Alumnus Illustrates Best-Selling Children’s Series

December 26th, 2011 by Katlin McNally
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The Inheritance Trilogy, from the author's website.

Once again a stunning illustration by CCAD alumnus John Jude Palencar is gracing the cover of a New York Times best-selling novel.

Published in November, Inheritance by Christopher Paolini is the fourth in a series, and it is holding steady at number three (at the time of this posting) in the New York Times best-selling children’s series list.

The series, which  follows a young boy named  Eragon and his dragon Saphira, includes the novels Eragon, Eldest, Brisinger, and Inheritance.

From the beginning, Palencar wanted to challenge what people expected from the cover art of a fantasy novel.

“Many readers wanted me to focus on the boy, Eragon, riding his blue dragon, with the dragon’s body displayed in all its glory,” said Palencar.

Instead, he opted to create portraits of the dragons featured in the books. He focused on the personality traits of each dragon, adding detailed expressions to the illustrations and shying away from bared teeth and fire.

“I wanted to do a simple portrait, something that would be instantly recognizable and could continue throughout the series,” said Palencar, an illustration major who graduated in 1980. “I prefer to create symbols instead of visually dictating the content to the viewer, since curiosity will entice the viewer just as much.”

Palencar didn’t stop with the portraits; he also created the title font. In an original sketch he wrote the name Eragon beneath the portrait; this hand-drawn font was then used on all subsequent covers.

Palencar’s professional relationship with the author has evolved into a good friendship over the course of their collaboration. The relationship began when the creative art director for the publisher of the series hired Palencar—without knowing that Paolini was a fan of Palencar’s work and had named Eragon’s birthplace, Palancar Valley, after the artist.

“You could even say it was divine providence or serendipity that brought us together,” said Palencar.

Palencar has been freelancing since the age of 15. He did work for American Greetings, Ohio Magazine, The Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine, and others while a student at CCAD. In his senior year, he won the top cash award at the Society of Illustrators student show. His success grew rapidly as he accepted book contract after book contract.

He has illustrated hundreds of book covers in more than 30 countries. His work has graced the jackets of books by well-known authors such as Marion Zimmer Bradley, Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, Ursula Le Guin, and more. He also has worked with national publications including National Geographic, TIME magazine, and Smithsonian magazine.

Currently Palencar is working on new, personal work that he plans to exhibit within the next year.

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