Commission: Past Life Journeying

Many years ago I wrote an essay for a defunct website —which I should probably repost here— in which I explained my problems with the traditional concept of Reincarnation.

Now, don’t get me wrong! I’m fairly convinced there *is* something to the phenomenon of people claiming to remember their past lives. I’ve read a bit about the work of Dr. Ian Stevenson, a Western scientist who rigorously studied many cases of children who were able to recall incredible details about their alleged past incarnations —and not just in countries like India where the cultural belief in reincarnation is stronger than, say, in Spain or the United Kingdom (where skeptics would claim children are encouraged by their parents to indulge in a ‘fantasy’ of a previous existence) because Stevenson included in his studies children in the United States who also recalled vivid details of a past life.

Incidentally, journalist Leslie Kean has researched the broad topic about the afterlife, and in a Netflix’s series produced by her one of the episodes is devoted to reincarnation, and Stevenson’s work:

So No, my problem with Reincarnation is not that it is not backed by evidence —why, even uber skeptic Carl Sagan had to admit he found no fault in Stevenson’s research and merited further study!— but that, in the words of my favorite imaginary scientist, Reincarnation researchers are not thinking fourth-dimensionally.

Think about it: If modern physics is correct in their statement that what we call “the Arrow of Time” is pretty much just an illusion of our own consciousness, then that means both the Past, the Present and the Future are all co-existing at the simultaneously.

Now I don’t want to get into conundrums about Determinism and Free Will, which some physicists have tried to solve by either flatly stating there is no free will —which is something not even they would apply in their own lives— or by factoring the concept of the many Earths theory and the Multiverse (i.e., when you make a decision reality branches out and your existence is sent to the reality in which you took decision A, even though the universe in which you chose B instead is equally real). I’m humble enough in admitting I do NOT know the answer to this (and frankly, NO ONE does at this point) but I still lean heavily into the possibility that the Future can influence the Past—and guess what, there is even scientific evidence which seems to suggest this is the case!

Which is why when I saw the Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas for the first time, it had a huge intellectual AND emotional impact on me. After the first Matrix, it is my favorite of their films without a doubt.

Which brings us to my latest commission: Past Life Journeying.

Last year I was approached by a potential client, Robert Baranowski, because he wanted to ask if I was interested in designing the cover for his book. At the time I was deep immersed in the Tarot project and told him I was much too busy to accommodate him; but since he explained the project wasn’t fully ready on his end as well and was aiming to publish it by the Spring of 2023, we both agreed to put a pin on it and keep in touch.

Fast forward to December, 2022: With the Tarot project behind me, I reached out to Robert and asked if he was still interested in commissioning me his book cover. He said Yes and then I asked what I always do when working on such projects: I requested samples from his manuscript to get better acquainted with the material, and see if that could spark ideas that would be more interesting than just attempting to conjure the concept ‘out of thin air’.

Robert complied with a few pages, and it was enough to realize his approach to past life research was rather different from the norm. For starters, he does not rely on hypnotic regression; also, he claims to be able to also access life experiences from the Future and not just the Past. That immediately piqued my interest, for the reasons explained in the first paragraphs of this post.

Above are the three quick mockups I prepared for Robert’s consideration. I already knew from the get-go the first option —in which I envisioned the naked ‘higher self’ glimpsing into the reflections of his multiple life experiences as if in an old carnival attraction— was the most eye-catching one and almost cinematic in its composition (even though the playing with different font styles of the second one was kind of cool, too) but I was intimidated by the amount of work it would take to pull it off successfully.

Predictably, Robert ended up picking that one (oh boy) and he even suggested the type of past and future selves I could use, based on his own personal recollections:

  • A big muscled man dressed in medieval peasant garments.
  • A monk dressed with a gray tunic.
  • A slightly obese musician from the Napoleonic era.
  • A ‘future self’ dressed in a Star Trek-like uniform

And since the idea was to emphasize the concept that Past, Present and Future coexist simultaneously, he suggested to arrange them randomly —hence why I put the ‘Future self’ first. Also, for good measure, we ended up including a caveman to illustrate there’s no limit to how deep you can go with his method.

Photo taken from one of my old Mysteries of the Unknown books —the one that deals with near death experiences— which was a great reference on how I wanted to approach my naked ‘higher self’. I also had to study many reference anatomical images to understand the muscles in the back and the legs.
Exploring the text design further. Breaking down the main title into two lines was in retrospect an obvious step, but you get blindsided during the process. I also notice my font choice was heavily influenced by Cloud Atlas!

