Artist James Griffin is a fine artist who has been illustrating romance covers since the 1970s. He has painted covers for almost every major romance publisher, getting his big start with Fawcett. He famously painted many stunning covers for Jennifer Blake
His career in romance continued well into the 2010s and as he moved from painting in oils to using digital technology.
James Griffin‘s covers from the 1980s and 1990s are quite distinct from his 21st-century ones, even though both periods are stunning.
His “classic” era artwork is dramatic with windswept hair and passionate embraces. James Griffin’s graceful aesthetic resulted in romance covers that emotionally resonated with readers.
For the week of Monday, December 12, 2022, to Sunday, December 18, 2022, our Covers of the Week focuses on the early romance covers painted by artist James Griffin.
21 of the Best Historical Romance Cover Illustrators
I adore romances from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, partly due to the beautiful cover art. Over the years, I’ve amassed thousands of dazzling images. It’s a fun hobby trying to discover the artists who created them.
This compilation began as an attempt to list the ten artists every lover of old-school romances and clinch covers should know. Ten became fifteen, then twenty. Finally, I settled on 21 illustrators to identify.
This catalog of names consists of some of the best romance cover artists of all time.
That doesn’t mean these are the only artists to know, as this list is limited to historical romances written in the last third of the 20th century.
These 21 entries provide a starting point for the novice learner.
1. Robert McGinnis
Robert McGinnis illustrated Gothic books before he turned to mainstream romance.
His first bodice ripper was Avon‘s reissue of Kathleen E. Woodiwiss‘ The Flame and the Flower. McGinnis then designed the cover for her sophomore outing, The Wolf and the Dove. His suggestive clinches for Johanna Lindsey, Patricia Hagan, and Laura Parker gained him acclaim and notoriety.
McGinnis worked almost exclusively in tempera paints.
His mature, angular style was an instant draw for romance. McGinnis created the first naked man covers, which delighted genre fans.
But it was the McGinnis woman who was a being of legend. McGinnis depicted the feminine form in a most alluring fashion.
“The McGinnis Woman possesses a whirling narrative force all her own, a perfumed cyclone of sexuality, savvy, mystery, and danger. She also sells books—lots and lots of books.”
The strokes are broad yet precise. Hall’s scenes contain a dark, smoky essence. The heroines’ long locks flow wildly, while the heroes’ faces are shadowed and inscrutable.
Hall had a sensitive, respectful touch when portraying people of different races and ethnicities. Thus his illustrations were prominent on paperbacks set all over the world.
3. Harry Bennett
Harry Bennett‘s dazzling style of swirls and whorls of flowing hair may be especially familiar to fans of Pocket Books‘ early historical romances. He created memorable covers for Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and Jude Deveraux.
While his work inspired many other artists, Harry Bennett’s covers have been confused with those of H. Tom Hall. While their depictions might appear similar, a keen eye needs only to look at the faces of the male models to spot the difference.
Of his artwork, Bennett’s son Tom, also a painter, said:
“My father had a great facility with mediums, and he experimented and adapted to new trends with different techniques. His favorite medium above all, in both his painting and illustration, was oil.
He also worked extensively in egg tempera, inks, and various combinations of tempera and oil. In the 1950s and early ’60s he worked a great deal in water-based media like gouache.
Later, he would occasionally work in acrylic. But late in his career, it was almost exclusively oil with a black oil medium.”
Elaine Duillo was the undisputed “Queen of Romance Covers.” She started in pulp fiction before moving on to Gothics and romance.
Duillo was not ashamed to be sexy and outrageous with her art. She embraced camp to the hilt. Her reverence for beauty and perfection made her creative style a wonder to behold.
Duillo’s technique was marked by hyper-realism, unparalleled attention to detail, and a vast palette of colors.
Elaine would paint light hues onto a black canvas. This achieved stunning results for elements such as platinum-blonde or red-gold flowing waves of hair or sumptuous, satin gowns that looked like one could touch them.
Duillo worked in acrylics and oils. She placed her signature, “Elaine,” as close to the bodies as possible.
Her daughter Melissa Duillo-Gallo also produced romance covers, in a manner similar to Elaine’s.
5. Pino Daeni
Pino Daeni’s brushstrokes, the curves of his feminine subjects, and their facial expressions make his covers uniquely recognizable.
Daeni was always willing to experiment with different methods and poses. He was one of the early artists to employ the wraparound cover design and the pose and clinch style.
Pino worked in oils and preferred to stand while painting.
Pino’s innovative technique precedes him. He mixed impressionism and realism to create his own intoxicating style.
