Mother Thorn: The Special Edition

The special edition of Juliet Marillier’s Mother Thorn and other tales of courage and kindness is available!

It has a linen-texture cover and the silhouette illustration is printed all in gold.

And in this edition, the illustrations inside have details in metallic ink!

The special edition is available from Serenity Press at this link: Special Edition Linen Hardcover.

The other, matte edition (paper and hardback) is also available here: Matte editions.

There are four stories in the collection, each with a full-page silhouette illustration and various incidental images and ornaments. I will be putting up a process post soon…

Sneak peek: Mirrors and clocked stockings

Here’s something exciting — a project by Angela Slatter, which has been several years in development since I first illustrated it, is now inching towards publication, and this morning we were looking over printed layouts!

More in due course, BUT I do remember particularly enjoying drawing that ornamental mirrored screen.

Observation Journal: In-world surface patterns

This observation journal page features a little exercise in thinking through some thematically appropriate in-world surface patterns for fairy tales.

I’d been making notes, on and off, reminding myself to pay attention to the surfaces of things (in writing as much as drawing), not to forget the human urge to ornament surfaces, the narrative usefulness of surface ornament, and had played some sketching and writing games varying surface detail in stories. (It ties a bit to thoughts on staginess and strong aesthetics too, of course.)

On this page, I picked a couple of fairy tales, and just leaned into what might be story-appropriate ornaments.

First, for Cinderella: pumpkin-coloured brocade, silks hand-painted with vines and doves with beaks the colour of blood, jacquard in gilt & grey like the scales of a lizard, wigs fantastically styled into bowers and coaches, or featuring a real clock that struck the hour.

The second half shifts through several stories:

A deep blue overdress stitched with a full of snowflakes, thickening towards the hem so that no blue remains visible. A bed carved by a master-carver with castles and briars and a girl going off sturdily on some adventure. The back of a rocking-chair carved with a comfortable-looking wolf.

It is all self-referential, but to an extent that adds to the depth and concentration of a small world — and the details could be swapped out where breathing room is needed.

I discovered my default mode was direct references to the story, or foreshadowing. But as I pushed it further, it became wider references to the shape of the world (the importance of glass to fashion at that moment, the tales told within the world). And that of course lets you push further to ask: Who makes these things? What fashions prevail? Who is responsible for the glass, with or without enchantments? Who put these stories in the carvings?

Writing/art exercise

  • Pick a fairy tale (or another story you know well), and a key (or favourite) scene from it.
  • Make a list of important objects and colours and themes from the story as a whole. (Pumpkins and glass and lizards? Newspapers and bicycles and dogs?)
  • Consider that key scene. Where could you add surface ornament? Wallpaper and clothing? Graffiti and paint jobs? Jewellery? T-shirt logos?
  • Make a quick sketch (drawn or written) filling those surfaces with story-appropriate designs, as thematic or literal as you like.
  • Where do they add to the story? Where do they raise questions about the world? Where do they overcomplicate things, or make the world too small or self-aware? Do you like that artificiality, or want to open the world up? (There’s not a wrong answer here, but it’s interesting to feel out the edges of your preferences.)

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:

Publication: “Gisla and the Three Favours”

My short story “Gisla and the Three Favours” is now out in issue #43 of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet (available in print and e-formats).

Cover monkey by Catherine Byun, who has WONDERFUL work — soft, dense, bright, and toothy

The story is about promises and gambles and memorable dresses. It began as a landscape illustration experiment for Light Grey Art Lab, and then turned back into a fairy tale (for clarity: this story is not illustrated in the magazine!).

As Gisla’s mother lay dying, she called her daughter to her.

“When you were only a hope and a happiness, Gisla, I begged three favours of three ladies. I have not lived to repay them. This you must do for me, else when I die, Gisla, my soul will fly up out of my body, as all souls do, and it will beat against the windows of heaven, but it will not get in…”

Here is the full table of contents of the issue, which is available from Small Beer Press:

