Observation Journal: Project review and the brightness of sky in water

This observation journal entry is a further development of post-project reviews, pursuing a set of questions that work for me.

Hand-written double spread of observation journal. On the left page, five things seen/heard/done and a drawing. On the right, densely handwritten notes.

Left page: Butterflies, balloons, the arrival of a giant mixer for the new pie shop. Until the weather grew briefly chilly, I was playing the guitar in the evenings, and will probably return to it in about 7 years (the urge seems to correlate to natural disasters).

Right page:

One of the things the observation journal has been very useful for is reviewing finished projects.

Some previous observation journal post-mortem posts:

On this page, the process is starting to look more like what I do now, superficially at least. (The project is the cover art for The Spellcoats, which needed to be in a style that isn’t quite my usual one, to fit a set of existing covers.)

I started with broad associations: “left too late/delay”, “HUGE file” and “took SO LONG”. Not exactly novel and not particularly helpful (except for the useful reminder that working heavily digitally and needing to match someone else’s existing style take a lot longer than some other approaches).

But then I incorporated the patterns/suprises/likes/dislikes/steal approach (adapted from Todd Henry and Austin Kleon) that I use for note-taking. This was useful because it:

  • gave a loose structure (beyond my various worries and self-criticism)
  • brought balance — one of the things I most like about that set of questions is that “disliked” comes so late in the series.
Right-hand page of observation journal. Densely hand-written chart. Post-job review of cover art for The Spellcoats.

Highlighting the things that felt most significant is very useful for reviews. I need to remember to do it more often. In particular, two elements that have kept cropping up since then are:

  • subtle communications via textiles
  • the importance of surface ornament

Another interesting realisation, however, was that the process of working on a book that has had several covers before is extremely illuminating about why those artists and art directors made the choices they did.

Tiny pen drawing of a boy about to hit a water depth post with a stick.
Boy fights post

Art/writing review exercise

If you want to try this out, consider a project you finished within memory. Then make a few notes (I like to try for a minimum of three) on each of the following points. You can interpret them broadly:

  • Patterns you’ve noticed (in what you do, and what you made, and how you did it, and between this and other things you’ve seen lately)
  • Things that surprised you (in the outcome, the source material, the media you worked in, a response)
  • Things you liked (the pleasures, the things that went well, the reactions you had or received, the feeling of a keyboard or supplies)
  • Things you disliked (in the finished project, the process, the surrounding circumstances)
  • Things you’d like to try (in consequence of the above, or again, differently, for another purpose, prompted by the project)

Book post: Lauren Dixon!

One thing about this year is that the post has regained the element of surprise. The paperback and limited hardback of Lauren Dixon’s Welcome to the Bitch Bubble (with cover art by me) arrived this week — just as bubble-gum-and-bones as hoped.

Tiny little skeletons

The collection, per Hydra House, is “of stories both published and unpublished, including “Double Dutch,” “Floating Feathers, Red Wings and Wild,” “Sheela of the Good Shepherd,” “If You Can’t Take the Heat, Don’t Hire a Yeti,” and many others. Her fiction walks the line between the strange, the weird, and the humorous, often in unsettling ways.” Which is about right. But also, Death wears a sundress.

I put up a process post earlier in the year — this, too, is a cut-paper silhouette, but it went through a few iterations: Cover art process: Welcome to the Bitch Bubble.

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Mother Thorn — pre-orders!

I am delighted to announce that Juliet Marillier’s new collection Mother Thorn, with silhouette illustrations by me, is now available for pre-orders from Serenity Press.

Walk into a fairy tale world that’s not quite what you might expect.

Lara’s life of lonely drudgery changes when she gains an unlikely friend and learns that acts of kindness can bring their own rewards. High-born Niamh knows the kennel boy is her soulmate, but when she seeks help from the Otherworld, her future takes a surprising turn. Bella runs away from home on a stormy night and finds shelter in a strange old house, where she meets a shy kitchen hand, his autocratic mother, and a mouse. Young soldier Katrin makes her weary way homeward after a terrible defeat. A chance encounter with an old woman plunges Katrin into an adventure involving dogs, treasure and a lost tinder box.

These four tales celebrate courage and kindness. They are about being to true to yourself and recognising the good in others.

Mother Thorn is for readers aged 12+. Adults who love fairy tales should also enjoy this book.

Cover Reveal: Mother Thorn

I’m very excited to share this new cover with you! It’s for Juliet Marillier‘s collection Mother Thorn, which should come out from Serenity Press in November this year. I will share preorder links as they become available — and also some process detail.

Although this cover began as a physical cut-paper silhouette, I was trying something different with colours and textures — it was an educational experience, but I’m very happy with how it turned out, and I’m looking forward to continuing to experiment with the possibilities.

Update: Juliet has posted more about the book (and the stories in it) at her website — Cover Reveal: Mother Thorn.

Flyaway: A silhouette in gold!

