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bride of the wind assel

Covers of the Week #96: Steve Assel

Steve Assel, the romance cover artist, is better known by his real name, Steve Assael–the well-known fine artist. He has a distinct, unforgettable style that is hard to mistake for any other.

steve assel cover art assael

Artist: Steve Assel

It took some sleuthing to track down the person signing his romance cover illustrations as “S. Assel.” At least I had a name to work with, as many creators never sign their romance related-work. In this case, the artist slightly altered his surname to separate his cover art from his fine artwork.

Steve Assel, some books listed him, is actually Steven Assael, a very talented and well-known portrait painter.

Even if he had left no signature Steve Assel–or Assael–has a particular style that makes his covers fairly easy to distinguish. Most of his clinches–and solo covers–are set at night or in dark tones, so the light of the moon or setting sun surrounds his models with an ethereal glow.

Assel has created some of the most memorable covers in romance, including the three famous Fabio covers for Laura Kinsale and the now highly -prized collector’s edition covers for some early Beverly Jenkins books.

The Covers

For the week of Monday, March 20, 2023, to Sunday, March 26, 2023, our Covers of the Week showcases some covers by the talented Steve Assel (aka Steve Assael).

Theme Covers (from Left to Right, Top to Bottom)

  • Night Shadow, Catherine Coulter, Avon, 1989
  • Bride of the Wind, Shannon Drake, Avon, 1992
  • Night Fire, Cait London, Diamond, 1994
  • The Prince of Midnight, Laura Kinsale, Avon, 1990

And here’s one stepback–inside cover and outside– to show the style popularized by Assel, showing a solo hero on the front and a clinch for the interior.

Captive Legacy, Theresa Scott, Dorchester, 1996

Your Opinion?

What do you think of this week’s theme of romance covers illustrated by Steve Assel? Do any of the covers stand out to you as a favorite?

Do you have a recommendation for a future Covers of the Week theme? Let us know, and we’ll try it out.

As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

irish rose elaine gignilliat

Covers of the Week #93: Irish Roses

Irish Roses–wild or not–are the focus of this edition of Covers of the Week. St. Patrick’s Day is coming up soon, so Erin go Bragh!

irish rose romance covers

Theme: Irish Roses

The rose is the flower most often associated with romance. Regarding book titles, it’s the go-to blossom for the genre, followed by jasmine, lily, and heather. (Personally, I prefer tulips. But I can see how that might make for awkward-sounding titles.)

Because St. Patrick’s Day is quickly approaching, we thought displaying romances with Irish Rose covers would be fitting.

Having no idea what an actual Irish rose looked like, I was surprised to discover that “the official Irish Rose” (L. Aeonium arboreum) is a succulent. Succulents are hearty plants that, like cacti, should be easy for anyone to maintain. (Not me; every cactus and succulent to have been under my brown thumb came to a bad, sad end).

Originally native to North Africa and the Canary Islands, the rosette succulent forms branches that grow little bushes of bright yellow blossoms with star-shaped petals, which soon dies after the flowers bloom.

As for the wild Irish rose, Ireland is home to a wide variety of these floral beauties, including many hybrid forms. Each county boasts that their native–and naturalized–roses that climb hedgerows, hug rocky shores, or dot sandy land, are the most stunning to be found.

Most of these wildflowers bloom in June and July, their white, pink, and purple blossoms adding bright bursts of color to the Emerald Isle.

“My Wild Irish Rose… the sweetest flower that grows…”

“My Wild Irish Rose, Chancellor “Chauncey” Olcott. 1899

A Note

Around this time last year, Covers of the Week #49 also had an Irish theme. Since we already used Nora Roberts Irish Rose for that edition, one of the four titles here is not like the others. Even so, the book’s Irish setting and the cover’s loveliness make up for the slight inconsistency.

The Covers

For the week of Monday, March 6, 2023, to Sunday, March 12, 2023, our Covers of the Week theme is the Irish Roses.

Irish Rose Covers (from Left to Right, Top to Bottom)

Your Opinion

What do you think of this week’s theme of Irish Roses? Do any of the covers stand out to you as a favorite?

Do you have a recommendation for a future Covers of the Week theme? Let us know, and we’ll try it out.

