I was delighted to have the chance to design a header and ornaments for a rerelease of Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest.
Lately, I’ve been appreciating decorative illustrations more than I used to, and it was lovely to just spend the time designing faery swords and choosing leaves.
The header itself was an intriguing proposition. It was to be a specific object/scene from the book — the glass coffin in the forest. Glass coffins are their own challenge, of course, but for other single-header books (e.g. Holly’s Modern Faerie Tales trilogy) I’ve tried to pick images that are less specific and more broadly representative of elements of the book.
Holly has a very particular gift for combining the wondrous with the mundane, in this scene no less than others. Capturing the weeds and rubbish as well as the coffin and its occupant was a delicate balance.
It was also a slightly different style of drawing to my usual more 2d representations. This needed a dark forest to nestle into, as well as an ornamental frame.
Here are the completed pencils, to use as a base for the final drawing — you can see where I was moving things around digitally (e.g. the fox) as well as swapping tree sketches outs for different effects..
I decided to experiment with more hatching, just because — in this case, leaving out the outlines in the background (which I am usually all about).
Here is the final ink drawing, as it appears in the book.
And a sword (and an epigraph, which Holly also always chooses beautifully).
Exercises for illustrators and writers (from the perspective of the illustrator):
- How much of an image can you show without outlines? How much of a scene can you write only by describing the background?
- Think of a book (a favourite, or your own). Design a single iconic/thematic image that would work as an ornament to introduce all the chapters.
- Find a single decorative image (the Public Domain Review is a good start — search ornament or browse around) that could work as a chapter header for a hypothetical book. Extrapolate from that to work out what sort of book it might be. In a book tuned to that image, what would the action/adventure chapters be like? What mood would the reflective sections have? What crises and reversals would happen in a book that could be summed up in that picture? Is this an image that necessitates the presence of a prologue?
- You can do a similar exercise with an epigraph/leading quote. Let a book fall open, browse Bartleby or choose a random page from Wikiquotes (the ‘random page’ link should be on the right). That’s now the epigraph for an as-yet-unwritten book in your favourite genre. Proceed as above. (Or you could try a random quote as the lead-in for each chapter (or each scene in a short story) — choose a reasonable number, line them up, and work back from there to find out what the story (or an appropriate accompanying illustration) could be.