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:

Conflux9Art

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.