I have made new art for Sunday Morning Transport! Four logos interlaced into a larger silhouette image.
The reveal and an interview with me about the process is here:
Announcing New Sunday Morning Transport Artwork from Kathleen Jennings!
I have made new art for Sunday Morning Transport! Four logos interlaced into a larger silhouette image.
The reveal and an interview with me about the process is here:
Announcing New Sunday Morning Transport Artwork from Kathleen Jennings!
I’ve rambled before about workshop handouts as a structuring principle. I’m hoping these posts will gather into a bigger idea!
In the meantime: I’m continuing to think about handouts. This is driven by two considerations: confidence and personal convenience.
It’s possible for handouts to take over a workshop, usually through quantity. But once an idea is strong enough, I think a useful handout choice can be felt — it starts to push back against the structure of the workshop plan and direct the flow into a physical, logical format. (It’s also a bit of a visual cue for timing.)
My current process:
Here’s the process for the three-hour Australian Gothic Stories masterclass I gave at the Brisbane Writers Festival last weekend.
NOTES AND EVENTS: Darryl will be on the Brisbane Goes Wild panel at the Brisbane Writers Festival this Sunday 14 May (with Coen Hird and Margaret Cook, chaired by Amanda Niehaus). Very unfortunately for me it’s at the same time as my Australian Gothic writing workshop — it does look like such a good panel. And on this Friday 12 May I’m giving an artist floor talk at the QUT Art Museum (Gardens Point) about the silhouettes I’ve done for them.
Through the good offices of Fiona Stager of Avid Reader, I met Darryl Jones, urban ecologist, who was looking for an illustrator for his urban ecology memoir, Curlews on Vulture Street.
Here is a very fast timelapse of the cutting process!
Curlews on Vulture Street is hilarious, charming and fascinating, and I was eager to illustrate it. It was about birds, which I enjoy illustrating (the compact bodies, the fluid movement, the personality, the variety). It was all about the places and species I knew, many of which (brush turkeys and curlews) were occupying my garden while I sketched through the manuscript. I wanted to read the book anyway, for my own writing research for a project I will tell you about soon! And it presented some artistic challenges.
First, Curlews is definitely not fantasy, which is my usual field — especially for silhouette work. I love the fairy-tale connections of silhouettes, which I drew on (for the fairy-tale/Gothic adjacencies) in Flyaway. (I’ve written more about illustrating Flyaway over on Tor.com — also, for those in the USA, the US edition is now out in paperback and at the moment it’s on sale on Kindle).
Second, I’m not a science illustrator — I’m a narrative illustrator. Story and movement take precedence over accuracy.
But Darryl was keen to keep an element of that storybook quality, and I wanted to play with that line between accuracy and excitement. I had to be true to his writing (even removing elements from the sketches when they got edited out), and create identifiable birds, while also framing and tinting the story. and scientific delight. So there was a pleasing puzzle for me: how to keep my style while keeping the sense of wonder thoroughly non-fictional.
Third, the structure of a non-fiction book isn’t at all like a novel. Instead of braiding imagery into a long story-structure, foreshadowing and complementing it, I would be highlighting and framing incidents and episodes, with varied locations and casts. But the pictures would have to work together to create a handsome, coherent book.
I decided the best way to keep a through-line with a hint of ornament and enchantment was to decide on the composition first. I sent Darryl suggestions, and for the chapter headers we settled on a whiplash S-shape, set into a defined rectangle.
The shape, together with floral details, echoes 19th-century design. But on and around that, I could balance specific details: the sail-shaped tail of a turkey, the coils of cane chairs and spiral notebooks and cages.
It was a joy to illustrate, from puzzling out how to get 3d wire netting to ‘read’ clearly in silhouette, to the freedom of cutting out a sequence of tiny stand-alone birds to function as dividers within the chapters.
Here’s part of the frontispiece, ready for framing. This is my favourite illustration.
And it genuinely is a delightful, funny book — I gave a copy to my dad for Father’s Day, and he almost cried with laughter, recognising birds and situations.
Want more art, writing and updates?
These calendar pages are made possible by patrons, who get them a little bit early, along with alternative colourways, and other sneak-peeks and behind-the-scenes art: patreon.com/tanaudel. It is also supported by those very kind people who throw a few dollars towards it via the tip jar: ko-fi.com/tanaudel.
