Timelapse silhouette cutting

Here’s a little process video of me cutting out the bagpiper illustration for “Undine Love” on Tor.com, a story related to Flyaway, in which bagpipes also make a significant appearance.

My last post was about the process behind cutting silhouette portraits of characters for Chain of Iron, and involved a lot more steps. Because this bagpiper was for my own story, you can see in the video I skipped a lot of those stages, and simply sketched the design straight onto the back of the black paper before cutting.

My fingers supporting a cut-paper illustration of a girl with a ponytail and bagpipes beside a wire fence under a gum tree
Should have used a sharper knife — I’ve finally ordered a stack of Excel blades which are much nicer than what I was using.

You can see the other illustrations and read the whole of “Undine Love” over on https://www.tor.com/2020/06/11/undine-love-kathleen-jennings/) — and read an excerpt of Flyaway while you’re there, and/or buy a copy through all good bookstores!

The Australian and US covers of Flyaway, with a pattern of branches and birds growing out of a heart

Art Process: Chain of Iron silhouette portraits

Cover of Chain of Iron, with a girl with long red hair and a yellow dress
Chain of Iron cover art by Cliff Nielsen

Chain of Iron is out in stores! (These photos were taken in Where The Wild Things Are, because my copies are still somewhere in the international postal system and also it’s a great bookstore.) You can get Chain of Iron through all good & usual bookstores, and see all the illustrations in the Collector’s First Edition.

Silhouette portrait of a man tipping a hat, with an oval frame surrounded by flowering vines, a spear, a newspaper, a dagger, and a bottle

This edition has 10 silhouette portraits by me. It was a really lovely commission to do, and interesting — trying to work spears into circular compositions and distinguish flowers in silhouette and hint at bottles when working in cut paper… and that was just this image.

To begin with, I had a wish list from Cassandra with all the characters and a selection of moods and elements. I got out a stack of folded drawing paper (I cut A3 paper in half lengthwise then make it into little 4-page accordion-fold A5-sized booklets).

I began with some very preliminary sketches, sorting through some of the possibilities for combining a silhouette portrait and a frame. This stage is just me thinking through the pencil, watching what happens on the page, getting a feel for what is interesting and plausible.

Several tiny pencil drawings of head-and-shoulder faces in profile, with scribbly frames and a globe pendant, etc
This is actually one whole 4-page sketchfold pieced back together after I scanned it

At that point I was pretty sure of the rough dimensions of the frame, so I drew a template on the computer, printed it out, cut it out, and used it to trace little page outlines that I could use for my thumbnail sketches.

4 photos, cutting, tracing and drawing in an oval template

Here I was working through several different frame treatments for various characters — flowers growing from a central oval frame, from a rectangular outer frame, various patterns of growth, etc.

Four tiny pencil sketches of framing arrangements, very scribbly

Once the appropriate style was decided, I enlarged the chosen thumbnail sketches and developed them into clean pencil drawings. I scanned those in for minor adjustments, and so I could send them for approval. Here they are all stacked on top of each other in Photoshop, before I flipped them for printing.

Illegible stack of scribbly lines

I printed each sketch larger than my original pencil drawing (I work small!). Then I printed them again because I forgot to flip them! Because I’m working on the back of the black paper, everything has to be reversed. Then I taped each printout to a sheet of 80gsm black paper. I have to be careful to make sure the tape doesn’t go over the area that will be cut! Especially here, where the image runs nearly to the edge of the paper.

I put white graphite paper in between the drawing and the black paper. I used Royal & Langnickel white graphite paper, which smells like a drawer of tailor’s chalk, if you’re into that.

As you can see here, the line is a tiny bit fuzzy because the copy paper diffuses the pressure of my pencil. Also I’ve used the graphite paper before, and the white has worn off in some places. All to the good! Everything gets refined further as I cut.

9 photos of stages of positioning, tracing, and cutting silhouette elements

Then I work around each image, section by section, until it’s all cut out, and then I lift the excess paper away (carefully cutting little threads and sections I missed).

Here is the back and front of an image before I cut it out. (I actually cut this design twice — there were some composition issues that only really showed up once it was actually in silhouette, in spite of all the pencils and emails and tracing — possibly I could have corrected it in Photoshop but it was in fact easier this way, and good to have another go at some of the more complicated sections of e.g. necklace chains.)

