Process Post: Mother Thorn internal illustrations

The new computer is up and running, I am back from hiding out writing, and FINALLY I can put up this post about the (Ditmar nominated!) internal illustrations for Juliet Marillier‘s enchanting collection Mother Thorn. I’ve already written about the process post for the cover here: Mother Thorn Process Post. Edit: and now I’ve put up an interview with Juliet, with even more sketches: An Interview with Juliet Marillier.

(Do let me know if you have questions or would like more detail on part of the process.)

The book is available from Serenity Press:

First: the fate of the second cover illustration. This became the title page:

(It’s not the first time cover elements have switched — the final cover art for The River Bank started life as the endpapers.)

The illustrations began in the usual way: I read the manuscript and sketch through the stories, looking for key scenes and for moments and motifs I particularly want to draw.

Edit: There are close-ups of these sketches on the interview post: An Interview with Juliet Marillier.

Then I put together a few ideas for different ways we could approach the art: silhouettes vs line and watercolour, and different ways of filling the page, e.g. vignettes sitting in the middle of a page, or designs with a strong border.

We decided on vignettes that pretty much fill the whole page, and wreaths for the titles, with incidental images, all in silhouette.

With that direction, I could put together the thumbnails for each story. You should be able to click on these images to see slightly larger versions.

For each I designed three wreaths: one simple and interwoven, two more grown or thematic. We went with the simple wreath.

The I suggested a couple of moments from each story that would work for the main illustration, and Juliet chose one of each. For all of them we went with the larger, more flowing ornamental illustration (#3 for “Copper, Silver, Gold”; #1 for “The Witching Well”, #1 for “Pea Soup” and #3 for “Mother Thorn). For Mother Thorn, however, I also ended up doing #2 as a more incidental image.

There are a few things to consider at this stage: approaches that will work across all stories (for continuity), design, ornament, spoilers, themes, and Juliet’s and my wishlists of things we want to see illustrated!

Once the types of images were agreed, I needed to do more detailed pencil sketches. These would guide the silhouette, but they also let the publisher make sure there’s enough room for text.

At this point, I drew up some guidelines on the computer. I layered the sketches over them and printed these off. I used those as the basis for the next, detailed, drawing.

Here are the pencils for all four of the main illustrations, for comparison. I mirrored them for transfer to the silhouette, but also because mirroring helps a lot with checking balance. For more on designing silhouettes like this to hold together as one piece, see Art and Editing: Three Points and On Silhouettes and Further Points of Connection.

I transferred the final pencils onto the back of black paper (80gsm, I think) with white graphite paper and started cutting with a fine craft knife.

“Pea Soup”

I keep the printout hinged over the art until I’m finished, and just fold it back to expose the area I’m working on. This helps stop the paper catching on my hand and keeps it clean.

“Mother Thorn”

I followed the same process for the incidental elements.

The big, interlinked illustrations are fascinating and gratifying (see also: Silhouettes and Further Points of Connection). But it is SO much fun to just go wild with tiny elements like this, which the publisher can drop in as appropriate.

Once the art was done, I scanned it in and cleaned it up (I run it through Inkscape, a vector program, to give a nice solid black). Here’s The Witching Well title wreath in place in the book:

For the special edition, however, we were going to be able to use metallic ink — a heavy dull bronze, which I think looks magical. This meant I could go through the art and pick out elements to be printed in that second colour.

Some of these I had to select by hand (e.g. the stars). In other places, I filled in gaps that already existed (e.g. the plaster in the walls). I got myself into difficulties reducing all of this to appropriate files for the publisher, so the wonderful Shayna Kite rescued me.

Here is the “Pea Soup” illustration as printed in the special edition.

Here are the plain black and white silhouettes as they appear in the matte editions — alongside wreaths, incidental creatures, branch-dividers, and so on.

And here’s a little of what’s left over.

Edit: For more about this book and the cover art process, see Mother Thorn — cover art and An Interview with Juliet Marillier.

Very soon, I will put up an interview with Juliet Marillier! In the meantime, the book is available from Serenity Press:

Note: If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it, I have a Patreon account (patreon.com/tanaudel) and 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/or check out prints and products available at Redbubble and Spoonflower.

5 thoughts on “Process Post: Mother Thorn internal illustrations

  1. Pingback: Mother Thorn Process Post | Kathleen Jennings

  2. Pingback: Fairy tales and silhouettes: An interview with Juliet Marillier | Kathleen Jennings

  3. Pingback: Ditmar Awards: Flyaway and Mother Thorn | Kathleen Jennings

  4. Pingback: Celebrating Mother Thorn — online on 1 December 2021 | Kathleen Jennings

  5. Pingback: November 2021 — round up of posts | Kathleen Jennings

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