I hadn’t yet read any of Frances Hardinge‘s novels when Gili Bar-Hillel of Utz Books asked me to illustrate the cover for the Hebrew translation of The Lie Tree. And oh, it is so very good!

Here are a few of my first thumbnail concepts for the cover.

The Lie Tree - thumbnails

The novel is a beautiful combination of gothic mystery, scientific discovery, faith, lies, ambition, hubris and secrets. Part way through I realised that it felt like Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach”, and then a particularly apt sentence sent me back to the beginning to check for a nonchalant line that convinced me this was entirely deliberate on Hardinge’s part.

Here are the pencils. We decided to go with more open vinework around the title.

The Lie Tree - pencils

I then cut the final image out of black paper, and sent it through for the designer, Dor Cohen, to do wonderful things with.

The Lie Tree - cover

The Hebrew translation of France’s Hardinge’s novel The Lie Tree, translated by Yael Achmon, is now available for pre-order from Utz Books: The Lie Tree.

Thanks to my supporters on Patreon who help give me time to put together these process posts (and who get to see projects like this early).

Very recently I had the great pleasure of doing my first illustration for Strange Horizons. It was for Philip A. Suggar’s surreal and charming story “London Calling“.

Some of my patrons had the chance to see early progress pictures and some more detailed process description (and so can you: Patreon). But the art is out now!

Here are some of the early thumbnail sketches.

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We chose the top right one, and I touched in some soft colours to test them. I still really like this thumbnail, and would like to do something in this style! But it wouldn’t have worked so well on a large scale.

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I also played around with some cyanotype versions.

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Then it was on to developing the pencils, and adding digital colour.

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You can read the story here: “London Calling”.

(And don’t forget: you can see sneak-peeks, hear early project news and help support my independent projects if you’re a supporter through Patreon.)

Illustration Friday: Ice

This Illustration Friday picture began as mammoths.

First I tried to draw them without reference, but it turned out I was a bit hazy on which parts were raised and which lowered, and started evolving a sort of hairy bison-pig.

Illustration Friday: Ice sketches

Reference didn’t necessarily help that much. They have those weird elephant knees and feet (why do elephants paint their toenails red?) which make them look a bit like two men in a hide.

Illustration Friday: Ice sketches

Then it trended a bit violent with the hedgehog mafia (not show) but I pulled a Spielberg and turned their guns into icecream cones, and after that it was all inevitable, really.

Illustration Friday: Ice

I drew the final image digitally, and while I like it I prefer the weight of hand-drawn lines. I may rework the image at some point, but in the meantime it is up on Redbubble on some t-shirts and as stickers for summer.

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Season two of Tremontaine, the prequel series to Ellen Kushner’s Riverside novels, is on its way from Serial Box, beginning October 19.

You may recognise the style from the covers I did for Season One (see also Tor.com’s post on that art).

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This year, however, we’re cooking in colour!

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I had a lot of fun with this image. A second season can expand out into the world or drill down into characters. This season pulls in more countries and cultures of the world beyond Riverside, but these add to the force and layers of what is happening to our spies and chocolate merchants, duchesses and politicians, swordsmen, forgers, mathematicians, scholars…

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Once a final thumbnail was chosen and the sketch approved, the process proceeded much as for the previous covers. I still cut it as one piece, but this season we are reserving key areas for the highlight colour.

 


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Before I went overseas, I mentioned I was working on some illustrations to accompany a live reading Angie Rega was to give at the Australian Fairy Tale Convention.

That went very well, and I can now show the finished illustrations. I cut them as one continuous image: the back, with pencil lines, is shown here. It was very tiny. I did not cut myself. I cut myself pretty badly trimming green beans in New York, but this is safer than cooking.

Bush Bride - work in progress

This I scanned in and tidied up.

Bush Bride - monochrome

Because it was to be projected behind Angie while she read, we decided on a fairly clear, strong colour palette. Here is the first of the three slides the image was divided into. The background goes from dawn to day to night.

Bush Bride - Frame 1

And here is the whole series as one image. If you click on it, you should go through to its Flickr page where you will have the option to view it at a larger size.

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Bush Bride - coloured


I am in fact drawing Many Other Things, but most I can’t show yet. So here are some marginal mermaids who appeared on a list of reference needed for another project.

The colours (Koi travel watercolours) are limited to what was already on my palette after another picture.

Since this is a behind-the-scenes post, here is also an example of another merlady, and how illustrations start. This is the very early thinking stage, even before thumbnail sketches.


On this manuscript I’m reading through making these shorthand notations, then passing and repassing – looking for less obvious ideas, or poses more suitable to my developing ideas of the characters’ personalities, or even background stories that aren’t necessarily in the text.

At the same time I’m working up some ideas of my own, and in such cases I often start with art before words.


There I’m getting a feel for possibilities of style and colour. Then I’ll probably switch to a faster style to work out the narrative. 

Here for example are some shorthand notes for another idea.

And last is something I can’t really show much of: the extras on a Usual Suspects-style lineup of characters for another set of illustrations, partly as a model sheet, partly for practice and also for my own amusement and to break in a new pen nib.

Winged Histories

This is the cover art for Sofia Samatar‘s novel The Winged Historiessequel to her World Fantasy Award winning A Stranger in Olondria (both published by Small Beer Press).

Olondria

The process of revisiting A Stranger in Olondria to reconstruct my illustration approach there was illuminating – particularly in relation to remembering to usefully label layers in Photoshop. We learn.

I had the chance to catch up (with Small Beer’s permission!) with Sofia at World Fantasy to discuss the broad approach to the cover, and exchange some reference for her vision of architecture and birds, and mine of uniforms.

Winged Histories - uniform sketches

That settled, I prepared the thumbnail sketches and general colour approach for approval – G was chosen (although the profile was later changed, and colours deepened).

Winged Histories - sketches

Time for everyone’s favourite: Awkward reference photos! I used other reference for the figure (but won’t embarrass them), I’m just here modelling in yoga pants and a leather jacket with blue masking tape so that I can see what key parts of the costume do in the pose. Again, a skyline of crockery set up with a plasticine-and-plastic-bag vulture gives some reference for light/perspective.

Winged Histories - reference photos

Then a foster-cat attack.

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Then drawing.

Winged Histories - work in progress

And redrawing (there were several replacements of hands, heads etc).

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I scanned and pieced the elements together in Photoshop, then coloured them. Here is a gif of the process, but it makes it look far faster and more logical than it was: there was a lot of reworking, experimentation, remixing and so forth, as well as adjustments, added decoration, skin tone changes and other adjustments on consultation. But gifs are fun.

WingedHistoriesGifLarge

And I can’t remember why it came to this:

Penguin-in-Olondria