Eclipse Online Illustrations – March 2013

These were, alas, the last published illustrations for Eclipse Online:

First was E Lily Yu‘s haunting, keyed-back story of the loss of loss: “Loss, with Chalk Diagrams” – a story with all its colours fading in memory like cold cigarette smoke.

At top is one of the inked drawings I discarded. The final image is at centre. The one at the bottom I adore, but it was a bit too quirky/upbeat for this beautiful understated story.

Loss, with Chalk Diagrams

And very last was An Owomoyela‘s “In Metal, In Bone“. It has been a privilege to read and illustrate all the excellent stories which appeared in Eclipse Online (thank you Jonathan). This one, the final tale, however, had one of the most powerful effects on me. It is a slow build, almost subtle, with a gradual gut-punch that I did not miss, but had to read over to make sure I had not imagined it.

In Metal, In Bone

Eclipse Online Illustrations – February 2013

Susan Palwick illustration

The first story for February was Susan Palwick‘s troubling, traumatic “Sanctuary” – a story I expected to have a major personal reaction against and ended up being deeply struck and impressed by. One of those stories for which praise and recommendation are not always in direct relationship to each other. Certainly a story for reactions. The picture above was one of the first ideas I had for it, followed by the little sketches below, riffing on one of the lighter moments in the story.

Susan Palwick illustration

I still like those little drunk angels, but Jonathan Strahan suggested we take a darker tack, in keeping with the overall tone of the story. He was perfectly correct – this is what art direction is for! – and illustrators as well as writers sometimes have to kill their darlings.

So we went darker – and to a different style, pencil-based rather than the pen-and-ink I had done for the Eclipse illustrations to date. The final illustration is at the top right, one of the darker pieces I’ve done and much more appropriate for the story.

Susan Palwick illustrations

Some of the perks of illustrating include getting to read awesome stories in advance of publication (then being superior and secretive in company), getting to draw from the works of authors who always seemed unapproachable luminaries, and discovering new heroes. Then there is the additional excitement on days when you open the email attachment, and find the by-line is by a friend. I was very excited to see the next story was Peter M Ball‘s “On the Arrival of the Paddle-Steamer on the Docks of V-“  – a story of the cruel beauty of farewell, the tawdry mundanity of loss, the heartlessness of love. Peter writes the most disturbing fairytales (and is an excellent writer, hosts Trashy Tuesday Movies, is running for AWM’s GenreCon Australia – those are just the highlights, and also, although he’s usually quite conscientious about warning me off books and movies which might scar me, he was responsible for Space Train).

I was working on some roughs for an ongoing scratchboard project, and did this little goat-headed guy from Peter’s story for practice (the picture is very tiny in real life):

Goat-head

 

The actual illustration, however, was completed at the same time as the first round of Palwick pictures, in pen and ink with digital colour. The final is on the right, and I like the hot colour of the anonymous, eponymous city (although I still have a fondness for the two travellers on the left).

Peter M Ball illustration

Eclipse Online Illustrations – January 2013

Alas, Eclipse Online has closed, but the stories are still available online! And they are such very good stories. January’s illustrations were as follows:

First, The Advocate: a small-scale, lovely little story of interplanetary politics and the false privileges and real responsibilities of an unusual position of trust, by Genevieve Valentine.

I wanted to capture a little of the hopes and plans of the story, so went with the fourth sketch.

Genevieve Valentine Sketches

We tried a few colourways, but in the end decided on the red tone, to capture a little of the red Martian light which is so present in the story although it takes place on earth.

 

Genevieve Valentine Web
The second story for the month was F. Brett Cox’s The Amnesia Helmet – bitter nostalgia, part science fiction, part wish-fulfilment (and its consequences).

We went with the illustration involving helmet itself (constructed from a hair dryer), on the right, but I remain fond of the girl on the left, with her bobby socks and borrowed tools.

