Flyaway: A silhouette in gold!


Looook at it! I did not know there were going to be foils on the case (under the dust jacket) of the edition of Flyaway!

(These are the production manager’s photos for approval)


They are so shiny!


I remain fascinated by what different colour treatments do to a silhouette — what grows and narrows, what turns into a void or lifts off the paper.

It’s just over two months before publication (although both the US and Australian editions are available for pre-order now).

I’ve written more on the illustrations here:


The Bitterwood Bible – cover art and illustrations

Bitterwood Bible - spine image

My copy of Angela Slatter‘s collection The Bitterwood Bible finally arrived, and it is so (literally) shiny.

Dust jacket

The dust jacket is consistent with Tartarus Press style, but underneath there is foil on the boards, and it gleams! Here is a flash photo for maximum effect (I am so happy the little fox on the stand turned out as it should).


There are many, many pictures inside, too – here are a few as they appear in the original sketchbook:



And here are the beloved badgers:




The Rathbones – seaweed and whales

This is Janice Clark’s novel The Rathbones – a dim, salt-spangled, miniature epic of a tangled whaling family – Gormenghast and the Odyssey and Poe, dreamlike with sudden tiny landscapes of painterly clarity, shrouded mysteries, decadence and deprivation, real cruelty and torturous bloodlines.

Rathbones - art by Janice Clark

Cover art by Janice Clark

The cover and the chapter headers are by the author. However, I was originally asked to do the cover, and we went as far as thumbnails sketches and concept work before the publisher decided to change direction (all amicable and professional!).

My art was to be cut-paper, and as I hadn’t done much in a nautical theme before, I spent some of my holidays practicing whales and ropes at my sister’s dining table, and drawing seaweed in my notebook. Here is a selection from the test pieces:

Concept paper cuts

Test patches by me

The art director was Emily Mahon, and you can see some of her lovely cover work here: I am a particular fan of the modern library series, and can’t pick just one.


Cover Art: Karen Joy Fowler – “What I Didn’t See”

Two new covers to show you! One… not so new and one not quite out yet. But soon!

The first was the cover for Small Beer Press‘ paperback release of Karen Joy Fowler‘s collection What I Didn’t See. I remember being dragged along to see The Jane Austen Bookclub and realising abruptly that into what had boded to be a very pink movie was slipped a suspiciously accurate side-glimpse of a science fiction convention, a discussion of famous women science fiction authors, and a scene which prompted my Grisham-reading sister to ask if I had any Le Guin novels. Fowler, I realised, was one of us.

When I was asked to do this cover I was hopping around the house with delight. It is a superb collection. Fairytales of holiday communities, tragic conspiracies of scientific expeditions, tales which might be just a story and might be – might be – something beyond the delusion of the characters. My favourite story, The Dark, I love so much that I mentally insert it into all collections of stories that I like and have to trace it back to this collection by the flea I drew for the cover. It is slow, mysterious, hair-raising – the best and saddest of unsolved-mysteries.

Here are the first sketches – working out general direction and technique (the examples on the right include ink and cut-paper figures):

Fowler Cover - initial sketches

I had intended to do a cut-out design for the cover, but Small Beer Press were happy with the sketch as it was in this more detailed layout-test:

Fowler Cover - layouts

I tried a few different colourways:

Fowler Cover - colour variants

In the end we settled for the original, simple black-and-white design.

Final cover art - Fowler

And then the book arrived and – it was printed with gloss spots and embossing in all black. So, so hard to get a decent photo of, and absolutely gorgeous, like something out of a gothic candy store. My first embossed cover! And a very excellent book.

Final covers - Fowler and Olondria

There too is the hard copy of Sofia Samatar‘s novel A Stranger in Olondria, the cover process of which I posted about here.

Midnight and Moonshine – the cover art

Here is the cover for Angela Slatter and Lisa Hannett’s ornate, interlocked Midnight and Moonshine, which is being published very soon by Ticonderoga Publications, with a foreword by Kim Wilkins.

It started with sketches and discussions over coffee with Angela, and then by email with Lisa, searching for an image that would catch the linked stories. In the end we focussed on the mythological elements, with flowing lines, a white raven and Mymnir being beautiful and mysterious.