Front and back of Anna & Ariadne picture (woman in dress on balcony, woman in suit reaching up to her, with frame of ivy, roses, necklace, top hat, sword, snake). On the back, white tracing lines are visible.

They are quite fragile once freed from the backing! I put them in plastic letter sleeves for scanning. Then I clean up minor corrections and run it through a vector program — this preserves almost all of the little wobbles and angles and personality of the hand-cut line, but it gives a really strong, clear, neatly resizeable silhouette that the publisher can wrangle into position.

4 photos of a hand holding silhouette elements: spider and web, cogs among geraniums, old-fashioned car, skull

Most of the individual silhouettes were separate from their frame, for this ghostly one we reversed the centre, to give a ghostly/negative effect (and funnily enough, keeping the centre of the flame solid seemed to effectively change a regular silhouette candle into a silhouette of a black candle).

Portrait cut out of black paper (so it is white on black) surrounded by thorns, a coffin, comb, sword and candle

You might have noticed something missing! That’s because I hand-lettered the names. I printed the pencilled names all out on one piece of paper, put that on a lightbox with clean paper of the top, and lettered it with a dip pen and ink (Hunt Crowquill 102 nib and Winsor & Newton black ink).

I usually have to do some names several times, to get them to work the way I want.

Pencilled and inked loopy writing of character names

Then I scanned those in too and cleaned them up, and sent all the art off to the art director (the excellent Nicholas Sciacca).

I really enjoyed this project. It was an intensive process, because the paper cutting is fairly physically wearing. But there were so many beautiful and intriguing images to play with, and technical challenges and new approaches — how to put a spear into an oval frame? How to convey fictional personalities through only head-and-shoulders silhouettes? — so it was both pleasing for the sake of this project and as part of being an illustrator trying variations and solving puzzles.

(The originals for these have been claimed by the appropriate people, but there might still be a few City of Bones and Clockwork Angel drawings available at Book Moon Books in Massachusetts.)

Let me know if you have any process questions!

You can get Chain of Iron through all good & usual bookstores.

Also, if you’re into supporting artists and art and posts about it: Supporters on Patreon got some sneak-peeks of this and other projects (and process posts) — I’m at www.patreon.com/tanaudel, with levels of support starting from US$1/month. Or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee at ko-fi.com/tanaudel (and when cutting out this many silhouettes, I get through quite a bit of coffee).

Silhouette card: A 21st Dragon

White card with a black cut-paper silhouette of a dragon holding a ring of keys that spell "BEN"

This is the 21st-birthday card I made for my oldest nephew (and godson), who is… somehow 21, and delightful, and very very tall.

I always have a crisis about presentation for these little silhouettes: are they part of the card or a separate gift? do I glue them down, or attach them loosely to the card, or…

Lately I’ve taken to doing the following:

  • Cut a separate piece of heavy paper down to be smaller than the folded card but (barely) larger than the art.
  • Put the art onto the paper but do not attach it.
  • Put the art and backing paper into a cellophane art bag.
  • Tape the bag tightly back, trapping the art against its backing paper.
  • Use two strips of double-sided tape to attach that little parcel to the folded card.

This sort-of frames the picture, while protecting it, and also leaving it unglued, in case someone wants to mount it properly on a backing (or frame it, or put it in a folder, etc).

There are probably simpler ways to do this.

Below is a work-in-progress shot. I sketched the dragon directly onto the back of the paper, and refined it as I cut it out. I did check the keys spelled out his name correctly by holding it up to a mirror first, though!

Fingertips and point of knife cutting out dragon.

Observation Journal: Ridiculous (but charming!) situations

This page of the observation journal is the result of reading Regency romance novellas and discovering a pattern of things that amused me far too much.

Double page of densely handwritten observation journal. On left, five things seen, heard and done, and a bad pen drawing of a kookaburra with "how do kookaburras" written under it. On the right, a list of romance situations.

Left page: Forgetting how to draw a kookaburra in spite of having just seen one, and making my housemate watch The Ship Song Project video. Also a note about the “charm of specificity”. That day, it was in relation to seeing a piano removal van, but it applies to most very particular things — shops that only sell sale signs, or industrial sheds advertising billiard table resurfacing. I think it’s one of the reasons the Caudwell manoeuvre works.

