Category Archives: Sharon Spiak

21-cover-artist-to-know

21 Old-School Cover Artists All Romance Readers Should Know

21-cover-artist-to-know

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. WoodiwissThe 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.”

(Source: Vanity Fair)

2. H. Tom Hall

H. Tom Hall’s artwork for romance book covers is legendary. His technique is instantly recognizable: refined and sensual.

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 Bennetts 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.”

TOM BENNETT, KILLER COVERS OF THE WEEK

4. Elaine Duillo

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.”

Pino, (2006)

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.

7. Max Ginsburg

Max Ginsburg‘s fine art is considered to be contemporary realism. He excels at depicting emotional scenes,

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 Kane could.

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.

17. Melissa Duillo-Gallo

Melissa Duillo-Gallo, daughter of artists John and Elaine Duillo, was influenced by both her parents, her mother’s romance covers in particular.

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.

21. Charles Geer

Charles Geer might be known to readers of children’s books published from the 1960s to the 1980s–two of which he wrote himself.

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!

Your Opinion

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?

Please drop us a comment, and let’s talk romance!

the hawk and the dove

A Closer Look At Sharon Spiak

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Sharon Spiak at work

Spiak, The Book Cover Illustrator

Illustrator and fine-art painter Sharon Spiak has made a name for herself in the romance industry for producing various gorgeous covers for many bestselling authors. She also had the privilege to paint Fabio almost as much as the Duillo ladies did.

Hailing from the state of New York, Spiak studied fine arts at SUNY-New Paltz. She continued her studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, where she trained under prolific romance master Pino Daeni.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Spiak would design hundreds of book covers, working with the top models and publishers.

Although Pino mentored her, Spiak was not his imitator. Her style is both uniquely her own and yet hard to pin down.

The heroes and heroines Spiak paints have gorgeous hair flowing in waves or curls. While she adds extensive detail to backgrounds, the use of color in the foreground results in eye-catching covers.

Like many artists, Spiak would have her models photographed in poses before sketching several possible covers. Spiak painted in various mediums, playing with hues and light to make her images pop out.

Spiak, The Book Covers

Among some of the earlier covers, Sharon Spiak produced were these two for Pocket Books’ Tapestry imprint.

Notice that despite the similarities in the covers, they have distinct looks. Memory’s Embrace looks almost similar to the works of Elaine Gignilliat, while the sunset and attention to fabric detail marks Chelaine as uniquely different.

memory's embrace spiak
Memory’s Embrace, Linda Lael Miller, Pocket Books (Tapestry #80), 1986
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Chelaine, Donna Comeaux-Zide, Pocket Books (Tapestry #83), 1986

Spiak became famous for Virginia Henley’s romances. The Hawk and the Dove‘s cover was produced in 1988. Below is the artwork and cover for Henley’s 1991 The Dragon and the Jewel.

The male model is Fabio. Notice the tattoo on the hero before tattoos were cool. I have a question, however. Why did the poor horse get erased? Was it because he was staring too intently at the viewer?

Three romance novelists Spiak would collaborate frequently with were Heather Graham, Dorothy Garlock, and Virginia Henley.

By the end of the 1990s’, digital artwork was becoming more popular, cheaper, and easier to produce. Spiak would continue to create beautiful covers, but their look changed.

Sharon Spiak, Fine Artist

Although Spiak still exhibits her book cover art, she now focuses on a different passion: fine art. She paints portraits, landscapes, and still lifes.

Spiak works in oils, watercolors, pencils, and pastels. Commissions for new paintings are accepted.

A field where she has distinguished herself is in her lovely portraits of family animals and pets.

You can view samples of her paintings at her professional website https://sharonspiak.jimdofree.com/.

No, your beloved pooch won’t have to sit for hours to have his image created, for as with her models, Spiak uses photographs for reference.

Sweet Savage Flame has dedicated a page to her book covers, which you can access here or on the MENU under COVER ARTISTS.

More of Sharon Spiak’s romance artwork can be found at Sharon Spiak Romance Art. You can even purchase a bit of romance history, depending on the size of your wallet. Original book cover art is available for sale in the form of oil paintings on linen or limited giclee prints.

Ms. Spiak works and lives in upstate New York with her family.

passions treasure

Historical Romance Review: Passion’s Treasure (aka Just Say Yes) by Betina Krahn

betina krahn historical romance
Passion’s Treasure (aka Just Say Yes) by Betina Krahn
Rating: three-stars
Published: 1989
Illustrator: Sharon Spiak
Imprint or Line: Zebra Heartfire
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Georgian Era Romance, Colonial Era Romance, Historical Romance
Pages: 448
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AbeBooks
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon


Historical Romance Review: Passion’s Treasure (aka Just Say Yes) by Betina Krahn

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

This review is of Passion’s Treasure by Betina Krahn, a standalone Zebra Heartfire romance from March 1989. More recently, the novel was republished and retitled Just Say Yes.

The Plot

Part One

Passion’s Treasure begins in the town of Culpepper, Maryland Colony, 1748. We meet Treasure Barrett, one of 10 children born to Aniss and Buck Barrett. Treasure is an intelligent, precocious child. The townspeople are encouraged to allow those qualities free rein. As the book begins, Treasure, age 9, learns about “sport.”

Fast forward nearly 9 years.

