Mother Thorn Process Post

The art for Juliet Marillier‘s enchanting collection Mother Thorn has been shortlisted for a Ditmar! This post is about the cover art process, but I will show more of the internals in a future post.

The book is available from Serenity Press:

I’d known of Juliet, and loved her historical fantasies and her enchanting fairy-tale novels, for a long time before I met her at the very first Aurealis Awards I attended (when they were still hosted in Brisbane). We were both at the back of the room being quiet, because I was very shy and she’d just got off a long flight. She’s a delightful author and person, and so I was utterly delighted to have this (first!) opportunity I had to work with her on a project.

The first step was, as usual, to read through Juliet’s manuscript and sketch possible images for the four stories — moments, poses, incidental creatures. This serves as reference for the cover and internal sketches.

Based on those thinking-sketches, I proposed a few cover treatments. We were always talking in terms of silhouettes, but I included some alternative line-and-wash options. At this point we hadn’t definitely decided on what the internals would look like, so it was possible that a drawn cover might be more suitable.

After discussions with Juliet and Serenity, we were pretty sure we were going with either A or D — or maybe both, for different editions. Or possibly one for a title page.

We were hoping to use foil on the cover, in some way (in the end, it’s on the special edition hardback). I’ve posted before about working through different ways to play with the foil for this cover: 20 Ways With Gold Foil.

Double spread from observation journal. On the left, five things seen/heard/done and a picture of a painting leaning up against a fence. On the right, a list of 20 ways with foil treatments, with accompanying drawings of a silhouette dog.
I’ve typed up the list over on the previous post: 20 Ways With Gold Foil

I then cut out a test silhouette so that we could compare approaches to colour (this design also turned into printable stationery for patrons).

I also did some test treatments with the sketch for cover D (this silhouette ended up as a title page).

Here are some more test patches, to see how I wanted to approach certain leaves.

At about this point, I refined Sketch A into these almost-final pencils, ready to be approved and adjusted.

Then I flipped the design, traced it down with white graphite paper, and started cutting it out.

Bonus process shots of cover B, including silhouette lettering.

Next came the really fiddly bit. I scanned in the art, then selected the main colour areas. I had to make sure they overlapped, and put them on separate layers (top left). Then I vectorised each layer (in Inkscape) for a clean strong edge, and stacked the layers again in Photoshop (top right).

This made it easy to select each layer, adjust the colour, and then add shading, texture and detail digitally without interfering with the other areas.

Here is a comparison of the raw scanned silhouette (left) and the colour version (right). The yellow box at the bottom right appears on every layer, and let me quickly line the layers up. I deleted them later.

In the end, we used yellow on the coloured cover, instead of foil, and printed the whole silhouette in foil for the special edition.

More on the internal illustrations soon, but 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.

Mystery 101 sketches

Here is some more TV sketching — the first episode of Mystery 101 this time. The usual TV sketching rule applied: no pausing the show while drawing.

I like the middle right (black jacket) pose, and the jaw on the guy with the satchel.

American hair, great coats.

I like the way the two bottom right poses turned out, and the light on the bottom right face. I’m not sure how much was intentional, but it looks effective.

I am hoping to get back to some Midsomer Murders, but my housemate and I have to work out which seasons we’ve seen least recently. I would sketch other shows, but we’ve but watching creepier ones and I need to keep my eyes on the screen.

Previous TV sketching:

More Midsomer sketching

Here are a few more Midsomer Murders sketches (season 22 episode 4). As ever, the rule is that I can’t pause the show.

Previously on Midsomer Sketching:

Midsomer Sketching

More Midsomer Murders sketches! These are from episodes 1, 2 and 3 of Season 22.

I’m really enjoying these speed-sketches. I started them mostly to get/keep in practice using the Procreate app (I’m sticking with a traditional media base for my art, but there’s always some digital editing). TV sketching, however, does require faster reflexes than actual cafe sketching, because while the models viewed from a cafe do walk out of view, the scene is rarely actually cut mid-stride, and there’s no fancy camera work. On a show, however, the views and clothing are more varied, and occasionally the camera angle and lighting are dramatic. Also, it’s cool to look back at a few pages from a single episode and see if there are patterns or colour themes.

(And of course it remains a useful way to draw when excursions are limited.)

The rule continues to be that I am not allowed to pause the show while sketching.

