All the Murmuring Bones — hardcover sneak peeks

Arm with pearls holding a lantern

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.

Bottom of a drawing of a blue skirt embroidered with mermaids.

WQ Magazine — art process

I was delighted to do the cover art for issue 273 of WQ Magazine, the magazine for Qld Writers Centre members. This post is about the art & the thinking process behind it.

Front cover of magazine in brown, blue, and yellow:
T, shears, moon, tortoise, rabbit, mayfly, girl with flag, I, swallow, M, shark, acorn, comet, pomegranate, rakali, E

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).

Pencils

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.

Inking

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.

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.

Colour choice

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.

Editing

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).

Cover Reveal: A Skinful of Shadows

A book cover, with writing in Hebrew. The background is red, the writing is white, and a large silhouette image of a bear with trees and figures on its head (dogs, ghosts, girls, a comet) form the main image.

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.

The Tallow-Wife arrives!

Cardboard box with bubble-wrapped parce.

Look what’s arrived from Tartarus!

Spread of three copies of The Tallow-Wife, on top of bubble wrap. The first is open to the story "Embers and Ash", with a drawing of a ship half-sunk in a cliff. The second has its dust jacket on. The third shows the foil-and-purple cover design on the boards under the cover.

It’s Angela Slatter‘s extremely beautiful The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales, which is now available to buy in a limited edition.

The spines of The Tallow-Wife, with hand-lettered title printed in foil on a purple ground.
(Photo from Tartarus Press)

It is illustrated throughout with vignettes and spot illustrations in the same style as The Bitterwood Bible.

Hand holding two pens and several folded sections of drawing paper, on the top page of which is written "The Tallow-Wife & Other Tales by Angela Slatter", with drawn ornaments of candles, branches, and moths.
A Staedtler Pigment Liner 0.05, and a Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pen Warm Grey 272, on Canson Illustration paper.

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.

Title page of the book with sketches of candles, floral flourishes, and moths.

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.

Page of black and white line sketches of wine, a boy bowing, ghostly dogs at a cathedral, etc.

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.

The Tallow-Wife: pre-orders open

The cover of The Tallow-Wife, cream with a small purple rectangle with an illustration of a pale crowned woman

The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales, the third mosaic collection in Angela Slatter‘s Sourdough world, is now available for preorder from Tartarus Press, in a limited edition hardback.

As with most Tartarus hardbacks, it pays to look under the dust jacket…

Close up of a head crowned with branches, a candle, and moths, printed on purple boards in gold and bronze foil

And look at the lettering on the spine! I now wish to have all my handwriting printed in foil.

Book spines in purple with the title in gold and bronze foil.

(I wasn’t expecting that part.)

Previous Tallow-Wife art posts:

A hand holding a fan of folded pages, with a pen drawing of candles and moths and the title of the book.

Observation Journal: 20 ways with gold foil

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.

Double spread from observation journal. On the left, five things seen/heard/done and a picture of a painting leaning up against a fence. On the right, a list of 20 ways with foil treatments, with accompanying drawings of a silhouette dog.

Twenty Things

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.”

“Twenty things” has shown up in the observation journal before, when I was working out the colour treatment for Lauren Dixon’s cover: Observation journal — werewolf conferences and colour treatments.

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.)

Handwritten observation journal page: a list of 20 ways with foil treatments, with accompanying drawings of a silhouette dog.

Here’s the list (excluding the running commentary to myself alongside). It’s project-specific and non-exhaustive:

  1. GOLD on BLACK (or colour)
  2. BLACK on GOLD
  3. Gold-limned silhouette on coloured ground (almost calligraphic)
  4. Gold base/border on coloured ground
  5. Foil highlights in silhouette design
  6. Above plus gold background (2)
  7. 5 plus flyaway bits in foils
  8. Fine foil pattern supporting coloured silhouettes
  9. Black on colour, gold lettering
  10. Gold support/background for lettering
  11. Colourised/textured silhouette with foil ornament bits
  12. 1 but with many cut-out details
  13. Multi-silhouettes, different foils
  14. Silhouette (black on colour) surrounded by drawn foil pattern
  15. Gold effect on blue texture
  16. Gold silhouettes, deeper-coloured shadow
  17. Black on colour. Only important details picked out in foil (e.g. figures, coins, birds).
  18. Border in one foil, title in another
  19. Foil silhouette on coloured ground with overlapping white title square
  20. 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.

6 variations of a silhouette illustration of a girl sitting in a tree, receiving mail from a dog on the ground and delivering it to a bird in the air. Some are coloured, some have gold elements.

The final cover used approach C, which was a combination of 11 and 5, although there was briefly a 19 in the running.

Writing/art exercises

  • 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).
    • It could even become a project on its own.
  • 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.

Mother Thorn — book trailer

From A Licence to Quill comes this book trailer for Juliet Marillier’s Mother Thorn, and other tales of courage and kindness, illustrated by me.

The Serenity Press hardcover special edition is out now, and the trade release of the linen cover is in April 2021. More on that as the date approaches!

Book post: Lauren Dixon!

One thing about this year is that the post has regained the element of surprise. The paperback and limited hardback of Lauren Dixon’s Welcome to the Bitch Bubble (with cover art by me) arrived this week — just as bubble-gum-and-bones as hoped.

Tiny little skeletons

The collection, per Hydra House, is “of stories both published and unpublished, including “Double Dutch,” “Floating Feathers, Red Wings and Wild,” “Sheela of the Good Shepherd,” “If You Can’t Take the Heat, Don’t Hire a Yeti,” and many others. Her fiction walks the line between the strange, the weird, and the humorous, often in unsettling ways.” Which is about right. But also, Death wears a sundress.

I put up a process post earlier in the year — this, too, is a cut-paper silhouette, but it went through a few iterations: Cover art process: Welcome to the Bitch Bubble.

2020-04-04-KJenningsDixonProcess

Mother Thorn — pre-orders!

I am delighted to announce that Juliet Marillier’s new collection Mother Thorn, with silhouette illustrations by me, is now available for pre-orders from Serenity Press.

Walk into a fairy tale world that’s not quite what you might expect.

Lara’s life of lonely drudgery changes when she gains an unlikely friend and learns that acts of kindness can bring their own rewards. High-born Niamh knows the kennel boy is her soulmate, but when she seeks help from the Otherworld, her future takes a surprising turn. Bella runs away from home on a stormy night and finds shelter in a strange old house, where she meets a shy kitchen hand, his autocratic mother, and a mouse. Young soldier Katrin makes her weary way homeward after a terrible defeat. A chance encounter with an old woman plunges Katrin into an adventure involving dogs, treasure and a lost tinder box.

These four tales celebrate courage and kindness. They are about being to true to yourself and recognising the good in others.

Mother Thorn is for readers aged 12+. Adults who love fairy tales should also enjoy this book.

Cover Reveal: Mother Thorn

I’m very excited to share this new cover with you! It’s for Juliet Marillier‘s collection Mother Thorn, which should come out from Serenity Press in November this year. I will share preorder links as they become available — and also some process detail.

Although this cover began as a physical cut-paper silhouette, I was trying something different with colours and textures — it was an educational experience, but I’m very happy with how it turned out, and I’m looking forward to continuing to experiment with the possibilities.

Update: Juliet has posted more about the book (and the stories in it) at her website — Cover Reveal: Mother Thorn.