“I used to paint in the academic way. Then I changed. I could no longer stay with just one school. Everything was interesting to me. I was curious about various schools of thought.”
6. Elaine Gignilliat
Elaine Gignilliat designed covers for hundreds of romances. Her artwork demonstrated exquisite attention to detail, especially with the textures of fabrics and hair. Her use of bright colors against dark backdrops made for remarkable images.
Like most other cover artists of her day, Gignilliat worked in oils.
Also, like many other of her contemporaries, Gignilliat designed covers for epic historical blockbusters and shorter category romances.
After making the initial sketches for a cover, she would start her paintings by drawing everything in oil with a small brush.
Next, she established the color values, where the darkest, middle tones, and lightest areas would be. Then she would add the general colors in a light oil wash.
Afterward, the real painting began as Gignilliat developed the faces and hands, giving them more color and form. This eventually resulted in a beautiful picture which was then made into a book cover.
Ginsburg’s book covers are more romantic than sensual. The edges of his subjects blur into the background,
While Ginsburg could display the human body in an alluring way, his covers were rarely gratuitous.
He has a compassionate eye that highlights the humanity of his subjects. Like H. Tom Hall, Ginsburg has a talent for empathetically painting people of diverse heritages.
Ginsburg’s style influenced many artists of Avon covers in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
8. Morgan Kane
No one could capture the ornate, intricate patterns of fabrics as Morgan Kanecould.
Whether presenting a lacy gown, a multi-textured cape, or a mosaic of hues on a blanket, Kane can make one can feel the material just as well as one sees it.
In contrast, he depicted human forms in a much softer manner. The difference between the grounded beauty of his subjects against ornate backgrounds, textiles, or flowers makes for a visual treat.
9. Robert A. Maguire
Robert A. Maguire was another of the many illustrators who created lurid pulp covers. While his pulp art was highly sexualized, his romance covers are more sedate.
An emotional connection is the focus, not sex. The faces of Maguire’s females are delicate, with thickly-lashed eyes and rosebud lips.
Maguire played light and dark tones against each other in an enchanting manner. His method is not surreal nor hyperreal. Instead, it is idealized unrealism, approaching the imagined perfection of a cartoon.
Like Elaine Duillo, Maguire often placed his signature–“R. A. Maguire”–as close to the bodies as possible, in the shade lighter than the background.
10. Roger Kastel
Famous for his movie posters, Roger Kastel‘s romance style shares similarities with that of Maguire & most significantly, Max Ginsburg.
Kastel favored a romantic, blurred technique instead of a precise, angular reality.
Kastel’s brushstrokes fused colors together, creating a hazy aura around the couples.
11. Walter & Marie Popp
Walter and Marie Popp designed Regency, Gothic, and bodice ripper covers. Each genre had its own method to it.
The Gothics were shrouded in darkness and mist.
Regencies were marked with a sweet, crisp quality.
For the historical romance covers, the Popps embraced sexy with their curvaceous heroines and muscular heroes.
The female faces look similar, as Walter often used his wife Marie, a model, as his muse. Their expressions are a variation of hers, from their full lips to their round eyes.
12. Victor Gadino
The great Victor Gadino‘s technique is masterful. His attention to fine detail is exquisite.
Note the musculature of the hero’s abdominal and pectorals, the lace on the hem of the heroine’s skirts, the silk pattern of pillows, and the heavy-lidded eyes in the hero’s lusty expression.
His use of jewel-tone colors results in covers that sparkle like precious gems.
More than any other artist since Elaine Duillo, Gadino’s art is typified by a carnal sensuality. His approach is hyperrealistic, with figures as close to perfection as the human eye can conceive.
13. Sharon Spiak
Sharon Spiak’s mentor, the Italian master artist, Pino Daeni, was a massive inspiration to her when she was his apprentice.
She painted in oils, creating an atmosphere of enchantment always backed by passion. Spiak’s paintings for romance novels capture sensuality, beauty, and fantasy by captivating the viewer in the intimacy of the moment.
Her approach differs from cover to cover. There is always a delicacy to the females’ features and a lovely interplay of pastels against darker tones.
14. John Ennis
John Ennis utilizes a “Disney Princess” method of painting, as his human images are beautiful but unrealistic. His covers have a fanciful, almost cartoon-like, fairy-tale quality. His work is based more on fantasy than romanticism.
Ennis played around with shades of light and contrasting hues, resulting in striking covers that made him a natural fit for Zebra.
If one notes the texture of the heroines’ hair, one can see individual strands and curls against blocks of solid color.
Like Franco Accornero, John Ennis was an early innovator of digital artwork.
15. Franco Accornero
Franco Accornero, also known as “Franco,” pioneered computerized art design. Due to his fascination with the capabilities of technology, Franco always pushed boundaries.
Before he transitioned to digital artwork in the 1990s, Franco worked primarily in oils.
As an independent freelance artist, he was responsible for all cover design elements, from setting up the scene to models, costumes, and props. He arranged various poses with different lighting arrangements.
His fine director’s eye created a dramatic and flattering balance of light and shadow.
Franco would use a wind machine in the photo sessions to get that flowing hair look.
16. Renato Aime
Renato Aime worked primarily in oils in addition to other mediums. He frequently designed covers for Dorchester and Kensington, two publishing houses that hired artists with an eye for the outlandish.
Aime captured the curvaceous female forms in contrast against the more rigid muscles of the males in a most pleasing way.
While Aime’s technique is recognizable as his own, it does bear some resemblance to his fellow Italian illustrators. One can see similarities to the covers of Pino Daeni and Franceso Accornero. Note the blending of colors and the identifiable strokes.
Elaine’s work is titillating and highly elaborate. Melissa’s art tends to the sweeter side with more playful emotions. Duillo-Gallo applied flamboyantly bright colors, exemplifying the feel of the 1980s and 1980s.
After she married, Melissa signed her covers as Gallo, not Duillo. Unlike her mother, she usually placed her signature away from the bodies.
Melissa also used less eyeshadow than her mother did, which is saying something!
18. Gregg Gulbronson
Gregg Gulbronson utilized a distinctive approach, making his covers both breathtaking and easy to recognize. Romance, sexuality, fantasy, and reality all meld together in Gulbronson’s art.
Gulbronson used spraying/airbrushing techniques, which made for a striking and individualized look.
Enveloped in a romantic haze, the couples in clinches are surrounded by a dreamy ambiance. The figures seem to glow as the light plays against their hair, skin, and clothes.
19. Ray Kursar
Ray Kursar was yet another artist with a noticeable style. His paintings look more like drawings. Kursar worked with multiple mediums to create his illustrations, such as pastels and watercolors.
He employed various elements to make his covers stand out: emphasis on bright colors, flowers, animals, and fabrics.
Hair is constantly flowing in the wind, while the locks of waves and curls are well-defined.
20. James Griffin
James Griffin‘s covers from the 1980s and 1990s are quite distinct from his 21st-century ones, even though both periods are stunning.
The late-era clinches are made digitally and approach hyperrealism.
Griffin’s illustrations of the “classic” era are more dramatic, with windswept hair and passionate embraces. The couples are shown leaning back or lying down, rarely standing straight up.
His graceful aesthetic resulted in book covers that emotionally resonated with the romance reader.
Geer’s style is so distinct. There is much going on in his images, whether sketches or paintings.
His attention to the tiniest of subjects amazes the eye. He used uniform brush strokes to create spectacular backgrounds, intricate curls in the hair, or elaborate textures in clothing. The bright pigments twinkle like stars against their darker settings.
Geer’s scenes appear dream-like but are far more memorable.
Final Thoughts on Cover Artists
Sweet Savage Flame believes it’s essential to keep the memory of these skilled cover illustrators and their works alive.
Hopefully, by familiarizing yourself with these artists’ techniques, you’ll quickly identify their covers on sight. No more having to confirm with a signature!
Do you think this a fair compilation of some best romance cover artists? Who are your favorite old-school illustrators?
Is there an artist you think we should have placed on this list but missing? What are your thoughts on painted versus digital cover art?
By the mid-1970s, the romance genre was hot, from historical romances to family sagas to Gothics to category romances.
It was no surprise when Hollywood would come knocking at the door. Despite the vast number of romance novels written and sold, surprisingly few of them were adapted to the screen.
In the last quarter of the 20th century, there would be a smattering of romance novels turned into movies, from Harlequin, Pocket Books, and other publishers.
Leopard in the Snow by Anne Mather, 1974
Mildred Grieves, better known to romance readers as Anne Mather, was Harlequin’s best-selling author in the 1970s. Her Harlequin Presents novels were fresh, exciting, and sensual.
Her 1974 romance, Leopard In the Snow, was a hit with readers. It has been republished several times and was–at one point–available on Kindle, although it doesn’t appear to be so now. The original edition of this book is highly prized, hard to find, and expensive if you do.
Helen simply couldn’t believe her eyes when, stranded in the snow in the wilds of Cumberland, she found herself confronted by a leopard! But luckily it was a tame one, and its owner, the mysterious Dominic Lyall, was able to offer Helen shelter in his house.
