Story shapes — three-mood stories

This post is a running list of three-mood (or three-note) short story shapes I’ve found interesting (for writing and art). I’m gathering the list here for future reference and extension.

I will update & refine this from time to time. There are further explanations at the bottom of the post, along with links to related and previous posts. Let me know if you have any questions.

ordinaryinklingconfirmation
reluctanceengagementdeepening
humorous sketchelements clash/conflagrationfall out
inklingbuildreveal-behind-the-story
worlddeeperdissolve into it
unsettlementdeepening horrorthe cusp of annihilation
ominouscompoundedtwist (of plot or knife)
formation of goalquiet progression towards goalachievement of goal
inklingred herringsolution
foreshadow doomproceed towards doom[evade] doom
meet cutecomplicationhappily ever after/for now
fragmentsfacetswhole
situationfailuressuccesses
doorsomething throughpushed back
metaphormetaphormetaphor
suspicionpeel backtruth & consequences
awkwardnessproliferation of optionsharmony
placerescuereverse-rescue
exposurematuringacknowledgement
discoverygrowing up[vigorous/defiant?] acceptance
horrordeteriorationexpectation
awarenessdecadenceacceptance/resignation
problemattemptssolution
petitionsolutionsresolution
consequencescausesremedy

More information and ways to use this

Background/caveats: I find “beginning — middle — end”, three-act structures, etc, more useful as a diagnostic tool than as a starting point for storytelling. Your mileage may vary — I’m used to thinking about stories through stories, and biting my way out of them from the inside. This three-mood approach to understanding stories is better suited to how I think and it’s helped me understand structures better. But it might not be for you!

Couldn’t this be distilled down to One True Story Shape? Sure? I enjoy looking for the Key to All Mythologies as much as anyone, but I don’t personally find it particularly helpful for making new stories. You do you. (Also problem — attempts — solution is commonly cited as a standard story-shape, but I’ve turned it up very rarely in this exercise).

Novels? Short stories. (I mean, go for it — so far I’ve only used this in reading, writing and drawing small stories, and trying to understand how they function as discrete objects.)

What does “mood” mean? Anything I want it to. Mood/note/vibe/point/aesthetic/gesture. But broadly, I mean the feeling of that section of the story, which carries the story along and changes into the next mood. Decadence flowing inevitably into resignation, or an appreciation of a world leading someone to dig deeper (perhaps too deep). That implied movement from one mood to the next is vitally important, but also fairly self-evident.

Are there only three moods in a story? No. You could granulate it even further. But three is easy to hold in the mind, and tends to make room for most of the short stories I’ve tried it on, and implies enough transition of some sort (of action, emotion, experience, etc.) to create movement through a short story.

Here are a few ways to use this approach for writing and illustrating (and possibly other shortish forms of storytelling):

  • Analyse a story: After reading a short story, try to distil it into three big moods. These will be subjective, and you could quite easily do more than one version. It’s a useful way to compress both the story and your personal reaction to it into something you can examine.
    • Sometimes this is easier a little while after you’ve read the story, when the details have softened with distance.
  • Make your own list: Keep repeating the step above. This way, you’ll also have a deeper understanding of what you mean by the moods (and why), and why you like particular story-shapes.
  • Develop an idea: Take an idea (or image/object/aesthetic). Pick a story-progression you like.
    • Drop the idea into one of the three slots. See what ideas that suggests for the other two slots.
      • E.g. say you choose “fragments — facets — whole” and your idea is a bicycle courier on a penny-farthing bicycle.
        • Does that idea feel like a fragment? In that case, what else is going on in the world — other anachronisms? And then why — what’s the whole story? Time travel? These are the last bicycles built to last? This is likely to be a world-building story, widening out from a glimpse of an individual.
        • Or is the anachronistic (but jaunty) bicycle courier a larger facet of the story? What are the original glimpses which are made sense of by this magnificent personage? And how does their world fit them? This is less character-focussed, and personally it’s the idea that attracts me least.
        • Or if the solution and reward of the story is the realisation of the reality of this tweed-clad courier, then the first two sections might be about building up the puzzle, the oddities and idiosyncrasies of this person (an ever so slightly jarring day-in-the-life), before letting the reader know what they’re actually riding. This is more of a twist ending.
        • (This approach work equally for an illustration — either a three-panel story or a way to choose a scene to illustrate).
    • Once you have images to match those three moods, you’ll probably need to consider the links and impetus, how each connects and moves on to the next. This is fun and fairly self-explanatory.
  • Strengthen a story: Think of a story you are working on. Look for a story-shape that appeals to you and/or resonates with the draft. See where you could strengthen the story by enhancing (or being more deliberate about) some of those moods.
    • Note: Some of these story shapes are more common in certain genres. You can pick a shape that obviously suits the type of story you’re working with. “Door – something through it — pushed back (with lingering knowledge)” is a very common old-school ghost story structure (it fits most of my favourite M.R. James stories).
    • But you don’t need to find an ‘appropriate’ shape — it’s fun to work against the grain. You could, for example, tell/illustrate a fairy-tale romance with a mood of gathering horror.
  • Reinterpret/riff on a story: Pick an existing story (or one you’re illustrating) and choose the WRONG mood progression, and retell/illustrate it according to that.
  • Remix: Randomly select three moods and find a story-shape you want to play with (resolution — horror — meet cute?). Or randomly select three images to drop into a particular story-shape, and try to make them work as a story.
  • Shortcuts: This has been useful for getting people who aren’t used to thinking in terms of narrative structure to quickly develop a story.