  • fiction
    • Alisa Alering, “The Night Farmers’ Museum”
    • Erica Clashe, “The Shine of Green Floors”
    • Leah Bobet, “The Mysteries”
    • Joanne Rixon, “Wires from the Same Spool”
    • Quinn Ramsay , “The House of the Gutter-Prince”
    • Jim Marino, “Acting Tips for Remaining Unknown”
    • Zack Moss, “If You Had Been Me Then What Would I Have Been?”
    • Kathleen Jennings, “Gisla and the Three Favours”
    • Gillian Daniels, “King Moon’s Tithe to Hell”
    • poetry
    • Anne Sheldon, “Three Poems”
    • Jessy Randall, “Four Poems”
  • nonfiction
    • Ayşe Papatya Bucak, “Half-Papatya”
    • Nicole Kimberling, “Time Travel Self-Care System”
  • cover
A watercolour painting, framing a page: stylised sun, moon and stars at top, a girl with a shepherd's crook standing across a stream from three mysterious ladies — one floating in a white gown, one hunched in a mossy shawl, one half-seal and in the water.
The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars — pencil and watercolour (this is actually part of a draft of the story — the final is all in words)

Light Grey Art Lab: Pandora’s Box and The Tomb

Every year I try to get into at least one Light Grey Art Lab exhibition, and this year it’s also an art swap!

Pandora's Box / The Tomb gallery banner

In fact, there are two: Pandora’s Box, which I am in, and The Tomb. Everyone did an edition of 100 little artworks (stickers, postcards, pins, sculptures). These are being distributed between the participating artists, and will also be exhibited in the gallery in Minneapolis.

Open Pandora’s Box at your own risk, for inside you may find secrets, creepy crawlies, magical talismans, baubles, spells, spirits, poisons, potions, amulets, demons, dark and deadly items.

The caverns are dark and dusty– it’s difficult to find your footing and to see the path forward. But then, you find it; the ancient tomb. The Tomb is filled with treasures, artifacts, maps, codes, ancient relics, weapons, items for the afterlife, lore, and relics from days gone by.

I contributed a sticker, with a tiny piece of fiction printed on the back (all, I hope, having gone well with the production!). I’ll post about that once the parcels start arriving with the artists. Here is a section of it, however, as a sneak-peek — it is called “A Spell for Returning.”

Section of an ink and digital colour illustration of a skull with a coin in its eye, and crowned with strawberries.
Section of “A Spell for Returning”

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 first mystery packs here! And select pieces will only be available at Light Grey Art Lab in Minneapolis. 

Chain of Iron (with illustrations) — NYT bestseller

It’s an illustrator’s prerogative to bask in some reflected glory, so here’s Cassandra Clare’s Chain of Iron, for which I made 10 silhouette illustrations, heading up the NYT Young Adult bestsellers!

Cover art by Cliff Nielsen

I’ll put up a proper process post soon, but in the meantime, here’s a behind-the-scenes shot of one of the more complex illustrations:

And here’s the full NYT list.

Curse Workers — art reveal

Some more exciting news!

A new bindup of Holly Black’s magical con-artist trilogy The Curse Workers is coming out in November — and I designed a new silhouette chapter header for each book. It’s available to pre-order now.

(The cover design is by Michael McCartney)

They are great books, gritty and with a cynical enchantment. Much as I love Holly Black’s Elfhame and fae enchantments, I’m always so surprised and drawn in by the patina of her (almost) real-world settings — it adds such a salt-and-acid note to the sweetness (however decadent and cruel) of the more fantastic settings. And The Curse Workers is all that side of the story. It’s also a story of embedded rather than discovered magic, where it’s a (disreputable) part of the structure of technology and fashion, politics and society and organised crime.

(Another illustrated project that is available to pre-order is the limited edition of Angela Slatter’s The Tallow-Wife — and there are a few more coming soon, like the special linen-cover edition of Juliet Marillier’s Mother Thorn in April!)

The Tallow-Wife: pre-orders open

The cover of The Tallow-Wife, cream with a small purple rectangle with an illustration of a pale crowned woman

The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales, the third mosaic collection in Angela Slatter‘s Sourdough world, is now available for preorder from Tartarus Press, in a limited edition hardback.

As with most Tartarus hardbacks, it pays to look under the dust jacket…

Close up of a head crowned with branches, a candle, and moths, printed on purple boards in gold and bronze foil

And look at the lettering on the spine! I now wish to have all my handwriting printed in foil.

Book spines in purple with the title in gold and bronze foil.

(I wasn’t expecting that part.)

Previous Tallow-Wife art posts:

A hand holding a fan of folded pages, with a pen drawing of candles and moths and the title of the book.

Mother Thorn — book trailer

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!