It has been a while since I played with the “Twelve Dancing Princesses” story, and I’d recently been flipping through some books of European costume history, so here are the ladies!
They began as digital sketches.
But I inked them with a brush, before colouring them digitally.
If you want to see the sketching and inking process, here is a timelapse. The digital sketches are drawn in Procreate on the iPad; the inking is on Canson illustration paper with a round brush (#8? maybe?) with Dr Ph Martin’s Black Star Matte Ink (usually I use Winsor Newton for drawing), and a light box/light pad.
The video switches from digital to ink at about 2.10.
Patrons also have access to a more muted full spectrum, and some lovely soft greens. And I’ve also attached the yellow-and-white version because it was the original idea, and for the sake of some 1970s murder mysteries involving reproductions of ancient Greek pottery that I had on in the background while sketching.
And below (for personal use) are the printable versions — pre-coloured and to colour in yourself.
If you like these and/or like supporting artists, you can contribute to the calendar (and get it and other behind-the-scenes things early) at patreon.com/tanaudel (starts at US$1/month) or tip me a few dollars through Ko-Fi: ko-fi.com/tanaudel. Either is greatly appreciated! And of course many previous designs are available as prints etc on Redbubble and Spoonflower. Also, I have a very occasional mailing list for occasional updates/major announcements: Mailing List Sign-Up
Often when I’m editing several images at once, I’ll line them all up in the same file to straighten and size and tidy them.
It creates a rather horrific kind of scribble, but sometimes I find them charming.
I like the hints of stories, the occasional figure emerging from the shadows, arms extended from a storm cloud. The gorgeous textures that emerge.
Perfectly normal words combined into a sense of threatening incantations.
A few of these effects are working their way into other projects — and into some stationery for patrons.
For the 1-hour drop-in map workshop at BWF, I made little zine-fold (aka 8-fold) booklets, which I put in little mermaid-stamped envelopes with little pencils and little pieces of nice drawing paper. (I think I learned this in primary school, but there are plenty of instructions for this sort of booklet online, e.g. wikiHow.)
Above, you can see the mock-up process (the easiest way to turn a vague idea into something real: Mockups and outlines).
Was this overkill for a free one-hour drop-in workshop? Yes. Was I overcompensating for my own uncertainty as to the exact venue constraints and whether this workshop could be done in an hour? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes.
Designing and folding the booklets took time, but it was proportionate to the result. People enjoyed them (they were awfully cute), and said it was good to have for such a short class, and to be able to take away if they had to leave early (since it was drop-in). And I really liked have a physical object to give people, so I knew they left the workshop with something.
The biggest lesson for me was how useful this sort of booklet/zine/object was in planning and giving the workshop. It’s easy to just go wild with handouts. But this was a single, self-contained object, with a size appropriate to the length of the class (three double-page openings and a wrap-around cover — the flip-side of the paper was blank for people to use as scrap paper). It was something that constrained my natural urge to put ALL THE INFORMATION in a talk, but it was also a prop I could talk to and scale my time around.
It might not apply to every format, but I’d like to experiment with similar (if less-illustrated) scaled handouts as a central structuring object for other workshops.
I’m adding this to my running list of lessons I’ve learned for giving workshops and presentations (see e.g. lessons for presentations and conferences). I should probably do a master post at some point, but for now the main lessons I have learned (your mileage my vary) are:
Here is a look behind the scenes at how I drew the maps for Amanda Foody‘s first two Wilderlore books (for Simon & Schuster): The Accidental Apprentice and The Weeping Tide.
Stay tuned for interviews with author Amanda Foody (now up!), art director (Karyn Lee) and editor (Kate Prosswimmer)!
First, as usual, is to read the book and work out what should go into the world. The publisher and author provided me with sketches showing roughly where everything was located, and ideas for elements — this sped up the process, as sometimes I get to spend a while playing with alternative geographies (also fun). But reading the book lets me find ways to fit the elements together, and make the drawings suit the story, and find more Beasts with which to ornament the pages.
(Drawing two maps at once simplified some decisions, too, as they needed to match and belong to the same style.)