As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

Victor Gadino Artwork for Sale at Fine Art America

Artist Victor Gadino is offering prints and products featuring his amazing romance cover art for sale at Fine Art America.

victor gadino art

Visit Fine Art America to Purchase Victor Gadino’s Art

As Sweet Savage Flame, we’re not shy about our adoration for New York artist Victor Gadino. Now here’s a fantastic chance for romance cover art enthusiasts to buy a masterpiece created by one of our favorite cover artists. At Fine Art America, Gadino is offering his beautiful work for sale.

His romance cover designs may be found on a wide range of products for extremely reasonable prices. You can get a small print for less than $20! If you really want to go all out, you can get a fully framed, portrait-sized print to display prominently in your home.

Maybe you can even own an original Gadino painting!

More Than Just Paintings, Many Fun Products For Sale

Gadino recently started offering some of his iconic romance oil paintings as affordable posters, notebooks, face masks, t-shirts, totes, phone cases, and other fun items on Fine Art America.

One just has to click here: Buy Victor Gadino Art. Or go to the FineArtAmerica.com site and search for “Victor Gadino” to see the items. The quality of the products is excellent, as one would expect from a maestro of sensuality.

We’ve highlighted Gadino’s erotic artwork many times here on this site. You can look at our Victor Gadino page to see some of his work for romance book covers.

Not only are these pieces beautiful, but they’re also a great way to add a little diversity to your walls.

victor gadino
Victor Gadino

The original artwork has been featured on the book covers of some of the most beloved romance novels ever. Now they are available for fans of Victor’s work to purchase in an array of stunning prints, canvases, and products.

Browse Victor’s pieces to find the perfect addition to your home, office, or collection. These unique and high-quality products make an excellent gift for any romantic at heart.

To learn more about Victor’s works and availability, check out his website for more information! In addition to selling giclee prints of your favorite covers, you can acquire his non-romance-related art from his site.

Act Fast or Miss Out Owning a Fantastic Work of Romance History

Don’t miss out on Victor’s beautiful artwork. Visit Fine Art America today to explore Victor Gadino’s art and purchase your favorite pieces.

Victor Gadino‘s artwork is extraordinary in its unique blend of modern and classic styles. His works bring us an entirely new perspective on art and creativity. Fine Art America is proud to offer these magnificent pieces of art for sale, so don’t miss this opportunity to own a piece of history!

Romance art is hot right now, and these pieces will go fast. Best of luck!

We hope these stunning Gadino images add beauty and joy to your days!


Covers of the Week #81: Heroes with Capes


Theme: Caped Heroes

There’s something quite dashing about a hero who wears a cloak or a cape that flows in the wind. He doesn’t need to be a vampire to rock the look, as the garment is a staple for noblemen in Historical romances.

Legend says Sir Walter Raleigh laid his cloak down on the wet grounds so his beloved Queen Elizabeth would not be forced to walk in the mud.

Often in romance novels, during lovemaking scenes set outdoors, the hero would spread his cape on the ground, at which point he and the heroine would make love.

The Covers

These caped crusader heroes are our focus for our Covers of the Week for Monday, December 12, 2022, to Sunday, December 18, 2022. Books featuring handsome men wearing cloaks are always eye-catching, and we hope you enjoy these selections.

The Covers from Left to Right, Top to Bottom

Your Opinion

What do you think of these covers featuring caped heroes? Have you read any of them? Which of our picks do you like the best, if any?

Do you have suggestions or requests for future Covers of the Week themes you’d like to see on Sweet Savage Flame? Let us know, and we’ll do our best to create a gallery of stunning art!

Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.


21 Old-School Cover Artists All Romance Readers Should 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.”


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!

swampfire ginsburg american flag

Covers of the Week #65

american flags on romance covers

Theme: American Flags

It’s Independence Day this week in the U.S.A. The day is known colloquially as the 4th of July. It’s a day of celebration. A day for friends and families to come together, for cook-outs, fireworks exploding in the sky, and hanging up Old Glory, the national flag.

Whether it’s the original Besty Ross version or the modern arrangement with 50 stars representing each state in the Union, I was surprised how many old-school romances display the U.S. flag.

Frankly, if you look at romances from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, many covers had flags on them. This is especially true if the plot relates to war. It could be the Union Jack, the Stars and Bars, the Lone Star flag, one flag that shall remain nameless, and every kind of medieval pennant imaginable.

The Covers

This week, we’re posting images of books that include American flags to celebrate this nation’s official day of inception.

For Monday, July 4, 2022, to Sunday, July 10, 2022, our Covers of the Week spotlights Old Glory on romance covers.