February 2013


Illustration Friday: Wool

Another cut-paper illustration, to experiment more with shadows and try out some new paper (80gsm – some recent pictures were on something closer to cardboard). It was easier to cut, although not of course as robust.

I’m working on more pen-and-ink illustrations at the moment, too, it isn’t all silhouettes! But I have some possible projects in mind for the cut-paper, and Illustration Friday is always an excellent opportunity to practice techniques and ideas – how much detail and movement can be put into a small image, whether I can draw sheep…

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Last year my cousin Jess asked me to draw her save-the-date and wedding invitation, featuring some of their livestock. I was delighted to, and obliged with several pages of pencil sketches and chickens:

Invitation roughs

The save-the-date was drawn in pen-and-ink and had a very simple colour-scheme!

Save the Date

I don’t do typography, but I hand lettered these (I do enjoy hand lettering!).

For the invitation, Jess and Dave knew they wanted the dancing couple from the early sketches, but with a pink and purple colour scheme. I sent two variations, with my favourite at the top (some details removed).

Colours for invitation

There was a slight difference of opinion between the interested parties (more precision was indeed required, as the groom valued colouring between the lines and blue jeans), so when my cousins visited in January, we sat down and finalised the invitation below (some details removed):

Wedding invitation

It may also make appearances on other wedding accessories, but those are yet to appear…

Edit 6 April 2013: The linework from the invitation was printed on the stubby coolers for the wedding.

Daleks of the Road

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.

Illustration Friday: Storm

A tiny (5cmx6cm) cut-paper illustration for Illustration Friday. This is (as so often) a test patch for several other projects, one of which is working on capturing the shadows cast by the paper rather than dropping them in digitally. I do not, however, have a modern functional camera, so this is taken with my phone, and assorted living room lights, and the picture raised by a piece of kneadable eraser. I may need to call on some photographer friends to show me the way. Possibly if I cut the picture to a larger scale, getting a decent resolution for print would not be an issue.

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.

"Invisible Men"

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.

"The Memcordist"

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.

The Dalek from Snowy River

For Banjo Patterson’s “The Man from Snowy River“, which my father taught me and which I still know off by heart. I’ll keep my reservations on the film, and forgive it for “Jessica’s Theme“, and for letting you pretend to be riding down mountains when riding horses down a brief gully or bicycles down a slight incline (or on occasion when driving over speed bumps).

In other news: It has been flooding. Again. We didn’t have power, which is why this wasn’t posted last week. I did post about a series of illustrations I have been doing for Eclipse Online and art for Stranger Things Happen. But I’ve also been doing a lot of reading Agatha Christie and Jane Austen with my father, and watching out-takes from 90s tv shows with my housemate. And throwing out the contents of the refrigerator.

In 2012, Jonathan Strahan relaunched his anthology series Eclipse as an online publication, Eclipse Online (through Nightshade Books), showcasing two original short stories each month. He asked if I’d like to be involved and I said yes (possibly with more vehemence than that implies!).

So, since October, I have been drawing two spot illustrations a month, for stories I am very lucky to be reading. I do so much reading for illustration that I don’t always get to read stories I’m not illustrating. The two, I am happy to say, overlap surprisingly often, but I don’t always know in advance that they are going to! And these are stories I’m so glad I haven’t missed out on reading.

October

The first was “The Contrary Gardener” by Christopher Rowe (fellow Steampunk! contributor, a story of a high-tech agricultural future with an ending which was not what I had come to expect from stories in such worlds. I sent Jonathan a selection – we went with the last. I like the bounding white clouds, but I still cherish a fondness for the brussel-sprout styled balloon.

"The Contrary Gardener"

Next followed the elusive KJ Parker, with “One Little Room an Everywhere”, a title with which I fell in love. The voice, the pragmatism, the gold leaf and icons – an enchanting story, and although it is a cautionary tale as much as a fantasy of magic and buildings, neither the main character nor the story itself are at all unlikable (a common failing of stories of ill-advised behaviour).

This illustration, too, is pen and ink with colour and texture added digitally. I do like this picture – it captures a little of what I enjoyed in the story.

"One Little Room an Everywhere"

November

The first story for November was Eleanor Arnason’s “Holmes Sherlock: A Hwarhath Mystery”, a detective story of translation, admiration, secrets and art photography, and one for which I struggled to choose a representative image because the alienness (or otherwise) of the Hwarhath was not for me the main point of the story – but could override an illustration of one of the more active or landscape images.

"Holmes Sherlock: A Hwarhath Mystery"

And last for November 2012 and this post, Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “Firebugs”, a tale of joint and several individuality, arson and belonging.

With this story, I was trying not to be all Midwich Cuckoos and went for a more symbolic image. Because of the formatting of the site for Eclipse Online, the all-over background of this image and the last one would be discarded for future stories in favour of self-contained spot images.

"Firebugs"

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