The creation of Arauco’s cover art

I spent my latter youth in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and in the Carnegie library there (which gave weight to the seriousness of reading by resembling a mausoleum) the historical novels that I loved were illustrated, often with a cover image pasted on, and with a few full color images inside, pasted on themselves.  Lesser black and white backups were interlarded here and there. Gulliver!  Natty Bumppo!  Robinson Crusoe!  And much as I am committed to good prose as an adult, I have never outgrown my youthful addiction to the rich perspective that images give the page.

That said, when recently  Arauco was finished as a text, I wanted something exceptional for the cover.  Trolling the net for actual painters, after much searching and travail I stumbled onto Tyler Jacobson, a young illustrator who will definitely knock your socks off, whether he’s portraying captain Ahab or Yoda.  You can check out his work at: http://tylerjacobson.blogspot.com/  and http://www.tylerjacobsonart.com/#portfolio

And when to my delight Tyler took on the project, I told him that what I wanted for the cover was a depiction of the prologue to the novel, which briefly can be summarized as….

The albino Mapuche shaman, Ñamku, is waiting on a mountain top for the setting of the sun, when he can take off the mask he wears, since daylight is too bright for him.  Behind him, the sacred volcano, Lonkimai, is erupting.  Before him in the distance is fucha lafken–the great sea, which we know as the Pacific.  In his left hand he holds something which has been brought to him across the Atacama Desert.  The messenger bringing this says white people have come from the sea, white people that are both warriors and sorcerers, white people who have killed many Inca.  And now they are coming south, to Arauco.  Ñamku wonders what the coming of these white men means to the Mapuche, and to him, the only white man he has ever known.  And he wonders what the small object he holds might be, for it is in no way like anything Mapuche …. not knowing it is a crucifix.  He waits for sunset, when he will meditate, and pray.  Perhaps the ancestors will give him a vision of what is happening, and what is to be….

Tyler sent me four thumbnails:

Of them he preferred the fourth, in which Ñamku is backlit by the lightning of the erupting volcano behind him.  I liked it very much indeed, but hammered at details, wanting the araucaria trees that would sign the landscape as Chilean … also a more meditative and embracing gesture of the shaman.  The wings of the hawk headdress needed to be buckled, as in Arauco, and I wanted Ñamku wearing a medicine pouch and carrying his sacred drum–the kultrung–etc., etc–also as in the novel.  Tyler went on to this more developed sketch
which gorgeously represents the prologue to the novel.  But … no Mapuche of the sixteenth century wore a belt.  And the medicine pouch of  Ñamku is made of white leather in the novel.  Also, as I wanted the text of the cover to be on the bottom, I asked for more “bleed” there.  So Tyler sent the drawing below,  from which he would paint….
I asked him to include a small crucifix in the left hand at the last minute….  And here is the finished painting for the cover.  Awesome!  And I loved doing it.  Now I can start dreaming about an illustrated edition….