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May 1, 2013
So, a few days before the Natcon in Canberra, the doctor tried to diagnose me with pneumonia. The x-rays came up clear, but I had several days of alternately lying around only being stopped from climbing the walls because of not being able to breathe (I’m a terribly twitchy patient), and trying to frame art which usually makes me feverish if I didn’t start that way. I was recovering by the time I reached Canberra, but was still quite unwell and spent most of the convention propped up in corners conversing with people who stayed still long enough, and losing my breath whenever I got excited about something. Yet I still managed to Meet People, and Meet People Again, and Pass People in the Distance, and Plan Plans, and Have Plans Planned At Me (thanks all, quite sincerely), and create an impromptu conversation pit and find out that Lewis Morley has a laser, which is awesome and giving me Ideas. Also, to win two Ditmars (Artwork, for the Midnight & Moonshine cover, Fan Artist, and the EG Harvey Award for my piece “Once” in the art show), but fortunately all that required me to do on the day was negotiate the seating plan at the ceremony.
Here is the art hanging at the show – “Ex Libris” at the top and “Once” below. Both went to very good homes:
I took part in two panels – the first on speculative art and the second on whether cover art sells books. Both were very well attended (thanks everyone!).
Speculative Art: Shauna O’Meara, Les Petersen, Lewis Morley, Marilyn Pride and Mik Bennett
A lot of the conversation in this turned on the dynamics of paid work, and how that has or hasn’t changed – demands and expectations, the move to lower pay, faster turnaround and so forth. Whether it’s possible to make a living, and how, and whether you can choose and follow and succeed in and live off a single career path. But there is still a lot to be excited about (case in point: LEWIS HAS A LASER and the world cannot fail to be awesome and full of potential while that is the case), and I got to (rather more breathlessly than the topic merited) talk about the chances for people to create new things and put them out in the world (hello Kinds of Blue!) and the generosity of artists (the brilliant resource that is Gurney Journey). I know you can’t always eat ideas, and artists should be paid, but sometimes, brilliantly, serendipitously or due to industry or innovation or kindness the two coincide. And it’s art, and speculative art after all, we get paid to draw dragons, and while the first part is good and right and necessary, the second half is incredible and sometimes it’s healthy just to get excited about the possibilities. I may have begun hallucinating slightly at this point but everyone was very patient.
Does Cover Art Sell Books? Mark Gascoigne, Rowena Cory Daniells, Cat Sparks, Shauna O’Meara
Rowena led this off with a slide show on how she puts together a “resonance file” for her novels, even including photo shoots (much more professional than my lounge-room reference photos of people in cloaks and pyjamas), and Mark supported this approach with reference to authors who put together Pinterest pages of reference which helps a lot in bringing together ideas for covers. I do this a bit myself – it’s a handy way to corral links and ideas which people sent me and also to build up the feel of a world or idea (for some reason, with my own stories, it works better for me in reinforcing ideas after a story is already written). Mark also discussed cover trends and how it is necessary to be ahead but not too far ahead of the trend – that something too far ahead can confuse readers (and bookstore buyers). Also, thumbnailing (how a cover will appear online/in ebooks) and the “blokes in cloaks” trend.
Cat sprung the “what lets self-published/small press covers down” on me, so I talked about how useful an art director is as a mediator of ideas and personalities, and let loose on the trio of typography, dimensions and paper quality which are usually the biggest giveaway, and talked about a short story I once adored and how I looked out for ages for a novel by the same author, and when it came out it had the poorest imaginable cover and in spite of several attempts I couldn’t read the book. I also believe good typography can save bad art, but nothing can save bad typography.
We talked about the template approach which Tor.com uses for its short stories (uniform, professional layout and typography) which unifies and complements the gorgeous art they commission, and the potential for this to be used by small press and self-publishers to create a brand and allow them freedom in tailoring the art while still looking professional.
April 13, 2013
In March I went to a 2 day screen-printing workshop run by Milli & Fink. Due to ‘recent weather events’ the workshop had relocated from a storm-damaged hall to a lovely little old Queenslander house in Ipswich, with a view of corrugated roofs and Moreton Bay Figs marching down the hill through veils of rain. Not including the rain, our class spent most of the two days wet and inky, with quiet passages where those of us not coating screens or hosing emulsion down the stairs sat around the dining table with piles of reference books, pens and paper drawing designs and eating cupcakes.
