Observation Journal: Questions for project reviews

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:

  • The common questions:
    • Things that worked / things I was happy with
    • Things I disliked / could do better
    • Difficulties
    • Things to try in future / ideas I had while doing the project
    • Why did I choose this? What alternatives didn’t I pursue?
    • What did I leave out / evade / avoid?
    • Tendencies I noticed / things I resisted
  • The occasional questions:
    • How did I get it started/finished
    • What was the process I followed
    • Specific lessons I learned
    • How did people respond?
    • If I did this exact project again, what would I do differently?
    • If I never do a project like this again, which aspects would I try to find/use in other projects?
    • Could I have streamlined a difficult/unlikeable part, or found someone else to do it?

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:

  • Keeping plans flexible and drawing freehand was a very good idea when I’m familiar with the style/subject matter but not the exact space I could use or the materials— I was less stressed and able to change things on the fly.
  • Drawing is physical and large drawings more so.
  • Make sure someone else is getting photos.
  • When drawing (especially drawing large) in public:
    • have someone delegated to update social media as you go, because people got really into it; and
    • have a sign telling people who is drawing and why.

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.

December 2021 Calendar — the mail

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).

List and first ideas

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.

The chewed-biscuit looking edge at the bottom is the ledge of my drawing board which I’ve had for a couple decades now.

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-Fihttps://ko-fi.com/tanaudel. Both are greatly appreciated!

Fairy tales and silhouettes: An interview with Juliet Marillier

Photo of Juliet Marillier by Mike Beltametti Photography

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:

The sketches in this post are from my first read-through of Mother Thorn — quite a few of them ended up as silhouettes in the book (see the end of this post)

QUESTIONS FROM KATHLEEN FOR JULIET

The four full-page story illustrations

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!

Final title header for Pea Soup (for the special edition — the yellow was printed in bronze)

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.

Trying to work out dog’s eye-sizes

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! 

Working out styles of dress for Pea Soup

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.

Creatures for The Witching Well (a whole family of hedgehog-rabbits got into the book!)

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!

(these did make it into the silhouettes!)

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.

Working out the balance of real and fairy tale for Copper, Silver, Gold

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? 

Cooking in Pea Soup

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.

Baths are always tricky to draw. I finally bought a dolls-house bathtub for ease of reference.

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).

2020-04-08-KJennings-NotesOnAustralianGothicTropes
Australian Gothic tropes and motifs

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.

A silhouette of a man in medieval garments offering a gold ring to a stag with rings on its antlers.

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.

Chasing the energy of movement and poses for The Witching Well

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.

Cutting out the main illustration for Pea Soup — more in the internal illustration process post

If you want to read more about the art process for Mother Thorn, see these posts:

Mother Thorn is available from Serenity Press:

The Final Hen

November 2021 Calendar — Chickens

Note: This calendar is supported by patrons, who get it a little bit early, along with alternative colourways, and other sneak-peeks and behind-the-scenes art: patreon.com/tanaudel, and also by those very kind people who throw a few dollars towards it via the tip jar: ko-fi.com/tanaudel

For November — some chooks/chickens/hens/poultry who have strayed into fairy tales.

Here are my first sketches playing with the motifs for this design.

I wanted to try doing the pencil sketches directly onto the iPad, to see if it would be easier to adjust/move elements. The jury is still out on that, although with practice I can see it would be useful. It was great for at least thinking about some of the colour distribution in advance. I do have a plan for a repeating pattern, which will require bumping around some spacings, but I’ve been away writing so will put the final together later.

Then I printed those lines out for a guide, and inked them the usual way (dip pen).

Then I scanned, cleaned, and coloured them on the computer. Here are some of the colour flats, without lines and texture. I really like this clear clean blue, and might tinker with the textures to brighten the pattern.

So here (for personal use) are the printable versions — one 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-Fihttps://ko-fi.com/tanaudel.

