A Magic Synergy – article by Delia Sherman

Freedom Maze - thumbnails round 2

Tor.com (a website well worth following) has published an article by Delia Sherman, about my cover art for her books: A Magic Synergy: The Cover Art of Kathleen Jennings.

Delia is the author of The Freedom Maze (for which I illustrated the Small Beer Press hardback, though the book has now also come out in paperback from Candlewick) and Young Woman in a Garden (just out, and very well reviewed!), as well of as The Porcelain Dove which I didn’t illustrate but just finished reading and want everyone to read, and also to let me illustrate.

The article is very lyrical, and I wish to use it in future as my letter of introduction.

Some other posts:

The Dalek Maze

What I Did On My Holidays: Part the Third – World Fantasy and Brighton

Note: If you click on a picture, that should take you through to its Flickr page, where you will have an option to view a larger version.

Part One is here: Brisbane Airport and Oslo.

Part Two is here: Dartmoor.

After a last farewell to Dartmoor, a walk along the Cobb at Lyme Regis, an altercation with a lorry near the New Forest (huzzah for steady-nerved passengers and comprehensive insurance), and the GPS in a final effort to establish its supremacy taking us to Arundel Castle instead of the Metropole, Ellen, Delia and I arrived in Brighton for the World Fantasy Convention 2013.

That is Brian Aldiss with the tea.

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I don’t sketch at conventions as much as I used to, now that I know more people (one reason being Artist at Large at the Brisbane Writers Festival was so much fun was that I was officially meant to be drawing over talking). So I had a marvellous time at WFC, but did not draw many pictures. Most of my drawing was scribbling ideas during panels, e.g. this during the “Broads with Swords” discussion:


I did sit at the signing tables during the mass signing in order to draw everyone else – I learned last year that was a good vantage point. And one person did come up and ask me to sign a book I have a story in (ahem), so that was thrilling!

Here are two panels  of people you probably haven’t heard of: A YA discussion with Delia Sherman, Susan Cooper, Garth Nix, Neil Gaiman, Will Hill and Holly Black, and Nifty Shades of Fae with Tanith Lee, Joanne Harris, James Barclay, Angela Slatter, Lisa Hannett, Grahame Joyce and James Barclay. There are also a few Irene Gallo cameos in the pages, because I usually draw the people with cameras.

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Unfortunately, I was taken violently ill on Saturday evening and had to leave the art reception early to be miserable in my room. The hotel reception sent up Twinings Peppermint Tea as a sovereign remedy. Ellen also plied me with medicinal infusions the next day.

Taken Ill

As a consequence, I only have a tiny picture of my art at the show. I will post some better images of the pictures later!

Pictures at World Fantasy 2013

Absence of pictures aside, I had a wonderful convention – talked to a lot of people, mostly, which is the point. It is difficult to narrow down particular highlights, as I keep remembering things and people to mention – charming ladies’ literary dinners (after the ladies in question unpacked our car in a team while I sat trembling in the driver’s seat), operatic serenades over dinner with the Australian contingent, lunches where no-one simply shared common gripes or tried to curry favour but simply waved their hands and discussed shared enthusiasms (stories, Dianna Wynne Jones and Dorothy Sayers). And of course I wasn’t drawing during any of those conversations – I will try to draw you all next time!

Following the convention, Aimee (Aimee L, not Aimee-my-housemate) and I went touring Brighton. I drew Aimee photographing the giant seagulls. We also ate giant meringues. I bought this marvellous panorama history of Aviation (I want the Nobrow Press Leporello series to be longer and also all of them) and we visited the Royal Pavilion, where we both fervently wished for a coffee book on the subject of wallpaper restoration.

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The most touching moment was seeing the paintings of the music room when it was used as a hospital for Indian soldiers in WWI. It had the most beautiful ceiling, which Aimee is photographing here. We ate horrible hotdogs on the pier and collected Shelley to go to Thor II, and all the English people in the audience laughed at the scenes in Greenwich.

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The next morning, I caught the train to York, en route to Perth and London

What I Did on My Holidays: Part the Second – Dartmoor

Note: If you click on a picture, that should take you through to its Flickr page, where you will have an option to view a larger version.

Part One is here: Brisbane Airport and Oslo.

Then I flew to Heathrow, hired a car and drove across England to the middle of Dartmoor. This was not as simple as it sounds. Reverse was in an unfamiliar location, I’d never used a GPS before, the lanes when I reached them were as wide as the car, I kept forgetting which side the indicators were on and for a while I didn’t think I’d ever escape the gravitational pull of Heathrow.

Scattered impressions:  Driving

But I made it to Dartmoor, unscathed. After a day I was scampering happily around the lanes, and did not have an altercation with a lorry until after Dartmoor was behind – but I am getting ahead of myself.

That week was enchanted. Art and music, poetry and puppetry, commedia dell’arte and rosehips, cream teas and rambling.

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Paths lined with blackberries, evenings with lady writers.

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Bells and pubs and bushy-eyebrowed lurchers.

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Driving over moors and meeting black dogs.

Scattered impressions: Black Dog

Dashing outdoors with my pockets full of pens whenever the sun shone.

Scattered impressions: Sunshine

Bell ringing and Jacobean manor house hotels.

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Musical evenings, with dogs and hearth pipes, violins and accordions.

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The haunting beauty of Wistman’s wood, like the garden at the heart of an emerald.

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Moor ponies and honour boxes.

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Endless kindness and hospitality, conversations, walks. The swift familiarity of a tiny town, the constant astonishment of finding oneself in any of a dozen fairytale landscapes. Quiet hours in the cottage with Ellen and Delia, writing and reading, brisk walks across town to visit everyone. Walls of art, Terri’s poem-lined walls, lives lived as art, indistinguishable from their retellings, sunlit studios, studios reached by a ladder through a trapdoor. Puppets and harps, masks and puppetrymusic, songs and bells. Painted worlds bleeding from the spaces of one house to the next. People and objects from movies which have shaped my life – from my Narnia, the goblin worlds. Trees and faces which I knew from illustrations in my favourite books – Middle Earth in a stand of oaks, the mists and tors of The Hound of the Baskervilles,  Virginia Lee‘s strong sweet fairytales, Rima Staines‘ crabbed and earthy myths. Houses through which the civil war was fought. Birch and alder gardens haunted by sculptures and geese. Words and books, stairs steep and twisted as a screw. Stiles.

I do not know how long would be enough, whether that week was a world which can be returned to. I hope it is.

Too soon, it was time to leave for Brighton.

Screen printing (or: aboreal royalty)

Screen printing

In March I went to a 2 day screen-printing workshop run by Milli & Fink. Due to ‘recent weather events’ the workshop had relocated from a storm-damaged hall to a lovely little old Queenslander house in Ipswich, with a view of corrugated roofs and Moreton Bay Figs marching down the hill through veils of rain. Not including the rain, our class spent most of the two days wet and inky, with quiet passages where those of us not coating screens or hosing emulsion down the stairs sat around the dining table with piles of reference books, pens and paper drawing designs and eating cupcakes.

Screen printing

I recommend the workshop. We went from learning how to expose a screen to trying out gold-leaf and screen-printing on wood, and were able to print plenty of pieces to bring home, so even if you didn’t decide that screen-printing (or part of it) was For You, you had some lovely, useable work – paper, teatowels, calico bags…


In my case,  while the class showed me just what could be accomplished at home and without even a studio, and while I have so many ideas, the room and mess and time it needs are something for which I do not currently have space (physical, temporal or mental). One day maybe…

You may recognise the wolf above from a cut-paper picture I made a few weeks ago. The picture below, of tree-dwelling royalty, was drawn in marker on paper on the day of the workshop, due to a recent Twitter conversation with Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, which transitioned into quoting A. A. Milne’s poem “The King’s Breakfast”, a conversation it is to be hoped we can continue in England in November (Sandy interfered with plans to meet in Toronto last year, although I was able to catch up with Delia for a too-short coffee in New York)!

A Little Bit of Butter

So of course I had to send them a tea-towel print of it, in thanks. Here is the card which I drew to accompany it – indulging in more high-set highnesses, and some watercolour shading for once.

Card: Aboreal royalty

Stranger Things Happen – 10th anniversary cover art

Look at this beautiful book!

Stranger Things Happen - in the life!

It is Subterranean Press’ limited 10th anniversary edition of Kelly Link’s collection Stranger Things Happen, which I had the absolute delight of illustrating. And it really is a beautiful book, beautiful mustard-coloured cloth (mustard? goldenrod? schoolbus yellow? I don’t know, but I like mustard), and the lovely satiny wraparound colour, and ostrich-skin textured endpapers. If this is what ebooks force hard copy books to look like, then bring on the revolution.

The only cover specification I received was a request that it contain a nod to the original Shelley Jackson illustration:


Since I had recently been researching 60s fashion and pattern illustrations for Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze, I already had images on my mind for “The Girl Detective” – old Nancy Drew books, and specifically the endpapers:


Here are my initial thumbnail sketches for the cover, and for the last story in the collection.

Stranger Things Happen - cover sketches

After that I ran around the house taking reference photos (if you share a house with me, the chances are you’ll end up in an illustration). The torch is a pepper mill (with, oddly, a built-in light), which is more torch-shaped than our actual torches.


The internal illustrations were pen and ink only. The cover I drew in pen and ink, scanned, cleaned up, added a single flat layer of yellow, and a background texture scanned from an old book. Every story in the collection gets an element (or a share in an element) on the cover, but my favourite part is the peacock’s tail.
Stranger Things Happen - cover

Here are some more glimpses inside from Small Beer Press, and here are some lovely words on the book from the LA Times.

The limited edition is available from Subterranean.

The Muddle-headed Dalek

The Muddle-headed Dalek

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for Ruth Parks’ The Muddle-headed Wombat, an Australian classic of which I retain a great fondness but very dim memories (although I do remember Wombat’s bicycle). Wombats are more southern creatures – I have never seen a wild one, and so (like the platypus and Tasmanian devil) I find them appealing but exotic. I’ve seen a koala in the wild in a tree at my year 10 graduation, and all the other usual suspects have been through our garden or house at some point – bats and possums, numbats, wallabies, kangaroos, paddymelons, goannas, echidnas…

In other news: Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze (cover art and Dalek versionwon the Andre Norton award at the Nebulas! Next week’s Dalek may be delayed due to convention attendance. Tansy Rayner Roberts interviewed me for the 2012 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot! And the cryptic references I make in that are to this: Subterranean Press’ limited 10th anniversary edition of Kelly Link’s collection Stranger Things Happen has been announced! And here is the front cover (it is a wrap-around image, but all shall be disclosed in time):

The Dalek Maze

The Dalek Maze

So, this instalment of the Dalek Game may be cheating just a little, since I drew the cover for the original book, but it is a very wonderful book! It is Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze, a fresh, old-fashioned story of slavery, time-travel, wishes, growing up, expectations and family. I say old fashioned not only because of the settings but because it belongs to that sort of unsettling fantasy in which things don’t always go as they ought – I don’t know where it falls exactly, but it covers E Nesbit and Edward Eager.

The book’s page on Small Beer Press links to a number of reviews – including one from Fantasy Matters which reviews the cover art! I found it fascinating both to see it from someone else’s (detailed) perspective and as an understanding of the great good that is art direction.

In other news: I have been cooking kangaroo, drinking coffee, drawing Lydia Bennett, writing with friends in cafes (finished two short stories last week!) and scheming to get to Toronto. Also, the Two Bad Daleks are going to a good home, with $100 gone to the MS Society – thank you!

The Freedom Maze – cover art

Delia Sherman’s new novel The Freedom Maze is (very well) reviewed and out and launched and everything.

So here, in celebration, is a little about the cover.

The initial brief was for a girl with a yellow parasol in a maze (this was to be quite a fast turnaround, so the sketches are very loose). These are the thumbnails I sent – pencil with digital colour. The composition of 6b is my favourite:

Freedom Maze - thumbnails round 2

On consideration, it was decided that characters from both time periods should be in the picture, which meant changing the layout and looking at a lot of 1960s suit patterns and wishing I could grow up to be Nancy Drew:

Freedom Maze - thumbnails round 2

The faceless mystery of the characters in 8 was preferred, so I agonised for a while until Aimee arrived and struck a pose for reference. Then I sketched up and inked the picture – continuing the hedge so that it could be a texture for the back. I would usually have sent a copy through for approval at that point, but time was short and timezones were offset, so I scanned, coloured and added a layer of old paper from one of my books.

Freedom Maze - first cover

That is the version which is on all the web previews. There were, however, three final adjustments: I moved Sophie’s foot and hand (this was the hardest part), joined front and back into a wraparound image, and finally (but most importantly) replaced the statue of “Belle Watling” on the back with Antigua.

Freedom Maze - final cover

The peculiar perspective is deliberate, and works when cropped and wrapped.

Edited to add: Here is the final cover – with bonus Gregory Maguire: Freedom Maze final cover (Small Beer Press)

Dalek in the Willows

Dalek in the Willows

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows.

I love that book best with E. H. Shepard’s delicate illustrations – so much gentler and thrilling than later, harsher images, and more in keeping with the lovely, little, wild adventures of that book.

But of all things I love about Wind in the Willows – the canary-yellow caravan and the fight with the weasels and Mole’s homecoming – I love Ratty’s fabulous luncheon basket best. There is something about the English literary picnic – the butter in the teapot in Three Men in a Boat, to say nothing of the Dog, the fresh cake and boiled eggs and ginger beer of The Famous Five, and the Rat’s “fat, wicker luncheon basket” with “cold chicken inside it, coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrolls-cresssandwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater -“.

In that spirit, since last Saturday morning was so fine, and I didn’t want to reach the end of the day and have spent it all at the computer, I called up Shayna, Caitie and Karissa. We boiled eggs and packed a basket with cold ham, cheese, cornbread, almonds, chocolate-chip cookies, tomatoes, breadrolls, ginger beer, butter, salt and all good things and went to the botanic gardens, where we lay around on a blanket beside the lake, fending off ibises, ducks, magpies, honeyeaters and water hens, throwing strawberries at water dragons and listening to classic rock on a battery powered radio.

In other news there is a new Delia Sherman novel on the way, with the cover art which threatened to make me spend such a fine day indoors: Freedom Maze – I will post some process sketches soon. I have come home today for French toast and bacon, coffee and reading An Old English Grammar and David Crystal’s The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language to my father, while my mother comes in at intervals to announce that she has looked up the meaning of “atavistic”, or discuss an article on the art of translating from Turkish (family training is military history/nursing/accounting/arts/law/journalism, we just happen to be fans of linguistics).