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Looook at it! I did not know there were going to be foils on the case (under the dust jacket) of the Tor.com edition of Flyaway!

(These are the production manager’s photos for approval)

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They are so shiny!

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I remain fascinated by what different colour treatments do to a silhouette — what grows and narrows, what turns into a void or lifts off the paper.

It’s just over two months before publication (although both the US and Australian editions are available for pre-order now).

I’ve written more on the illustrations here:

 

On silhouettes and further points of connection

This follows on from yesterday’s post about the structural role of triangles in editing and silhouettes. It’s about the points that connect and strengthen fragile pieces of a design (or, if you wish to extend the metaphor in yesterday’s post, of a piece of writing).

This image is my cover design for Kate Forsyth and Kim Wilkins‘ Aurealis-Award-winning collection of linked stories, The Silver Well (Ticonderoga Publications, 2017).

The Silver Well

It’s originally a cut paper silhouette that I then used to make a cyanotype print.

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The physical silhouette is delicate (see yesterday’s post for some examples of scale). While structural requirements of cut-paper silhouettes don’t technically matter for a printed cover, they do for the original art (and I enjoy the constraints it gives me to push against, and the physical possibilities and effects they open up for the illustration).

In this case, there were competing requirements. The silhouette needed to look open, airy, and leafy — not like a complete net. But it also needed to be robust enough to (a) withstand the cutting-out of neighbouring tiny pieces, (b) tolerate being picked up, turned over, scanned, printed with, etc, and (c) hold up when framed, and not tear or sag under its own slight but not insignificant weight.

I dealt with this by tiny overlaps and glancing tangents. These can be a problem in some styles of art, but they’re largely invisible in silhouettes — and need to be, to help with the illusion of twigs and leaves waving free in the wind.

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Red circles showing points of connection

These points mean that the tiny twigs support each other in space. They lock together to create a larger rigid areas. I’ve highlighted those areas below.

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Green areas are the strongest, red areas are more isolated

The strongest areas are the ones in green  — roughly triangular, they’re joined to the larger design along one whole edge, which makes them very stable. The red areas are stable in themselves, but they only connect to the larger design at one point, which means they can still shift about, and that all their weight pulls on that one narrow connection.

In that case, I’d usually at least pay some extra attention to that one point — flaring or thickening it slightly. But I could also have locked the design down further by joining it at least at the yellow circles shown below.

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Yellow circles show likely connection points that would add physical strength

Joining it there would have created a much larger rigid area, as shaded in yellow below. But it might also have made the design that bit too dense and self-enclosed for an illustrated branch, more suited to, e.g., a lace edging.  But it is an illustration, and some parts have to be given their freedom.

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The extra connection points would have created this larger area

When I begin a silhouette design, I don’t sit down and count up the connections. The process itself, born of experience and accident and a bit of lacemaking at one point — feels more organic.

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Thumbnail sketches for the cover of The Silver Well

The designs starts with looping scribbles and works its way towards a final arrangement that pleases me. And yet the points where those sketched loops cross over each other have power, and by the final stage those points of connection come into play, tying it all together.

To link it back to writing and editing: those points of connection are often the ones that need to be tightened during editing — little clarifying comments, ambiguous foreshadowing, word choices that resonate across apparently unrelated sections.

Here, by the way, is the final cover — the Aurealis-Award-winning book (which is lovely, and has internal illustrations too) is available from Ticonderoga Publications.

The Silver Well

Cover reveal: The Spellcoats

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A new cover! This one is for the Utz Books edition of Diana Wynne Jones’ novel The Spellcoats (part of the Dalemark Quartet).

The style is to match that of my previous cover for Utz Books’ The Power of Three (which in turn was to match the style of other Utz covers for Jones’s books). The process post for that is here: The Power of Three.

Gili Bar Hillel (of Utz Books) gave a fascinating presentation at the Bristol conference about the process of translating Jones’ novels — you can read that in the published conference proceedings (more information in this post: Howl’s Moving Contracts).

Flyaway Cover Comparison

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Above is another process shot I took while cutting out the cover illustration for Flyaway. You can see some more of my process behind designing the cover silhouette at this post: Illustrating Flyaway: Kathleen Jennings on creating art and prose together.

I’ve mentioned before that I adore what Tor.com did to the silhouette for Flyaway. Having a book coming out in two markets simultaneously, however, meant a new cover — and in this case, that meant a different treatment for the same silhouette.

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I love both covers — the rich embroidered density of the Tor.com cover, the airy spaciousness of the Picador — but as well as being exciting to me as an author, it’s fascinating to me as an illustrator, and as an occasional tutor/guest lecturer in writing, editing and publishing courses. It’s interesting not just because of how visible it makes the work of the designers (Jaya Miceli and Liz Seymour), but because of how clear it makes the story each publisher is telling to (and in the visual language of) their region.

