The campaign is to fund the reprint of her previously published Creature Court trilogy (full of flappers, Rome-esque cities, animal magic and vicious skies), along with a new novella. I will be designing the new covers, as well as this banner and an enamel pin.
Meet Anya Winter, junior professor of magical textiles at Arcanos Hall. She spends her days designing invisibility cloaks and teaching reluctant sophomores to knit. If she can avoid her conniving ex-boyfriend and steer clear of campus politics, that’s a plus. But everything changes when her secret university is unshielded by a saboteur, placing the entire magical community at risk. Joining forces with a rebellious princess and a mysterious engineer, Anya must save her school—and her reputation—before it’s too late. But can she really change the world with just a ball of yarn?
Stewart did a splendid job, and if any of you are looking for a cover designer (and you should be, they are worth their weight in gold), his website is: Stewart A. Williams Design.
Every so often a project comes along which forces me to dust off my needles and knit a swatch for art-reference. I couldn’t find the needles this time, so ended up knitting with a pencil and the handle of a paintbrush.
In the end it was decided to do a design that could function as two covers or a wraparound – there was some refinement, with boots.
And sheep were cut out. They have these beautifully, misleadingly patrician faces. For scale, those are half-inch squares on the cutting board.
I cut the illustrations out as two separate images which could be joined over the spine if so decided (although in the end they were framed by blue).
Then I tidied these up, and sent the files away to be turned by Stewart Williams into something marvellous and blue.
And if you want to get early sneak-peeks and process details on projects like this, I post those for supporters on Patreon.
The next stage of the illustration process was to work out the style I wanted to use, and the character design.
I’ve always adored E. H. Shepard’s illustrations for The Wind in the Willows. Many many other great artists (Shepard was the fourth, and Arthur Rackham followed him) have illustrated Kenneth Grahame, but for me, Shepard most perfectly captured the gravitas and pomp, the comfort and homeliness of Grahame’s little folk.
If I were to illustrate The Wind in the Willows I would, I suppose, have to take an entirely individual approach. But because this was a sequel, I wanted to do what Kij Johnson achieved (with such apparent ease and vivacity) in doing with the text. She honoured Grahame while being herself in the telling. In the same way, I didn’t want to try to be Shepard, but I wanted to pay respects to him.
So I began by studying Shepard’s illustrations – his lines and shapes – until I began to feel that I could in some small way see through them to the living characters he was imagining.
As well as the ‘master studies’ above, I began looking at other approaches to drawing the characters, and also at reference of real animals (if I were to design characters from scratch I would start there).
Then I began to work out the new characters, in keeping with the old. Rabbits are underrepresented in The Wind in the Willows, so I went further afield – that’s a mislabeled study of a Tenniel White Rabbit at top right, below.
Fortunately, Mole did wear a dress at one point in The Wind in the Willows, so I could start there for Beryl, and begin to work out the rough proportions of both Beryl and Rabbit at the same time as working out some era-appropriate clothes for them.
And also the sorts of movements that they would need to make in those clothes. Beryl lost her cardigan and lace collar (above, lower right) and got something soberer and more sensible.
Rabbit went in the other direction.
Having sounded out the characters, I then made a quick reference sketch of varying heights. This is not a particularly easy job. The original characters are wonderfully fluid, able to fit into holes in river banks and drive motorcars with equal ease.
It amuses me how the various illustrations and adaptations treat this. I decided to keep close to Shepard and go for an implied but unacknowledged variability. If J. M. Barrie’s fairies were only big enough to hold one emotion at a time, I think Kenneth Grahame’s folk adapt, from moment to moment, as necessary to contain all the adventures of life on the river bank.
My goodness, I had a marvellous and educational time at The IMC 2017. I’m still processing everything I learned – it was a very intensive week. But here is an overview, with the pieces I worked on.
Pieces. The intention of The IMC is that you work on one large piece over the week. As you will see, mine was more of a personal evolution, but not for that reason a failure or loss at all. I had many epiphanies.
(Note: The prompt I worked to was for Seanan McGuire’s Beneath The Sugar Sky, in which there is a rhubarb soda sea, so I also used a lot more pink than I usually would!)
So: At the beginning of the week, when we were still all at the thumbnail stages, I was being heavily influenced by all the fabulous painters around me. Without consciously considering it, I felt I ought to be very painterly.
I’m not a painter. I learned to thumbnail much more boldly, and came to terms with doing that tonally, but in terms of how I was going to execute the idea, I managed to get myself pretty worked up. Although I still rather like the skull above.
Then we had two lectures close together: Irene Gallo’s presentation on colour in art, which featured many illustrations that were much more graphic in style; and Daniel Dos Santos’s lecture, in which I realised that while I resent the fact that his work looks like magic to me, and want to paint well enough to see the point where it comes together, I do not in fact want to paint like him or even paint all that much at all. Just enough to incorporate the lessons into my own style.
So I went back to my desk, scrapped my plans and went back to the extreme basics: Silhouettes. Having cut those out, I played around with the scrap paper, using it as a stencil and adding in details. I found I didn’t mind doing that. That’s just cheating on silhouettes.