The first thing I did was figuring out the right perspective for my five ‘mirrors’ and I am sorry to admit I struggled with it more than a former Interior Designer with an expertise in AutoCAD should —in fact, relying too much on AutoCAD has made me forget some of the basic principles of drawing in perspective with traditional tools. I ended up using a ‘template’ so I could figure out the right angles, and after that I began playing with some weird brushes to make the mirrors look more like ‘rifts in the fabric of reality’ than just plain glowing rectangles.

Painting the main figure in the front was rather challenging, because tried as I could I never managed to find a good reference image with that type of illumination via Google. I also knew I wanted to leave that figure with enough detail to inform all the right proportions, even though it would be the darkest one of the whole composition, framed by the white brightness of my ‘mirrors’. It was an exercise in deciding “how much is too much” until I was satisfied enough. After all, the intention was to first capture the eye’s attention with the figure in the front, and then let the viewer take its time checking the details of the other figures, which would vaguely imply different time periods just by their clothes alone.

Once the ‘hard’ work of the radial shadows and reflections was done, the real fun began: I wanted to make each ‘other self’ characters to look interesting enough that it would make the viewer wonder about the circumstances of their lives. Take my burly medieval peasant, for example: Aside from his historically accurate garments and impressive physique, I chose on a whim to give him a scary scar that crossed his right eye, to indicate he lives in an age in which violence was the norm and life was cheap —the big knife strapped to his belt also hints to this. And even though I did not use any direct model references to draw the faces, I knew I wanted this guy to look a bit like Temuera Morrison in The Book of Boba Fett 😉

Another fun ‘character design’ exploration came with the ‘Future space guy’. It is hardly difficult to envision how, if our society keeps moving in the same direction, the next centuries will see the rise of ‘cyborg-like’ interphases designed to augment the capabilities of human beings; which is why I gave this guy a sort of ‘cybernetic lens’ in his right eye. However I wanted to infer that perhaps our descendants will ‘wise up’ and learn to surpass the current material paradigm, by way of putting a sort of ‘cyber third eye’ on his forehead. I also wanted to paint him with white hair to suggest how perhaps in the future our descendants will manage to greatly extend the human lifespan, so that people will be able to look like they are in their 30s even though they are actually hundreds of years old —you know, just like the Space Brothers of the 1950s!

As for the actual style approach of these characters, I tried to use a ‘middle road’ approach that is neither totally photorealistic nor entirely ‘comic book’. I drew the line art black and then lighted it up until it was a medium gray, which would be the darkest tone of these figures —the goal was to keep the naked ‘higher self’ as the darkest figure in the composition— and kept that layer in a Darken blend (with an opacity below 100%) above the layer in which I did all the painting, which means it would not superimpose or make the lines too dark once it reached a certain threshold. I then continued to paint my figures using normal (not synthetic paint. I chose to take it easy) ‘conceptual brushes’ (all using a certain rough texture BTW) and occasionally revisit the lineart layer to erase the lines that were no longer needed if the volumes were already expressed by the shading of the paint layer.

Some things came out better than I expected (like the expressions in each of the five figures, especially because they are totally imaginary and not taken from actual models) and others are ‘good enough’ but not 100% perfect. Overall I think I fulfilled my #1 job when creating a cover for the modern book market, which is to make it interesting enough that a viewer scrolling by on Amazon will actually take a few more seconds just to check it out, regardless on whether they are interested in the topic or not.

The book, I am told, will be available very soon. And even though my decision to design a cover for a book does not imply an endorsement, I have been over the years fortunate and careful enough to always work in projects that align with my own personal ideas to a certain degree. So even though I cannot vouch for Robert’s method, I still think his book would be of interest to those seeking to learn more about connecting to the other aspects of themselves that exist on different timelines —who knows, maybe several centuries ago I was a cloistered monk happily illuminating manuscripts in some remote mountain monastery, with no other companion than a few cats and a dog —and it certainly wouldn’t have hurt if I had an extra copy to the wine cellar!



  1. Love this cover and the book sounds interesting! I havent seen Cloud Atlas, but I watched the trailer you posted and it reminds me a lot of Anthony Peake’s Cheating The Ferryman hypothesis. I need to find the film 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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