I got a call last week from Newsweek to do a cover for a story about the hunt for Genghis Khan's tomb. Khan has been a bit of a mystery to archaelogists. He was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in Asia and has never been found. New research is pointing to the location, and the possible riches that could be buried there.
From Newsweek: In the eight hundred years since his death, people have sought in vain for the grave of Genhis Khan, the 13th-century conqueror and imperial ruler who, at the time of his death, occupied the largest contiguous empire, stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Pacific. In capturing most of central Asia and China, his armies killed and pillaged but also forged new links between East and West. One of history’s most brilliant and ruthless leaders, Khan remade the world.
But while the life of the conqueror is the stuff of legend, his death is shrouded in the mist of myths. Some historians believe he died from wounds sustained in battle; others that he fell off his horse or died from illness. And his final burial place has never been found. At the time great steps were taken to hide the grave to protect it from potential grave robbers. Tomb hunters have little to go on, given the dearth of primary historical sources. Legend has it that Khan’s funeral escort killed anyone who crossed their path to conceal where the conqueror was buried. Those who constructed the funeral tomb were also killed—as were the soldiers who killed them. One historical source holds that 10,000 horsemen “trampled the ground so as to make it even”; another that a forest was planted over the site, a river diverted.
First step in putting the cover together was to gather reference, both from the art directors and the web. Since he has never been found, clear reference to his characteristics or bone structure is nonexistent. There are numerous renderings and sculptures that indicate what he may have looked like. I set out to try and make my own version.
Sketching to try to get some facial structure and basic shapes down.
These are some small rough color sketches I submitted to the art director just to indicate some things about the basic look. When working on a cover, I usually try several color and contrast combinations to see what has the most impact. Decisions on the backgrounds, for example, can affect the pop of the type that goes on top of it and so on. I was asked to try including a map in the background to indicate Khan's conquered lands. One version above would have had him in brown line drawn on the parchment map itself.
Rough Color Sketch
The art directors asked if I could try one more sketch version where the portrait felt more like a gilded mask or statue. I sketched the image above quickly in photoshop to give them an idea. Kind of like where that was headed as well. I got the o.k. to go to finish on one of the earlier renderings and moved ahead to the final portrait.
The type set map I was provided wasn't working as an overlay on the background, not cohesive with the drawing. So I went ahead and painted my own map on a piece of bark paper, scanned it and added it to the background of the final.
This is the final art, with space for the logo and type all around. Many thanks to Lindsay Ballant, Robert Dileso, and Tina Brown at Newsweek for the wonderful assignment.