I’ve been waiting a long, long time to finally show you this: My friend and colleague Susan Demeter –whom I first became acquainted with on account of our mutual participation in the UFOs: Reframing the Debate anthology– asked me at the beginning of this year to design the cover of her first solo book, which is being published by the Italian editorial company Le Due Torri in both Italian and English.
La Strega (English title: Cosmic Witch) is not only an exploration into the ancient origins of witchcraft and its more modern manifestations in the XXth and XXIst century, but it’s also a biographical book in which Susan shares with the reader the arduous albeit fascinating journey that led to her self-recognition as a witch. No, that does not mean she can turn people into toads or fly with a broom (although that certainly would come in very handy nowadays!). If you read Dean Radin’s book Real Magic you will come to understand that “witch” is just a more antiquated –and somewhat romantic– name for what nowadays we would call “psychics”: People with a highly developed ‘sixth sense’, which helps them to perceive things in this world which remain hidden for the majority of us; and some of these individuals choose to put into practice rituals and techniques which have existed for hundreds if not thousands of years, in order to be in contact with different forces of Nature and other levels of Consciousness in which different forms of non-human intelligences allegedly reside.
My own personal journey and life-long interest in the UFO phenomenon and other mysteries, slowly led me to pay attention to the different forms of magic traditions, especially Shamanism. First with the books by Carlos Castañeda and then through the philosophy of Terence McKenna and others, I came to understand there was a distinct but murky link between what we now call UFOs, and these other ‘spiritual realms’ (for lack of a better term) which witches and magicians were claiming to visit using different methods to alter their perceptions.
Another friend and colleague of mine, Adam Gorightly, has mentioned many times in radio interviews how during the 1970s he and a friend decided to leave a party after consuming a particularly strong dose of LSD, and while they were walking around the dark and deserted streets of their small town in Central California, Adam all of the sudden blurted out: “if we saw a UFO now, nobody would believe us!”. The two young men laughed uncontrollably at the absurdity of that idea, but almost as if on cue all of the sudden the skies became lit up with a procession of the most bizarre and impossible-looking forms of flying saucers one could imagine. The vision was so impressive that Adam got on his knees and gasped, but what’s more interesting about this anecdote is that both of the witnesses were seeing the same ‘hallucination’ and were confirming their observations with each other. Over the years Adam became convinced that he and his companion had unwittingly performed some kind of magic ritual, and rather than sharing a folie a deux, as a psychologist might interpret it, the drug had allowed them to perceive a different ‘layer’ of existence, as if Reality was like an onion you can peel.
But getting back to the book cover design, I have to admit that part of me was a bit reticent in accepting the project. I immediately understood this was a very intimate and very feminine work, and being a heterosexual male (cis-gender is the adopted term nowadays), I feared I lacked the necessary sensitivity to successfully bring it to fruition. Nevertheless Susan insisted she had fully confidence in my talent, and needing the job with urgency eroded what remained of my fears. I commended myself to the Goddess, asking to create something that would please Her.
My first step was to create a folder of inspirational images, filled with the works of two of my favorite artists: Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington. To me these two women were the perfect reference for this project because (a) They were both highly interested in occultism: and (b) They both were European expats who lived in Mexico for most of their lives. I also looked at the gorgeous paintings of Luis Ricardo Falero, an XIXth century Spanish painter who wasn’t afraid to show witches as erotic beings, because I came to understand this is an important element that distinguishes a great part of modern female witchcraft as a social movement –embracing their femininity instead of hiding it in shame the way the Patriarchy has indoctrinated them from an early age.
It was the image above, coupled with the title Susan had already chosen, which gave me the idea of putting the Milky Way as if it was turning into this cosmic feminine being that is in the process of ‘touching’ or getting in contact with the Moon. I explained my ideas to Susan over Skype and she was fully onboard with what I had in mind. I should also mention that at this point of the process I had yet to get in contact with Claudio Selleri, editor of Le Due Torri. He later told me via email that Susan had been more than insistent on me designing the cover instead of letting their own team of designers. What can I say, it’s nice to appreciated for a change 😉
The image above is the one I chose as reference for my background because it showed the kind of angle I wanted for the Milky Way, and had a beautiful ‘explosion’ of pink, purple and mauve colors. At the same time, I knew that I did NOT want to create a typical (at least, by modern standards) Photoshop montage using this photo; what I wanted to attempt instead was to put into practice the things that I’ve taught myself with my illustration commissions, and that is to create a ‘painterly’ effect by way of using synthetic paint brushes that closely imitate the way real paint moves and mixes on a canvas. I admit that I didn’t quite manage to create the 100% ‘vintage’ texture present in the inspirational images I had studied (like the picture in the left, for example) because at one point I became frustrated with the synthetic paint brushes and chose to use the more manageable airbrushes for the bigger areas of my painting. Nevertheless, I’m very satisfied with the way my ‘Cosmic witch’ turned out, and even more so because both Susan and Claudio also showed me their full approval as I was sending them my preliminary updates and font choices.
La Strega can now be obtained in Italian through Le Due Torri’s website, and its English version will follow it very soon. If you’re interested in these kind of topics then I strongly recommend you pick up a copy as soon as you can. And if you too would like me to design the cover of your book, you can always contact me by leaving a comment here, of sending me an email to absurdbydesign[at]gmail[dot]com.