I recommend the workshop. We went from learning how to expose a screen to trying out gold-leaf and screen-printing on wood, and were able to print plenty of pieces to bring home, so even if you didn’t decide that screen-printing (or part of it) was For You, you had some lovely, useable work – paper, teatowels, calico bags…
In my case, while the class showed me just what could be accomplished at home and without even a studio, and while I have so many ideas, the room and mess and time it needs are something for which I do not currently have space (physical, temporal or mental). One day maybe…
You may recognise the wolf above from a cut-paper picture I made a few weeks ago. The picture below, of tree-dwelling royalty, was drawn in marker on paper on the day of the workshop, due to a recent Twitter conversation with Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, which transitioned into quoting A. A. Milne’s poem “The King’s Breakfast”, a conversation it is to be hoped we can continue in England in November (Sandy interfered with plans to meet in Toronto last year, although I was able to catch up with Delia for a too-short coffee in New York)!
So of course I had to send them a tea-towel print of it, in thanks. Here is the card which I drew to accompany it – indulging in more high-set highnesses, and some watercolour shading for once.
March 18, 2013
Oh look a Dalek!
This instalment of the game is for a book by Stephen Fry (yes, that Stephen Fry): the readable, entertaining and beautifully validating explanatory/musing/instructional guide to poetic forms, The Ode Less Travelled. I love this book. It is very practical, far from dry, genuinely useful as a reference guide, a practical course, a lever for disengaging the angst from the rigour, and a handy-sized object for beating friends over the head with until they produce werewolf sestinas (Caitlene, I know where you live).
The drawing is also in honour of travelling at home, on two fronts: the one where you do all the things at home you like to do travelling (for me, that is sketching in cafes and writing in restaurant windows, so that works out well); and the one where you plan trips to very-likely-Dartmoor-after-World-Fantasy-this-November. So please feel free to let me know if you know the identity of the mysterious “iconic figure in Australian land law” who is connected with Dartmoor. That person is not the reason for going to Dartmoor, but I received a flyer for the 2nd Annual UK Property Case Law Tour today, and now I need to know!
Also, I just finished a new book cover and set of internal illustrations for an amazing collection of stories for an author whose last publication from the same press was illustrated by one of my heroes of illustration and I’m just going to faint quietly off the back of the chair now.
February 11, 2013
This instalment of the Dalek Game is forMichael Chabon’s novel Gentlemen of the Road. You will note I have not even attempted to approximate a reference to Gary Gianni’s entirely perfect illustrations.
The novel as a whole (the words, the green and gold cover in which I bought it, Gianni’s wholehearted images) is a fascinating performance, utterly styled without being stylised. Chabon performs genres beautifully, like the best of Shyamalan. Not like a quick, accurate costume, but something like an old tableaux vivant, with all the details right and breathing poses held still for admiration and inspection or… something. They aren’t dead at all, or false – he does literary fiction, or science fiction, or noir or (as here) Rider Haggard adventure sincerely, lovingly and very delightedly aware of the story as story.
Now that I think about it, this is what bothered me about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Not that someone had the idea, at all – I love that Seth Grahame-Smith not only had the idea but did something about it. But P&P&Z felt to me, at the end, like an exercise in a title. It had the brain, but never quite got to the heart. Whereas, while Chabon’s big ideas might easily be presented as equally odd as any of Grahame-Smith’s essays in juxtaposition, I lose myself in the world of the story, in the whole book, the thing itself, and forget the author’s cleverness because of it.
February 9, 2013
With another two brilliant stories to appear in Eclipse Online in December 2012, Jonathan Strahan and I ironed out some of the formatting for the illustrations. I had been leaning towards the all-over texture with which I was comfortable, but because the layout of the site was to be quite simple, Jonathan preferred a self-framing image, which made sense!
The first story was Christopher Barzak’s restrained “Invisible Men”, an alternate perspective of a classic. It never did what I expected it to, and reminded me more of Wyndham than Wells, using one of my favourite styles of narrator – tangentially involved, observant, apart.
The first image was a darling of mine – a combination of linework and solid texture, with one scan of the endpapers of my great-grandfather’s autograph album, and another of mysterious stains.
Below it (above) is the final, which I do like (although it is quirkier than the first) because I love drawing floating things. I should reread the story and see if the change of illustration style changes how I read it. I’m looking at the picture again now as I edit this post, and it amuses me.
The next story was Lavie Tidhar’s fragmenting, decades-encompassing social media biography “The Memcordist”. I had just met Lavie at World Fantasy (he won a World Fantasy Award for his novel Osama). It was at this late stage I realised Jonathan had tricked me into illustrating science fiction!
