Cover Art: Karen Joy Fowler – “What I Didn’t See”

Two new covers to show you! One… not so new and one not quite out yet. But soon!

The first was the cover for Small Beer Press‘ paperback release of Karen Joy Fowler‘s collection What I Didn’t See. I remember being dragged along to see The Jane Austen Bookclub and realising abruptly that into what had boded to be a very pink movie was slipped a suspiciously accurate side-glimpse of a science fiction convention, a discussion of famous women science fiction authors, and a scene which prompted my Grisham-reading sister to ask if I had any Le Guin novels. Fowler, I realised, was one of us.

When I was asked to do this cover I was hopping around the house with delight. It is a superb collection. Fairytales of holiday communities, tragic conspiracies of scientific expeditions, tales which might be just a story and might be – might be – something beyond the delusion of the characters. My favourite story, The Dark, I love so much that I mentally insert it into all collections of stories that I like and have to trace it back to this collection by the flea I drew for the cover. It is slow, mysterious, hair-raising – the best and saddest of unsolved-mysteries.

Here are the first sketches – working out general direction and technique (the examples on the right include ink and cut-paper figures):

Fowler Cover - initial sketches

I had intended to do a cut-out design for the cover, but Small Beer Press were happy with the sketch as it was in this more detailed layout-test:

Fowler Cover - layouts

I tried a few different colourways:

Fowler Cover - colour variants

In the end we settled for the original, simple black-and-white design.

Final cover art - Fowler

And then the book arrived and – it was printed with gloss spots and embossing in all black. So, so hard to get a decent photo of, and absolutely gorgeous, like something out of a gothic candy store. My first embossed cover! And a very excellent book.

Final covers - Fowler and Olondria

There too is the hard copy of Sofia Samatar‘s novel A Stranger in Olondria, the cover process of which I posted about here.

A Stranger in Olondria – cover art

I am back from Conflux, although still recovering from the flu which left me spending most of the convention propped up in corners trying to catch my breath. While I collate my convention thoughts, here is an overdue cover process post!

Last year, Small Beer Press asked whether I would be interested in trying a more ‘painterly’ style, for the decadent, festal beauty of the city of Sofia Samatar’s novel A Stranger in Olondria.

Here are the initial thumbnail sketches (you should be able to see a larger version by clicking through to the Flickr page). 
Olondria Roughs

Here is a little colour study from when I was still working out what I was doing – but in the end we went with the larger image from the right-hand page of the sketch above.


Here is the layout sketch, to make sure there was room for text.


The jacket is based slightly on a wonderfully ornate teal cutaway number my housemate bought at a second-hand shop in England, and I mocked-up the skyline on the dining table to make sure domes didn’t cut through walls, etc.


I had not, at this stage, begun the cover for Midnight and Moonshine – that cover happened because certain people got wind of the style we were trying for Olondria – so there was an amount of trial and error in this. I really prefer to have a single final piece of line art so that at the end I can hold something real that exists in the world. In this case, however, I was nervous and drew four separate pencil layers: figure, railing, city and sky.

Here is the linework put together with the colour flats under it. They make it easier to select, colour and change the areas of the picture.

Olondria WIP

Here is the full wrap-around art for the cover. The most pineapply of the rooftops is based on a roof of Queensland’s Parliament House, and I now do a double-take when I walk past and see it.

Olondria cover art

And here it is in the wild, seen in Pulp Fiction bookstore in Brisbane today!