A sad pall has come over Culpepper. The town’s most prominent citizen, Squire Darcy Renville, has passed away. His estranged son, Sterling Renville, the book’s hero arrives from England and demands that the villagers–who are all in hock to Squire Darcy in one way or another–pay back their debts. Otherwise, he will seize their property and make them all homeless. He will then return to his home in England.

The town turns to Treasure, the town thinker, now nearly 18, for help.

Treasure comes up with a plan to get under Sterling’s skin and make his time in Culpepper miserable. The plan succeeds quite well. There is an unplanned side effect: he becomes interested in her, and she in him.

Shocked and dismayed to discover their “thinker” is a woman like any other, the townspeople scheme to get Treasure and Sterling married.

just say yes
Just Say Yes, Betina Krahn, Zebra, 2002 Reissue Edition

Part Two

The marriage takes place, and the wedding night is great. But the next morning isn’t, as Sterling discovers he’s been tricked into the marriage. (He erroneously blames Treasure).

He wants an annulment, but since their marriage was consummated, that won’t happen. Sterling then takes Treasure away from Culpepper, taking her to England with him.

On the trip and during their time in England, Treasure and Sterling’s relationship takes on its primary form. When they are making love, they are connected; when they’re not, there is a canyon between them, emotionally, mentally, and physically.

When they arrive in England, Treasure and Sterling’s marriage continues down its rocky road. However, their relationship improves once Sterling realizes she loves him and he loves her. He starts working on accepting her for who she is.

There is also a “B” storyline involving members of Sterling’s family, his best friend, and a business deal he is involved in which reaches the highest levels of the British government.

In the end of Passion’s Treasure, Treasure and Sterling return to the colonies, have five children in the next 1tenyears, and enjoy their Happily Ever After.

The ache driving through her was terrible. Now she knew the awful truth of it. She could love these books with all the learning and wisdom they represented with everything that was in her, but they would never love her back. She needed to be held just now, and only a pair of human arms that moved at the impulse of a human heart could provide that. There were some needs that knowledge, however grand, however necessary, could never fill.

Upside

In my reading experience–which encompasses many years and thousands of books–it is very rare to see a romance novel where the heroine’s beauty is somewhat de-emphasized. Although Treasure certainly checks off the romance novel heroine boxes for beauty, it’s her capabilities that are emphasized. Treasure’s skills and knowledge as a thinker are the primary focus of the book’s first half. She is a smart, delightful character who is well-written.

Downside

I didn’t like Sterling overall, but it’s more complicated than it sounds.

During the first two-thirds of the book, Sterling is an obnoxious bastard. He is arrogant, condescending, egotistical, and elitist. He views the citizens of Culpepper as “colonial bumpkins.” Sterling calls Treasure “that colonial chit” and is shocked–shocked, I tell you!–to discover that she won’t just willingly lie down and spread her legs for him. Doesn’t she know who he is?!

In the last third of Passion’s Treasure (aka Just Say Yes), Ms. Krahn informs readers why Sterling acts the way he does. Without giving too much away, it has to do with his relationship with his father, the pressures of his life, and his personal value system.

Knowing these things, however, does not excuse or justify his bad behavior. When Sterling realizes he loves Treasure, and she loves him, he makes efforts to change his actions. These efforts are somewhat successful.

Sex

Multiple love scenes in the book, but none reach any particular level of heat or romanticism.

Violence

A person Treasure believes to be a friend tries to rape her; Sterling prevents the attack from taking place. Sterling is also involved in two fistfights. The violence is not graphic.

Bottom Line on Passion’s Treasure/ Just Say Yes

I vacillated a bit on how to rate Betina Krahns’ Passion’s Treasure (aka Just Say Yes).

Does one-third of good behavior override two-thirds of bad behavior? That is an individual decision for those who read this book.

For me, it doesn’t completely. Sometimes, I felt this was a 2-star book, other times a 4-star read.

In the end, if using a 1-10 scale, I would give Passion’s Treasure a 6, and using a 1 to 5-star scale, a solid three stars.

3 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
3
Characters
3
Writing
3
Chemistry
2
Fun Factor
3
Cover
4
Overall: 3

Synopsis

PRICELESS LESSONS

Violet-eyed Treasure Barrett had a passion for learning. Everyone in the village of Culpepper knew the best way to solve a problem was to ask Treasure-she was a thinker. So when the late squire’s son demanded that the impoverished villagers pay back their longstanding loans, it fell to Treasure to deal with him. But the arrogant, handsome Sterling Renville was not a man to be reasoned with…or ignored. Even as he infuriated her with insulting insinuations, he confused her with calculating caresses. And Treasure soon realized that her thirst for knowledge had not prepared her for the hungers of desire!

PRECIOUS ECSTASY

Sterling Renville had come to the backwoods village to claim his inheritance and claim it he would. No colonial chit was going to convince him to return to Philadelphia with nothing but debts to show for his efforts. If the beautiful Miss Barrett wanted a battle, he’d be happy to oblige. But while she would fight with logic, he had more enjoyable weapons in mind. He’d disarm her with heated kisses, overwhelm her with astounding sensations, and win her surrender with a blaze of ecstasy that would brand her forever as Passion’s Treasure.

Passion’s Treasure (aka Just Say Yes) by Betina Krahn
Winter Roses gregg gulbronson

Covers of the Week #4

May is upon us! May your days be full of love and joy!

Here are some beautiful May-deval romance covers to enjoy for the week of May 3 to May 9. (Groan! That’s an awful pun!)

Please enjoy these Medieval romance covers!