I tried to avoid the inevitable by dwelling on the memory of basil – my housemate had bought some and so I was able to directly reference it, and then eat it while adding colour on the computer. But it was a (deserving) victim of the decision to go for a self-contained style.
And so here is a robot. Metal is an interesting surface to render, but reflections depend on their surroundings and in this case the illustration was in a white void. Adventures in drawing! Science fiction illustration is traditionally about brilliant sleek schematic black and whites, perfect reflections with a highlight of pale gouache, hard lines, bright lights… Occasionally I find a way into it which lets me have fun with lines instead of rulers, and fluid movement instead of angles. At this point I’m still exploring.
January 27, 2013
Look at this beautiful book!
It is Subterranean Press’ limited 10th anniversary edition of Kelly Link’s collection Stranger Things Happen, which I had the absolute delight of illustrating. And it really is a beautiful book, beautiful mustard-coloured cloth (mustard? goldenrod? schoolbus yellow? I don’t know, but I like mustard), and the lovely satiny wraparound colour, and ostrich-skin textured endpapers. If this is what ebooks force hard copy books to look like, then bring on the revolution.
The only cover specification I received was a request that it contain a nod to the original Shelley Jackson illustration:
Since I had recently been researching 60s fashion and pattern illustrations for Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze, I already had images on my mind for “The Girl Detective” – old Nancy Drew books, and specifically the endpapers:
Here are my initial thumbnail sketches for the cover, and for the last story in the collection.
After that I ran around the house taking reference photos (if you share a house with me, the chances are you’ll end up in an illustration). The torch is a pepper mill (with, oddly, a built-in light), which is more torch-shaped than our actual torches.
The internal illustrations were pen and ink only. The cover I drew in pen and ink, scanned, cleaned up, added a single flat layer of yellow, and a background texture scanned from an old book. Every story in the collection gets an element (or a share in an element) on the cover, but my favourite part is the peacock’s tail.
Here are some more glimpses inside from Small Beer Press, and here are some lovely words on the book from the LA Times.
The limited edition is available from Subterranean.
September 27, 2012
Here is the cover for Angela Slatter and Lisa Hannett’s ornate, interlocked Midnight and Moonshine, which is being published very soon by Ticonderoga Publications, with a foreword by Kim Wilkins.
It started with sketches and discussions over coffee with Angela, and then by email with Lisa, searching for an image that would catch the linked stories. In the end we focussed on the mythological elements, with flowing lines, a white raven and Mymnir being beautiful and mysterious.
I took the opportunity to play around with coloured inks, as Angela and Lisa wanted a more painterly style – in the end, we went with the softer style I used on Small Beer Press’ cover for Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria, but that had not been finished at this stage.
At Continuum in Melbourne, we sat down in the hotel restaurant and worked out the general layout. It was fun working this way – I rarely get to work up a sketch over coffee with the interested parties, but it is much more fluid and less fraught process than the usual back-and-forth by email. At the top left is Lisa demonstrating arm poses.
Russell, the publisher, had sent me templates for the paperback and hardcovers. These have different dimensions. I layered the templates to get a single template which would let me allow for all croppings in the one drawing. I then did a layout sketch (above, lower left) to make sure there was room for the title, blurb, bar code and so forth, and sourced more cape and arm reference (courtesy of Aimee, and my hand).
From there: pencils, inks, colour flats and a long colouring/texturing/shading session in front of BBC crime shows, nominally keeping my father company.
And… in the end the line work was too bold and “YA”. But the cover for A Stranger in Olondria was in the wild by now, so I had some more experience (and everyone had more reference) for what we were trying to do. In the end, after tears and weeping, the only way to soften the lines was to redraw the whole thing in pencil. Which was much more soothing than aiming for precise inkwork. I griped a lot. They turned out to be wise and correct, but I reserve the right to guilt-trip Certain Authors into buying me coffee.
At this point, the lines were approved but the colours were still too bold. This is one reason why, with short turnarounds, I colour digitally! I knocked back the colour and transparency and brought up the paper textures in the sky. This is the point at which I began to grudgingly forgive Angela and Lisa, because this second version did look much, much better. They said kind and soothing words and presented the cover to Russell, who had been suffering in (not quite) silence. He had one request – to adjust the lady’s shoulder – which turned out to be more possible than I expected (to summarise: everyone involved was wonderful and reasonable and I apologise for my histrionics, subject to the coffee comment above).
And voila, the full wrap-around cover (which appears larger here).