First sketches

I took the opportunity to play around with coloured inks, as Angela and Lisa wanted a more painterly style – in the end, we went with the softer style I used on Small Beer Press’ cover for Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria, but that had not been finished at this stage.

At Continuum in Melbourne, we sat down in the hotel restaurant and worked out the general layout. It was fun working this way – I rarely get to work up a sketch over coffee with the interested parties, but it is much more fluid and less fraught process than the usual back-and-forth by email. At the top left is Lisa demonstrating arm poses.


Russell, the publisher, had sent me templates for the paperback and hardcovers. These have different dimensions. I layered the templates to get a single template which would let me allow for all croppings in the one drawing. I then did a layout sketch (above, lower left) to make sure there was room for the title, blurb, bar code and so forth, and sourced more cape and arm reference (courtesy of Aimee, and my hand).

From there: pencils, inks, colour flats and a long colouring/texturing/shading session in front of BBC crime shows, nominally keeping my father company.

Round 1

And… in the end the line work was too bold and “YA”. But the cover for A Stranger in Olondria was in the wild by now, so I had some more experience (and everyone had more reference) for what we were trying to do. In the end, after tears and weeping, the only way to soften the lines was to redraw the whole thing in pencil. Which was much more soothing than aiming for precise inkwork. I griped a lot. They turned out to be wise and correct, but I reserve the right to guilt-trip Certain Authors into buying me coffee.

Round 2

At this point, the lines were approved but the colours were still too bold. This is one reason why, with short turnarounds, I colour digitally! I knocked back the colour and transparency and brought up the paper textures in the sky. This is the point at which I began to grudgingly forgive Angela and Lisa, because this second version did look much, much better. They said kind and soothing words and presented the cover to Russell, who had been suffering in (not quite) silence. He had one request – to adjust the lady’s shoulder – which turned out to be more possible than I expected (to summarise: everyone involved was wonderful and reasonable and I apologise for my histrionics, subject to the coffee comment above).

And voila, the full wrap-around cover (which appears larger here).

Midnight and Moonshine cover

Some time after this, Russell sent over the title pages for the limited edition hardcover and I spent a pleasant morning signing them with Angela over cupcakes. By the end – by even 20 pages – my signature looked like “K twitch-muscle-spasm”.

The launches are at Avid Reader in Brisbane on 30 November 2012, and at the SA Writers Centre in Adelaide on 14 December 2012, and you can pre-order the trade paperback or the limited edition hardcover at the links on the Ticonderoga page.

February Short Book Reviews

10+ books this month, and since that obviously makes too short a post, I have added features – where the book was acquired and what I thought of the cover. If I think of any more categories (or there are any suggestions which amuse me sufficiently) I may eventually be able to reduce these monthly reviews to a formulaic checklist which would at least make it more likely for me to get them out early in the month.  Next months’ review post will be shorter, with the unfortunate consequence that you won’t get to hear about Regency gentleman fighting with anacondas in Ceylon (for real! published before Pride and Prejudice! How have I gone this long without Gothic horror!) until after April.

Continue reading

Illustration Friday: Adrift

Illustration Friday: Adrift

So I bought a fedora… If this picture rings a bell, it is because in June last year the topic was “drifting” and I did a mock cover for this poem based on an old Piper sailing manual. This one is inspired by the cover of a 1960 Corgi edition of Alan Hunter’s Gently Down the Stream. It does not appear to be online. I decided to do a silhouette of the DI Dulac instead of the tonal illustration of Gently on Hunter’s cover, and a close-up of the corpse instead of the view of boatsheds and boats with a small and mysteriously-suspender-belted corpse in the reeds (mysterious because as far as I recall, no women or suspender-belted men were murdered in the novel). I’ve extracted an agreement from my sister that, if she won’t pose for me, she will take photos while I pose, but she went out to a barbeque so I have been running around the living room in a trench coat and fedora, sweltering, and lying down on the floor and jumping up again and trying to arrange my hair in 12 seconds, and attaching the camera to backs of chairs… After that part of the process was done, the rest of this happened on the computer, not in a vector program although if I were to do this again (or clean it up further) I would. And please note how I cleverly avoided having to spell “Shalott” correctly. Edited to add a scan of the original cover:

Gently Down the Stream

Edited to add: This is now available as a print on Redbubble.

