I had the chance to illustrate the cover for Wildendrem, from Phantom Mill Games, a fantasy campaign setting that is kickstarting now. At the date of this post, there are 20 days left to run in the campaign, which funded fully by its second day
Wildendrem is a land lousy with knights, where the quest is the chief currency, and where the dark dreamings of the ancient world still seep from the shadows. It is a land gone strange: picture a black light Avalon, or the Knights of the Round Table in the grips of a sorcerous hallucination. The Wildendrem style of fantasy adventure is a vibrantcombination of high medieval and deep weird.
The subject of this first volume is Gnolune, the Valley of Flowers, one of Wildendrem’s nine provinces. It is a place of decadence and dangerous beauty, in which flower knights roam the meadows in search of challengers, monks make wine to inspire visions of a lost empire, and a sorceress tends to the eons-long birth of a vegetal godling.
You can support the game, pre-order, and perhaps push it into stretch goal territory here: Wildendrem Volume One.
These epiphanies are small and frequent. But it’s less important to know them intellectually than to learn them viscerally, and remind myself through my hands.
Writing/Illustration/Creating Activity (if you keep an observation journal, activities like these are a good way to find some personal fascinations and questions to pursue — they’re also a nice way to just calm down and make things)
Make something small. Write a 50 word story or description of something you can see or draw a tiny portrait or try out a new pen or cover the page with fingerprints and draw legs on them or embroider a flower. (Bonus: if you’re stuck, try a separate exercise and make a list of at least 20 tiny things you could make. Be silly. Note where your thinking shifts gears. See if there are any patterns you could use to invent more activities, e.g. approaches you obviously like or are clearly avoiding.)
Stick it to the page (or if that isn’t feasible, note what it was you did).
Consider the thing you made, and how, and why, and what it was like to make and what you ended up with. You’ll have your own interests, but some places you could start are:
senses (touch, smell, how the light affects it — these can be important for achieving an effect or working comfortably, but also for pursuing things you like)
ways you could use or develop it into something further or new
ideas it gave you
what you liked or resisted
is it (or could it be) connected to anything you’re currently interested in
is it pleasing (why)
is it X enough for you [dreamy, horrific, utilitarian, etc] and how could you make it more so
Make a couple extra notes on how the activity as a whole worked for you, or what it revealed about how you work.
Think of a specific creative question you’ve been wanting to answer (or one of the ideas from the step above).
Jot down a few subquestions — whether a technique will work at all or suit a particular purpose, how it would compare to a different approach, whether it will create an effect you saw someone else achieve, or be more fun, or change your speed, or any number of specific questions.
Make a tiny test-patch experiment, as small as you possibly can make to answer the question (a blurb for an experimental trilogy format; two colours blended; pickling one slice of an unusual vegetable).
Paste it in or make a note of what you did.
Around it, again, make observations. This time, answer some of those subquestions. But also look at the list of questions for the previous activity, including ideas to try next…
Support and/or follow
If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it, here are some options:
I have a Patreon account (patreon.com/tanaudel) where you can get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1.
Despite the noise, heat, dust and fumes, the ceaseless movement, light and toxins, many birds successfully live their lives among us. And not just furtively in the shadows. Ibis steal our lunch, brush-turkeys rearrange gardens and magpies chase us from near their nest.
From blackbirds and sparrows in his childhood country town to brush-turkeys in the suburbs, Darryl Jones shares a fascinating story of curiosity, discovery, adventure and conflict, played out in the streets and backyards of Australia. He also provides rare insights into the intimate lives of some of our most beloved and feared, despised and admired neighbours. Magpies, curlews, ibis, lorikeets and cockatoos will never seem the same again.
Darryl Jones is a Professor of Ecology at Griffith University in Brisbane, where he has been investigating the many ways that people and wildlife interact for over 30 years. He is particularly interested in why some species are extremely successful in urban landscapes, while many others are not, and how best to deal with the ensuing conflicts. More recently, he has been trying to understand more about the humans that also live in cities in large numbers, and how they engage with nature. This has led him into the strange and fascinating world of wild bird feeding and has resulted in collaborations with other researchers all over the world. He has published six books, including The Birds at My Table and Feeding the Birds at My Table.
