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.
Look what’s arrived from Tartarus!
It is illustrated throughout with vignettes and spot illustrations in the same style as The Bitterwood Bible.
It’s a loose, conversational, first-impressions style that I love working in. It’s so first-impressions that the label for my sketchbook notes for the project became not only the title page, but the spine lettering and the basis for some of the cover ornaments.
First impressions isn’t the same as easy. Here, more than any other style, is where I can feel all the work of observing (the world, how I work, how other people solve problems) and sketching pay off.
I particularly enjoy working this way because it catches that first response of an early reader, the images that intrigue and charm me, the conversation I wanted to have with the stories when I was first exposed to them. And also because, while there’s a lightness to the style, there’s also a lovely weight of quantity — spooling out wavering lines in response to the stories as they unfold, questioning and reacting and correcting.
More commonly, illustrating a book involves reading through, responding, making thumbnail sketches, having those approved, refining pencils, having those approved, and then working on the finals (subject to approval). For The Tallow-Wife, the selection process was simply the appeal of the text (and the limits of my abilities!), and the taste of the author and publisher as they select and place the final collection of drawings.
The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales is a companion book to Sourdough and Other Stories and the World Fantasy Award-winning Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings. The limited edition is now available to buy from Tartarus (while the print-run lasts).
If you need reasons to buy this, apart from the obvious (Slatter, Tartarus, enchantments), I have posted An Incomplete List of Reasons I Have Bought Illustrated Books, in case any of those excuses resonate with you.
As with most Tartarus hardbacks, it pays to look under the dust jacket…
And look at the lettering on the spine! I now wish to have all my handwriting printed in foil.
(I wasn’t expecting that part.)
Previous Tallow-Wife art posts:
Let’s get back to the making things type of Observation Journal page. The first half of this post is about the approach to an exercise, the second half of it is the resulting list of some possibilities to use foil on book covers.
I’m a fan of the twenty things exercise, either starting with an object and working out twenty uses for it (my dad used to make us do this on long car trips); or starting with a question and listing twenty answers.
I think it’s fun, and it’s also interesting to watch the process of ideas being pushed through different barriers — for example:
- with the “twenty uses” version there’s often a point where the obvious gives way to the interesting and then to the ludicrous and then circles back to the intriguing;
- with the “twenty problems” variant it loosens my grip on the first/obvious choice I imprinted on (even if that turns out to be the final choice, it’s usually stronger for a bit of objectivity).
This is also why I’ve kept the self-reflection panels on the observation journal pages. Not just to do the exercise, but to step back and watch myself doing it, and learn. You’ll see here I noted on the side that “20 really is the magic number. 11 is where I had to look further/do more research.”
“Twenty things” has shown up in the observation journal before, when I was working out the colour treatment for Lauren Dixon’s cover: Observation journal — werewolf conferences and colour treatments.
This page was also for a cover — in this case for Juliet Marillier’s Mother Thorn, for which we had the opportunity to use foil on the cover of the special edition (out in April). But I hadn’t designed specifically for foil combined with a silhouette before. So I made this list of 20 WAYS WITH FOIL TREATMENTS. (The activity is also great for tricking yourself into working on something.)
Here’s the list (excluding the running commentary to myself alongside). It’s project-specific and non-exhaustive:
- GOLD on BLACK (or colour)
- BLACK on GOLD
- Gold-limned silhouette on coloured ground (almost calligraphic)
- Gold base/border on coloured ground
- Foil highlights in silhouette design
- Above plus gold background (2)
- 5 plus flyaway bits in foils
- Fine foil pattern supporting coloured silhouettes
- Black on colour, gold lettering
- Gold support/background for lettering
- Colourised/textured silhouette with foil ornament bits
- 1 but with many cut-out details
- Multi-silhouettes, different foils
- Silhouette (black on colour) surrounded by drawn foil pattern
- Gold effect on blue texture
- Gold silhouettes, deeper-coloured shadow
- Black on colour. Only important details picked out in foil (e.g. figures, coins, birds).
- Border in one foil, title in another
- Foil silhouette on coloured ground with overlapping white title square
- Spot gloss blacks with foil lettering background
You’ll see that my terminology here is not particularly technical! That’s one reason for accompanying it with sketches. Ballpoint drawings aren’t hugely informative for foil/colour treatments but did help me to think through the practicalities, and whether an idea reminded me of something I’ve seen elsewhere, or made me feel (to quote) “ugh”, at least for this project.
The next step (square box on the side) was to do a test version, to run through a few of these.
The final cover used approach C, which was a combination of 11 and 5, although there was briefly a 19 in the running.
- 20 Things: Pick a handy object (or something you’ve seen today). Come up with twenty uses for it.
- This could be as light-hearted as 20 Uses for a Plastic Fork.
- It’s good for car trips and working out how your friends think, but it’s also good practice for just thinking sideways.
- Afterwards, it can be useful to note where the ideas got more difficult, or sillier, or if you know where some of them came from. This is interesting, but you
- It can also be useful for turning objects in a story into plot (or other things).
- It could even become a project on its own.
- 20 Ways: Think of an aspect of a project that you are stuck on, or something you’d like to play with but haven’t quite managed to, and list 20 Ways To Deal With It.
- I find this more useful when the initial problem is narrower — 20 Ways to Tell A Short Story is fine, but I can get past 100 without breaking a sweat. 20 Ways to Tell A Short Story In An 8-Page Accordion Booklet forces more invention. (These examples are from current pages of the observation journal, and I’ll get to them in time!)
- Like Ten Terrible Things, I find this lets me have fun exploring options without feeling like I have to commit to any of them, or abandon my early ideas. The list is the point.
- Sometimes your first instinct will still have been right, but you’ll be more certain of it (and have stress-tested it, and maybe come up with some new ideas for future projects), and you’ll have released your stranglehold on it a little, too.
From A Licence to Quill comes this book trailer for Juliet Marillier’s Mother Thorn, and other tales of courage and kindness, illustrated by me.
The Serenity Press hardcover special edition is out now, and the trade release of the linen cover is in April 2021. More on that as the date approaches!
This observation journal entry is a further development of post-project reviews, pursuing a set of questions that work for me.
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).
One of the things the observation journal has been very useful for is reviewing finished projects.
Some previous observation journal post-mortem posts:
- The Opposite of Unicorns
- Creative Post-Mortems
- Adapting Business
- Flirting with contagion and soothing with reflection
- Deconstructing Giants
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
They are so shiny!
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 Tor.com: Illustrating Flyaway: Kathleen Jennings on Creating Art and Prose Together
- Flyaway cover comparison
- Sketching with words
- This is not a deck of cards