Cover Reveal: Mother Thorn

I’m very excited to share this new cover with you! It’s for Juliet Marillier‘s collection Mother Thorn, which should come out from Serenity Press in November this year. I will share preorder links as they become available — and also some process detail.

Although this cover began as a physical cut-paper silhouette, I was trying something different with colours and textures — it was an educational experience, but I’m very happy with how it turned out, and I’m looking forward to continuing to experiment with the possibilities.

Update: Juliet has posted more about the book (and the stories in it) at her website — Cover Reveal: Mother Thorn.

Flyaway: The cake!

This was a seven-cake birthday, somehow (thank you to all responsible!), but I particularly wanted to show you this cake my older sister organised from Sugar Art by Zoe Byers.

Cake and photos by Zoe Byers

My sister gave her the link to my website, and Zoe chose the Flyaway cover!

Cake and photos by Zoe Byers

Zoe wrote:

The cut out was made by joining two pieces of wafer paper (to add strength for it to stand up). I then traced your gorgeous image, hand cut it out and painted it with edible paint. I am so thrilled you like it.

Cake and photos by Zoe Byers

And here is the final cake — a wonderful cake and a marvellous surprise!

Cake and photos by Zoe Byers

On silhouettes and further points of connection

This follows on from yesterday’s post about the structural role of triangles in editing and silhouettes. It’s about the points that connect and strengthen fragile pieces of a design (or, if you wish to extend the metaphor in yesterday’s post, of a piece of writing).

This image is my cover design for Kate Forsyth and Kim Wilkins‘ Aurealis-Award-winning collection of linked stories, The Silver Well (Ticonderoga Publications, 2017).

The Silver Well

It’s originally a cut paper silhouette that I then used to make a cyanotype print.


The physical silhouette is delicate (see yesterday’s post for some examples of scale). While structural requirements of cut-paper silhouettes don’t technically matter for a printed cover, they do for the original art (and I enjoy the constraints it gives me to push against, and the physical possibilities and effects they open up for the illustration).

In this case, there were competing requirements. The silhouette needed to look open, airy, and leafy — not like a complete net. But it also needed to be robust enough to (a) withstand the cutting-out of neighbouring tiny pieces, (b) tolerate being picked up, turned over, scanned, printed with, etc, and (c) hold up when framed, and not tear or sag under its own slight but not insignificant weight.

I dealt with this by tiny overlaps and glancing tangents. These can be a problem in some styles of art, but they’re largely invisible in silhouettes — and need to be, to help with the illusion of twigs and leaves waving free in the wind.


Red circles showing points of connection

These points mean that the tiny twigs support each other in space. They lock together to create a larger rigid areas. I’ve highlighted those areas below.


Green areas are the strongest, red areas are more isolated

The strongest areas are the ones in green  — roughly triangular, they’re joined to the larger design along one whole edge, which makes them very stable. The red areas are stable in themselves, but they only connect to the larger design at one point, which means they can still shift about, and that all their weight pulls on that one narrow connection.

In that case, I’d usually at least pay some extra attention to that one point — flaring or thickening it slightly. But I could also have locked the design down further by joining it at least at the yellow circles shown below.


Yellow circles show likely connection points that would add physical strength

Joining it there would have created a much larger rigid area, as shaded in yellow below. But it might also have made the design that bit too dense and self-enclosed for an illustrated branch, more suited to, e.g., a lace edging.  But it is an illustration, and some parts have to be given their freedom.


The extra connection points would have created this larger area

When I begin a silhouette design, I don’t sit down and count up the connections. The process itself, born of experience and accident and a bit of lacemaking at one point — feels more organic.


Thumbnail sketches for the cover of The Silver Well

The designs starts with looping scribbles and works its way towards a final arrangement that pleases me. And yet the points where those sketched loops cross over each other have power, and by the final stage those points of connection come into play, tying it all together.

To link it back to writing and editing: those points of connection are often the ones that need to be tightened during editing — little clarifying comments, ambiguous foreshadowing, word choices that resonate across apparently unrelated sections.

Here, by the way, is the final cover — the Aurealis-Award-winning book (which is lovely, and has internal illustrations too) is available from Ticonderoga Publications.

