Scott McKowen is a prolific scratchboard illustrator who has established an international career specializing in theatre poster and book covers. Click any image to see a larger version.
The title character in Tony Kushner and Jeanne Tessori’s musical Caroline, or Change is an illiterate black maid in 1963 Louisiana. Scott used the phases of the moon as a metaphor for the changes in society brought about by the civil rights movement. (The moon is also a surreal opera-singing character in the story!) The moon behind Caroline forms a subtle halo around her head — a kind of blessing or benediction that she’s not even aware of. Poster for Tantrum Theatre, 2017.
Front and back cover illustrations for Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise by the Cuban-American author Oscar Hijuelos. The novel is based on the real lifelong friendship between two of the most famous men of the 19th century — Mark Twain, and the African explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley. Years before Twain started publishing stories, he worked as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River. Published by Hachette Book Group/Grand Central Publishing, 2015.
Portrait of Miguel de Cervantes for the cover of a 2014 Alumni Magazine from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland. Cervantes was a contemporary of Shakespeare but we have no idea what the author of Don Quixote actually looked like, so Scott was free to pick a model who he imagined Cervantes might look like. Christina proposed the idea of making his ruff into a book fantasy — leave it to a theatre designer to turn a 17th-century costume detail into a literary reference!
Three illustrations (from a series of 50) for A Number of Things: Stories of Canada Told Through Fifty Objects by Jane Urquhart, published by Harper Collins in 2017, Canada’s sesquicentennial year. Jane’s essay about the Fire Roses Flour sign in Montreal is about the history of language in Quebec. Lester B. Pearson’s Nobel Peace Prize Medal was awarded in 1957 for his diplomatic genius. The lighthouse at Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, was built in 1923 on the site of Canada’s very first lighthouse in 1734.
Poster for Silence: Mabel and Alexander Graham Bell by Trina Davies, a world premiere at the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario, in 2018. Bell is famous for inventing the first practical telephone, but his new device was of little use to his wife, Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, who was profoundly deaf. Light is used in the staging of the play as a visual equivalent for sound — darkness is silence — so the poster image is a portrait of Mabel disappearing into silhouette.
David Davalos’s play Wittenberg is a modern spin on Hamlet and assumes a basic familiarity with Shakespeare. Hamlet is a senior at Wittenberg University and can’t make up his mind about declaring a major. He studies theology with Martin Luther and philosophy under Doctor Faustus; and he’s the star of the varsity tennis team. Poster for The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, 2014.
Two posters for Bernard Shaw’s Misalliance in which afternoon tea at the country estate of underwear tycoon John Tarleton is interrupted when an airplane crash-lands in the conservatory, and the handsome young pilot runs off with Tarleton’s daughter, Hypatia. The plane is a gift from GBS to poster designers. The bird’s-eye perspective of Hypatia and the pilot chasing each other through a hedge maze was the poster for The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in 2015. For the Pearl Theatre Company’s New York City revival in 2009, we are looking up at some fancy acrobatic skywriting.
Cover illustration for Reading Children’s Literature: A Critical Introduction, a university textbook published by Bedford St. Martins in 2012. To convey the magical way that books can capture a child’s imagination, Scott created an illustration with the light source coming from the pages of the book. The surreal objects flying up from the book are based on the chapter numerals in the text, which represent the themes in each of the twelve chapters.
Wicked is Gregory Maguire’s best known novel — it’s an imaginative, revisionist history of the characters created by L. Frank Baum in The Wizard of Oz. Other Maguire novels take on Cinderella, Snow White, and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Maguire asked Scott to create the cover for his most recent novel — Hiddensee is a fantastical biography of Drosselmeier, a main character in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker. A die-cut window in the dust jacket provides a teaser view of a surprise second illustration, revealed when the reader turns back the outside layer. The type was hand-drawn as part of the scratchboard engraving.
The Crocodile from Peter Pan (with the alarm clock visible inside), from the Sterling Classics edition, published in 2008. Scott based this illustration on a sketch made from life in the reptile house at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris.
Poster for The Merchant of Venice at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in 2017. San Giorgio Maggiore is sparkling on the horizon; below that is a wreck of coins and caskets — a reference to Antonio’s ships thought to have been lost at sea.
A series of crèche illustrations from a personal Christmas card series depicting the characters in the Nativity story in contemporary dress, as if they are everyday people you might run into on the street.
Cover illustration for Pinocchio, published in 2013 in the Sterling Classics series. This book was a childhood favorite of Scott’s so this was an especially enjoyable assignment.
Seana McKenna played Lear in a 2018 Groundling Theatre Company production in Toronto. Changing Shakespeare’s paternal relationship with royal daughters to a maternal story is an bold choice — Lear’s outraged “I gave you all” takes on deeper meaning when spoken by a mother to her child. The gender shift was signaled on the poster with an overhead “eye of the storm” view of Seana, naked and curled into a fetal position, with a mad glint in her eye.
Poster for The Bungler, a lesser-known play by Molière, at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in 2017. The main character is a love-struck and dimwitted young man who is constantly “putting his foot in it,” ruining a series of the elaborate schemes devised by his crafty valet to win a young lady. Scott was looking for a comic pratfall, and remembered a drawing by Francisco Goya of a man tumbling down a staircase — and used that scenario as inspiration for rhis illustration.
Cover illustration for a volume of twenty-five stories by Edgar Allen Poe, published in 2010 in the Sterling Classics series. The graveyard scene is based on sketches and photographs Scott made on a visit to Highgate Cemetery in London. Interior black and white illustrations included “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “Some Words with a Mummy.”
Gregory Maguire’s fantastical novels all feature a double cover or dustjacket — a die-cut window in the outer cover shows a tiny section of an inner cover underneath. When the reader pulls back the outer cover, a surprise second illustration is revealed. Scott illustrated the covers for After Alice, Gregory’s take on Lewis Carroll’s famous heroine.