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.
Let’s get back to the making things type of Observation Journal page. The first half of this post is about the approach to an exercise, the second half of it is the resulting list of some possibilities to use foil on book covers.
I’m a fan of the twenty things exercise, either starting with an object and working out twenty uses for it (my dad used to make us do this on long car trips); or starting with a question and listing twenty answers.
I think it’s fun, and it’s also interesting to watch the process of ideas being pushed through different barriers — for example:
with the “twenty uses” version there’s often a point where the obvious gives way to the interesting and then to the ludicrous and then circles back to the intriguing;
with the “twenty problems” variant it loosens my grip on the first/obvious choice I imprinted on (even if that turns out to be the final choice, it’s usually stronger for a bit of objectivity).
This is also why I’ve kept the self-reflection panels on the observation journal pages. Not just to do the exercise, but to step back and watch myself doing it, and learn. You’ll see here I noted on the side that “20 really is the magic number. 11 is where I had to look further/do more research.”
This page was also for a cover — in this case for Juliet Marillier’s Mother Thorn, for which we had the opportunity to use foil on the cover of the special edition (out in April). But I hadn’t designed specifically for foil combined with a silhouette before. So I made this list of 20 WAYS WITH FOIL TREATMENTS. (The activity is also great for tricking yourself into working on something.)
Here’s the list (excluding the running commentary to myself alongside). It’s project-specific and non-exhaustive:
GOLD on BLACK (or colour)
BLACK on GOLD
Gold-limned silhouette on coloured ground (almost calligraphic)
Gold base/border on coloured ground
Foil highlights in silhouette design
Above plus gold background (2)
5 plus flyaway bits in foils
Fine foil pattern supporting coloured silhouettes
Black on colour, gold lettering
Gold support/background for lettering
Colourised/textured silhouette with foil ornament bits
1 but with many cut-out details
Multi-silhouettes, different foils
Silhouette (black on colour) surrounded by drawn foil pattern
Gold effect on blue texture
Gold silhouettes, deeper-coloured shadow
Black on colour. Only important details picked out in foil (e.g. figures, coins, birds).
Border in one foil, title in another
Foil silhouette on coloured ground with overlapping white title square
Spot gloss blacks with foil lettering background
You’ll see that my terminology here is not particularly technical! That’s one reason for accompanying it with sketches. Ballpoint drawings aren’t hugely informative for foil/colour treatments but did help me to think through the practicalities, and whether an idea reminded me of something I’ve seen elsewhere, or made me feel (to quote) “ugh”, at least for this project.
The next step (square box on the side) was to do a test version, to run through a few of these.
The final cover used approach C, which was a combination of 11 and 5, although there was briefly a 19 in the running.
20 Things: Pick a handy object (or something you’ve seen today). Come up with twenty uses for it.
This could be as light-hearted as 20 Uses for a Plastic Fork.
It’s good for car trips and working out how your friends think, but it’s also good practice for just thinking sideways.
Afterwards, it can be useful to note where the ideas got more difficult, or sillier, or if you know where some of them came from. This is interesting, but you
It can also be useful for turning objects in a story into plot (or other things).
20 Ways: Think of an aspect of a project that you are stuck on, or something you’d like to play with but haven’t quite managed to, and list 20 Ways To Deal With It.
I find this more useful when the initial problem is narrower — 20 Ways to Tell A Short Story is fine, but I can get past 100 without breaking a sweat. 20 Ways to Tell A Short Story In An 8-Page Accordion Booklet forces more invention. (These examples are from current pages of the observation journal, and I’ll get to them in time!)
Like Ten Terrible Things, I find this lets me have fun exploring options without feeling like I have to commit to any of them, or abandon my early ideas. The list is the point.
Sometimes your first instinct will still have been right, but you’ll be more certain of it (and have stress-tested it, and maybe come up with some new ideas for future projects), and you’ll have released your stranglehold on it a little, too.