I think the Tor.com cover (below) leans into the literary gothic/horror aspect (and possibly for an American-inflected taste), and I am very fond of the typeface, which reminds me of midcentury Faber poetry books. The Picador cover, on the other hand, bends towards the more literary realism/fairytale genre as it exists in Australia, with a Gothic current under the almost whimsical swoop and piercing of the title.

Both are accurate, both are beautiful, and it’s so neat to get this side-by-side comparison of what two different publishers and designers can do with the same piece of art.

 

I asked the designers about the direction they took (and the typefaces!)

Jaya Miceli, regarding the Tor.com cover:

Flyaway is an enchanting, mysterious fairy tale-like story, full of emotion and curious characters. While Kathleen’s paper cut illustration captures the elaborate quality and richness of the weaving stories, in designing the cover, I added an extra layer with an anatomical etching to peer through for color, texture and depth. At a glance the artwork feels like an intricate tapestry and up close the detail within reveals the pulsing eeriness of the story.

The font is Lydian.
— Jaya Miceli www.jayamiceli.com/

Liz Seymour, regarding the Picador cover:

The opportunity to intertwine image and title type was an obvious design direction. Space, simplicity and choosing a sympathetic typeface were the key. Yana typeface is used for ‘Flyaway’, an elegant serif font, based on hand lettering.

— Liz Seymour › SEYMOUR DESIGN

And finally, a few words from Mathilda Imlah, publisher of Picador Australia:

There are some basic differences – the format was different, and though our markets have a lot of overlap, I couldn’t tell you why, but publishers in another country usually have really strong feelings about the type choices of other editions! When I briefed the cover I was only looking to change the type and maybe look at some variant colour.

But as we looked at those adaptations, I really felt the Lotte Reiniger-style silhouette was a strong visual referent for the audience – it speaks strongly to the tradition you work in – so preserving a silhouette became the first thing we did. I confess I always had in mind a kind of punked-up william morris illustration; that sort of literary, wistful, romantic notion of the folk/fairytale/legend oft evoked by illustrations like morris, aubrey beardsley, even mervyn peake. But you can see it cleaved closer to folk art, which suits both illustration and book much better! I would say the colour choice came out of that – I was initially asking for a much brighter set of colours – maybe even fluoro. But we didn’t favour those in the end.

— Mathilda Imlah
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Flyaway is scheduled to be published at the end of July 2020, and is available for preorder from your local bookstore (see if they’re doing phone, online, or bicycle orders!), or:

Cover art process: Welcome to the Bitch Bubble

FirstCurrent events have made it a little tricky for authors & publishers to celebrate new books and get them to you. This book comes out in May, but is available for preorder now. Please consider doing so!

A month ago, Lauren Dixon and Hydra House Books announced the cover for her new collection, Welcome to the Bitch Bubble.

The process for this one began with a breakfast conversation at the World Fantasy Convention hotel in LA in 2019.

From there, I received the manuscript and worked through it, thinking of treatments (how best to capture vigour vs whimsy, how to handle colour vis-a-vis the title, etc).

As usual, I made some accordion-fold sheets of drawing paper and drew my way through the stories, catching images that were particularly resonant.

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And, of course, getting distracted by skeletons in sundresses. Here I am making a cyanotype print of the cutout.

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(You can also see, above, that I was playing with some of the silhouette treatments I tried at the Illustration Master Class.)

Using these, I put together the initial thumbnail-sketched ideas. You can see me working to find a synthesis between my usual gentler style and the raw aggression of some of Lauren Dixon’s writing!

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Lauren and Tod came back with their thoughts on direction and colour, and from those I put together the next set of more detailed sketches. You can see how elements of the different thumbnails were recombined.

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The sketches above were for the idea that was always the frontrunner, but there were a couple of others we liked, so I played with them too (presumably avoiding other deadlines).

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I still really like those hair legs and would like to do a cover with them!

After that, I enlarged the sketch and used it as a rough base to make the more detailed final pencil drawing. This is the stage where all the strands and leaves and limbs have to link so that they hold together when I cut them out.

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I then used those pencils to trace down the lines onto black paper (remembering to flip them! I don’t always remember to do this), and cut them out.

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Once the silhouette was cut out and scanned, we kept trying out different combinations of colour and texture (the more gleeful of us clamouring for garishness, the more sober attempting to rein us in).

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And then, over to Tod (of Hydra House) to bring it home!

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Welcome to the Bitch Bubble is available for preorder now, and given what current events are doing to launches, conventions, bookstores, etc, it would be great if — if this sounds at all like your sort of book! — you’d consider preordering through the links here or a good independent bookstore near you.

Flyaway news: Australian edition!

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Big news about Flyaway was announced today by Tor.com:

Picador will publish the Australian Edition of Kathleen Jennings’ Flyaway

And that means a beautiful new cover (the designer for this version is Liz Seymour).

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If you’re Australian and after this edition, preorder links are through here, or contact your local bookshop (they’d really, really appreciate it)!