Silhouette card: A 21st Dragon

White card with a black cut-paper silhouette of a dragon holding a ring of keys that spell "BEN"

This is the 21st-birthday card I made for my oldest nephew (and godson), who is… somehow 21, and delightful, and very very tall.

I always have a crisis about presentation for these little silhouettes: are they part of the card or a separate gift? do I glue them down, or attach them loosely to the card, or…

Lately I’ve taken to doing the following:

  • Cut a separate piece of heavy paper down to be smaller than the folded card but (barely) larger than the art.
  • Put the art onto the paper but do not attach it.
  • Put the art and backing paper into a cellophane art bag.
  • Tape the bag tightly back, trapping the art against its backing paper.
  • Use two strips of double-sided tape to attach that little parcel to the folded card.

This sort-of frames the picture, while protecting it, and also leaving it unglued, in case someone wants to mount it properly on a backing (or frame it, or put it in a folder, etc).

There are probably simpler ways to do this.

Below is a work-in-progress shot. I sketched the dragon directly onto the back of the paper, and refined it as I cut it out. I did check the keys spelled out his name correctly by holding it up to a mirror first, though!

Fingertips and point of knife cutting out dragon.

Badgers and Unicorns

Two family cards from September! Both ridiculously tiny, although in the first case it was because I started too close to the top of the paper.

Look at this tiny car!

Detail of cut paper silhouette of Badger talking and smoking a pipe, with toad driving a car and a galloping horse on the smoke.

The first is for my dad for Father’s Day. He was always a fan of Badger in The Wind in the Willows, and after illustrating Kij Johnson’s The River Bank, I still haven’t had enough of playing in that world.

Detail of cut paper silhouette of Badger talking and smoking a pipe, with toad driving a car and a galloping horse on the smoke.

The River Bank is a very good book, by the way — even disregarding the illustrations! It was one of the Washington Post’s 50 Notable Books for 2017.

I freehand-sketched the illustration onto the back of a scrap of paper, and then refined it as I cut it out.

Cut paper silhouette of Badger talking and smoking a pipe, with toad driving a car and a galloping horse on the smoke.

The second card was for my niece’s birthday. She is now two and likes unicorns.

Detail of fingers and paintbrush painting flowers and unicorn.

This time I sketched it lightly onto a piece of card, then darkened the main lines. Then I went over it with watercolours.

Detail of fingers and paintbrush painting flowers and unicorn.

I went with a more horse-shaped unicorn than my usual goat/borzoi hybrids.

Pencil and watercolour drawing of a unicorn on a field of flowers, with a garland of flowers trailing from its horn.

Assorted stationery orders

It’s always exciting to send off something I’ve drawn (or, indeed, written) and have it come back as a made and shining object. Books are great, of course, but for quick gratification it is quite fun to be ordering stationery again. (Various other examples are under the stationery tag.)

The postcards I put together for Angela Slatter have been printed, and signed by her, and sent off to accompany limited editions of The Tallow-Wife when it is published (which I will be sure to tell you all about!).

I put together address labels for her at the same time (not shown), and also in another order of Flyaway-related things had some stickers printed, with the US cover art and the roughly circular test-image I cut out when I was designing it.

I also updated my post about the Castle Charming enamel pins with a picture of the stickers Tansy had made based on the same design.

And I have these rather nice little foil prints of the Flyaway cover silhouette (Moo.com now has foil options). They are so extremely shiny.

Pin reveal! Castle Charming

All photos of pins and bookplates by Tansy Rayner Roberts

I wrote previously about designing an enamel pin for backers of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Castle Charming Kickstarter.

It is now out in the world! This is what it looks like — I really like the details of the hanging clusters of peas (funnily, I’ve since had a run of pea-plant illustrations, so all the sketches working this out have more than paid off!).

And here’s a bonus photo from Tansy of the signed bookplates ready to go out. I posted before about the design for those — Art reveal: Castle Charming bookplates.

You can see more of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ projects on her website, and on Twitter, and see some other projects I’ve done with her (this is the third set of pins!) here.

Edit 14 September: And there were stickers, too!

Tallow-Wife stationery in progress

As previously mentioned, I’ve been working on (and have finished!) the illustrations for Angela Slatter‘s collection The Tallow-Wife and other tales, the third book in the Sourdough/Bitterwood Bible (World-Fantasy-Award-winning!) sequence. The book is scheduled to come out from Tartarus Press later this year, and in the meantime Angela and I have been putting together some promotional postcards for when the book comes out.

Previous Tallow-Wife posts are under this tag: The Tallow-Wife.

(These are photos from Angela’s Instagram off her screen — there’ll be clearer shots when it’s all printed!)

When the book comes out (and don’t worry, I’ll let you know!) she’ll be signing these to go out with some copies.

You can see the other images and quotes on her Instagram post.

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).

And a star was born

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A tiny pop-up (pop-in?) theatre for my first niece’s first birthday, engineered on the fly.

