Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Phantom in the Maze

Greg Manchess

This is number seven in Michael Swanwick’s The Mongolian Wizard series of short stories, The Phantom in the Maze, to be released soon on

As usual, I read the story a few times, listing elements that I felt were good visual hooks to help push the story into the viewer’s mind and create interest. From there I started putting pencil blobs on paper, generally sketching major shapes of what I thought would be different elements.

Thumbnails to establish the composition

Those shapes led to creating an overall design that sits on the page. I use the montage approach to entice the reader so that I’m not describing one scene and dictating to the viewer/reader how they should visualize it. I want to inspire their own imagination to create the world in their minds, their way, like all of us do when we read. I don’t want to take that away from them, so I give them just enough.

A more finished sketch to develop the figures.

The series is full of wonderfully subtle but exciting ideas. This particular story deals with a time shift, amongst other eccentricities. Things can phase in and out, and it provides a nice reason for the shifting montage images.

An outline sketch to move shapes around and decide on the composition.

All takes place in an old institution, with the feeling of a past era to the costumes and characters. I chose an old window to help represent this. The main figure can be almost any one of the female characters in the story. There’s a sundial in a garden, but instead of using just a plain design, I opted to gain a strong visual by using an ancillary sphere. And the ever-present Freki, the protagonist’s right-hand sentient wolf, part of the Werewolf Corps, serves as a visual anchor.

The final sketch drawn directly to the board. 

A strong acrylic wash to seal the colored pencil, and leave some peeking through in the finish.

Each story tends to have a color all its own. I chose to work with greens countering blues as the overriding color scheme for this one. Technically, I drew my elements out, then projected the final sketches to the board. I sealed the pencil sketch by applying heavy washes of acrylic color. Once dry, I painted oil over the top.


  1. Beautiful as always. Love the washes. BTW I really enjoyed your talk on talent on the Sidebar podcast. Damn shame to see it go.

  2. That's REALLY sad, Sam. Thanks for the note.

  3. Hi in your comment you mentioned projecting your sketches onto the board could you explain that a little further please ie. What do you use to project your sketches ?

  4. Hey Lauren....yes, I scan my sketch of the different elements, either separately or as one design. I put the file into a flash drive that fits in my Artograph and use that to project the sketch to the board. I retrace the sketch, then, adding much more life to the drawing.

  5. I read this blog because you post here. You're my favourite painter. I can't imagine what it would be like to write a book and have an artist create such a beautiful cover for it. I hope you are handsomely paid.


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