You can see that at one point I was thinking about a double-page map (top left, below), but in fact this was to be a single-page map. The edges of maps are very important to consider! Both so that the world can be pleasingly spaced inside them, and because while borders take real estate, they’re also a lot of fun to play in.
We thought about having no borders (since the world hasn’t been completely mapped). But in the end we all liked the idea of beasts in the corners so much that we put borders around them anyway. Design tensions!
So many Beasts!
These sketches are on accordion-folded strips of drawing paper. You can see here I was starting to think about how to fill all the space between the islands in the Sea.
There was a lot of Sea to draw — and a lot of Woods! These maps are of places that are only partially explored in the world of the books. So I had to fill them with enough detail to keep them interesting (the Beasts helped with this!) while also giving the sense that there were many adventures yet to be had.
My older sister asked if I could just draw a whole lot of trees/waves etc once, and use them to fill in backgrounds. I certainly could, and possibly one day I will on a project that suits it. But I love making everything a little bit different, a miniature world on the page, and being able to work elements around each other, or hint at topographies with the arrangements of trees.
Here are the sketches Amanda Foody made for me, for reference (she said I could show you, and noted that they were drawn just as guidelines for me!). I dropped them into a page template in Photoshop and stretched and nudged them into place until everything fit.
I had to think hard about placing things around Woods because there’s a LOT of information that would usually be centred on a map (towns, kingdoms, etc), but which here needs to be pushed right to the side, so the Woods can take pride of place. But I also wanted to draw the little towns!
I printed those rough layouts and used them as a guide for a large pencil sketch. That sketch would go for adjustments and approval, and then I would use it as a guide for inking.
Here is what the pencils look like close up. Something I wanted to play with here was using the trees’ shadows to hint at the rise and fall of the land.
I sent the sketches through for discussion. You can see some of the notes made on them here — adjusting locations and labels, identifying watercourses, etc.
I have two big geographic rules when I’m drawing maps: everything is connected, and (unless there’s extreme provocation to the contrary) water flows downhill. Sometimes I can add in connections and watercourses, but often they might turn out to be important in later books, or affect the broader shape of the world. And sometimes (as in other maps) I have to leave room for elements that will later appear or disappear.
Something else that’s fun with maps is that they do involve a little bit of writing. There’s the figurative sense, in which I am influencing and reflecting and talking with the story. But there are, quite literally, labels to write. And some of those labels I get to make up, or at least suggest — as here, with the “partial and incomplete” and “tentative and ongoing” labels.
And then I have to draw the banners around them (banners are fun — I filled the whole February calendar with them).
The next step, after having the pencils approved, and discussing the ideal corner animals, is to panic. I almost always freeze up — maps are big and complicated to draw (and therefore to get wrong), and I’ve almost always suggested something in pencil that will be very difficult to draw specifically in ink.
The trick, almost always, is to do a sampler page, trying out whirlpools, for example, or different ways of drawing streams, or how to hint at a snake skeleton.
Some elements I already am comfortable drawing (trees, for example), and other elements here have shown up in other projects and samplers (the January 2022 calendar was a tree-and-building sampler, and for February 2021 I was already trying out some of these waves and fish, which owe a great debt to the style of Pauline Baynes‘ illustrations of fish, and medieval drawings). But there’s almost always some twist on how it needs to be incorporated.
I went with the fully-inked watercourses here, to make them stand out in a trackless forest. It also linked the two maps, with the under-sea ‘rivers’ in the Weeping Tide map.
Below, you can see the pencils showing through the drawing paper as I work on a lightbox.
You can see that best here around the lake:
I didn’t want the waves to look mechanical, but I did need them to be roughly similar-sized. If they vary all over the map when they’re not meant to, it can be distracting. I ‘d already tried this process out on the February 2021 calendar, so again I drew up a pattern of stripes about the right distance apart. I put that under the paper, and used it as a guide, adjusting a little bit where necessary to work around fixed elements.
I don’t always hand-letter directly onto the map. Often I put it on a separate page. This is because (a) I make mistakes and (b) I have to separate them onto their own layer in Photoshop, for proofreading (and replacement in translations, etc).
This time I did, though — the map looked bare in patches if I left those elements out, and the idea behind the maps was that they might be maps made in a sketchbook by a traveller, so some infelicitous lettering would be consistent with that.
And there are the two maps, before I scanned them in, tidied them up, separated the letering and sent them away!