The book will be released in September, and there will be an event at Avid Reader on 14 September 2022 — you can book here. There’s a fairly high chance that some of the original art will be there too… more on that soon, but for now, here’s a teaser — one of the illustrations in progress.
I’m still charmed by this little forest I cut out. There are areas I’d tidy and balance and things I’d add, if I do something similar again, but it’s such a satisfyingly complete little grove (for the advantages of that, see Little Groves).
It was for a tiny illustrated story for the small (wonderful) tier of patrons who receive them in allegedly monthly emails (on average it works out that way). I’m collecting a pile of little tales in the hopes of doing something with them, although I’m not sure exactly what yet — their dimensions and styles are very various. Some are one line, some are several hundred words, some are poems, some are instructions.
The Brisbane Writers Festival and the University of Queensland present the annual schools’ microfiction competition, open to Queensland-based schools students. The 2022 prompt is this illustration by me!
Students are invited to respond to the image in no more than 120 words, using any written format (verse/ prose). Shortlisted entrants will be invited to present a reading of their microfiction at the awards ceremony during the Festival.
The winner will receive a cash prize of $1000 thanks to UQ, and a book pack featuring every Word Play 2022 title for their school.
The new computer is up and running, I am back from hiding out writing, and FINALLY I can put up this post about the (Ditmar nominated!) internal illustrations for Juliet Marillier‘s enchanting collection Mother Thorn. I’ve already written about the process post for the cover here: Mother Thorn Process Post. Edit: and now I’ve put up an interview with Juliet, with even more sketches: An Interview with Juliet Marillier.
(Do let me know if you have questions or would like more detail on part of the process.)
Then I put together a few ideas for different ways we could approach the art: silhouettes vs line and watercolour, and different ways of filling the page, e.g. vignettes sitting in the middle of a page, or designs with a strong border.
We decided on vignettes that pretty much fill the whole page, and wreaths for the titles, with incidental images, all in silhouette.
With that direction, I could put together the thumbnails for each story. You should be able to click on these images to see slightly larger versions.
For each I designed three wreaths: one simple and interwoven, two more grown or thematic. We went with the simple wreath.
The I suggested a couple of moments from each story that would work for the main illustration, and Juliet chose one of each. For all of them we went with the larger, more flowing ornamental illustration (#3 for “Copper, Silver, Gold”; #1 for “The Witching Well”, #1 for “Pea Soup” and #3 for “Mother Thorn). For Mother Thorn, however, I also ended up doing #2 as a more incidental image.
There are a few things to consider at this stage: approaches that will work across all stories (for continuity), design, ornament, spoilers, themes, and Juliet’s and my wishlists of things we want to see illustrated!
Once the types of images were agreed, I needed to do more detailed pencil sketches. These would guide the silhouette, but they also let the publisher make sure there’s enough room for text.
At this point, I drew up some guidelines on the computer. I layered the sketches over them and printed these off. I used those as the basis for the next, detailed, drawing.
I transferred the final pencils onto the back of black paper (80gsm, I think) with white graphite paper and started cutting with a fine craft knife.
I keep the printout hinged over the art until I’m finished, and just fold it back to expose the area I’m working on. This helps stop the paper catching on my hand and keeps it clean.
I followed the same process for the incidental elements.
The big, interlinked illustrations are fascinating and gratifying (see also: Silhouettes and Further Points of Connection). But it is SO much fun to just go wild with tiny elements like this, which the publisher can drop in as appropriate.
Once the art was done, I scanned it in and cleaned it up (I run it through Inkscape, a vector program, to give a nice solid black). Here’s The Witching Well title wreath in place in the book:
For the special edition, however, we were going to be able to use metallic ink — a heavy dull bronze, which I think looks magical. This meant I could go through the art and pick out elements to be printed in that second colour.
Some of these I had to select by hand (e.g. the stars). In other places, I filled in gaps that already existed (e.g. the plaster in the walls). I got myself into difficulties reducing all of this to appropriate files for the publisher, so the wonderful Shayna Kite rescued me.
Note: If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it, I have a Patreon account (patreon.com/tanaudel) and patrons there get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee at ko-fi.com/tanaudel (and I get through quite a bit of coffee).And/or check out prints and products available at Redbubble and Spoonflower.