Some time after this, Russell sent over the title pages for the limited edition hardcover and I spent a pleasant morning signing them with Angela over cupcakes. By the end – by even 20 pages – my signature looked like “K twitch-muscle-spasm”.
The launches are at Avid Reader in Brisbane on 30 November 2012, and at the SA Writers Centre in Adelaide on 14 December 2012, and you can pre-order the trade paperback or the limited edition hardcover at the links on the Ticonderoga page.
September 24, 2012
This instalment of the Dalek Game is for my very favourite Dickens novel, Our Mutual Friend, my appreciation for which I have previously expressed. I still love it. It is excessively elaborate, indulgent, melodramatic, neat, funny, and odd. After an intensive course of Heyer rereads, which has left me criticising things by saying they are “nothing out of the common way”, I am about to read Our Mutual Friend again, for its skilled taxidermists and harmless pieces of dinner furniture, Red Riding Hood references, reversals of fortune and very satisfying ending. And then I will probably watch the miniseries again, for all that and Paul McGann.
June 4, 2012
This instalment of the Dalek Game is for Ruth Parks’ The Muddle-headed Wombat, an Australian classic of which I retain a great fondness but very dim memories (although I do remember Wombat’s bicycle). Wombats are more southern creatures – I have never seen a wild one, and so (like the platypus and Tasmanian devil) I find them appealing but exotic. I’ve seen a koala in the wild in a tree at my year 10 graduation, and all the other usual suspects have been through our garden or house at some point – bats and possums, numbats, wallabies, kangaroos, paddymelons, goannas, echidnas…
In other news: Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze (cover art and Dalek version) won the Andre Norton award at the Nebulas! Next week’s Dalek may be delayed due to convention attendance. Tansy Rayner Roberts interviewed me for the 2012 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot! And the cryptic references I make in that are to this: Subterranean Press’ limited 10th anniversary edition of Kelly Link’s collection Stranger Things Happen has been announced! And here is the front cover (it is a wrap-around image, but all shall be disclosed in time):
April 21, 2012
Late in 2011, editors Edwina Harvey and Simon Petrie invited a number of people to write stories for their new anthology Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear (due from Peggy Bright Books in June 2012). The title was intriguing, and the topic was elaborated as follows:
“Nothing happens without some initial impetus or spark. But it’s also impossible to predict exactly what will happen once that spark is struck, that match lit. Will the rocket shoot skywards? Will the dragon shoot flames from its mouth if provoked by one more jab from the rusty sword? Will the fireworks display appease, or at least distract, the ruthless, jaded emperor? “
I find set topics attractive, but this turned out to be a very tricky idea on which to get a grip. Almost all stories have something that sets them off, and I came up with scores of excellent impetuses, but those stories all became about what happened afterwards, not about the point of ignition or the catalyst. At last I wrote my way into “Kindling”, and a dingy cafe in an odd, little, over-mapped world: part noir, part fantasy, part steampunk. No images for it – I do occasionally live an unillustrated life – but I managed to name-check the creature in the illustration above (there is also a very oblique Darren Hanlon reference). With adjustments from helpful beta-readers and a few editorial wranglings over the correct nomenclature for several professions, the story was accepted!
The line-up is impressive:
- Joanne Anderton, ‘The Bone Chime Song’
- Adam Browne, ‘The D____d’
- Sue Bursztynski, ‘Five Ways to Start a War’
- Brenda Cooper, ‘Between Lines’
- Katherine Cummings, ‘The Travelling Salesman and the Farmer’s Daughter’
- Thoraiya Dyer, ‘Faet’s Fire’
- Kathleen Jennings, ‘Kindling’
- Dave Luckett, ‘History: Theory and Practice’
- Ian McHugh, ‘The Godbreaker and Unggubudh the Mountain’
- Sean McMullen, ‘Hard Cases’
- Ripley Patton, ‘Mary Had a Unicorn’
- Rob Porteous (of CSFG), ‘The Subjunctive Case’
- Anna Tambour, ‘Murder at the Tip’
As is the cover from Les Petersen:
The writing of the bio proved to be as fraught as the writing of the story. My final bio is fairly respectable. The original, vetoed bio was written late at night in a state of desperation and included the following edifying anecdote:
“When Kathleen Jennings was young, an old man with an enormous beard who played the piano accordion gave her a Nobel Detonator tin. He told her that Nobel had switched to packaging its detonators in cardboard, but mice ate through the boxes and ran away with the detonators. When the mice bit into the detonators, he heard the mice go “pop, pop, pop”. The theme of this anthology has given her flashbacks to that story.”