I love the watercolour and pencil textures on the ballerina, but I think the texture only exists because that photo is an extreme close-up.

I put a flap with little paper latches down the side so that the card could be fixed in position as a (very narrow) box.

(Ridiculous putti are so much fun to draw).

Edit to add: The post title is actually a reference to this song

Festive Carousel

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Bristol, 2019, persuaded 3/5 Very Serious Conference Attendees to ride the carousel with me

I have a few rules for travel in cities. These include:

  1. Take the bus tour at the start.
  2. Go on the Ferris wheel at the end.
  3. Follow the sound of ice-cream trucks.
  4. Always ride the carousel.

They are also very charming to draw.

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Work in progress shot from a Patreon story last year

I am not great at getting cards organised for family members. Last year, however, I did manage, at the very last minute, to make them for everyone to whom I gave presents (nephews/niece/mother — we have recently restructured our approach to Christmas gifts).

As I told a vet friend, they are not meant to be scientifically correct, because (a) they are carousel animals, and (b) they are illustrations of carousel animals and therefore representations of someone else’s representation, and (c) look how shiny they are!

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They are pencil, watercolour (Daniel Smith), and imitation gold leaf (Everbright)  on Canson illustration paper, with National Art Materials Crystal Clear Spray to seal the leaf.

An invitation to a woodland wedding

Woodland Wedding detail

Late last year, my friends Andrew and Katie asked me to illustrate their wedding invitation. The imagery was to be in soft woodland tones, as above, but they had ambitious plans: a three-layer popup card with a woodland scene.

Here are Andrew’s notes from a meeting at the Pancake Manor.

Woodland Wedding - client notes

I then did placement pencil sketches, so that Andrew could print them out and make sure they all fit together as he envisaged (since I, having only admiration for Andrew and Katie but a strong sense of self-preservation, was only doing the art, not the construction!).

Woodland Wedding sketches

The illustration, as you can see, was in three separate layers, each paler than the last to add a hint of atmospheric perspective. The layers would only be 1cm apart, and I didn’t want the layers to fight with each other. I then inked and scanned in the final drawings and coloured them in Photoshop.

Woodland Wedding - constructed file

I provided the finished art to Andrew and Katie, together with a selection of spare deer, leaves, twigs etc for additional ornaments.

The designs were printed double-sided and cut out by laser.


Woodland wedding - construction

And glued together by hand (all construction photos are courtesy of Andrew and Katie).

Woodland wedding - construction

Andrew put the frame together with the spare leaf matter I had drawn.

And here is the final, three-layer pop-up invitation (these photos are from the wedding photographers, Trent & Jessie Rouillon).

They also printed a giant simplified version of the frame to act as a set for the wedding, and squirrels and deer lurk in the background of wedding photos.

Woodland wedding - construction

Woodland Wedding props

placesetting

Photo by Trent & Jessie Rouillon

It was a beautiful wedding, and they were a joy to work with – it was tremendous fun to illustrate a project with such clear ideas of construction and dimensions but also with the freedom Katie and Andrew felt to adapt images to many uses – there are even life-size deer and squirrels lurking in the background of wedding photos!

And here they are striking the same pose as on the invitation, although I’m guessing Katie’s wearing heels here, because I remember we had to rework the invitation a couple times to get the relative heights correct!

bridegroom

Photo by Trent & Jessie Rouillon

Andrew and Katie have very kindly agreed to let me put some of those individual elements up as designs on Redbubble.

The images above will take you to the current “fairytale” collection. The individual pages are: SquirrelsWoodland, Flowers, Deer, Hedgehogs (that one is stickers only).

How to: Make a spare ribbon bookmark for your journal 


This is for the type of notebook with a spine you can look down when the book is open (hardcover or case bound).

  1. Cut the cardboard to go down the spine: Cut a strip of light card. It should be about half the height of the book, and just wide enough to slip down the spine when the book is open. 1cm worked for this Moleskine journal. If in doubt, cut it a little bit too wide, then trim it down until it fits.
  2. Cut the bookmark ribbon: Use a ribbon that is narrower than the thickness of the closed book. Cut a piece that is at least 6cm longer than the book (A bit over 2 inches). I like to keep the ribbon long, then trim it to length when I’m finished (cut it at an angle, to stop fraying). You can also use more than one ribbon, if you want lots of bookmarks.
  3. Attach the ribbon to the card: Attach your ribbon(s) to the top of the strip of card. Overlap the ends, rather than matching them up (see the photos above) – basically, the ribbon should come off the card like a whip off a handle. Staple ribbon and card together, then wrap the join with masking or duct tape for durability.
  4. Attach bookmark to book: Open the book flat, then slide the strip of card all the way into the hollow spine, leaving the ribbon hanging out. When the book is closed, it should hold the card snugly in place.
  5. Reusing the bookmark: The bookmark should pull out easily when you want to add it to a new journal.

(Edited for clarity)

(Edited again to add: This also works with multiple ribbons. My current version has four.)