WQ Magazine — art process

I was delighted to do the cover art for issue 273 of WQ Magazine, the magazine for Qld Writers Centre members. This post is about the art & the thinking process behind it.

Front cover of magazine in brown, blue, and yellow:
T, shears, moon, tortoise, rabbit, mayfly, girl with flag, I, swallow, M, shark, acorn, comet, pomegranate, rakali, E

The concept and the brief

The theme of the issue was TIME. Within that, I was encouraged to do what I liked.

Originally, QWC sent me some examples of work of mine that particularly appealed to them — the three examples below, of the hands cutting silhouettes, the “Scarlet” scratchboard image, and the US cover of Flyaway. This is useful for several reasons:

  • Because I work in several styles, it makes sure we’re all on the same page.
  • If the brief is fairly broad (“time”), it gives me some parameters to play within, which is always more interesting.
  • If I’ve had some new ideas I want to play with, it also lets me introduce them appropriately.

The examples QWC sent had in common strong deep colours and a very graphic approach. But I had also just finished the April calendar (Silver and Gold), and was keen to try that style again. So I added that into the thumbnails.

Here are the thumbnail sketches I sent in — always on the theme of time, with a variety of motifs.

Here’s a close-up of the thumbnail sketch for the chosen direction. Most of these elements made it in, but a few needed to go to leave room for the lettering.

Collecting my thoughts

It was (as always) thoroughly enjoyable working out elements to put in. I decided to go for things that meant “time” to me, rather than trying to be universal — although I was open to further input, and as usual I tried to go for elements that might have more than one meaning!

For both writing and art, I do like making these sorts of lists and collections. See, for example, Observation Journal — written sketches and samplers, On making samplers of various kinds, and When in doubt make lists and shuffle them. It’s useful for coming up with ideas, but it’s also an attractive way to make a thing: many of the calendars represent some version of that process.

Several of the motifs should be fairly obvious (although nearly all have two meanings, and some have more personal book-connections). Some of the possibly more obscure and/or specific references include the steam engine (a reference to the impacts of railways on the understanding and use of time), the crocheted collar with its grass of parnassus flowers from Ruth Park’s Playing Beatie Bow, Lydia running with a flag from Evaline Ness’ Do you have the time, Lydia, the ice-skates for Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden, tortoise and/or hour lilies from Michael Ende’s Momo (the tortoise and arrow together are also for Xeno’s paradox) and a HERE/NOW/NOWHERE urn from Diana Wynne Jone’s Fire & Hemlock. The water-rat is a rakali or kuril, for Kurilpa and this river, and rivers generally & metaphorically.

The few that didn’t make it in are the solitary leaf/tree (the acorn was doing that work, but it lost a very oblique Shaun Tan reference), a box (Pandora? Schrödinger?), a bell (so many reasons, but personally and predominantly The Magician’s Nephew), some lilies-of-the-field, and a pair of dancers (plenty of dance/time connotations, but honestly it was a Strictly Ballroom reference).

Pencils

The next step was to rule up the space I had to work with. I drew up a template on the computer, then printed it out and used it as a guide for the pencils, refining the details and replacing a few motifs with the letters TIME (loosely referencing some old collections of illuminated letters).

There are a few more images here than appeared on the final cover. This is mostly because I wanted both the original inks and the digitally coloured version to stand on their own as images.

Inking

Once the pencils were approved, I darkened the lines on the computer, printed them out, put them on the light box, put some nice Canson drawing paper on top, and began inking it with a brush and Dr PH Martin’s Black Star Matte ink (instead of my usual Winsor & Newton).

I inked around the shapes first. This gave a strong silhouette, and once you have that, it’s surprising how little detail you need to add to give the impression of a full drawing. (I’ve written before about the useful structural role of silhouettes in both art and writing — Silhouettes, or: Outline View, and On silhouettes and further points of connection.)

You’ll see here that I split the art across two A3 pages.

Once the silhouettes were drawn, I went in and hinted at the fine detail. I’m still particularly pleased with this collar (a reference to Playing Beatie Bow).

Here are the finished inks:

I scanned in the finished pages, adjusted the contrast, then vectorised them in Inkscape (one day I’lll work out Illustrator). This keeps almost all the wobbles and line variation, but gives a lovely strong clear contrast. Here it is in hot pink, because it amused me.

Then I took the (black!) inks back into Photoshop, where I added colour.

Colour

I wasn’t entirely sure how to colour the cover — whether to keep the the simple yellow/grey of the April calendar, or a greater range of colours.

I decided just to get the colour flats down first — selecting the areas under the inks that would be different colours, and filling them with anything, on the understanding I could change the colours later. To keep it simple, I just used two colours, blue and green, plus white.

Here are the areas coloured in — this layer sat under the inks, so it could be untidy to begin with. (Technical details: I mostly used the “lasso” tool to select areas, only occasionally bumping more detail in with the pencil or eraser tools.)

At this colour flatting stage I have to force myself to not care about the final colours. Just pick the number of colours I want to use and then select the different areas. The colours can be adjusted later.

Colour choice

I’ve written before about aspects of working with very limited colours, both in art and writing (Sketchbook colours — blue and gold).

I did at one point think of doing more with the colours, but decided I preferred the two-tone version.

In the end, I settled for blue and yellow, which (as previously mentioned) I like a lot. Blue and yellow, together, have slightly different meanings than blue and green, so I swapped some coloured areas around. I added an old paper texture over the top, to give a bit of surface variation.

Editing

Finally, with the advice of friends, I took out 9 elements. This was tricky, but we decided that the finer shapes, which had less weight on the page, could be removed — the sickle and needle and arrow, and so forth. I liked them very well, but they shifted the light differently to the others.

Then I rearranged the others to fit the cover layout and complement each other. And here is the final wraparound cover!

Copies and prints

WQ magazine is provided free to members, but the Queensland Writers Centre do supply additional copies and copies to non-members for five dollars (plus, I imagine, postage) if you contact them with your details.

They have also given me permission to sell prints of the full art, and those are now up at INPRNT and Redbubble (the repeating/square version is also on Redbubble if you prefer e.g. a scarf or a notebook).

Thanks & support

Thanks to QWC, and Callum and Sandra, for this opportunity — both to do this cover and to get away with doing exactly what I wanted to on it! Thanks also go especially to Shayna, Alex, Claire, and Aimee for early thoughts on & responses to this project.

Thanks also to my patrons over on patreon.com/tanaudel, who got sneak-peeks, and give encouragement, and let me practice early drafts of my process posts on them. If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it, patrons there get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee at ko-fi.com/tanaudel (and I get through quite a bit of coffee). And prints etc are available at Redbubble (prints and all sorts of things), INPRINT (art prints) and Spoonflower (fabric and wallpaper).

1 thought on “WQ Magazine — art process

  1. Pingback: June 2021 — round-up of posts | Kathleen Jennings

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