Hey, look! It’s my mermaid-of-ambiguous-intent on the cover of Foulweather Bluff’s moody, mythic, laconic Love Songs for Jilted Mermaids! The album is out now on streaming sites including YouTube and Spotify.
The limited edition hardbacks of Angela Slatter’s All The Murmuring Bones have arrived from Tartarus Press! Only 300 were printed, and they are going fast.
I contributed the cover illustration to this one: Miren with the lantern and a gorgeous gown. Here she is on the title page and cover flap.
And here is what is under the cover: a riot of foil and flame and merfolk.
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.
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.
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.
The limited hardcover edition of Angela Slatter’s All the Murmuring Bones is now available from Tartarus Press — with a limit of 300 copies!
The book itself is not illustrated, except with Angela Slatter’s own lovely written descriptions, but there is, of course, FOIL UNDER THE DUST JACKET!
(And a little on the spine.)
And you can buy it now (while they last!) from Tartarus Press.
It has a linen-texture cover and the silhouette illustration is printed all in gold.
And in this edition, the illustrations inside have details in metallic ink!
The special edition is available from Serenity Press at this link: Special Edition Linen Hardcover.
The other, matte edition (paper and hardback) is also available here: Matte editions.
There are four stories in the collection, each with a full-page silhouette illustration and various incidental images and ornaments. I will be putting up a process post soon…
Two sneak peeks from the cover of the limited hardcover edition of Angela Slatter‘s All the Murmuring Bones, to come from Tartarus Press later this year (the paperback from Titan is available now). More details on the hardcover when pre-ordering is possible!
I do love this little flicker of merfolk.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Utz Books have just announced their translations of Frances Hardinge’s wonderful A Skinful of Shadows (here’s an English link, too, although with the original and wonderful cover art: A Skinful of Shadows)! But for this translation, the art is by me, with cover design by Dor Cohen Studio.
Look what’s arrived from Tartarus!
It is illustrated throughout with vignettes and spot illustrations in the same style as The Bitterwood Bible.
It’s a loose, conversational, first-impressions style that I love working in. It’s so first-impressions that the label for my sketchbook notes for the project became not only the title page, but the spine lettering and the basis for some of the cover ornaments.
First impressions isn’t the same as easy. Here, more than any other style, is where I can feel all the work of observing (the world, how I work, how other people solve problems) and sketching pay off.
I particularly enjoy working this way because it catches that first response of an early reader, the images that intrigue and charm me, the conversation I wanted to have with the stories when I was first exposed to them. And also because, while there’s a lightness to the style, there’s also a lovely weight of quantity — spooling out wavering lines in response to the stories as they unfold, questioning and reacting and correcting.
More commonly, illustrating a book involves reading through, responding, making thumbnail sketches, having those approved, refining pencils, having those approved, and then working on the finals (subject to approval). For The Tallow-Wife, the selection process was simply the appeal of the text (and the limits of my abilities!), and the taste of the author and publisher as they select and place the final collection of drawings.
The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales is a companion book to Sourdough and Other Stories and the World Fantasy Award-winning Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings. The limited edition is now available to buy from Tartarus (while the print-run lasts).
If you need reasons to buy this, apart from the obvious (Slatter, Tartarus, enchantments), I have posted An Incomplete List of Reasons I Have Bought Illustrated Books, in case any of those excuses resonate with you.
As with most Tartarus hardbacks, it pays to look under the dust jacket…
And look at the lettering on the spine! I now wish to have all my handwriting printed in foil.
(I wasn’t expecting that part.)
Previous Tallow-Wife art posts: