What do you get for the Ruth Rendell fan who has just about everything? How about an original painting that was used as a cover illustration for one of her books. Between 1981 and 1990, artist Andrew Skilleter was the go-to guy for Arrow Books whenever they released a Ruth Rendell paperback. In all he created the cover illustrations for over 40 mystery books written by the author, and 37 of the original artworks are now up for sale – including The Lake of Darkness, New Lease of Death and the CWA Gold Dagger winner Live Flesh.
Prices start at around £100, and if you purchase an original artwork, in many cases the artist will also supply you with the cover proof created by the designers for the paperback, with the typography applied to the image. “Each one was a fresh challenge and the most creative part was coming up with the idea,” says Andrew Skilleter. “A Guilty Thing Surprised is rather special to me – the idea and the painting coming together to produce an undeniable strong and pleasing image.”
The earlier images in the series were painted with gouache on illustration board, but later on the artist switched to acrylic. Many years ago, the pieces were shown at an exhibition at the Murder One bookshop in London, where the artist and author met. Though she never had any say over the cover imagery other than what she wrote in her books, one of her favourites is Murder Being Once Done. Rather than Ruth Rendell, Skilleter answered to the art directors at Arrow Books.
However, he took all his inspiration from the manuscripts he was sent, reading every book he illustrated. “This was half the job,” he explains,”reading and desperately hoping Ms Rendell will have written something that would be brilliant to use or that my brain would come up with up with something. A regular theme is something soft and something hard combined, for example the rose and the skull, the hammer and the flower.”
We love illustrated covers
The style of the imagery harks back to the late 70s and early 80s when book cover illustration was in its heyday across the fiction genres. Cover illustrators brought individuality and unique touches to the authors and characters their work was associated with. Here on Crime Fiction Lover we’re big fans of those beautifully crafted book jackets. Today such covers are unusual in crime fiction, unless the book falls into the pulp sub-genre and/or the publisher wants to market it using a retro aesthetic.
“Things have moved on as they must,” muses the artist. “The best covers these days are for older children and young adult, and perhaps fantasy. The present Rendells appear formulaic, cold and lack inspiration. So many covers generally these days consist of minimalist type and a depressing, if cool, photograph. But of course there are still some great covers.”
Below, we’ve brought you five of Andrew Skilleter’s pieces which are all up for sale. To see more of his work, and to make a purchase, visit his website here. Andrew Skilleter is also well known in the world of science fiction for his many Dr Who illustrations.