to the right shape, but I’m leaving it as is. The second panel is shaped and I don’t think I will bother with any more on this side as they won’t be seen. Now I should turn my attention to the fuselage, but somehow that didn’t sound exciting enough. So I took on the wings.

I measured out the wing as one unit and cut it from a thick sheet of plastic. I figured that I would have to get another sheet and do the bottom side too. But after fumbling around as I went, I decided to use panels on one side of the wing and that meant I only needed one. Turns out to be a good call.

This model is starting to show its size. Eventually I broke the two wings into separate pieces to make them slide into the fuselage just like a kit model.

Here they are propped up with the model. This is such an awesome design and you can start to see how cool it will be when finished.

Each wing has a cut out panel with wire’s strung in an X fashion. As I determines the thickness of the wing, I was able to lay out those wires with very thin diameter plastic tubes.

This process actually went pretty fast and the wing started to come together nicely.

The leading edge of the wing has a slight hint of a chamber like a real airplane or jet wing. I did this just for fun as obviously a space fighter doesn’t need a true wing. The effect is done with a tiny H beam struct and a tiny plastic tube.

A modeler uses what’s on hand whenever he can. This shows the panels being glued into place on the top of the wing. I’m quite happy with how this turned out and should be able to replicate this on the other wing. However, the other wing has to be ripped and bent over, so it will have added interior details exposed. More fun!

Here’s the model at my dining table with the new wing stuck on temporarily. Not too shabby.

Next time I’ll build the second wing, complete with damage and start adding more panels to the main body. With any luck it will start looking more like a starfighter and less like a cutaway picture.