Which short stories are these based on? I haven’t included the reference-stories in this post because some of these progressions are spoilers and a few are very vague memories, and some of them are extremely subjective interpretations — my personal reactions to a story I knew was intended to create a different effect, but had an unintended but intriguing impact on me. Further, many shapes are distilled from or common to a genre or style. I’m trying to keep a better list — if you’re interested in seeing more of a specific breakdown, let me know.

Some related posts:

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.

All the 2021 calendar pages

Every month (with the support of patrons) I make a printable (and colour-able) calendar page.

And here are all the pages of monthly 2021 calendar art in one place! I’m always a little startled to get to the end of a year and remind myself how much I drew during the year just making these, let alone… everything else. (Here’s the 2020 collection.) I’ve put the individual pages larger at the bottom of this post.

My favourite calendar page keeps shifting. I do very much like the July houses because of the different approach, and the frogs from May because they look velvety. But then the April fairy-tale motifs ended up inspiring the cover design for WQ Magazine. And the fish and waves from February got into two separate projects (illustrations for a secret book and a map for a book that is yet to be announced). But March’s rondels and April’s motifs have proved useful demonstrations for writing workshops.

Then the houses were a useful sampler of styles, but also research for something I’m illustrating and another piece I’m writing (and my mother wanted the line drawing for quilt backing). And all of them were places to try out approaches to surface patterns, or altered techniques, or new tools. And the chairs have been a long time coming, and the chicken-legged houses amuse me…

Note: Want to support the arts? This calendar is made possible by patrons, who get it a little bit early, along with other sneak-peeks and behind-the-scenes art (patron levels start at very low amounts!): patreon.com/tanaudel. It is also supported by those very kind people who throw a few dollars towards it via the tip jar: ko-fi.com/tanaudel. And many of these designs are available as prints, clothes, cases, etc on Redbubble, as fabrics and wallpaper on Spoonflower, and as prints in InPrnt

And below are all the designs, larger:

Continue reading

Observation Journal: Mixing and matching stories and imagery

This observation journal page is a continuation of previous thoughts on in-world surface patterns.

This time, I was remixing/mixing and matching stories. I’ve written about that previously, too: Mix and Match (contains a lot of Pride and Prejudice).

This time I listed some key characters from Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood, and looked for similarities (warnings of risk, insufficient information, victims of predators, wily carnivores), and for ways to link the stories (misguided/rash actions, trapped by other’s choices, manipulation and threat, innocent third parties).

These suggested some possible stories that I could combine with various aesthetics: an innocent in high society; vanishing or seeking revenge; victims working together.

Then I started adding the visual elements, pushing the Little Red Riding Hood elements into the high society version (hothouse flowers, fur hoods, red gowns).

And vice versa (magnificence, ropes of flowers like jewels, beautiful hair).

And then just following the ideas and the lines — food and home, a red wolf, a beastly woman, until I ended up with the first line of a story to play with another time, that “Once there was a woman who accidentally changed her daughter for a wolf”, which feels like it asks enough questions to start a tale.

You can see in the final note that I was still working out exactly what I was trying to do with these exercises, although I knew I was chasing something (and would continue to). But it was very helpful for working on retellings and riffs of existing stories, and a way to clarify ideas into something “vivid, coherent & deliberate”.

Writing/illustration activities (adapted/abbreviated/extended from previous posts: mix & match and surface patterns).

  • Pick two stories at random (fairy tales, favourite movies, etc — the least like each other, the better, e.g. Pride & Prejudice and Jurassic Park). Then find at least 5 similarities between them (forcibly and improbably, if necessary).
  • Concentrating on those similarities, how could you edit one of those stories to be more like the others? Try a quick paragraph or sketch.
  • Look only at the list of similarities. What sort of new story you could build out of them?
  • