The Alternate Bear, or: Getting There By Whatever Means Necessary

I couldn’t find this image yesterday.  It’s an incidental illustration from the back cover of Greer Gilman’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear, as later converted into a t-shirt design for Small Beer Press (publishers of good books, which should be bought).


The line that inspired it I still think is one of the funniest things (and I keep revisiting it in other contexts). The appearance from the wings of “two men in a rug” just… it has different nuances than “five raccoons in a trenchcoat”.

Both are useful metaphors for art (and, indeed, life). But while the latter implies tricks and larceny, Muppets and the weaponisation of imposter syndrome, the former is about ‘rude mechanicals’ getting a job done by any means necessary: the show carries on, even if it isn’t at all the way we planned it, even if it’s low-tech and powered purely by goodwill and a collective, wilful self-delusion. The players roll up their sleeves and dig out discarded props, the audience watches for moments of transcendence amidst the chaos and, if they can, for the moments it can be managed, they all have a good time doing it.


Pursued by a (small) bear!

I’ve mentioned before how nice it is when someone takes away a drawing and brings it back as something shiny. Well, yesterday, when I was expecting an electrician to carry a sheet of melamine back through the open front door, Sue of Tiny Owl Workshop walked in, bearing treasure!


Back in 2014, I illustrated a cover for Greer Gilman‘s wonderful Ben Jonson novella Exit, Pursued by a Bear for Small Beer Press:


(Gilman’s 2009 Cloud & Ashes was my very first book cover.)

And Sue made the bear!


Look at his little face! His nose! His paws!


I love it so much. I keep stroking the bridge of its nose.



See more Tiny Owl work at:

Cry murder! cover art

The first book cover I ever did was for Greer Gilman’s Tiptree Award-winning Cloud and Ashes (my mother had the dustjacket for that book framed). So when Small Beer Press asked me if I could do a cover for a new chapbook by Greer Gilman, I agreed at once.

The novella is Cry Murder! in a Small Voice, and I am very much looking forward to reading the whole thing (the timing of manuscripts and cover art did not permit). It features Ben Jonson, murders, Jacobean theatre, child-players and puppets cut from the woodcuts in old ballad sheets – the description of that last formed the basis of the illustration for the cover:

Cry Murder! - final cover

I enjoyed researching the woodcuts used to illustrate ballad sheets of the era (used and frequently re-used!), and contemporary depictions of, for example, witches and Proserpina (Persephone). I wound up basing Proserpina on the Vincenzo de Rossi sculpture (in which Pluto appears to be engaged in some Olympian goddess-tossing competition) – I imagined that when she was cut out to make a puppet, Pluto was omitted but his arm remains around her hips. The King is drawn from the nobility of playing cards and this cheerful fellow in the sunniest of Shakespeare’s plays. The lady with a fan is a nod to a lively lady appearing on many ballad sheets, the put-upon-sun is a staple of astrological pamphlets, and so on – trying to capture the styles of another medium and era while using my own style and medium. I like the boldness of the ink lines which I could use to echo rough woodcuts.

The strings were left out deliberately.

Below is the original ink work (with a glimpse of some sketches), a colour version and then below that the colour and texture layer of the final design.

Cry Murder! - art process

(You can see this larger on Flickr here)

In other news:

Cloud and Ashes and Tiptree!

Greer Gilman‘s Cloud and Ashes (and, by association, its cover) was one of the two winners of the Tiptree Award! I missed this because my superpower is obliviousness. Congratulations Greer Gilman!

A cloud in the hand

Oh, look!

I just found the cover of Greer Gilman’s Cloud & Ashes in the Locus Directory of Cover Artists (over halfway down).

Issue 41 of Andromeda Spaceways is now available in PDF. It comes with two versions of my name, so it may be a collector’s item :)

And Issue 2 of Exhibition Hall  (steampunk fanzine) is up at It has a review of Continuum which includes one of my sketches.

And last month’s book reviews will be up… soon. I’m aiming for before next month.

Illustration Friday: Cracked

Illustration Friday: Cracked

A photoshop sketch of one perspective of the debate on book-as-vessel vs book-as-object.

And in related news – look what I found at Pulp Fiction bookstore today!

A cloud in the hand

Anything as much fun as simply messing about in Photoshop?: Cloud & Ashes cover

The images here are the thumbnail roughs I sent to Kelly at LCRW for the cover of Greer Gilman’s novel Cloud & Ashes. As usual, you can see a larger version by clicking on the picture (which will take you to the image on Flickr) and then clicking on “all sizes” above the picture.