Right page: This is another take on finding out why I feel a way about a thing (see also: YA road trips; staginess; alt-DC rom-coms). 

For reasons involving April 2020 and a hospital procedure, I’d been on a strict reading diet of very light romantic comedies and Regency romance novellas. To begin, I simply listed ridiculous situations which kept showing up and which, for all their wild improbability, thoroughly delighted me every time they appeared on the page. starting with the classic “Oh no! I am trapped in a wardrobe with you, my enemy!”

I then listed what seemed to be the necessary elements of each (e.g., attractive enemy, unaware protagonist, potential for antagonist to discover them, wardrobe, reason to be in it).

Once I had those lists, patterns started to emerge. For example, all the situations shared a degree of unlikelihood combined with abrupt intense proximity. On the other hand, there were two distinct orders of things: situations which moved characters from passion to love, and those which tended to move them from love to passion. There’s also a note there which says “for difference between romance and Gothic, consider each as it appears in Jane Eyre”, which I’m not sure is entirely substantiated, but is entertaining to consider.

Handwritten analysis of romance situations.

Here’s the full list (I developed it further later in the journal, but if you like tropes, I also tweet about them occasionally). A note: these are the patterns in the books I’d just read, not requirements — there are of course other variants.

  1. “Oh no! I am trapped in a wardrobe with you, my enemy!”
    1. attractive enemy
    2. unaware protagonist
    3. antagonist to potentially discover them
    4. wardrobe
    5. reason to be in it
  2. “I, a sensual — but repressed and terminally honourable — person am trapped in an isolated manor with you, a dangerously attractive (but terminally honourable) stranger! Oh no!”
    1. Sensuous, unusual, but trapped-by-circumstances innocent
    2. Stormy, unusual, but honourable (ish) second party
    3. Isolated location and weather
    4. Locals who could discover them
  3. “I have had a crush on a person for a long time, but now that it is about to be reciprocated I have matured enough to realise that it is you, stormy acquaintance, whom I really love. (Oh no.)”
    1. Innocent
    2. Object of attraction (unworthy but obvious)
    3. Object of affection (unconventional but harbours [own?] crush
    4. Time pressure
    5. A knowing and affectionate parental figure
  4. “In an unlikely turn of events I, an unassuming but fervent individual, am betrothed to the unsuspecting object of my affections, whose would-be-true-love is determined to part us. Oh no!” 
    1. Unassuming, passionate innocent, undervalued
    2. Societally valued object of their affection, apparently oblivious to value of protagonist
    3. Reason for Marriage of Convenience (class/$/reputation)
    4. Dashing rival (a close connection or sibling of protagonist) [not necessarily, see e.g. Heyer, but in all the ones I’d just read]
    5. A calm and functional marriage
    6. Bluff loyal supporter (optional)

Observation journal lessons:

  • Being silly when listing or classifying something generally pays off (see this list of paint personalities).
  • It makes it easier just to get a list onto the page for later analysis (and not worry about what form that analysis should take) — and often reveals patterns of how I feel about things.
  • It also catches the glee (or other emotion) I associate with those things, which makes it easier to use them for my own projects later.
  • Apparently I use the term “Cabot-ish” instead of “rom-com”.

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).

Cover Reveal: A Skinful of Shadows

A book cover, with writing in Hebrew. The background is red, the writing is white, and a large silhouette image of a bear with trees and figures on its head (dogs, ghosts, girls, a comet) form the main image.

Utz Books have just announced their translations of Frances Hardinge’s wonderful A Skinful of Shadows (here’s an English link, too, although with the original and wonderful cover art: A Skinful of Shadows)! But for this translation, the art is by me, with cover design by Dor Cohen Studio.

It’s a cut-paper design, to match my previous covers for The Lie Tree and Cuckoo Song — and I will put up a process post soon.

March 2021 — round-up of posts

Black and blue sketch of people looking at art
Sketches from a gallery

Here is quick summary of the March blog posts (not including Patreon posts).

Black, blue and yellow sketch of people sitting at a table talking
Sketches from a workshop

The starred posts have variants on art and writing exercises and games (tags: writing exerciseart exercise), and the observation journal posts generally can be adapted for those purposes too.

Posts over on Patreon, at various tiers, included a mood map of a work in progress, several tests towards an art style for a comic project, some week-by-week collected observation journal pages, a drawing hack, sneak peeks of silhouette dragons and workshop sketches, printable stationery, and advance notice of the calendar and some other ideas. Oh, and a seven page comic for those at the story level.