Previously on Midsomer Sketching:

TV sketching — backgrounds

Midsomer Murders — The Sting of Death

I’m practicing with the Procreate app by sketching during shows. Usually I draw people (see: Beyond the Main Event and Sketching Mysteries), but this time wanted to shake myself up and test my (very low) tolerance for drawing backgrounds by sketching sets and buildings instead. The rule for TV sketching is that I can’t pause the show, which makes this mostly painless.

Midsomer Murders — either The Point of Balance or The Miniature Murders

Also my visual memory is indifferent, so I can’t tinker with the drawing for very long after the scene changes. But sometimes it also means I only capture the telling details. Sometimes. (See also: Lots of little bad drawings.)

Midsomer Murders — The Sting of Death

As with most sketches, I find a little colour can do a lot of work — explaining, unifying, contextualising. Colour, more than line alone, is a great aid to memory — both for recalling what I was looking at, and for remembering (or wanting) to look at that particular page of sketches.

Midsomer Murders — The Sting of Death

It’s also been illuminating to work out which bits of architecture I can and can’t extrapolate. Dormers I can work out from first principles, but windows are a more chaotic proposition.

Leverage — The Underground Job (I think)

Art/writing exercise:

  • Try to capture a range of settings from a TV show without pausing the show.
    • This can be in pictures, as above, or in a few jotted sentences — the things that leap out at you, the way you’d capture and describe that place.
    • It’s an interesting little workout, and a pleasant way to keep my hands busy when I don’t want to completely zone out during a show. Also, even if it’s a show set in places I like, I still find it makes me draw (or describe) places I wouldn’t ordinarily choose, and adds them to my mental thesaurus. (So far, I find murder mysteries particularly good at rolling through a range of interesting sets in an episode.)
    • (This is kind of what Travelogues is, of course, if you replace a TV screen with a train window.)
  • Bonus step: Make a note of what was easy and what was difficult (architectural terminology trips me up), and what you enjoyed and resisted.
    • I find this part of exercises occasionally surprising, sometimes affirming (I don’t want to spend my life drawing horizontal blinds), and frequently a checklist for deliberate research.

Pandora’s Box — A Spell for Returning

Pandora’s Box, one of two Light Grey Art Lab art swaps, has arrived, very full of postcards, stickers, pins, tiny sculptures, bandannas…

You can find the collections on the Light Grey website, and throughout the show, works will be available on the online shop as special mystery packs. You can check out the mystery packs here! And select pieces will only be available at Light Grey Art Lab in Minneapolis. 

I posted, before, about a design I didn’t use for my contribution. I still like it very much, but it didn’t work for what I wanted to experiment with, which was stickers (I used StickerApp, because they print on the backing paper as well).

Hand holding cut-paper skull, in black paper, crowned by strawberries

After cutting out the silhouette skull above, I redrew the concept with a brush pen, with a looser wreath of strawberries, and a coin in the eyesocket.

Drawing of skull crowned by strawberries, with a coin in its eyesocket.

I coloured it digitally, for the sticker.

Sticker of skull crowned by strawberries, with a coin in its eyesocket.

And on the back, in keeping with the theme, I put a tiny hint of a story — a little braiding of superstitions for going back to enchantment (and obliquely part of a true story).

Reverse of sticker, with writing

A Spell for Returning

I knew the strawberries were enchanted, so I ate them.

I promise —

I threw the last coin into the stream between night and day.

nothing will bar my way.

Sketching mysteries

I’ve been sketching when I watch TV with my housemate in the evenings. Currently, that means I’m sketching Midsomer Murders. This is in the service of (a) having something to do with my hands and (b) test-driving Procreate on an iPad Pro I’ve hired for a month. (It turns out this is an option! I searched for business equipment hire places, and hired it along with an Apple Pencil — they rent Cintiqs, too, and I was planning on trialling both, but the iPad Pro is already very promising and considerably more useful than the very old one I last used.)

This is not my first time sketching Midsomer Murders, but last time I was using it as a source of passers-by in lieu of being able to watch actual people (see Beyond the main event — experiments with sketching).

This time I’m using it for speed-sketching characters (since I’m watching with someone else, I can’t keep pausing). It’s an effective way to watch a fairly familiar show. I definitely notice certain demographic idiosyncrasies more than usual, for good as well as ill — there are lots of great character actors with interesting faces in episodic murder mysteries, and they skew older so there’s more to work with in terms of visible structure.

Also, while people don’t hold their poses, they keep reappearing, so you can try the same person again from different angles.

It was also very good practice to draw people in the act of speaking, the different ways they move their mouths, and how their teeth fit into them, which comes up less in some fields of illustration than in others.

And of course the ongoing reminder that the faster the sketch, the more happy I am likely to be with it. Here are two of my favourites.

Kind-of-sort-of Ruby Wilmott (Julia McKenzie) and Jack Fothergill (Sam Kelly)

Lots of little bad drawings

Lots of tiny biro drawings, some described further in the text
(Sections shown larger below)

This is a collage of very scribbly drawings from the observation pages of the journal. I made it for a workshop about the journal I gave for SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Queensland.

Feat. Saffy, Johnny, Lulu and Oz

It’s a useful compendium of the variety of pictures in the journal — and the variety of quality. From diagrams of dangerous u-turns, through unconvincing cats, to badly-remembered helicopters. The point isn’t to be any good, or even large (see the soy sauce fish) — it’s just to make a drawn note of something from the day.

Two! Two pheasant coucals! Mwahahaha

It’s illustration as the most short-hand version of communication — but so varied in what it succeeds in communicating (at least to me, its intended audience). Only a few have a caption, like the Uber Eats receipt symbol above (it does look like the ghost of Ned Kelly). But while I could have written a more convincing crow-in-the-window, what I was trying to remember here was its attitude — and the same for the boy in the very short tree, out of which a teacher was attempting to lure him. The hot water bottle was something simple and comforting (my back was still causing havoc), and the point of the person pushing the office chair uphill was their very specific cryptid pose.

Jacaranda seedpods look a bit like stingrays

And taken together, there’s something pleasing (to me) about the sheer volume of sketches, the resonances that appear between them (a sequence of birds, a contrast between plane shadows and a sturdy drawing board. I firmly believe that:

  • if you draw fast frequently you discover both a shorthand (eyebrows + nose = me) and what you like to draw
  • if you draw small, people think it’s detailed — the opposite is true (or scale, the grid is 0.5cm, less than 1/4 inch, and the pictures are drawn with a ballpoint: Pilot BPS-GP<F>)
  • if you draw a lot of small things it becomes a big piece of art (or at least an extended comic routine, which is also art)
  • “bad” can be an aspiration, not a criticism
  • if you draw things badly a lot, it just becomes ‘your style’

And these aren’t “good” pictures in the classical sense. The anatomy is dubious, the camelids are just a scribble with ears, the perspective isn’t, I forgot how sofas work. But where they work, it’s because:

  • I don’t care if these are good — they’re not meant to be academic exercises. The only way to get them wrong is not to do them.
  • They’re fast, which makes them honest while also conferring a degree of plausible deniability
  • They’re also chatty (although I’m primarily talking to myself) and I like chatty drawings just as much as those which look like worlds you could walk into (anecdotes vs epics)
  • You can see the important-to-me shapes. The curly back of the sofa below is not at all accurate to the actual woodwork, but that’s the impression it left. The cockatoo above isn’t at all correct, but all I wanted to remember was the punk hairstyle (I think the breeze was behind it). The contrast in the movement of the boy in the tree vs the pose of his teacher (the second picture above) was all I needed — everything else is just supporting context. Movement tells a story and covers over a multitude of inaccuracies.
Featuring Saffy and Obi

But there’s something else I discovered putting these slides together: Seen en masse, these scribbly drawings become a time-lapse of a week, a month, a year, a cascade of days and alpacas and domestic upheaval and other people’s cats.

(Some of these have already shown up incidentally in observation journal posts).

Locus Award finalists — Art

Locus awards banner

The Locus Awards top ten finalists have been announced. So many wonderful books and people and congratulations to all. Awards lists are always useful reading lists, and so many of the short pieces are available online that you don’t even have to wait to start reading them! Just follow those links!

(Incidentally, if you teach any sort of genre fiction writing, keeping on top of the short fiction nominations is a fast way to keep a fresh stock of reference stories and the conversations in them.)

Cut paper silhouette in progress for Flyaway cover — a heart with lemon trees growing from it, and birds

I’m delighted and honoured to be included in the list of Artist nominees, in the rather astonishing company of:

They’re all amazing artists, and very influential — do check out their work if somehow you don’t already know it!

(And also a reminder that now is a good time to keep an eye out for artists doing interesting things this year, for next year’s nominations! Share art! Tell people you like it! People who aren’t artists aren’t always sure how to talk about art, but honestly “I like this” is a great start. “Why” is fun, but secondary.)

