Here is the fourth cover to the "Scream Street" series of books (french edition). The trio of friends are back to back surrounded by zombies. The advancing zombies presented a challenge. I didn't want to paint them in such a way that they would give the reader nightmares. These books are intended for a younger audience of probably nine years and up.
I sent in the color sketch below and it didn't seem to raise any red flags with the publisher. They just wanted me to make sure I wasn't showing any open fractures, brains or tendons etc. This sounded pretty reasonable to me. I was actually expecting to hear it was too scary and that I should tone it way down.
Though, the more I painted, the more I felt deep down that this was going to be too scary for the audience or at least for the parents who are buying the books for their kids. At this point I was far enough along where it made sense to just finish it up and send it in. I could always change the zombies later. The kids wouldn't need changing which was comforting since they were the focal point. As I expected the art director let me know that they were too scary and monstrous. They suggested something less realistic and closer to a cartoon style. The trouble was that I didn't want the zombies to look out of place next to the kids. The three kids aren't fully realistic but they are close. I would be treading a fine line.
A little time was spent trying to tone down the scariness by lightening up the zombie expressions and adding a little more clothing. It wasn't enough. They still looked a little maniacal.
SLIGHTLY LESS SCARY
I decided to completely redo the two main zombies on the left and right side using softer features, a little more green color and dimwitted personalities. Since I was already making major changes I thought I would make a compositional change as well. I moved the foreground zombie head to the left side of the canvas so that it worked better with the vampire's cape and the bottom right foreground arm. This second round of edits did the trick.