Tiny ink and watercolour drawing of a sneaky/gleeful fox
Tiny panel detail from the Patreon comic

Note: If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like these about it, patrons at (patreon.com/tanaudel) get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee or two at ko-fi.com/tanaudel (and I get through quite a bit of coffee).

April Calendar: silver and gold

A black page with images in grey and yellow: bucket, sword, boot, horse, fox, dress, crown, apple, candle, chest, hand, skull, glass coffin, rose, needle and pin, poppet, shears, window, raven, strawberries, glass bell, fish, book, coin

Note: This calendar is supported by patrons, who get it a little bit early, along with other sneak-peeks and behind-the-scenes art: patreon.com/tanaudel, and also by those very kind people who throw a few dollars towards it or buy me a coffee via Ko-Fihttps://ko-fi.com/tanaudel — I’m extremely grateful for all your support.

This is a collection of fairy tale imagery — part of a slightly larger collection, all inked with a no. 8 brush (just taklon) and Dr PH Martin’s black ink. I coloured them digitally and very simply, because it was almost 1am by then, but I love the feeling of old endpapers.

It was a good and educational brushwork workout. But also I have been setting up a new studio area and it was really nice to be able to just reach for all my reference material and leaf through it or turn it to the light, and incorporate the bits I wanted. I also like the calligraphic effect of the lines.

These are the inks in progress. They are on a light box with the pencil sketches on thin paper underneath.

Because the background was fully-inked, linework is a little difficult to extract, and retains some digital tracery, alas. Notes for next time, especially as inking the entire background takes a really long time.

And here (for personal use) are the printable versions. If you like them and/or like supporting the arts, you can contribute to the calendar (and get it and other behind-the-scenes things early) at patreon.com/tanaudel (starts at US$1/month!) or by buying me a coffee or two through Ko-Fihttps://ko-fi.com/tanaudel.

Observation Journal — do it for the aesthetic #3

This page of the observation journal is an further follow-up to the previous two pages playing the impact of an aesthetic on a story idea ( Observation Journal: Do it for the aesthetic and Do it for the aesthetic #2).

Double page spread with purple borders. Small handwriting. On the left, five things seen, heard and done, and a picture (of a mailbox). On the right, the aesthetic exercise described in the post.

Left page: Frying ham, apparently, which seems out of character. Also the eternal feeling of futility that arises when there is so much to do other than making things (to be fair, it was April 2020, but of course Brisbane is going into another short sharp lockdown today).

On the right page, I was (literally) mixing things up a bit. First I made a table with four columns

  1. AESTHETIC — I created these by choosing three elements at random from the observation pages (the left side pages).
  2. GENRE (some favourites)
  3. MOOD (the first ones that sprang to mind)
  4. CHARACTER (again, chosen from the observation pages — they are very useful for these sorts of exercises!)

The game was then to choose one at random from each column, and work out how it could be made to work, and notice how each element pulled against the story. Some examples: “high fantasy in a brooding suburban utopia” starring “walking girls”; “an elegiac junior sound & fury” featuring a radio announcer; and “a mystical Gothic of wildlife and, incidentally, murder” about an officious clerk.

Things I learned:

  • This was quite fun, as with all recombining. At the time, I was beginning to feel tense about not actually making anything with some of ideas. However as I revisit them, especially in light of other journal activities, I find there are many sparks of interest and possibility there, and a couple of ideas I want to pursue. And of course, just having fun is nice, too.
  • But as I review these pages I’ve also noticed some of these elements have got — indirectly — into other projects (a few of the crime/gothic aesthetic bits of this are definitely in something I’m working on at the moment. And the lessons of this page — the vigour of some of these elements, and the degree to which I have to wrestle a story to an aesthetic — are also ones I’ve been consciously using on a current comic project (of which more in the fulness of time).
Right-hand page of observation journal with very small handwritten version of table described in this post.

Art/writing exercise: (This is really quite short! You can just read the bold bits. Everything else is elaboration and alternatives).