Stay tuned for those interviews…
Edit: The interview with Amanda Foody is now up!
The maps aren’t in the first editions, as I came on board as the series expanded — I understand they will be in newer editions of The Accidental Apprentice (from 1 February) and second edition/hardcover reprints of The Weeping Tide (when they come out — the first edition is out now, though!).
A boy who accidentally bonds with a magical Beast must set off on an adventure in the mysterious Woods in this “wholesome, delightful” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), and cheeky middle grade fantasy debut—perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.
Barclay and his friends must save an island city from the Legendary Beast of the Sea in this exciting second book in the Wilderlore series, perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.
Project reviews have been a useful aspect of the observation journal. These aren’t productivity/time-management types of reviews. They are about going back over the patterns in my own work, picking up threads I want to follow in the future, recording the epiphanies I always have and quickly forget. (See also previous project review posts for how they’ve evolved.)
I had by now done enough of these reviews that I knew the questions which worked best for me. Yours may vary, but here is the tidied-up version of mine. I’ve printed them out and keep them at the back of my notebook.
Questions for project review:
Here are three examples:
The first is a review of the August 2020 Wildflower calendar art.
It was useful to record the process because I do these calendar pages so often, and yet I’m always startled by how long certain aspects (getting started, colour flats) take me. It also let me identify a couple of techniques that I wanted to learn.
The next was for a tiny story I had written for a few patrons, “Shadowmill”.
It was good, here, to work out why this story caught my interest (promise, episodic, aesthetic), and what appealed and didn’t about a less-usual way of working: the unpredictability of it, and the potential of the elongated shape.
The next page was a review of the drawings I did in the window at Avid Reader to promote Flyaway.
Drawing on a window was a new technique for me. Much of this, therefore, was to record some very practical (and often, in retrospect, obvious) lessons about cleaning glass first, etc.
A couple of the big ones:
You can see previous project-review posts under the category project review.
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.
Note: Want to support the arts? This calendar is made possible by patrons, who get it a little bit early, along with other sneak-peeks and behind-the-scenes art (patron levels start at very low amounts!): patreon.com/tanaudel. It is also supported by those very kind people who throw a few dollars towards it via the tip jar: ko-fi.com/tanaudel.
For this December’s calendar, it’s all about getting the mail through. And while the art is not Christmas-themed, there are 25 animals, so you could use the colouring version as an Advent calendar.
25 is a lot of animals, and I was tired. After I’d committed to the idea, I realised I could only think of about 5 plausibly fairy-tale adjacent creatures (it was late!). So now my notebook contains a list of animals made as I remembered their existence (eventually more than 25).
I decided to stick with flowers instead of stars, since I’d drawn starry animals last December (A Crowded Sky).
Then I shifted to Procreate for the rough sketch (to keep in practice with the program, and it does remove one scanning session). You can just see, below, that I put rough scribbles down (and numbered them!) before drawing the animals. I wanted to keep a plausibly-deniable fairy-tale quality to the animals, so I sketched most of them loosely from memory, then consulted a bit of reference to correct the more obvious errors and angles.
At this stage I was still considering big flowers — not as big as around September’s chairs, but still quite large and cheerful.
But I’d been doing a lot of standard five-petal flowers lately, and wanted to mix that up a bit — and possibly add some shading again. You can see me playing with both ideas here.
I printed out the digital sketch and used it as a guide for inking the animals.
Once they were done, I started at the top left corner and began to fill in the flowers. I drew these freehand, although I did occasionally refer to the sketch.
To keep a reasonable mixture of flowers, I alternated 2 flame-shaped trios (and long sprigs of leaves) with one five-petal flower (with stray leaves). This helped distribute shapes and colours (although I wouldn’t have minded having added another yellow flower between the snake and the cat).
I was eyeballing the distance between elements, and occasionally the spacing drifted — for example, I was working looser at the top left of the full page, where I started. In the image below, near the sheep’s front foot, that sprig of leaves brushes one of the flowers near it. On some projects I would later bump those elements around individually on the computer, but I don’t mind the rustic crowding here — it does look more hand-drawn.
And I really like this dense, all-over pattern — especially after the very open chickens of November.