Map process: Amira and Hamza

Photo pinched from Samira Ahmed. Cover illustrated by Kim Ekdahl and designed by Karina Granda

Very soon I will be posting an interview with Samira Ahmed herself, author of (among other things!) Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds, and with Karina Granda, the wonderful art director. But first: the process behind this slightly unusual map.

You see, this was not a map of a small part of a world, or even just of one world. The adventures of Amira and Hamza take them not only from Chicago to the Himalayas, but then through many, many interconnected tiny worlds (tilisms), joined to each other by somewhat-metaphysical, but physically navigable, coils. And I had to fit this all on the usual double-page space allowed for a more traditional map.

I started by sketching through the book, drawing notes to myself of descriptions, geographies, references, creatures, beings, and dumpsters, and noting key descriptions, and testing out how to create certain effects (e.g. buildings of gold) when the final drawing would be in black lines.

But as I drew, I puzzled about the shape of the world — whether to draw the tilisms floating in space (but then what about Chicago?), or as a chart? Or a board game?

It was interesting to have to think about the purpose of a map like this. Not for traditional navigation, to be sure, but to create a physical representation of something that shouldn’t be possible, and to give a sense not only of the place(s) in which a story happens, and the beings you might meet along the way, but also the feeling of it: busy and ornate, full of life and wonder and danger and good advice. (Some previous thoughts on maps.)

However, as the book begins with a visit to an astronomy exhibition, and involves some significant lunar events, I started digging into beautiful old charts of the stars and planets (here are a few sketches), and that’s where I found the answer.

Down at the bottom is the tiniest drawing of a figure as a game piece — that was for one of the board-game approaches.

I suggested using an astrolabe as the base for the map’s design: the slightly offset rings could represent the different worlds, with clear boundaries between them, and plenty of room for decoration and the potential for movement. And the curving, vine-like overlays of an astrolabe would be a perfect guide for the coils connecting the worlds. (Also, I enjoy industrial fabulism.)

Here’s just one of the examples:

Mamluk-era astrolabe, 1282, Photo: Mustafa-trit20 CC CC BY-SA 4.0

So I sketched the layout accordingly, taking a rectangular slice of a hypothetical astrolabe. This created the rather rare situation of making it pretty clear where on the page just about everything needed to go. I did not have to consider, for example, the likely paths of watercourses, or the change in types of trees over an area, or puzzle out the relative distances alluded to in the novel.

And it was a lot of fun dealing with miniature geographies — both those requiring plausibly-deniable accuracy and those heavily invented (but still guided by existing imagery). I’ve written before about the appeal of miniature groves, and that fascination fed into the map, too.

Once this concept had been approved by all concerned (art director, author, editor), I then drew an arrangement of circles on the computer to use as guidelines.

I make no secret that I don’t do straight lines or accurate geometries in my art. But I’ll sometimes rule lines up to function as a template around which I can work. These usually are softened and obscured by layers of sketches and changes, and I don’t mind if my own drawings are inaccurate, but at least the suggestion of a nod in the direction of plausibility lingers.

Using those lines and the sketch as a a base, I then developed the more detailed pencils for the map. You can just see the greyed-out circle guidelines.

I hand-lettered the place names in my own loopy writing on a separate piece of paper. But this quick placement of lettering makes sure that I (a) allow enough room for the words and (b) don’t put important details in places that will be hidden by labels. (I drew the lettering and scrolls separately so that the publisher can easily move them around / edit text / translate it.)

The grey band down the centre of the page above is to stop me putting important details where they could vanish into the spine.

Then I scan the pencil sketch in again, darken it, print it out, put it under nice drawing paper (Canson illustration 250) on the light box, and start inking.

I used a dip pen and Winsor & Newton black ink.

Once I can trick myself into starting, I love this stage: turning those aspirational little pencil scribbles into final ink drawings, with shadows and movement and personality.

Playing with hatching and texture.

Filling the space between the stars.

Drawing the tiniest dumpsters.