  1. Make your table, with a column each for Aesthetic, Genre, Mood, Character. Try to put at least 10 entries in each column, if you’re going to use it a few times. Below are some notes on ways to fill each column:
    1. Inventing aesthetics:
      1. If you want to do it exactly the same way, start by making a list of 5 things you’ve seen, heard, and done today. Choose three things at random from that and use them to create an aesthetic. E.g., from last Friday I could choose “Red striped umbrella by work ute”, “wide low small planes” and “Zoomed into confirmation meeting” which might give me “moiré-print airline graphic design”, which I swear is a thing (stripes + video = moiré; moiré + planes = flashbacks to airline blanket patterns).
      2. An alternative way: Look around you and pick random things around you — I can see a judgemental porcelain figurine, a waterbottle and a crime novel, which gives me, let’s see… Tudor riverside Gothic. (Or if you don’t want to do the full word-association process, just hyphenate two things in your field of vision, e.g. folk-art robotics). You can be ridiculous here — a great many things have the potential to be a vivid aesthetic. (Folk-art robotics! Outsider-art AI!)
    2. List genres. Pick ones that you find interesting or likeable, and maybe the opposites of some of those. Or search online. If you only work in one genre, that’s cool — consider these all hyphenated subgenres of that one.
    3. List moods, as above.
    4. List characters. These are really just types, or people-who-do-x.
      1. You can find or invent them from a list of observations — last Friday, for example, gives me “Middle-aged man on scooter with go-pro on helmet”.
      2. Or you can mix and match in the same way as for the aesthetic: “carbon paper” + “once you’re there, you’re locked in” give me a greyed-out office worker, while feathers without a bird and people pulling faces after an uncomfortable experience give me enchanted swan-girls who do NOT enjoy the transformation experience.
      3. Alternatively, you can list the great stock characters of your favourite genres (miserly uncle; brave governess; dashing cavalry officer, etc).
  2. Pick one at random from each column and make a sketch (drawn or written) of a key scene from this hypothetical story.
    1. If you’re stuck for a key scene, it’s okay to rely on cliches.
      1. Ask yourself what sorts of scenes does that genre almost always have (or get ridiculed for having?). Is it the equivalent of a chase-to-the-airport scene in a rom-com, or a “Fools! I’ll show them all!” from a pulpy science fiction novel, or even a bored-in-the-car opening sequence from the start of a YA fantasy? Take that, and apply mood, character, and aesthetic.
      2. Or do the same with a character (judgemental barista? elusive bird-girl?) or mood (does “elegaic” suggest someone standing on a balcony staring sadly into the rain? does philosophical suggest someone smoking a pipe?) and go from there.
  3. Notice what is happening as you try to make the elements work together:
    1. Can you make the elements work together? Why or not? What gives? What — for you — exercises the strongest pull on a story? (It’s the aesthetic, for me, followed by the genre.)
    2. If you do this a few times, what patterns emerge?
    1. Try swapping out just one element. What shifts?
    2. If any of the stories spark into a bigger idea, can you identify what made that spark?
    3. Which individual elements do you like (or loathe!), and want to use (or avoid) in future?

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).

Heyer has arrived!

Picture of the "Georgette Heyer, History and Historical Fiction" book in a box of old Heyers novels.

Look what’s arrived! My contributor edition of Georgette Heyer, History and Historical Fiction, with chapters on everything from linguistics to war — including mine on “Heyer . . . in Space! The Influence of Georgette Heyer on Science Fiction.”

The book, edited by Samantha J. Rayner and Kim Wilkins, is available from UCL Press, and although the print version is very reasonably priced for an academic publication, the ebook version is free!

And while it is an academic book, and sprang from an academic conference, the delight of all the authors in their subject has been delightful. For the Un-Conference launch, we even had such fans of Heyer as Stephen Fry, Philippa Gregory, Lois McMaster Bujold and Jennifer Kloester involved!

Map illustration workshop — 19 June 2021

I’m giving a narrative map illustration workshop for the Queensland Writers Centre on 19 June 2021. It will be face to face at the Queensland Writers Centre in the Queensland State Library (Brisbane), but the event (and me bounding around drawing on boards and building small worlds, while pursued by the videographer) will also be live-streamed.

Please note, it is an illustrative rather than a scientific cartography workshop! But you do not have to be an illustrator or even able to draw particularly well to take it — you just need to be willing to draw and break open a world. I will be teaching some drawing tricks, and mostly it’s about story.

Face-to-face sign-up link

Livestreaming sign-up link