This is a nomination for art, not for writing, but since I illustrated Flyaway and it came out last year, I’m going to wave the book around as having Locus-shortlisted illustrations (here’s a whole article about the illustrations and process on Tor.com), along with art for e.g. Tallow Wife advance glimpses, the calendar art, “Undine Love“, Mother Thorn, lots of art scattered throughout this blog and other places online, and involvement in projects such as Welcome to the Bitch Bubble, World Roulette, enamel pins. I’m sure I’ve missed a few due to 2020 existing in a fog.

American and Australian covers for Flyaway

Sketching matrix games

Last month, I sketched a matrix-game workshop at the University of Queensland — a type of roleplaying game designed not to be “won”, but to create & identify problems inherent in (or that could affect) the scenario, for later investigation.

The workshop was part of the Defence Innovation Bridge — a joint project between the UQ Business School, the UQ Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Australian Defence Force, and several startup companies in very interesting fields. The workshop was run by Dr Helen Marshall and Professor Kim Wilkins.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. Person rolling dice. In a speech bubble, a person waving a flag points to the sea.

The scenario being played through involved an evacuation being conducted in diplomatically awkward circumstances, with an eye to raising questions about systems, strategies and limitations to do with communication technologies (among other things).

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. A man rolls dice and says "yes". Another writes while someone off the page describes a reporter in a storm. A hand waves into view.

I was (always!) looking forward to some documentary sketching — complicated in this case by the physical people mostly just sitting at tables (no dramatic poses, I thought) and some technical things happening into the situations they were describing (for which I might not have mental reference).

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. 
People stand in front of paper on the wall. One says "Tron motorcycle system. Fireworks - pew pew pew pew"
Very serious technical discussions

Of course, the combination of physical presence and stories being told turned out to be delightful to draw. People got invested in characters and situations, which made their movements interesting.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. 
People describe a spider, someone meditating, a dictator, a ship and the name SHUFFLEBOTTOM, and a backyard communications array with a satellite dish, tower, Hills Hoist and very tiny bird.
I’m particularly pleased with the backyard communications array

It was also enjoyable considering how groups related to each other at tables.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. 
Three groups sit at tables, one discussing a person in a helicopter writing a media release, others discussing a radio, and the third saying POLICY

Or moved between tables.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue marker.
One person sits at a table while another scoots their chair to a different table.

I also discovered that it can be fascinating watching what people do with their feet when sitting for a day — not as consciously communicative as hands, but definitely expressive.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. 
People talking and rolling dice, describing sock-puppets, crowds, soldiers, a bulldozer and a police car

Drawing what was happening in the game was more difficult than in other role-playing games where each person controls one character — this was groups and interests and technical details, and a fairly high-level view of the situation, and all being discussed and refined and changed.

I solved this by drawing the scenarios and fragmentary suggestions into speech bubbles, which at least amused me. However it also had the effect of creating rough time-stamps, capturing attitudes in the room around particular points in the game — an unusual but intriguing record alongside the more traditional formal note-taking.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker.
People sit and stand at tables, talking. A woman describes a girl climbing out a window.

Materials

The notebook is a pocket Moleskine sketchbook, and the pens are all Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pens (I posted more about the colour choices here: Sketchbook colours — blue and gold.):

  • Small Black Fineliner 199
  • Sky Blue brush tip 146
  • Green Gold brush tip 268.
Photo of a hand holding 3 pens.

Lessons: 

  • 6 solid hours of live sketching is a lot. Especially after a year of doing very little out and about.
  • Documentary/reportage sketching involves rather intense alertness. Not just the drawing, and the noticing what you’re drawing, but noticing things to draw, and patterns, and so on. It burns up a bit of energy.
  • I do like documentary sketching, though! It’s very useful for other work, of course, but there’s a liveliness and immediacy and plausible-deniability to drawing in the moment, picking out flashing fragments of the day, sharing things that charmed me, or jokes, or fascinatingly human gestures. Also, sometimes it’s nice to just draw a thing, intensely, and then be done with it.
  • Feet are surprisingly expressive.
  • Drawing conversations as speech was a lot of fun, and has worked its way into some projects since.
  • The blue and yellow combination feels very effective — a hint at colour difference, warm/cool separations, delineating areas. It’s starting to feel more naturally and flexibly communicative. I posted more about that colour combination here: Sketchbook colours — blue and gold.

Note: This post started as a post for supporters on Patreon. 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).