Then I scan and clean the linework, layer in the text, and send it to Karina:

I will post the interviews soon. In the meantime, Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds has been published and is available through all good bookstores!

A few older map posts:

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.

Mother Thorn Process Post

The art for Juliet Marillier‘s enchanting collection Mother Thorn has been shortlisted for a Ditmar! This post is about the cover art process, but I will show more of the internals in a future post (now up: Mother Thorn — internal illustrations and An Interview with Juliet Marillier).

The book is available from Serenity Press:

I’d known of Juliet, and loved her historical fantasies and her enchanting fairy-tale novels, for a long time before I met her at the very first Aurealis Awards I attended (when they were still hosted in Brisbane). We were both at the back of the room being quiet, because I was very shy and she’d just got off a long flight. She’s a delightful author and person, and so I was utterly delighted to have this (first!) opportunity I had to work with her on a project.

The first step was, as usual, to read through Juliet’s manuscript and sketch possible images for the four stories — moments, poses, incidental creatures. This serves as reference for the cover and internal sketches.

Based on those thinking-sketches, I proposed a few cover treatments. We were always talking in terms of silhouettes, but I included some alternative line-and-wash options. At this point we hadn’t definitely decided on what the internals would look like, so it was possible that a drawn cover might be more suitable.

After discussions with Juliet and Serenity, we were pretty sure we were going with either A or D — or maybe both, for different editions. Or possibly one for a title page.

We were hoping to use foil on the cover, in some way (in the end, it’s on the special edition hardback). I’ve posted before about working through different ways to play with the foil for this cover: 20 Ways With Gold Foil.

Double spread from observation journal. On the left, five things seen/heard/done and a picture of a painting leaning up against a fence. On the right, a list of 20 ways with foil treatments, with accompanying drawings of a silhouette dog.
I’ve typed up the list over on the previous post: 20 Ways With Gold Foil

I then cut out a test silhouette so that we could compare approaches to colour (this design also turned into printable stationery for patrons).

I also did some test treatments with the sketch for cover D (this silhouette ended up as a title page).

Here are some more test patches, to see how I wanted to approach certain leaves.

At about this point, I refined Sketch A into these almost-final pencils, ready to be approved and adjusted.

Then I flipped the design, traced it down with white graphite paper, and started cutting it out.

Bonus process shots of cover B, including silhouette lettering.

Next came the really fiddly bit. I scanned in the art, then selected the main colour areas. I had to make sure they overlapped, and put them on separate layers (top left). Then I vectorised each layer (in Inkscape) for a clean strong edge, and stacked the layers again in Photoshop (top right).

This made it easy to select each layer, adjust the colour, and then add shading, texture and detail digitally without interfering with the other areas.

Here is a comparison of the raw scanned silhouette (left) and the colour version (right). The yellow box at the bottom right appears on every layer, and let me quickly line the layers up. I deleted them later.

In the end, we used yellow on the coloured cover, instead of foil, and printed the whole silhouette in foil for the special edition.

More on the internal illustrations soon (Edit: now posted — internal illustrations), but in the meantime, the book is available from Serenity Press:

Edit: For more about this book and the internal illustrations, see Mother Thorn — internal illustrations and An Interview with Juliet Marillier.

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.

Observation Journal: The evolving review, art process, sparks

These three observation journal pages are all a review of the same two art projects, and hammering out more of the best way for me to review projects.

The first was my illustration for “On Pepper Creek”, which is now out (with its accompanying story, also by me) in the South of the Sun anthology of Australian fairy tales from the Australian Fairy Tale Society and Serenity Press). I’ve posted about the art process for that illustration here: “On Pepper Creek” — illustration process.

Pencil drawings of trees and waves and creatures with long tails.
Process sketches

The second was a scratchboard illustration for the World Roulette art exhibition and book (from Light Grey Art Lab). I’ll post more about that once the parcel of books arrives.