And it turned out the reference photos I’d taken when I thought I’d be painting did feed into the shapes and angles of the silhouettes. One of my IMC realisations was that preparations are seldom wasted (lots of my epiphanies on the trip were obvious, and some I could have parroted before).
I’d decided by this time that what I wanted to get out of The IMC was learning how to be at it: learning how to learn. How to get everything I want from a lesson, drag it back to my lair and process it into my own work.
So, next I just added a bit more detail to that silhouette and began building it up in gouache, remembering the little textures I love in medieval paintings and Pauline Baynes’s illustrations.
Now, I was surrounded by painters, but one of the wonders of that is getting to see how people actually think a painting onto the canvas. Getting to watch John Jude Palencar paint and think, “Oh wait, it looks like a painting when he’s finished, but the process looks to me like cross-hatching and wash. I know that. I can think that way.”
It was also good being able to go up to illustrators with a sheaf of pen-and-ink drawings and have them draw over them on tracing paper, and getting to see and hear how they would have solved the same problems.
Another realisation was how much tidier having to comply with work health & safety regulations keeps a workspace. I didn’t spill anything.
I was feeling more confident with the gouache now, but I was worried about losing the liveliness in sketches. So for the next piece I did the thumbnail sketch, took reference photos (which I won’t show, as I haven’t the permission of the models, but they look like the world’s most awkward ballroom dancing lesson).
Then I sat down and drew the picture without looking at the reference. Then I used the photos to go back in and adjust details and accuracy. It certainly helped.
And I used up the leftover paint drawing in other people’s sketchbooks.
Here’s a drawing of reference photoshoots happening.
So! On ot the finished pieces:
Here is a digital composition of the silhouettes
(The painted silhouettes on their own for comparison)
A little Cake Queen, painted largely without reference, but with obvious Andrew Hem influences on approaching planes of colour.
An even tinier pen-and-ink version of the lady.
Seanan’s Cora swimming. I like the tiny skull so much (you may notice a pattern here).
And the final gouache painting of the walking figures.
In the end, they were all vignette drawings, but someone who knows me said “Next you’ll learn to draw backgrounds, and then you’ll be a real illustrator.” He got a multipurpose background in his sketchbook.
Another point Irene made was about the elements fantasy illustrators should be able to handle, like horses, and others which it is good to show you can do, like group scenes. That’s why I ended up painting the three walking figures, to check that I could! And since I rather enjoyed it, I started looking for more crowds to draw: Here are the survivors of the IMC at about 2am on the last evening.
A few lessons that resonated for me (there were many more – these are the ones which were still echoing around my head this week):
- Preparation pays off.
- Thumbnail using tones.
- Take good, well-lit, detailed reference photos.
- Keep caps on bottles.
- Gradients! Use them compositionally.
- Go to galleries and look at just one thing: a colour, fabric, use of highlights, etc.
- Watch how ink lines end, and use lines to echo shapes in other parts of the drawing.
- Whatever you’re doing (in composition, colour, etc), commit and then push it further. This came up a few times over the trip: exaggerating scale, doubling down on ‘errors’ instead of taming them.
- Skulls and wigs and gauntlets are things people just own and bring to workshops with them.
- Always do more than you need to, professionally. Get up earlier, or paint images twice, or…
- The cheerfulness and generosity of real (apparent) confidence.
- When watching a demonstration, copy it rigorously, then go back and try doing it your own way. I’ve always skipped the middle step, but it turns out I learn more by watching and emulating before getting creative.
… I just pulled out my notes and got distracted by all the wonderful information, but I will leave this list as it is.
But more: It was amazing to be surrounded by professional, excellent artists, all learning and critiquing, helping, posing, advising, sharing advice on brushes and paints, but never doubting the worth and ability of what was on display.
I have a new desk, and an interview up at Light Grey Art Lab, about how I work, and new things I’ve been doing….
Wanderlust is Light Grey Art Lab’s exhibition of art from their 2016 Iceland residencies (which I attended). The exhibition is full of gorgeous art which, if you cannot get to Minneapolis, you can also see online – and buy in the art shop (including the originals of my paintings).
I sent in a set of four watercolour illustrations for a story I have been working on, which rose from the process of learning to filter stories through different landscapes.
I had been wanting to use more watercolour instead of digital colour over my line work.
I started researching a particular school of ink-and-wash illustration, and then went sideways into pencil and watercolour.
Here Our Heroine is set a task by three unusual ladies.
One of several dresses of unconventional material.
This is a rock we stood on when looking for puffins.
They are at a pretty typical scale for my work – and the originals are available from Light Grey Art Lab.
I’m delighted to show you my cover for Christopher Rowe‘s collection Telling the Map, now available for pre-order from Small Beer Press. Wonderful strange stories of post-singularity hope and cycling, with one of my favourite gentle story endings. I can’t wait for you all to read it so that I can finally talk about it!
Here are some of the early thumbnail sketches. The art direction was for a map with vignette illustrations inset. Fitting the relevant geography around the necessary images and text was a spatial challenge, as I couldn’t purely invent it but did need to make it serve the design.
I’m very much enjoying working on illustrated maps. Stay tuned for another coming up soon! (Or join us on Patreon to see these projects in progress and get early reveals).