I did a very small freehand scratchboard sketch and then added colour in Photoshop, sampling the colour and texture from this old painting. We did not run with this style, for several reasons including the rather distracting face (it was a sketch!), but I still quite like the shadow-birds and the effect of the rough orange at the edges of the lower left image.

Roughs for Cloud & Ashes cover 1-scratchboard

The next four show a few different styles:
Top left: pencil coloured in Photoshop.
Top right: sepia ink coloured in Photoshop. The hair in this one does fun things when run through Photoshop filters.
Bottom left: sepia ink coloured in Photoshop and textured with an old page. My favourite part is the birds running off with the stars.
Bottom right: sepia ink coloured in Photoshop. Too bold for the book, but I do like this one – maybe for a book of legends about constellations.

Roughs for Cloud & Ashes cover 2-ink

This month’s blog header is a variation on the top right of the above:

May blog header

I can’t remember why I decided on the technique for the next piece. It features hundreds of little dashes drawn in sepia ink with a dip pen, then scanned and layered in various ways with a scan of a yellowed page.

Roughs for Cloud & Ashes cover 3-inkdash

Finally, this version was painted with a brush on a nice heavy drawing paper (everything else was on plain printing paper). I did the lettering separately and combined the layers after scanning, then fiddled with lighting and contrast.

Roughs for Cloud & Ashes cover 4-inkwash

Falling off of chairs
Roughing out of thumbnails

Next: At work on the final

Roughing out of thumbnails: Cloud & Ashes cover

I scribbled lots of ideas on scrap paper, edges of phone notes and in my writing notebook, and tried out a possible technique with this image.

Illustration Friday: Celebrate - colour

The first definite concrete step I took, however, was to draw up the dimensions in a vector program (Inkscape, open source and free), reduce them and print out a few pages with the proportionate diagram on them. The brief was for a design to wrap around the book but not extend onto the inside flaps of the cover.

I did my thumbnails in pencil on those diagrams and eventually found a few I thought worked best.

Cloud & Ashes: Roughs 1

I then put paper (some plain typing paper, some drawing paper) over the thumbnails on top of my lightbox (one of my most-used Christmas presents) and drew roughs of the designs with sepia ink and a dip pen.

Cloud & Ashes: Roughs 2

I did the same with the font Small Beer Press had provided, printing it out at several sizes and going over it with pen and ink. I also did a bit of scribbling on some scratchboard. Then I scanned the drawings in and messed around with them in Photoshop. It wasn’t quite as much work as it sounds like, but I was having a great time and getting very inky.

Work in progress

Previous: Falling off of chairs
Next: Anything as much fun as simply messing about in Photoshop?

Falling off of chairs: More about the Cloud & Ashes cover


I have mentioned Kelly Link before now. As well as being a wonderful author (I have plans for a costume based on one of her stories), she and Gavin Grant are the editors of Small Beer Press. Kelly and Gavin were meant to come to Australia to tutor at this year’s Clarion South workshop but circumstances conspired against them.

In February (days after the first of the posts alluded to above) I received an email from Kelly. In spite of being able to sit fairly calmly (I think) in a pub after realising we had unintentionally sat down at the next table to Neil Gaiman, I can be a fangirl when the occasion demands. I had checked the email while standing up, and I nearly missed my chair when I sat down again (this is pretty excitable for me).

Kelly asked whether I would be interested in doing a book cover for Greer Gilman’s new book Cloud & Ashes. I was quickly convinced, especially once I realised it heavily references one of my favourite poems, Hopkins’ ‘Spring and Fall’. So I accepted.

The book, by the way, is dense and beautiful and very redolent of the poem, which is impressive given that it runs to about 400 times as many pages.

Kelly sent through details of what they had in mind, the dimensions and extracts from the book as well as some reference images. Some of these were Samuel Palmer’s art, and others were works of mine that had liked (there were some surprises there, but I often cannot figure out other people’s tastes). She also sent through the font they were thinking of for the cover.

I had a few ideas and techniques I wanted to try running through my mind, so I rummaged around to find some references, printed the pictures and stuck them up around my desk.

Cloud & Ashes: Reference 2

Cloud & Ashes: Reference 1

Next: Roughing out of thumbnails

Cloud & Ashes

First Sighting: Cloud & Ashes

First sighting of the cover of Greer Gilman’s Cloud & Ashes (on the immediate relevance of which will be expanded on in due course, with extra material. Also, a bit of my desktop background, which may give a hint…

Oh, found another one on Library Thing:

It is being published by the excellent Small Beer Press.