Bad Cover Versions

Further to previous posts on alternative covers (Flyaway cover comparison), here’s a little activity I set myself for the observation journal (a proof-of concept journal I started keeping for a creativity subject I tutor).

Helen Marshall, the lecturer for another course I tutor, set an activity during a check-in writing session where we all had to come up with ten terrible ideas for books. After I did that, I thought it would be fun to come up with 5 terrible mispackagings of an actual story-in-progress (title, tagline, cover art).


And it was fun — illuminating, definitely warning of cliches, but surprisingly endearing, too.

Activity for artist/writers/readers

  • Think of a book (your own, or one you’ve read). Choose 5 different genres, and quickly reimagine the book into each (in the worst possible way — this keeps it fun). Come up with title, tagline/blurb and cover art. For writers: a quick scribble nodding to classic covers in that genre will do it; for artists: go to town (it’s also an effective way of coming up with your own illustration projects — I used to do it with The Lady of Shalott occasionally).

On notebooks: Questions and declarations

My notebooks are full of little questions I rarely go back to — and if I do, it always seems such an effort to worm my way back into the original excitement of the idea in order to answer them. I could just be drawing something new.


I’m learning, gradually, to phrase the questions as answers, even if only tentative ones.  To catch ideas as a sketch or the most fragile of outlines. To just paint the thing and see if, as usual, that solves the conundrum.


It’s a small way of staying in motion.

Ineffective negativity


The thing they don’t tell you about getting back on the horse is that usually you have to chase it around the paddock first.

I bought the letters above to stick on my notebook, in an effort to narrow my focus after I realised how much catching up I had to do. The very same day, a friend emailed about a cool upcoming project, so I had to add the question mark (they don’t sell question marks with stick-on signage letters).

The Bayeux Tapestry Is Not A Collage


Photo pinched from Peter’s blog

Peter M. Ball has been streamlining book production processes and is bringing some chapbooks into the world as part of the process (if you like following processes, see the Brain Jar newsletter).

I’m in the middle of a lot of big projects lately, and occasionally stalling, so I am currently fascinated by how people can get quickly from an Idea to a Thing, especially when they can reduce it to the minimum number of steps.


I was making some notes on this (I’ll post more about these journals in due course!), thinking about the difference between collage as a metaphor for the process of ideas, and the actual practice of collage, which is a lot more immediate but less universal as an analogy.

Conclusion (apparently): The Bayeux tapestry is not a collage.

I meant to do a collage, because I found some clippings in an old notebook, but I was disgruntled and headachey and didn’t have a glue stick and the a/c was too breezy but I didn’t want to move. So I just took all the bits I was going to use and drew them into a collage.

Tiny Birds


Some tiny birds from the margins and interstices of my notebook/journal. I quite like the faint shadow on the owl (top right).

They aren’t illustrative of anything in particular except, perhaps, horror vacui (what else are dragons for?).

The brown birds were, however, suggested by some sketches I did in the Qld Museum on Saturday, while I watched children being towed away from fascinated contemplation of fossils to look at snakes, and being blindsided by the actual height of a bush stone curlew.



(NB: some of those are affiliate links which means I might get a very small commission if you buy something after clicking through, but I do encourage you to buy/order from local art stores if you have them!)

Loving the tools

I am, for secret reasons, keeping an Observation Journal at the moment (if you’re into that sort of thing, people over on Patreon are getting to see a bit more of it, while I collate my thoughts).

It’s been unexpectedly helpful (and in some cases given rise to a terrifying creative velocity) in getting back into art after spending several weeks mostly horizontal.

One of the activities that developed sideways was a personality study of my favourite paints.

Here, to begin with, are some of the favourite paints:


That’s a sample card with dots of Daniel Smith watercolours (the David Taylor palette). The dot cards are so very useful for tiny pieces and fast work and, particularly, for travel. I often refresh them with more paint.

Looking for Observation And Reflection activities I could do, I realised I kept meaning to order tubes of all my favourite colours, and that this was an excellent chance to note which ones they were.

So I just made a list of all the colours from my most-used sample card (above), and then without thinking too much made very silly notes about my thoughts on them. Quinacridone Magenta, for example, “lipsyncs to Dolly Parton”, while Moonglow is “actual magic”.


It was soothing and fun, but also useful information. You can see there ways I use the colours, and how they make me feel, and what they could be. It made me fall a little more in love with them. I adore the tiny jewels on this page, and now when I pick up a colour out of the wildly expensive box of tubes I ordered (finally! this exercise definitely contributed to me getting my act together), I think, “Oh yes, I know you!”

I want to do it again with other tools of the trade. Personal, idiosyncratic opinions on nibs and inks, rulers and blades. It was a gentle and kind way to handle them all again, as well as creating a reference, and falling in love.

Anyway, I’ve been talking with a few friends who have stalled on projects or pursuits recently, and this is for them. Perhaps, with no project in mind, just get out, handle, order, comment on, your tools and materials. Make friends again.