Illustrations for ASIM #51

A considerable time ago, I posted my illustration for the cover of the 51st issue of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine: Cover Art for Thoraiya Dyer’s story, edited by Simon Petrie. I also provided black and white internal illustrations for six other stories (these are all in pen and ink with digital shading and texture).


Internal illustrations for ASIM #51

From left to right, top to bottom the stories are:

  • “A Mirror, Darkly” – Keith Stevenson: About a quarter of the way through drawing the patterns on the scarf, I had the sinking feeling that I had overcommitted. The impression of bleakness and claustrophobia I got from the story may be partially blamed on sitting crouched over the drawing board filling in dots, but the story was effective in making me extremely wary of speckled mirrors in op-shops.
  • “The Household Debt” – Chris Miles: The illustration is an homage to the flat composition of golden age illustrations and to Edward Gorey’s Doubtful Guest. The story made me grateful for my mortgage and put me off several categories of food.
  • “Bonsai” – Robin Shortt: An brief, lovely, eerie little story which is painful to reread after the events of this year. The story has its monsters, but the Simon requested the old man and the tree and I agree – it seemed that to illustrate the consequences would be to miss the point (although it would be a lovely piece to see done entirely graphically).
  • “Nessa 1944” – Ellen C Glass: I enjoyed the use of an old rhyme in this, but the story is set in ventilation ducts, in the dark! Oddly, I think this is the only one for which the editor didn’t suggest what he’d like in the picture.
  • “The Story of the Ship that Brought us Here” – Stephen Case: I love the flowered dress here, but this illustration fell far short of what I wanted it to be. This story flowered with beautiful images – glass birds hung in trees, strange sentient planets, alignments of stars, implanted plant gowns, ships reborn… – and I could never put all of them in one image.
  • “Merchant’s Run” – Calie Voorhis: This is another illustration which gave me pause – the seventies vibe of the interior of the spacecraft of the story was fun, but in the end the chance to draw old-fashioned tulips was irresistable. This is my favourite of the illustrations. Originally there was no shading, but the editor requested that the ship be made larger or more obvious, so I put a grey shade to knock the tulips into the background.

Each time I reach the end of a job, I look back and realise how much I have learned in the course of it – which is a Very Good Thing, but can make the looking-back uncomfortable. I learned a huge amount on this issue of ASIM. I was very glad to have the opportunity to illustrate a whole issue (thank you Simon!), although the diversity of stories and genre presented a challenge – I have my favourite styles of story, and some stories are a more obvious fit to the way I draw. It was an excellent lesson in how to take stories which were chosen for me, look at a story which didn’t instantly fit the way my brain works, and try to tease out an illustration which suited both it and me.

Cover art – Andromeda Spaceways #51

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine issue 51 has been released! Here is the official announcement: ASIM 51: Our first quarterly issue.

For those interested in such details, here is a quick glimpse of the process of doing the cover, based on (the talented, lovely and award-winning) Thoraiya Dyer‘s “The Birds, the Bees, and Thylacine”.

Simon, the editor, had asked me for something evocative of illustrations from early/mid-20th century children’s books.

This is the thumbnail sketch from which I originally planned to work (usually my thumbnail sketches look a little neater):

I had my heart set on that thumbnail, with its (I thought) rather neat circular composition, and the framing of the man and the thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), but it wouldn’t come together. I redid it and redrew it and looked for more reference and wished I had a man to pose and finally had a minor meltdown, sat down and did two small pen and ink pictures, one of which became the final.

Here is the cover in progress (you can see it larger by clicking on the picture and going through to its Flickr page):

ASIM 51 - Cover Process

That is the original pen and ink drawing at the top left, as I scanned it in. I layered it with a scan of an old page (from Janet’s Winter in Quebec, I think) and put in the shadows. Then I added further layers of fairly soft colour. The list of contributors would cover the tiger, but that was deliberate – a lot of Thoraiya’s story is about vanishing.

I also coloured the other pen sketch, which I posted back in April: This is not the cover you are looking for. It was much brighter.

I’ll put up another post soon with thoughts on drawing the internal black and white illustrations.

This is not the cover you are looking for…

I’ve wanted to do an Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (ASIM) cover for a few years. Last year, I did an internal illustration for Joanne Anderton‘s “Breathtaker” in issue #44, but this year Simon Petrie asked me to do 6 black and white internal illustrations and a colour cover for issue #51. All illustrations are done and away now, although the issue won’t be out for a month or two more.

The cover was to be in an old-fashioned storybook style, based on Thoraiya Dyer‘s “The Birds, the Bees, and Thylacine,” and caused me a variety of agonies. Finally last weekend I scrapped all the sketches I had made and did two small pen-and-ink drawings using an entirely different composition, and that worked. It worked so well I ended up with 2 different covers. So I will now keep “abrupt change of direction” as one of the tools in my sketchbox.