F Brett Cox illustration

Eclipse Online illustrations – December 2012

With another two brilliant stories to appear in Eclipse Online in December 2012, Jonathan Strahan and I ironed out some of the formatting for the illustrations. I had been leaning towards the all-over texture with which I was comfortable, but because the layout of the site was to be quite simple, Jonathan preferred a self-framing image, which made sense!

The first story was Christopher Barzak’s restrained “Invisible Men”, an alternate perspective of a classic. It never did what I expected it to, and reminded me more of Wyndham than Wells, using one of my favourite styles of narrator – tangentially involved, observant, apart.

The first image was a darling of mine – a combination of linework and solid texture, with one scan of the endpapers of my great-grandfather’s autograph album, and another of mysterious stains.

"Invisible Men"

Below it (above) is the final, which I do like  (although it is quirkier than the first) because I love drawing floating things. I should reread the story and see if the change of illustration style changes how I read it. I’m looking at the picture again now as I edit this post, and it amuses me.

The next story was Lavie Tidhar’s fragmenting, decades-encompassing social media biography “The Memcordist”. I had just met Lavie at World Fantasy (he won a World Fantasy Award for his novel Osama). It was at this late stage I realised Jonathan had tricked me into illustrating science fiction!

I tried to avoid the inevitable by dwelling on the memory of basil – my housemate had bought some and so I was able to directly reference it, and then eat it while adding colour on the computer. But it was a (deserving) victim of the decision to go for a self-contained style.

"The Memcordist"

And so here is a robot. Metal is an interesting surface to render, but reflections depend on their surroundings and in this case the illustration was in a white void. Adventures in drawing! Science fiction illustration is traditionally about brilliant sleek schematic black and whites, perfect reflections with a highlight of pale gouache, hard lines, bright lights… Occasionally I find a way into it which lets me have fun with lines instead of rulers, and fluid movement instead of angles. At this point I’m still exploring.

Eclipse Online illustrations – October and November 2012

In 2012, Jonathan Strahan relaunched his anthology series Eclipse as an online publication, Eclipse Online (through Nightshade Books), showcasing two original short stories each month. He asked if I’d like to be involved and I said yes (possibly with more vehemence than that implies!).

So, since October, I have been drawing two spot illustrations a month, for stories I am very lucky to be reading. I do so much reading for illustration that I don’t always get to read stories I’m not illustrating. The two, I am happy to say, overlap surprisingly often, but I don’t always know in advance that they are going to! And these are stories I’m so glad I haven’t missed out on reading.

October

The first was “The Contrary Gardener” by Christopher Rowe (fellow Steampunk! contributor, a story of a high-tech agricultural future with an ending which was not what I had come to expect from stories in such worlds. I sent Jonathan a selection – we went with the last. I like the bounding white clouds, but I still cherish a fondness for the brussel-sprout styled balloon.

"The Contrary Gardener"

Next followed the elusive KJ Parker, with “One Little Room an Everywhere”, a title with which I fell in love. The voice, the pragmatism, the gold leaf and icons – an enchanting story, and although it is a cautionary tale as much as a fantasy of magic and buildings, neither the main character nor the story itself are at all unlikable (a common failing of stories of ill-advised behaviour).

This illustration, too, is pen and ink with colour and texture added digitally. I do like this picture – it captures a little of what I enjoyed in the story.

"One Little Room an Everywhere"

November

The first story for November was Eleanor Arnason’s “Holmes Sherlock: A Hwarhath Mystery”, a detective story of translation, admiration, secrets and art photography, and one for which I struggled to choose a representative image because the alienness (or otherwise) of the Hwarhath was not for me the main point of the story – but could override an illustration of one of the more active or landscape images.

"Holmes Sherlock: A Hwarhath Mystery"

And last for November 2012 and this post, Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “Firebugs”, a tale of joint and several individuality, arson and belonging.

With this story, I was trying not to be all Midwich Cuckoos and went for a more symbolic image. Because of the formatting of the site for Eclipse Online, the all-over background of this image and the last one would be discarded for future stories in favour of self-contained spot images.

"Firebugs"