Anything as much fun as simply messing about in Photoshop?: Cloud & Ashes cover

The images here are the thumbnail roughs I sent to Kelly at LCRW for the cover of Greer Gilman’s novel Cloud & Ashes. As usual, you can see a larger version by clicking on the picture (which will take you to the image on Flickr) and then clicking on “all sizes” above the picture.

I did a very small freehand scratchboard sketch and then added colour in Photoshop, sampling the colour and texture from this old painting. We did not run with this style, for several reasons including the rather distracting face (it was a sketch!), but I still quite like the shadow-birds and the effect of the rough orange at the edges of the lower left image.

Roughs for Cloud & Ashes cover 1-scratchboard

The next four show a few different styles:
Top left: pencil coloured in Photoshop.
Top right: sepia ink coloured in Photoshop. The hair in this one does fun things when run through Photoshop filters.
Bottom left: sepia ink coloured in Photoshop and textured with an old page. My favourite part is the birds running off with the stars.
Bottom right: sepia ink coloured in Photoshop. Too bold for the book, but I do like this one – maybe for a book of legends about constellations.

Roughs for Cloud & Ashes cover 2-ink

This month’s blog header is a variation on the top right of the above:

May blog header

I can’t remember why I decided on the technique for the next piece. It features hundreds of little dashes drawn in sepia ink with a dip pen, then scanned and layered in various ways with a scan of a yellowed page.

Roughs for Cloud & Ashes cover 3-inkdash

Finally, this version was painted with a brush on a nice heavy drawing paper (everything else was on plain printing paper). I did the lettering separately and combined the layers after scanning, then fiddled with lighting and contrast.

Roughs for Cloud & Ashes cover 4-inkwash

Falling off of chairs
Roughing out of thumbnails

Next: At work on the final

Book Askance

I mentioned in my last post that Making Money Made Simple is an embarrassing book to be seen reading on public transport. I wish to qualify that statement. I see no point in being embarrassed by books I am reading. If I am reading them, I have no problem being known to be doing so, with very few exceptions.

The embarrassment happens when the books I am seen reading are those by whose covers one cannot tell them. By this I do not necessarily mean books with resoundingly bad covers, because we are living in an era of beautiful cover designs (though that is not a blanket statement – google bad romance covers at your own peril), but books whose covers or titles conjure up in the mind of the beholder quite a different book than the one I am actually reading. Though I might be happy to be seen reading a get-rich-quick book if I were deliberately reading one, I object to being presumed to be engrossed in one when in fact I am reading Noel Whittaker, and obviously fascinated by his explication of the inner workings of superannuation funds.

Here are some more books that are, or would be, embarrassing to read on public transport:

Dark Lord of Derkholm, Dianna Wynne Jones – this is solely on the basis of the cover, which (in the edition I have) is decidedly not tongue-in-cheek. It is in fact the cover for the book Dark Lord is not, and I find myself wanting to hold a sign explaining that the glowing-eyed villain and flying horses should be read ironically.

Georgette Heyer novels – two reasons for these. One is that they are such delightful puffery that I get a little embarrassed myself about the extent to which I enjoy the best ones. Anyone who recognises the author would probably understand, and this is a good, guilty-pleasure embarrassment which is, however, better accompanied by tea and chocolate than by council bus passengers. The other problem is the new covers which scream “Romance!” And while I hope if I were reading modern romance on the bus I would do so boldly, this is inaccurate. Heyers are very romantic, but almost more so in the old sense of adventure and daring than in the modern one. Misunderstanding! Pistols at dawn! Secret identities! Masked betrayers! Blackmail! Almacks! Highwaymen! Kittens!

Meg Cabot novels – Glitter! Pink! But they probably wouldn’t sell if they featured lists and horse-shampoo on the covers, which are the real appeal.

Anything by Jodi Picoult, Dan Brown or anything that sells well in airports except maybe Tom Clancy. This is an image thing.

The Feminist Gospel. I have to explain this to everyone, from the Christians (it’s an examination, not a statement) to the feminists (why is it pink?).

Anatomy for Artists. The pictures must be from the ’20s, it starts orange and gets worse from there. There’s a worse one out now, though – a reference guide for fantasy artists. I want to buy it just to bring out when I need to fall about laughing. But not on the bus.

The Satanic Verses. People try not to look at you.