Soon, however, the situation turned into a nightmare as she realized that he intended to keep her there, virtually a prisoner – and no one had any idea where to start searching for her! How could she get away? And, as time went by, did she want to get away?
Yet she was only too well aware that if Dominic did decide to let her go, it would only be because he wanted to get rid of her for good…
English-born Anne Mather sold millions of books worldwide for Harlequin. She had an American counterpart in JanetDailey. By the end of the 1970s, Dailey was Harlequin’s only American writer and an extremely popular one.
After producing more than 50 books with Harlequin, Dailey signed a massive deal with Simon & Schuster to write category and full-length romances for their Pocket Books Division and new Silhouette imprint.
She and her husband Bill developed a movie studio of their own, Ramblin’ Films, to produce their own films.
Foxfire Light by Janet Dailey, 1983
Janet Dailey‘s Silhouette Special Edition #36, Foxfire Light, was from 1982 and was the Daileys’ first foray into filmmaking.
The original Special Edition version is hard to find, but the book is available on Kindle.
In the wooded Ozark hills Joanna met proud-hearted Linc Wilder. His gold-flecked eyes mocked her, his country-born spirit clashed with her city-wise ways. His lean body challenged her, sparking her senses till Joanna was as sweetly glowing as the foxfire that lit their nights.
This was no will-o’-the-wisp, to slip away in the dark, but a bright and shining love to show the way into tomorrow.
This was the Daileys production company’s only romantic adaptation to film. The movie came out in 1983 and was neither a commercial nor a critical success.
It starred Leslie Morgan and Tippi Hedren as the heroine’s parents and Faye Grant and Barry van Dyke as the young lovers.
Ride the Thunder (aka When a Spider Bites) by Janet Dailey, 1980
A decade after the release of Foxfire Light, the Daileys would have another of Janet’s books transferred to the big screen. This time, it was one of her full-length novels, Pocket Books’ Ride the Thunder. Bill Dailey acted as an Executive Producer.
Ride the Thunder is still available on the Kindle version. If you can get your hands on the original copy, it is a collector’s item, as it’s one of the first stepback romances.
From the Driving Power of Manhattan’s Penthouses to the High, Wild Beauty of Idaho’s Mountains, a Love Story That Rides the Thunder!
Jordanna Smith was the wild and willowy daughter of a prominent banker and a glamorous socialite, a globe-trotting huntress who sought the world’s big game at her father’s side. No man was her father’s equal in her eyes–until the night she met the rugged stranger who, in one frenzied and exalted moment, tapped the roots of a desire she had never known.
Fleeing to Idaho to join her father’s hunting party, she hoped to forget the bronzed stranger’s fiery touch. But there he was — her stranger, their guide, Brig McCord.
Their days were filled with the wild beauty of the hunt, their nights with the primitive fire of their passion. But soon their idyll was shattered by jealousy, betrayal and murder.
Now Jordanna would have to face the hidden truths about her father and her brother, and a secret that already had claimed one life and threatened to destroy her newfound love.
The title was changed from Ride the Thunder to When a Spider Bites to make the film sound less pornographic, more suspenseful.
When A Spider Bites had a small budget of $350,000. The film starred Andrew Lamond as Brig McCord and Sharon Young as Jordanna ‘Dannie’ Smith. It was released in 1993.
When Jordanna Smith accepts an invitation to accompany her father & three others on a hunting trip into the Idaho mountains, she doesn’t know the trip will lead to both romance & murder – & that the motive for each will be revenge.
LOVE IN A STRANGER’S EYES… ELLY In town, they called her “Crazy Widow Dinsmore.” But Elly was no stranger to their ridicule–she had been an outsider all her life, growing up in a boarded-up old house under the strict eye of her eccentric grandparents. Now she was all alone, with two little boys to raise, and a third child on the way. WILL He drifted into Whitney, Georgia, one lazy afternoon in the summer of 1941, hoping to put his lonely past behind him. He yearned for the tenderness he had never known, the home he’d never had. All he needed was for someone to give him a chance. Then he saw her classified ad: WANTED–A husband. When he stepped across Elly Dinsmore’s cluttered yard, Will Parker knew he had come home at last …
Morning Glory was made into a film in 1993, starring Christopher Reeve as Will Parker and Deborah Raffin as Elly Dinsmore. Although it was not a box office hit by any means, it received some critical acclaim.
The movie has gone on to be an appreciated romance classic.
You can watch Morning Glory on Youtube:
Have you seen any of these movies based on romance novels? Have you read the original books? Let us know!