I scanned those lines, cleaned them up in Photoshop and Inkscape, then added colours and texture in Photoshop. Anyway, here are the underlays, without the lines.
And here (for personal use) are the printable versions — two pre-coloured and one to colour in yourself. If you like them and/or like supporting the arts, you can contribute to the calendar (and get it and other behind-the-scenes things early) at patreon.com/tanaudel (starts at US$1/month!) or by buying me a coffee or two through Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/tanaudel. Both are greatly appreciated!
Juliet Marillier is the award-winning author of many wonderful historical fantasies, and also of Mother Thorn and other tales of courage and kindness. It was the first project I’ve illustrated for her, although I’ve admired Juliet and her work for a very long time, and I’m delighted that she agreed to this reciprocal interview!
I’ve written about the illustration process in previous posts: cover process and internal illustrations. The book is available from Serenity Press:
QUESTIONS FROM KATHLEEN FOR JULIET
KJ: There are four stories in Mother Thorn. What was the idea behind each (as you took and turned the fairy tale at its base, or approached the shape of a fairy tale with new material)?
JM: I knew I didn’t want to do a straight re-telling of fairy tales. I love the stories I chose, but in their best-known forms they don’t work well for today’s readership. In keeping with my belief that traditional stories change a little every time they are re-told, I set myself a writer’s challenge with each story.
The Witching Well (based on a Scottish border ballad, The Well of the World’s End) is related to the frog prince idea. I don’t care for tales in which a young woman (princess or not) ends up marrying a virtual stranger because of a magical twist. In The Witching Well the frog is a toad, the girl is an over-burdened soul with a mother severely affected by past trauma, and there is no prince – but there is still magic. I was happy with the way these characters came alive.
The Princess and the Pea is one of the least believable fairy tales – another ‘’marriage sight unseen’’ story. In my version, Pea Soup, the central couple are real individuals who try to solve their own problems and keep agency over their decisions. This ended up as a comedy of manners. It was such fun to write!
I love The Tinder Box. Who could resist a dog with eyes as big as mill-wheels! [KJ: We all say this, but then someone has to actually draw what’s descrived!] But in the best-known version greed and violence are rewarded, and a princess ends up married to a stranger who wins her hand through stolen magic. My story, Copper, Silver, Gold, is based on what might have happened if the soldier at the centre of the tale had been female. It’s set in a real historical time and place, and it still has the dogs.
The title story is not based on an existing fairy tale, but on the folkloric idea that a lone hawthorn tree is a place where the divide between human world and Otherworld is quite thin. I wanted to write a story about second chances, and how true love may not mean what you think it does. Also, it’s about how important it is, when asking uncanny folk for a favour, to get your words exactly right.
KJ: You frequently write through and with fairy tales, with a beautiful sense of their tone and structure. How do you judge the shape of a fairy tale? Is it the same as a short story?
JM: Some fairy tales have an epic shape, more like a novel than a short story, but they’re told quite simply – characters often don’t even get names, just roles like the mother, the soldier, the fisherman. They are more types than individuals. A lot is left to the imagination of the reader/listener – appropriate for oral storytelling. A short story conveys a wealth of meaning in a limited word count – therefore every word is carefully chosen, perhaps with use of allusion, metaphor and so on. A good short story will surprise the reader. There will be a turning point or revelation that makes the reader think. A fairy tale is usually more straightforward. I think a blend of the two is possible!
KJ: The stories were full of beautiful imagery — dogs and doorknockers and wistful hybrid creatures. To what extent do you find the effect of a fairy tale depends on its imagery, compared to (for example) themes or situations?
JM: Fairy tale imagery is powerful. Details we remember from childhood storytelling – a harp, a rose, a mirror, a spindle – may resonate quite deeply for us in later life. Then there’s the way the imagery can conjure the idea of the uncanny or magical existing alongside the world we know. The hybrid creatures are part of that – both familiar and curiously unfamiliar at the same time. I think the imagery adds an additional layer of magic to the story – your illustrations for my stories so beautifully echo that.
KJ: There are some lovely dogs loping through these tales. Should there be more dogs in fairy tales? Which fairy tales do you think would benefit most from having dogs added to them (and why)?