This is the cover which ASIM didn’t choose (the final cover is much softer and paler, and has apple trees). The space at the top and shadow at the bottom were for the title and contributor list. I agree with the final choice, but I still like this shade of yellow:

Thylacine - back-up cover

Now I have to work on a tattoo design, rhinoceri, historical diners and an illustration for one of my own stories, “Undine Love”, which is coming out later this year. It’s very difficult illustrating my own work because I feel as if I ought to know what my characters look like. I don’t. I could draw you a fairly exact image of the setting, and hazard a guess at the secondary characters, but the closer I get into someone’s head the less I know what they look like. I have even written down a list of all the friends I am prepared to subject to pressure to model for me (it is a long list, at least for female characters) and am considering their suitability.

Oh, look!

I just found the cover of Greer Gilman’s Cloud & Ashes in the Locus Directory of Cover Artists (over halfway down).

Issue 41 of Andromeda Spaceways is now available in PDF. It comes with two versions of my name, so it may be a collector’s item :)

And Issue 2 of Exhibition Hall  (steampunk fanzine) is up at It has a review of Continuum which includes one of my sketches.

And last month’s book reviews will be up… soon. I’m aiming for before next month.

November short book reviews

I was doing NaNoWriMo and decided to read only short stories, partly to catch up on the large pile of anthologies acquired at conventions, and partly because I thought it would suit my concentration reserves. I read and write short stories but am still working out exactly which sorts and structures I like (I’ve worked this out with novels and poems, but my short story reading has been more scattered and interstitial) and this went a way towards helping me solidify my ideas, although I am still structuring them.

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #37. Dirk Flinthart’s ‘This is Not my Story’ was probably my favourite, because it reminded me in good ways of Bridge to Terebithia and Peter Pan, and in spite of some darkness and loss of chances and potential had an innocence and hope to it. Eilis O’Neal’s The Unicorn in the Tower also stood out, not so much for the story as for the writing, because it still feels in my head like a tapestry. Jason Fischer’s Rick Gets a Job was exactly the sort of short story I like, structure wise, and the sort of story that really bothers me because I want to know people can fight back and have a chance of succeeding in some small way (this is why I prefer Fahrenheit 451 to 1984, for example) – the combination of deeply depressing story of enslavement and chatty Australian working-class feel also weirded me out (in a good way as far as writing and a bad way as far as my mental calm :).

The Grinding House – Kaaron Warren. Brilliantly written and deeply disturbing. The structure/feel of many of her short stories aren’t in line with what my personal preference is developing to be, but the images – the clay men, the bone flowers (oh, and the entirely fused skeletons of ‘The Grinding House’) – are extremely compelling and lingering. Her short stories do what good short stories can and should do, just not always what I want them to do. This isn’t a criticism – just me working out my personal preferences.

Magic for Beginners – Kelly Link. I should dislike Kelly Link’s story structures because she tends towards open-ended and ambiguous endings which would usually bother me, but she does it like Dianna Wynne Jones does them (i.e. I know there’s an answer there if I just keep rereading the ending) and she writes so beautifully and the stories spin off into so many other stories in my head that I love them all, even the ones that leave me frustrated and puzzled. My hands-down favourites are ‘The Faery Handbag’, which is just marvelous and makes me want to spend more time in op shops, ‘The Hortlak’ for its slow hilarious bizarre convenience-store-world, and ‘Magic for Beginners’ which is just weird and odd and loving and full of idiosyncratic and independent individuals, horror writers and avid fans and phone booths and a very remarkable television show which takes place in the World Library where a girl band called the Norns plays in the basement and the main character is never played by the same actor twice. The last story has been compared to Borges, but if it is Borges it is Borges with a larger heart and an understanding of fantasy fans and a keener sense of humour. You have no idea how glad I am that I have now read some Borges and can actually say this – I feel like having wanted to like Borges I have been rewarded by being able to read Link.

Canterbury 2100 – Flinthart (ed). I just love the structure of this. It is a brilliant structure and if the stories were all horribly weak (which they aren’t at all) I think I would still like the book. I am a sucker, in fact, for tales within tales, and characters interrupting each other, and nested stories and ideas which continue through other ideas (why I love Valente and fairy tale retellings and stories by Link and DWJ that spill off the edge of the page). Inspired by the Canterbury Tales, the stories in the anthology are united not by theme but by setting – the anthology takes place in 2100 in the carriage of a train on its way to Canterbury, whose passengers pass the time during a breakdown by telling stories – hard science fiction, social science fiction, medieval feuds and tournaments, love stories, ghost stories (I will never look at a balloon man without thinking of intestines), fighting against corporations, oppression, fate. I really liked the way the supernatural and superstitious threaded through tales of technology and bare-bones survival. It tended to the bleak – the present of the anthology is not a pleasant one – and some of the stories (the events, not the writing) were just nasty (there are a couple of people – you know who you are – I recommend do not read Ben Bastian’s ‘The Doctor’s Tale’), but there were flashes of beauty in the world as well as the stories and the telling. I think I liked Matthew Chrulew’s ‘The Gnomogist’s Tale’ best, because of the sustained joke about the sequins and the wonderful narrator’s voice which could have been precious but never faltered. Laura E Goodin’s ‘The Miner’s Tale’, which was not a fantasy and not a fairytale retelling and not entirely happy nevertheless managed to hit a lot of my other buttons (see comments above re fighting back and having at least the hint of a ghost of a chance).