Here is the scratchboard Dancing Jack I designed for Laurie J Marks’ classic fantasy of mysteries and magic, automata and riverboats, is out of print no longer!
Now back in print, from the acclaimed award-winning author. Memories of loss drive Ash of Ashland to take her dog and leave her farm, to seek out the fate of her brother’s children. But she is taken hostage on a renegade riverboat and is forced to travel against the current, toward the past, where a lost king, lost friendship, and lost power offer danger and hope for the plague-devastated land.
Dancing Jack is officially available on 18 March 2023, but you can pre-order it now via Kindle and Smashwords. It is such a beautiful, enchanted, flowing tale.
Laurie asked for the eponymous paper Dancing Jack — but the details were still to be worked out.
As usual, I began by reading the book, sketching elements that appealed to me, seemed thematically central, suggested movement, and would suit both the shape I was working in (the Dancing Jack instead of the rectangle of a book cover, since the commission was for the figure himself).
Here are some extremely tiny details — you can see them to the left of my thumb in the photo above.
Out of these, I refined the various districts of the body, the pose, and the balance of black and white (in pencil). I scanned those in and printed them in a few sizes, so I could pick the version that felt most sensibly sized for working on scratchboard.
I rubbed pencil on the back to transfer it down — you can see here that I taped the sketch to the top of the board so I could pencil it in sections without losing my place. This kept things cleaner, and avoided lines being rubbed away as I worked. Then I inked each section and scraped the design out, referring back to the sketch.
The board I used was Ampersand Claybord, and the pigmented inks were applied with a marker. (I do sometimes use pre-inked boards and/or brush ink, but this technique I learned from a workshop Nicholas Delort gave.)
I like those almost block-print style roughnesses and remnants around the edges, so I deliberately overink areas just to scratch them back.
And here is the final Dancing Jack, of death and roses, life and seasons, crowns and rivers.
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.
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 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!
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).
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 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!
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.
It’s a cut-paper design, to match my previous covers for The Lie Tree and Cuckoo Song — and I will put up a process post soon.
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.