JM: Since fairy tales grow and change constantly over the years, why not add more dogs if desired? Mind you, the presence of a dog might change the course and outcome of the story. If Hansel and Gretel had been accompanied by a dog when they went into the forest, its warning growl would have kept them away from the witch’s house. A dog would have disrupted The Princess and the Pea completely. ‘’What, sleep up there? Impossible. Muffin always shares my bed and she has very short legs.’’ I’d like to see a dog in Sleeping Beauty. It would snuggle up happily with its beloved human for a hundred years, only to be grumpily woken when the prince kisses her. I can imagine various ways the story might unfold from that point!
KJ: Are there some fairy tales you have found particularly difficult to play with, for original stories, or which you want to use but for which you haven’t found the right story yet?
JM: Some fairy tales are powerful but too dark for me – The Juniper Tree is one such story. I think writers of very dark fantasy, verging on horror, are better at handling that kind of material. I’d love to draw on some Welsh stories. Many of those have characters from Arthurian legend, but are fairy tale stories in character. I did once plan an Arthurian book (I’m a big fan of Mary Stewart) but at that time the publishers felt there were too many of them around. With The Green Knight movie coming out this year, I think I’ve left my run too late!
KJ: Are there particular challenges to writing in the fairy-tale mode? And would you give any advice to writers learning to sustain that effect?
JM: It can be challenging to maintain a fairy-tale vibe for the story while keeping it real enough to engage today’s readers. You need to balance dynamic storytelling with the fact that the Otherworld moves at its own pace, which can be gradual. That’s where the little touches are helpful, allusions to something uncanny or magical, details that don’t quite belong in one world or the other. One telling image can be more effective than a paragraph of description. I’d suggest writers prepare by reading lots of fairy tales and mythology. I’ve devoured such material since I was very small. Seek out older versions of tales.
KJ: Should all books have foil on the cover?
JM: This question made me laugh! In my story Pea Soup, Bella comments that Fred’s family must be quite grand, because even their kitchen has books with gold on the covers. My answer: Only the special ones. Some of those may be cook books, who knows?
QUESTIONS FROM JULIET FOR KATHLEEN
JM: You posted recently about the process of illustrating Mother Thorn, and I was reminded of those lovely pencil sketches that were not used in the final book [KJ: I’ve put them through this post]. You’ve illustrated books for many writers. What happens when your vision for illustrations – in style and/or content – doesn’t mesh with what the writer or publisher wants? How do you go about solving that problem? (or how would you, if it happened?)
KJ: It doesn’t arise too often, because often the style is the first element discussed, although very occasionally when people just can’t agree we’ll negotiate a graceful exit (and ideally that will be in the contract, too!). But sometimes writer, publisher and I all agree on a style and then I discover that the subject matter of the book doesn’t fit it quite so organically.
My usual style — in pen and ink (as for Angela Slatter’s Bitterwood Bible and Tallow-Wife fairy-tale collections) as well as silhouette (as for you) — is an attempt to combine the lyrical and the conversational. It suits fairy-tale fantasy perfectly, but it is not a natural fit for very modern realism, grotesque horror, and hard science fiction. I tell people outright, now, that I don’t do straight lines.
However, I also enjoy the challenge of this — pushing my style into a more noir-ish direction for a contemporary fantasy (for e.g. a set of headers for Holly Black’s Curseworkers), or being willing to take ongoing pushes from an art director or editor to get an appropriately unsettling effect (Jonathan Strahan was very patient with me on this a few years back for a few stories in Eclipse Online, which is sadly no longer online). But I also enjoy finding ways to provide an alternative interpretation to stories, either to pull the story back into my territory, or to set up a resonance between the art and the story that lets the reader find a middle ground.
JM: You’ve won awards for both illustration and writing. Notably, you wrote and illustrated a recent novella, Flyaway, which combines fairy-tale elements with an Australian setting. What was your process for that – text and illustrations growing together organically (on the page or in your mind) or in sequence?
KJ: The writing for Flyaway grew out of a series of very strong images, which mostly didn’t end up in the final art! Sketching lets me trap movements, aesthetics, elements I want to try and rework in words — and it was a good way to think through the work of some other very image-driven authors to work out how they did it (particularly Joan Lindsay, who described her Picnic at Hanging Rock as being more like a painting than a novel). I also sketched motifs that belonged to the sort of story I wanted to create. I didn’t use all of them, but their existence kept me on track. (If anyone wants to see a lot more information about this process, I wrote an article for Tor.com: Illustrating Flyaway — Kathleen Jennings on creating art and prose together).