The Silver Well

Cover reveal: The Spellcoats


A new cover! This one is for the Utz Books edition of Diana Wynne Jones’ novel The Spellcoats (part of the Dalemark Quartet).

The style is to match that of my previous cover for Utz Books’ The Power of Three (which in turn was to match the style of other Utz covers for Jones’s books). The process post for that is here: The Power of Three.

Gili Bar Hillel (of Utz Books) gave a fascinating presentation at the Bristol conference about the process of translating Jones’ novels — you can read that in the published conference proceedings (more information in this post: Howl’s Moving Contracts).

Flyaway Cover Comparison


Above is another process shot I took while cutting out the cover illustration for Flyaway. You can see some more of my process behind designing the cover silhouette at this post: Illustrating Flyaway: Kathleen Jennings on creating art and prose together.

I’ve mentioned before that I adore what did to the silhouette for Flyaway. Having a book coming out in two markets simultaneously, however, meant a new cover — and in this case, that meant a different treatment for the same silhouette.


I love both covers — the rich embroidered density of the cover, the airy spaciousness of the Picador — but as well as being exciting to me as an author, it’s fascinating to me as an illustrator, and as an occasional tutor/guest lecturer in writing, editing and publishing courses. It’s interesting not just because of how visible it makes the work of the designers (Jaya Miceli and Liz Seymour), but because of how clear it makes the story each publisher is telling to (and in the visual language of) their region.

I think the cover (below) leans into the literary gothic/horror aspect (and possibly for an American-inflected taste), and I am very fond of the typeface, which reminds me of midcentury Faber poetry books. The Picador cover, on the other hand, bends towards the more literary realism/fairytale genre as it exists in Australia, with a Gothic current under the almost whimsical swoop and piercing of the title.

Both are accurate, both are beautiful, and it’s so neat to get this side-by-side comparison of what two different publishers and designers can do with the same piece of art.


I asked the designers about the direction they took (and the typefaces!)

Jaya Miceli, regarding the cover:

Flyaway is an enchanting, mysterious fairy tale-like story, full of emotion and curious characters. While Kathleen’s paper cut illustration captures the elaborate quality and richness of the weaving stories, in designing the cover, I added an extra layer with an anatomical etching to peer through for color, texture and depth. At a glance the artwork feels like an intricate tapestry and up close the detail within reveals the pulsing eeriness of the story.

The font is Lydian.
— Jaya Miceli

Liz Seymour, regarding the Picador cover:

The opportunity to intertwine image and title type was an obvious design direction. Space, simplicity and choosing a sympathetic typeface were the key. Yana typeface is used for ‘Flyaway’, an elegant serif font, based on hand lettering.

— Liz Seymour › SEYMOUR DESIGN

And finally, a few words from Mathilda Imlah, publisher of Picador Australia:

There are some basic differences – the format was different, and though our markets have a lot of overlap, I couldn’t tell you why, but publishers in another country usually have really strong feelings about the type choices of other editions! When I briefed the cover I was only looking to change the type and maybe look at some variant colour.

But as we looked at those adaptations, I really felt the Lotte Reiniger-style silhouette was a strong visual referent for the audience – it speaks strongly to the tradition you work in – so preserving a silhouette became the first thing we did. I confess I always had in mind a kind of punked-up william morris illustration; that sort of literary, wistful, romantic notion of the folk/fairytale/legend oft evoked by illustrations like morris, aubrey beardsley, even mervyn peake. But you can see it cleaved closer to folk art, which suits both illustration and book much better! I would say the colour choice came out of that – I was initially asking for a much brighter set of colours – maybe even fluoro. But we didn’t favour those in the end.

— Mathilda Imlah

Flyaway is scheduled to be published at the end of July 2020, and is available for preorder from your local bookstore (see if they’re doing phone, online, or bicycle orders!), or:

Cover art process: Welcome to the Bitch Bubble

FirstCurrent events have made it a little tricky for authors & publishers to celebrate new books and get them to you. This book comes out in May, but is available for preorder now. Please consider doing so!

A month ago, Lauren Dixon and Hydra House Books announced the cover for her new collection, Welcome to the Bitch Bubble.