A snipped of the illustration

The first page was a quick exploration of the difficulties of not having an art director, and therefore having to make decisions myself. I realised that in this situation I frequently take two designs to quite an advanced stage before committing (or letting the deadline commit me). See also this small discarded skull.

Left page: Two men carrying a chair, crossing a flood plain

I then followed up with a few thoughts about why I chose the final image, and what I liked about it.

  • In one case, I chose the simplest idea so that I would still have time to do my second choice if it didn’t work (in fact, I drew several final versions of the first image, getting it to look as simple as I wanted it to be).
  • For the other, I chose the design I most wanted to spend the materials on, but ended up using the most complicated technique.

The main things I learned were:

  • On the day: Overcomplication is part of how I get things done, and so to leave room for it, within reason. (Efficacy > efficiency.)
  • In retrospect: I need to more consciously seize the reins of projects without the voice of a strong art director. I learned this more thoroughly later, but the beginnings of the realisation are here.

The next day, I decided to review other aspects of the projects, realising (although not learning) that one page was not enough for two projects.

Left page: Uber Eats’ “Your orders” symbol looks like the ghost of Ned Kelly

Here I looked at likes, alternative concepts, difficulties, dislikes, and things to try. A few themes are the ongoing pull towards denser folkloric designs, the desire for movement, the value to a piece of committing to a strong style for that piece, and the use of space.

I also wanted to leave more room to think about “why this one”, i.e. why this design. So I added it on the next page, the following day.

Left page: “Your name on rice”

As suspected, this was an illuminating question. As when I looked for the sparks in writing ideas, it has the potential to speed up the process (I’m sure I’ve posted about this, but maybe it’s still on the way). But completing this page also gave me some guidance around choosing projects when working under pressure.

A few highlights:

  • Playing with the space on a page, and/or filling the space pleasingly.
  • Fluidity/movement AND a sense of ornament.
  • A strong stylistic choice.
  • The pleasures of the material.
  • Limits on what I needed to think about.

Writing/drawing exercise:

  • Look back over a selection of your drawings/writing/other creative projects.
  • Jot down a few notes about what appealed to you about that idea: what made it spark, why did you choose it, what about it made you keep going?
  • Are there any patterns to those reasons?
  • Choose a few of the strong or common reasons. See if you can retro-engineer an idea that meets those requirements. (Here, for example, a strongly narrative wallpaper design would meet my criteria above, and is in fact a thing I often stumble into playing with — and I’ve finally signed up for some actual lessons about classic pattern design). Do a quick sketch of it (in words or writing.)
  • Bonus: Flip those criteria and repeat the exercise above. (For my criteria, that would result in a sort of overcrowded and deliberate ugliness.) Can you do it? Do you hate it, or are there things in it you’d like to try? Does it define the edges of why you mean by those criteria (for example, the point where a detailed all-over design becomes crowded)?

For posts on finding the spark in a project, see also: Sparks and navigable worlds, Do it for the aesthetic #3, Giving ideas a push, and A tremor in the web,

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.

Art process: a small discarded skull

Hand holding cut-paper skull, in black paper, crowned by strawberries

This little cut-paper skull was one of two designs I worked on simultaneously for Light Grey Art Lab’s Pandora’s Box art swap. I still find it very charming, but I had envisaged the design in colour and couldn’t get that to work the way I wanted.

Skull coloured in natural colours, and purply-blues.

The way I coloured this silhouette was to cut it up digitally into the different colour areas — I include bits that will overlap, to make a cleaner join. 

Then I run those through a vector program individually and layer them back in Photoshop — this gives a smoother edge than I get if I just colour it directly in Photoshop (I strongly suspect there is an easier way to do this, but this works).

Here are the four layers:

The trick here is to put an identical dot in each section. You can see it at the top right of each colour. This makes it much simpler to align the layers!

Once they are stacked together, I add texture and shadows, etc. 

In the end, I went with a pen and ink design, but the purple skull is beginning to appeal to me.

You can find the collections on the Light Grey website, and throughout the show, works will be available on the online shop as special mystery packs. You can check out the mystery packs here! And select pieces will only be available at Light Grey Art Lab in Minneapolis. 

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).

Do Panic

Amateur Opossum Actress by Rebecca Kriz

I bought a print of “Amateur Opossum Actress” by Rebecca Kriz, because this is basically my approach to any endeavour with a deadline or other degree of commitment/external expectation.

At this point, it helps to acknowledge that behaving like this is simply my process. It takes a lot less energy to plan for dramatics than to try and avoid them.

(I also schedule panicking time for some projects, so when I’m hyperventilating and people check up on me I can say ‘No, this is fine, this is what I’m meant to be doing!’)

If you, too, are an amateur opossum actress, I highly recommend buying a print from Rebecca Kriz!

(The other illustration is an original Belinda Jane Morris painting for my story “Skull & Hyssop” — the story was in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #31, the painting was a last commission from the days of being a lawyer. The cross-stitch is Rapunzel, designed & stitched by me even longer ago.)

WQ Magazine — art process

I was delighted to do the cover art for issue 273 of WQ Magazine, the magazine for Qld Writers Centre members. This post is about the art & the thinking process behind it.

Front cover of magazine in brown, blue, and yellow:
T, shears, moon, tortoise, rabbit, mayfly, girl with flag, I, swallow, M, shark, acorn, comet, pomegranate, rakali, E

The concept and the brief

The theme of the issue was TIME. Within that, I was encouraged to do what I liked.

Originally, QWC sent me some examples of work of mine that particularly appealed to them — the three examples below, of the hands cutting silhouettes, the “Scarlet” scratchboard image, and the US cover of Flyaway. This is useful for several reasons:

  • Because I work in several styles, it makes sure we’re all on the same page.
  • If the brief is fairly broad (“time”), it gives me some parameters to play within, which is always more interesting.
  • If I’ve had some new ideas I want to play with, it also lets me introduce them appropriately.

The examples QWC sent had in common strong deep colours and a very graphic approach. But I had also just finished the April calendar (Silver and Gold), and was keen to try that style again. So I added that into the thumbnails.

Here are the thumbnail sketches I sent in — always on the theme of time, with a variety of motifs.

Here’s a close-up of the thumbnail sketch for the chosen direction. Most of these elements made it in, but a few needed to go to leave room for the lettering.

Collecting my thoughts

It was (as always) thoroughly enjoyable working out elements to put in. I decided to go for things that meant “time” to me, rather than trying to be universal — although I was open to further input, and as usual I tried to go for elements that might have more than one meaning!

For both writing and art, I do like making these sorts of lists and collections. See, for example, Observation Journal — written sketches and samplers, On making samplers of various kinds, and When in doubt make lists and shuffle them. It’s useful for coming up with ideas, but it’s also an attractive way to make a thing: many of the calendars represent some version of that process.

Several of the motifs should be fairly obvious (although nearly all have two meanings, and some have more personal book-connections). Some of the possibly more obscure and/or specific references include the steam engine (a reference to the impacts of railways on the understanding and use of time), the crocheted collar with its grass of parnassus flowers from Ruth Park’s Playing Beatie Bow, Lydia running with a flag from Evaline Ness’ Do you have the time, Lydia, the ice-skates for Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden, tortoise and/or hour lilies from Michael Ende’s Momo (the tortoise and arrow together are also for Xeno’s paradox) and a HERE/NOW/NOWHERE urn from Diana Wynne Jone’s Fire & Hemlock. The water-rat is a rakali or kuril, for Kurilpa and this river, and rivers generally & metaphorically.

The few that didn’t make it in are the solitary leaf/tree (the acorn was doing that work, but it lost a very oblique Shaun Tan reference), a box (Pandora? Schrödinger?), a bell (so many reasons, but personally and predominantly The Magician’s Nephew), some lilies-of-the-field, and a pair of dancers (plenty of dance/time connotations, but honestly it was a Strictly Ballroom reference).

Pencils

The next step was to rule up the space I had to work with. I drew up a template on the computer, then printed it out and used it as a guide for the pencils, refining the details and replacing a few motifs with the letters TIME (loosely referencing some old collections of illuminated letters).

There are a few more images here than appeared on the final cover. This is mostly because I wanted both the original inks and the digitally coloured version to stand on their own as images.

Inking

Once the pencils were approved, I darkened the lines on the computer, printed them out, put them on the light box, put some nice Canson drawing paper on top, and began inking it with a brush and Dr PH Martin’s Black Star Matte ink (instead of my usual Winsor & Newton).

I inked around the shapes first. This gave a strong silhouette, and once you have that, it’s surprising how little detail you need to add to give the impression of a full drawing. (I’ve written before about the useful structural role of silhouettes in both art and writing — Silhouettes, or: Outline View, and On silhouettes and further points of connection.)

You’ll see here that I split the art across two A3 pages.

Once the silhouettes were drawn, I went in and hinted at the fine detail. I’m still particularly pleased with this collar (a reference to Playing Beatie Bow).

Here are the finished inks:

I scanned in the finished pages, adjusted the contrast, then vectorised them in Inkscape (one day I’lll work out Illustrator). This keeps almost all the wobbles and line variation, but gives a lovely strong clear contrast. Here it is in hot pink, because it amused me.

Then I took the (black!) inks back into Photoshop, where I added colour.

Colour

I wasn’t entirely sure how to colour the cover — whether to keep the the simple yellow/grey of the April calendar, or a greater range of colours.

I decided just to get the colour flats down first — selecting the areas under the inks that would be different colours, and filling them with anything, on the understanding I could change the colours later. To keep it simple, I just used two colours, blue and green, plus white.

Here are the areas coloured in — this layer sat under the inks, so it could be untidy to begin with. (Technical details: I mostly used the “lasso” tool to select areas, only occasionally bumping more detail in with the pencil or eraser tools.)

At this colour flatting stage I have to force myself to not care about the final colours. Just pick the number of colours I want to use and then select the different areas. The colours can be adjusted later.

Colour choice

I’ve written before about aspects of working with very limited colours, both in art and writing (Sketchbook colours — blue and gold).

I did at one point think of doing more with the colours, but decided I preferred the two-tone version.

In the end, I settled for blue and yellow, which (as previously mentioned) I like a lot. Blue and yellow, together, have slightly different meanings than blue and green, so I swapped some coloured areas around. I added an old paper texture over the top, to give a bit of surface variation.

Editing

Finally, with the advice of friends, I took out 9 elements. This was tricky, but we decided that the finer shapes, which had less weight on the page, could be removed — the sickle and needle and arrow, and so forth. I liked them very well, but they shifted the light differently to the others.

Then I rearranged the others to fit the cover layout and complement each other. And here is the final wraparound cover!

Copies and prints

WQ magazine is provided free to members, but the Queensland Writers Centre do supply additional copies and copies to non-members for five dollars (plus, I imagine, postage) if you contact them with your details.

They have also given me permission to sell prints of the full art, and those are now up at INPRNT and Redbubble (the repeating/square version is also on Redbubble if you prefer e.g. a scarf or a notebook).

Thanks & support

Thanks to QWC, and Callum and Sandra, for this opportunity — both to do this cover and to get away with doing exactly what I wanted to on it! Thanks also go especially to Shayna, Alex, Claire, and Aimee for early thoughts on & responses to this project.

Thanks also to my patrons over on patreon.com/tanaudel, who got sneak-peeks, and give encouragement, and let me practice early drafts of my process posts on them. If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it, 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 prints etc are available at Redbubble (prints and all sorts of things), INPRINT (art prints) and Spoonflower (fabric and wallpaper).