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:

 

Art & editing: three points

I mentioned the “rule of three” in my post about keeping editing checklists (aka lessons repeatedly instilled in me by Angela Slatter).

It’s a principle I work with when cutting out silhouettes. Paper is fragile, particularly when cut this fine, and although it’s light, it still has enough weight to tear itself.

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There are variations and opinions on the the idea of the “rule of three”. But tradition and culture and habit aside, it’s in the editing checklist less for its fairy-tale echoes and more for its properties as a physical structural corrective to floppy story elements.

One of the few practical constructions skills I remember from helping (helping?) my dad around the property (apart from the fact a Cobb & Co hitch is often one of the strongest elements of a building), is the importance of a brace — the beam or pole or cross-limb that creates a rigid triangle and stops objects leaning slowly sideways. Think of the planks that make the diagonals of the “Z” on the stereotypical barn door.

That inherent structural stability of triangles is the reason that finally made the idea of three references or repetitions of a clue, background element, etc, make sense to me.

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One reference (or hint, or point of contact) can be fine, if the material is sturdy enough — which paper isn’t. Lots of references can be stylistically fun, if not unwieldy — in a silhouette, they can create confusion, until you only have a field of light and shadow with no sense to it.

But in case of doubt, three little anchor points can be enough to create a stable field within the story, and enough of those form a spiderweb that can hold together quite a fragile lace.

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Four linked covers for Corella Press

 

Some stationery silhouettes

Very occasionally I remember in time to make actual art for family occasions — usually featuring interchangeable canids, frequently in haste (both the subjects and the artist).

They’re also studies in things that amuse me — what to do with a bird’s feet, how dogs run. How many anchor points are needed to stop a fine branch from being too fragile (you can see on the right where the branches cross, and glance against the tail). How many look too dense or awkward.

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Whether to add feather details (sometimes), create movement, or change my mind part way and end up with a hop.

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Whether to cut out a circle (no). How to keep momentum in a decorative medallion,

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The canids vary in style. Some foxier than others, with (here) a rare sighting of a miniature schnauzer (her name’s Indie).

Silhouettes, or: Outline View

Occasionally when I talk about silhouettes, I don’t mean silhouettes-as-finished-art but silhouettes-as-part-of-the-process. See, for example Art Checklist (and writing) and the activities in Party Portrait.

Liking silhouettes as I do, I enjoy hiding line and colour layers occasionally, just to see what’s underneath them. But it’s also a useful way to assess the clarity of a design. Most of these unicorns (from this month’s calendar) are fairly self-explanatory, for example. But the one scratching itself needs a little more effort/horse experience to parse: not itself a bad thing, sometimes a silhouette can function as a gestural sketch, and compact designs are appealing.

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Just seeing them in silhouette can also help show up anatomical or perspective vagaries — not always a problem, depending on style, but it’s nice if they’re deliberate (or at least plausibly deniable).

They’re also useful for assessing whether a certain mood is conveyed (this is from March’s Giants).

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They’re also useful for assessing whether I’m happy with how the space is filled — whether it needs more variation, or pollen-dots to fill in vacuums (this one is from October’s “Cold Hands“).

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I’ve been marking essays and commenting on scene cards, for uni, so I suppose the writing application for all this is — as for illustration — really an editing one. The effect can be replicated by writing an outline after the draft is finished, in order to see the clean shape or if any rowdy elements need to be pulled into line.

Small projects and tiny unicorns

Another pleasure of small projects is falling into tiny pieces that exist purely to pursue a pleasing line, or to test a sliver of an idea, with no immediate or greater purpose: a single silhouette, a miniature of a tree, a poem, a vignette.

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These were some tiny silhouettes I did two years ago, in Brittany at the Arthurian festival at the Château de Comper (an enchanting — and enchanted — place). It was a hot summer day, and I was sitting at our table under a canopy, watching a girl on a unicorn riding towards the food van (“Morgana le Crepe”), listening to French novelists discussing the state of the publishing industry but (without the very able translation of Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner!) able to say very little more in French than “Harry Potter! Tu es un Sorcier.”

 

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(I don’t think I ever posted about this trip — a bit of catching up to do on sketchbooks!)

Hundreds of dear little lines

Usually when I share process pictures of silhouettes, they’re for specific commissions, and the final transferred line is very tidy — it’s a function of the approval process, the need to fit specific formats. But when I work on my own pieces, for gifts or for patrons or as samples to test treatments for a larger project, the drawing isn’t neat at all.

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A stationery-design-in-progress for Patreon, doubling as a test patch for another project

It’s a graphite scribble directly onto the back of the paper, working out the curves and patterns, the tension and shapes, gesture and narrative. Dozens of searching lines until the promise of something is there on the page (this example is unusually tidy). When I cut, it’s a matter of choosing the right line from those there, improvising along structures established in the fray, or trusting to an average of equally appealing choices.

In a conversation today I realised that people think I’m being wildly productive and well-adjusted, and I’m really not. This isn’t to seek pity or sympathy (beyond the current blanket baseline!) — it’s just that I don’t usually talk too much about life outside art/writing on here, and wanted to keep it like that! Everything’s not great (although I’m much better off than many people and recklessly optimistic in company) and it’s been difficult to do anything at all except flail at urgent changes to courses I tutor, or else sit and stare at the sunlight (the weather’s been wonderful, which just makes it more surreal — usually disasters come with weather, and scents of mud or smoke heavy on the air).

But when I can, I potter and chip away at things, and it all comes back to art in the end, as usual — or at least, to stories. Making little lines, and flailing, and feeling my way back to a shape on the paper. Just one. And then another.

And the weather is marvellous.

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.