The process for this one began with a breakfast conversation at the World Fantasy Convention hotel in LA in 2019.

From there, I received the manuscript and worked through it, thinking of treatments (how best to capture vigour vs whimsy, how to handle colour vis-a-vis the title, etc).

As usual, I made some accordion-fold sheets of drawing paper and drew my way through the stories, catching images that were particularly resonant.


And, of course, getting distracted by skeletons in sundresses. Here I am making a cyanotype print of the cutout.


(You can also see, above, that I was playing with some of the silhouette treatments I tried at the Illustration Master Class.)

Using these, I put together the initial thumbnail-sketched ideas. You can see me working to find a synthesis between my usual gentler style and the raw aggression of some of Lauren Dixon’s writing!


Lauren and Tod came back with their thoughts on direction and colour, and from those I put together the next set of more detailed sketches. You can see how elements of the different thumbnails were recombined.


The sketches above were for the idea that was always the frontrunner, but there were a couple of others we liked, so I played with them too (presumably avoiding other deadlines).


I still really like those hair legs and would like to do a cover with them!

After that, I enlarged the sketch and used it as a rough base to make the more detailed final pencil drawing. This is the stage where all the strands and leaves and limbs have to link so that they hold together when I cut them out.


I then used those pencils to trace down the lines onto black paper (remembering to flip them! I don’t always remember to do this), and cut them out.


Once the silhouette was cut out and scanned, we kept trying out different combinations of colour and texture (the more gleeful of us clamouring for garishness, the more sober attempting to rein us in).


And then, over to Tod (of Hydra House) to bring it home!


Welcome to the Bitch Bubble is available for preorder now, and given what current events are doing to launches, conventions, bookstores, etc, it would be great if — if this sounds at all like your sort of book! — you’d consider preordering through the links here or a good independent bookstore near you.

Flyaway news: Australian edition!


Big news about Flyaway was announced today by

Picador will publish the Australian Edition of Kathleen Jennings’ Flyaway

And that means a beautiful new cover (the designer for this version is Liz Seymour).


If you’re Australian and after this edition, preorder links are through here, or contact your local bookshop (they’d really, really appreciate it)!


Welcome to Lauren Dixon’s new collection


A new cover is out in the world! Welcome to the Bitch Bubble, a collection of stories by Lauren Dixon, is now available for preorder (consult your local bookstore, but failing one of those, see also B&N, Amazon), and will be published by Hydra House 12 May 2020.

The collection, per Hydra House, is “of stories both published and unpublished, including “Double Dutch,” “Floating Feathers, Red Wings and Wild,” “Sheela of the Good Shepherd,” “If You Can’t Take the Heat, Don’t Hire a Yeti,” and many others. Her fiction walks the line between the strange, the weird, and the humorous, often in unsettling ways.”

I’ll put up a process post a bit later (patrons have been seeing this in stages), closer to the release date, but here is a cyanotype test of the skeleton in a sundress.


Oh, and it’s a full cover. Cover type by Andy Romine.


A Cover for Flyaway


My Australian Gothic novella Flyaway will be released in July next year — but has now revealed the cover (fabulous design by Jaya Miceli, from a silhouette by me).


It comes with some useful links (although I’ll let you know more about pre-orders as that becomes available) and a few lovely words from Kelly Link, Holly Black, C.S.E. Cooney and Brooke Bolander — authors whose way with stories I very much admire.

I am extremely delighted with this cover, for which the designer and art directors should get most of the credit (and I adore the typeface), and I can’t wait (I must wait!) for the book to be a real thing in the world.

The Power of Three

Power of Three - cover⁩

Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favourite (and formative) authors, and it was such a delight to be able to do this cover for her novel The Power of Three, for Utz Books.

Here are some of the preliminary sketches: reading the book again (a lovely twisty, funny, mystical plot, with that sliding-through of perspectives DWJ does so well), getting details right, working out how I wanted to draw aspects.


Then narrowing down the cover treatment — the format had to match other cover designs, which is both a challenging and liberating consideration.


Finally, developing and refining this cover and a treatment and style that would fit the other covers (similar textures, etc).