To make the silhouette illustrations for the chapters and the cover, I went in a less-usual direction. Rather than concentrating on movement, which I usually do, I wanted to create a series of ornaments that would show where the story belonged and how to read it — as an Australian Gothic fairy tale. To create the illustrations, I went back over the written novella and my sketched notes and found elements that would work as a series of ornaments: square motifs and individual birds. Then I cut those out, sketching them again loosely onto the back of black paper and refining them as I cut them out.
I really like the two very different treatments the designers gave to the cover — I asked them more about that here: Flyaway cover comparison.
JM: Is illustrating your own writing different from illustrating someone else’s? In what ways?
KJ: It can be very different! When I illustrate someone else’s work, the sketching and illustrating is a way of reading and thinking through that story, of talking with the author, of responding to the book, changing it, being changed by it, playing in the world — the closest I can get to the old wish to actually get inside a book or through a wardrobe.
When I illustrate my own work, almost all of that thinking and ornamenting and varying has already been done in the prose. Also, I can be painterly in prose in a way I’m not when I draw — I use lines and silhouettes in my illustrations, but I love thick colour and the play of light, and that’s easiest for me in words.
Illustrating my own work is simplest if I start with the illustrations and add words. This is quite a good way to work up the aesthetic and big moments of a story — the risk, however, is that the prose gets away from me and doesn’t need the illustrations anymore. A recent story — “Gisla and the Three Favours” in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #43 — started as a series of drawings I did in Iceland (you can see one of them here). “The Wonderful Stag, or The Courtship of Red Elsie”, which was illustrated in the end by John Jude Palencar, began as an illustration I did for an Inktober prompt.
JM: What fairy tale would you especially love to illustrate for a publication, and why?
KJ: For an absolutely classic take on a traditional telling… I would have to say at the moment it’s Mr Fox — Lady Mary so brave, and the recurring warnings, and the challenge supported by gory evidence!. I have an old affection for Little Red Riding Hood both in its fairy-tale versions and in longer reworkings (Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend is one of my favourite novels, and it riffs heavily on many fairy tales, but especially Little Red Riding Hood), and also for The Goose Girl — unfairness, rhymes, comeuppances! And Toads and Diamonds… Really, I suppose, any fairy-tale heavy on the things I like to draw: gowns, foxes, birds, bones…
But I really like to illustrate variations, subtle readjustments, resettings, and so forth — it would be delightful to illustrated a reworking of The Little Mermaid as a tale of foxes and gowns, for example, or Little Red Riding Hood with strong nautical-fantastic echoes (the “Gisla” illustrations started as a landscape-changed Cinderella). I play with this a lot in my observation journal posts, e.g. changing fairy-tales by adjusting what story the in-world ornaments are from or even just shifting a viewpoint.
JM: The silhouette style of illustration seems perfectly suited to fairy tales. Why do you think that is?
KJ: There are several reasons (at least). Silhouettes have a long association with fairy tales and tale-telling, as well as with various folk traditions. Arthur Rackham’s illustrations and Lotte Reiniger’s animations and shadow puppets, for a start, and many cultures have cut-paper traditions. So the use of cut-paper silhouettes automatically invokes that history.
Silhouettes can also be ominous — shadowy, sometimes open to interpretation, hard-edged for all their beauty. Fairy-tales are very closely related to Gothic stories, so silhouettes can capture that feeling, as well.
Then, too, silhouettes can be very ornamental. They tell the reader that this is a story worth reading as a beautiful object, which I think is useful for fairy tales, which aren’t always, e.g., psychologically-innovative character studies (not that they can’t be!).
Finally, as you said, fairy tales can be stories of types, of roles, of motifs — an author retelling a fairy tale or working in that mode can refine the story through detailed realism, of course, but often the underlying narrative engine runs on those aspects. Silhouette illustrations create a similar effect: they provide poses, movement, types, roles, shadows for the story to fill, and for the reader or listener to add their own details to, while still allowing the story to exist in that story-otherworld.
If you want to read more about the art process for Mother Thorn, see these posts:
Mother Thorn is available from Serenity Press: