Monday 30 March 2015


Welcome to the Confessions of a Reviewer special week on the fabulous Dead Roses: Five Dark Tales of Twisted Love.

I am so so pleased and proud to have been able to put this one together. It's been hard work and I hope you all think it was worth it. I honestly cannot thank all of the "crew" enough for their participation in this. They responded to all of my demands and weird questions without hesitation and I'm very grateful for that.

To kick off this week’s interviews I have one with a difference. All too often we see interviews with the author or authors when new books come out but we never seem to pay homage to the men or women who put all of their time and effort into producing the fantastic artwork for the covers that lure us and tempt us to buy the book in the first place.

With that in mind, I present to you an interview with the fantastically talented Mike Tenebrae, the man behind the Dead Roses cover.

Grab your poison and your nibbles and enjoy learning stuff about the artistic side of a book! 

COAF - So tell everyone a bit about yourself in general?

MT - I'm an illustrator living in South Africa who just recently became a dad.

COAF - So why art? What influenced you to make a career out of it?

MT - I was always encouraged by my folks at a young age to draw and create. I was very fortunate enough to be surrounded by all kinds of books as a kid which I used to pile up and peruse in my room long before I could read, but rather to stare and wonder about the pictures inside them. We have a bit of a creative streak in the family. It was not long before I was drawing all the time, especially during class. However after school I went to work in the construction business instead of pursuing art. I wasted a lot of time at art school just doing the bare minimum instead of applying those essential fundamentals my long suffering teachers tried to instil in me. I still drew on the side and continued getting encouragement from my folks to pursue it as a career! So I started from scratch with art studies in the evenings and left the company to go freelance after landing some successful illustration contracts for local childrens books.

COAF - How do you come up with your ideas? Looking through your photographs you seem to have a varied portfolio.

MT - Reading! Other artists and old roleplaying games and pulp paperback covers are probably my biggest influence. During high school I would explore fantastical and horrifying worlds in my head when I should have been paying attention. I'm still playing catchup in rendering all the things that kept me on a solid D average for most of my young life. Certain pieces in the portfolio are other peoples ideas which I am always happy to flesh out with them. It's just really addictive bringing something out of a thought or idea into the real world.

COAF - I notice you have created some drawings for what look like computer games? How did that come about? Is it just for covers or do you get involved in the animation as well?

MT - I enjoy doing concept art. 2D character designs, turnarounds and such. I am not involved in animation, although I have worked with animators. I admire what they do greatly.

COAF - Given the technology available today especially in the computer graphics industry, do you prefer digital work or the old fashioned using a pencil or brush?

MT - I like them both equally. There are times, when say we have a power cut (which happens a lot in SA lately) that I will lament to my wife the drawbacks of working digitally and there are times when I'm waiting for a layer of oil to dry and looking suspiciously at the word “Cadmium” that I will appreciate the speed and efficiency of the digital toolset. But in the end they are just different mediums. Lately I do my sketches in pencil before colouring them with the PC which gives me a nice mix of digital and traditional.

COAF - I know you obviously do artwork for book covers as well. What is your favourite area to work in?

MT - Horror! As much as I love fantasy I will -always- love working the horror theme. I just love creating an atmosphere with my work and being able to freak someone out with a painting enough that they want to pick up the book its on. Its a great feeling.

COAF - Do you prefer to work on your own ideas or commissioned work?

MT - Working as a freelance illustrator means that developing my own ideas is a bit of a luxury, but I do it when I can. Just never enough hours in the day it seems! Working for clients is great as it takes you out of your comfort zone and I feel you can learn a lot in the process which you can then apply to your own personal projects.

COAF - Take us through the process. How do you get from a blank page to the finished product?

MT - I sketch out some roughs, lately I have started doing thumbs to nail composition, negative space..etc.

Then do a larger sketch

Then I do the research which is a combination of studies and gathering reference materials. (A lot of the time the client also chips in with refs they themselves have thoughtfully collected for the project.)

Then the client generally approves the sketch and I start painting.

Towards the end the client will take a look at a color proof and request changes and critique the piece if needed. Its quite quick from that point until the final piece.

COAF - Who would be your artistic heroes or influences?

MT - long list. I am fortunate enough to rub shoulders with artists in the industry thanks to facebook who continue to mentor me and also serve as inspiration in turn. Folks who have made a living from doing what they love and laid the foundation for amateurs like me to pick up the reigns. Thinking here of all the people I am lucky to have made friends with on the Concept Art forums back in the day.

But -some- of the artists that influenced me since a kid would be:

Frank Frazetta
Boris Vallejo
Malcolm Barter
Gary Chalk
Iain McCaig
Denis Loubet

As well as the under-appreciated and oft nameless heroes of the pulp paperback, computer box art and VHS industry.

My favourite classical painter is definitely Rembrandt.

COAF - What do you like to do in your spare time when you’re not doing the artwork?

MT - Spend time with my wife and daughter and sleep when I can get it!

COAF – Moving on to Dead Roses, how did you get involved with this motley crew?

MT - Weird Tales featured one of my paintings on their Facebook page which caught the eye of Evans Light who then reached out to discuss working together.

COAF - Where you given an idea to work from for the cover or was it all original ideas from yourself?

MT - I was given a pretty descriptive brief but Evans and I share the same sense of aesthetics when it comes to horror covers so we were both on the same track from the start.

COAF - Did you read the stories to get a feel for it?

MT - I did not get the chance unfortunately, Evans summed up the mood of the book very well, that’s the great thing about working with writers. They also write great briefs.

COAF - The colours in the cover are fantastic. How do you decide on different shades of colours like that to bring it all together?

MT - Thanks! I usually try to keep a tight palette and choose a handful of colours and work within their range to keep everything cohesive, I've always been a fan of limited and muted palettes. Roses were the main theme as well as death. I like using warm colours in horror and felt it worked nicely for the retro look.

COAF - Did you paint this cover or was it all digital?

MT - This was actually painted in a program called Artrage. It simulates “real media” as if you were painting with oils. There are a couple of programs out there which do that, such as Painter. I personally like Artrage due its very friendly interface and great work space. I would not say that its quite the same as using real oil paints, but does give you much greater hands on feel than a lot of other digital painting programs.

COAF - I’ve noticed on the cover, near the bottom you have what look to be round mouths with loads of very sharp teeth. I have also noticed the same style of teeth on some of your other artwork. Is this like a trademark of yours?

MT - Yes definitely! Teeth are a symbol of power, a warning. The maw is like a gateway between our world and what lies beyond. At least that's my interpretation of it.


1 Who would you view as your main competitor in the art world?

Stock art that can be bought for a couple of bucks and used as a book cover. I am not unsympathetic to the cost of cover art, especially for new young authors...but I miss the painted covers and I really enjoy doing them.

2 What artistes work have you saw that you think should never have been painted?

My own. Some of my older stuff is so awful its a crime. Always learning and trying to improve so its comforting to see progress.

3 Is any of your artwork based on anything you have experienced in real life? If so what was it?

Not as such, but I think life experiences can shape your output. I worked in law enforcement for a time and I saw a lot of things which will be forever ingrained in my psyche. I also tend to have very vivid dreams, some of which I have begun painting.

4 Have you ever blatantly stolen an idea or scene and adapted it for one of your own paintings? If so, care to share?

Haha, well the toothy apple was originally based off a pulp cover I saw when I was about 7. I was never able to track it down as I could not remember its name...not until last year actually when I stumbled upon it quite by accident and recognised it instantly. “The Orchard” by Charles L Grant. It looked a bit different to what I remember, but the idea is there. Unfortunately I do not know who the artist is, I wish I did as I think its a fantastic painting. The image of fruit biting back is an idea I've seen a couple of times since then, I just wanted to paint my own version, but the seeds were planted by “The Orchard” (pun intended)

5 Have you ever anonymously left a bad review for someone else’s work? If so, care to share?

Never. I used to critique on art forums back in the day and also receive critiques in turn. Its essential to progress. Saying bad stuff anonymously just seems petty and spiteful.

6 What’s the one thing you are least proud of doing in your life and why?

I put my parents through a lot of stress during the hooligan teen years. Part of growing up, but I still feel guilty about it.

7 What’s the one thing you are MOST proud of doing in your life and why?

Beating cancer and becoming a dad. Need I say more? :) 

I have a wonderful support circle of friends. Even people I barely knew really wanted to know what they could do to help. My wife was by my side the whole time. Surgery was rough, but chemo was worse. That part is mostly a haze. But when I came out of it, I did so feeling very cared for indeed.

8 What’s your biggest fault?

I tend to worry a lot and let stuff bug me without taking the time to think things out from all angles. Definitely trying to be more zen.

9 What is your biggest fear?

I probably share the same fears that most parents have.

10 If you had to go to confession now, what would be the one thing you would need to get off your chest?

I stole one of my daughters teething biscuits.


There you have it. That's what it takes to be an artist, producing some of the wonderful images that give us so much joy on the outside of the books we all admire so much.

A very big thank you to Mike for agreeing to take part in this interview and giving us an insight into what he does.

If you would like to see more on the work Mike does please visit his website.

If you would like to contact Mike you can do so through his website or on his Facebook page here.

Don't forget to come back tomorrow for night two of the Dead Roses special when I have the first author interview with Edward Lorn

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