Narrative theory #1

A story (like a cat) is a liquid that takes the shape of its container.

Also like a cat, a story can be summoned by placing an open container on the ground.

Found a missing cat


Found yet another style of cat (see: Once more, with feline).

This was a linocut illustration for one of my Patreon short stories.

I have quite a few deadlines still to hit over the next several weeks (fairy tale silhouettes! mosaic novel sketches! tales of dreadful substances! teaching!), but I’d very much like to get back to plying with block printing. I’m not great at it (as I’ve discussed before), but it’s so pleasing to do.


Once more, with feline

I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy drawing cats (Cats; Stray Bats). Lately, going through files, I keep coming across sketches and projects with cats in them.


They appear in a variety of media and, in some cases, distinctly different approaches and styles. Taken en masse, they function as something of a sampler (On making samplers).

It’s not just a way of offering different treatments to a client, but of exploring the subject. How much you can communicate in a silhouette will translate into a line drawing; the movement and roundness of a line drawing feeds back into a silhouette (more about silhouette drawings here: Party Portrait).


Sketches of Church for a design for Shadowhunters leggings

Similarly, producing a large cat can teach you a lot about which gestures you can select in order to produce a small cat, while making a tiny cat gives you the minimum detail you need to create a large cat — anything more is a bonus.


Cover detail for Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Creature Court novels

Or even how little information is needed to read as “cat” at all (and how to know when you’ve gone too far).

The shifting of styles is important not just when working out the style, but working out where the weight of a story is — in the picture of the cat itself, or the trail of paint below it? That might not correlate with the amount of detail in the picture.


And every new cat teaches you more about that style you’re working with, as well as about the possibilities of cats, and suggests details and poses to carry off into other styles (or tactfully leave behind).


Art and writing activities and exercises:

  • Take a small scene (drawn or written, your own or someone else’s — if you can’t think of anything, then simply imagine a cat). Make a list of styles/genres (Pre-Raphaelite, Art Deco, Pop…; Da Vinci, Mary Sheppard, Banksy…; Tolkien, Montgomery, Funke…; Hardboiled, Edwardian comedy, 21st-century travel writing…). Roll dice (or point at random) to choose one, then quickly rough out how that original scene would change when reworked in that style. Try it again, and see what happens now. What works, what shifts, what new details do you discover about the scene or the style or your own preferences?
  • Picking one image (or animal) to pursue through different styles is a lovely thematically coherent way to create a sampler for your own reference.
  • If you’re stuck indoors with other people, you could easy make this a sort of round-robin/Exquisite Corpse/Telephone game, each writing a short scene or then passing it to the next person to change it into a different genre, and then on to the next until it becomes something entirely different.
  • A game like this can of course become its own project — see for example Matt Madden’s comics book 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style (“inspired by the French author Raymond Queneau’s 1947 book Exercises in Style (Fr Eng), itself inspired by Bach’s Art of the Fugue“). And slightly less formally, Catherynne M. Valente’s “decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery” Radiance contains a backstory that keeps shifting genres as its film-making characters work out how best to retell it.




Cats are great fun as decorative elements, but often difficult to catch on paper.


Saffy, a descended ceiling-cat

When I visit friends with cats, I spend a lot of time chasing their cats around trying to draw them.

This is further complicated by cats who gradually vanish between the sofa cushions while they are being sketched.


From Cassandra Clare’s December 2019 newsletter

It’s fun to glance back occasionally and see them over time — both changes in the cats and in my pursuit of an explanation of how Scottish Folds work.

Here’s Reginald (and Maggie) in 2017.


And some bonus lions from the Melbourne Zoo the same year (“lion-coloured” is one of my favourite colour descriptions):


November Calendar: Twilight Cats


The cats of November!

Greetings from sunny California, with a background soundtrack of trains, coyotes, and The Fictator typing in the next room.

These cats were so much fun to draw — especially the brown and white one. I’ve always hesitated a bit over cats, but this time it seemed to come together: the reference, the practice, and memories of cats I’ve known, the way they move and look suspiciously around and the peculiar arrangements of their muscles.

Printable versions are available below – pre-coloured, or to colour yourself.

This month’s calendar is, as usual, brought to you thanks to the support of people through Patreon (there will be some new sneak-peeks and glimpses of work in progress going up there soon, if you’ve been considering joining — and two years’ worth of printable December stationery at the $3+ level, if you’re so inclined).

November Calendar Colour.jpg

November Calendar Lines

Illustration Friday: Sweet

This week’s Illustration Friday picture began, as usual, with ballpoint notebook sketches. The White Witch and Edmund, with the enchanted Turkish Delight, were strong contenders, and then I remembered… (fair warning, this isn’t a pleasant story if you are fond of rabbits)

Illustration Friday: Sweet

Once, we lived out west and had two cats. One was fat and slept all day, the other was slender and twitchy, and assumed to be the huntress (as it turned out, there was a reason the first was well-fed and exhausted by daylight). As cats are wont to do, they occasionally left gifts – bouquets of feathers, mice with curled paws – on the verandah, usually for my mother. One day, the sacrifice was a young rabbit. Apparently unable to catch two (one for dinner and one for the boss), the cat compromised, ate the top half of the rabbit and left the bottom half propped up against the wall, spotlit in a beam of morning sun. My mother, awaking and emerging to greet the day, discovered this tribute and exclaimed, “Oh, how sweet! A little pair of furry britches!”

5 names for a (hypothetical) cat

Five possible names for a (hypothetical) cat, based purely on how much I want an excuse to stand in the backyard and call them out:

  1. Chrestomanci
  2. Bloody Mary
  3. Hathaway
  4. Stella
  5. Geronimo

Other contenders were “Doctor” and “Nooooo!”.