Historical Naval Fiction of Paul Jariabek

Art in the Historical Fiction Short Story Retribution

A historical fiction book allows the reader to experience what it could have been like “back then.” Vivid descriptions are one way to start this experience for the reader. Theme-appropriate artwork is another. Read about the artwork in the historical fiction short story Retribution.

Short Story Retribution is a cutlass-slashing, canon-blasting raid in which young Francis Drake assists his cousin John Hawkins to a cut out a ship from an enemy’s port. In the short story, I hope to put the reader into a fictional naval raid on July 1557, at the outset of the Anglo-French war. I chose the art for the historical fiction short story that hopefully gives reader the start of that experience.

I wanted to create a sense of a 16th century naval setting, so I knew I needed to be looking at period naval art, and there happens to be quite a few good pieces to consider.

I will cover the work formatting the print version of Retribution in an upcoming article, in the case that some others want to try to do the same with their stories.

I am an avid reader of eBooks, and I miss the extra content that does not seem to make it into the eBook versions, like extra illustrations and frontispieces. I wanted my short story Retribution for both print and eBook formats and felt that the artwork was required for both. While I have a lot more flexibility with the traditional print format as there is much more control over placement and appearance of both the illustration and text. However, to the extent that the eBook medium allows for it, I wanted both mediums to help to visualize the story.

l also wanted to establish a single theme throughout the series to help the books feel as part one story. I will be carrying this idea of period illustrations in the upcoming historical novels and short stories that attempt to breathe life into history.

Cover Art in Historical Fiction

The Cannon Shot seemed like the ideal cover for Retribution as the Dutch carrack in the painting is firing a cannon and had a couple of ship’s boats around it. It fit the theme of a boarding and take over of the ship that is told in my short story (and never mind that the Cannon Shot apparently depicts a salute shot!) 

To give a potential reader the sense of what was in the short story, I needed to make some changes to the original painting. Because Francis Drake and his mates were cutting out the Lionheart at night, I modified the original painting to darken it. The original paining’s cannon shot is primarily depicted through the smoke that is created from firing off a piece. While darkening the image, the faint yellow that is off the forward most starboard gun disappeared and had to be repainted to be more pronounced. 

Also, to highlight the action of the conflict on the deck, I moved the left rowboat closer to the bow of carrack and remove the background ship.

Here is the original painting next to the changes for Retribution.

Cover Art for the Historical Fiction Short Story Retribution Cover Modifications
Het kanonschot by Willem van de Velde the Younger (c. 1680) and the cover art for the historical fiction short story Retribution

Creation of Frontispiece Art

The older books are wonderful as they start with the frontispiece, and while most have a sense of what the geography of the English Channel and North Sea is, I thought I’d put a historical map of how the Channel was depicted at the time of Francis Drake. 

It took a long time to find the image that I liked, but The Portolan Atlas of the Mediterranean Sea, Western Europe, and the Northwest Coast of Africa by Joan Oliva gave me both a perfect drawing, as well as a graphics manipulation challenge.

Interior Art in Historical Fiction Short Story Retribution by Paul Jariabek - Frontispiece
The frontispiece art in the historical fiction short story Retribution, Joan Oliva’s Portolan Atlas of the Mediterranean Sea

I did not like two things about the page that I picked. The first was that the ships were sailing north / south orientation and the second was the decorative scroll that was placed into the middle of France (also north to south orientation). 

While erasing the scroll from the drawing was easy enough, it left a huge empty spot that had to be patched up. Matching the directional (compass rose) lines and damage to the vellum was fun to do, but it took a while and several tries to natural. This was a theme that is picked up in the cover art of the historical fiction novel Sic Parvis Magna.

Turning the ships east-west left odd gaps on the map. The compass rose lines did not match up and took a while to recreate.

Interior Art: Sailors Furling Sails

As I mentioned above, the ideal audience my historical fiction short story was someone who enjoys reading CS Forrester’s Horatio Hornblower and would then go on to reading the rest of the series as it was released. 

In the opening scene of Retribution, FrancisDrake is a couple years older than at the end of Sic Parvis Magna. As the Tiger docked at Plymouth, Drake was furling sail, and I wanted an illustration of life aboard a ship.

The pencil / charcoal sketch of sailors furling sail by John Singer Sargent was perfect. The piece was ideal and it was not necessary to modify it any further other than to crop it into place.

Art in Historical Fiction: Pencil Sketch of Two sailors furling sail by John Singer Sargent
Pencil Sketch by John Singer Sargent: Two Sailors Furling Sail (c. 1875)

The Carrack Sailing

Some of the charm of the old books comes from the very distinctive woodcut illustrations, where a block of wood was gouged out to produce a stamp, which was then used to print the illustration into the pages of the medieval books. 

I came across a depiction of a carrack by Gordon Johnson. Although this piece is modern, created in 2019, it so perfectly fit a medieval book woodcut image that it was impossible not to use. 

Some modification was required. Original had a background of a port and a foreground image of a fishing boat that is pulling up the nets. The fishing boat was not necessary for the story, and the port had a very different feel than what I have imagined for Saint Valery sur Somme, so both features had to be removed from the image with photoshop.

In all, I am very pleased with the outcome of the eBook and printed versions of the historical fiction short story Retribution.

About the Historical Fiction Series Adventures of Francis Drake

Historical Fiction Short Story Retribution by Paul Jariabek is a cutlass-slashing, canon-blasting sea raid as Francis Drake assists his cousin John Hawkins in cutting out one of the Hawkins’ ships, rescuing its crew from French captivity, and learns something about himself during the Anglo-French war of 1557.

Retribution is available on Amazon.com as both an eBook and printed version of the story. You can also get a free copy of Retribution by signing up for my email updates.

If you enjoyed reading Retribution, it means the world to me if you would leave a review on Amazon.

Share This With Other Historical Fiction Fans

If you enjoyed this, please share it with other historical fiction fans!

About Paul Jariabek

I am a father, husband, historical fiction author, and technology executive. Get in touch with me through the social platforms below or by emailing me.

Get A Free Copy of Short Story Retribution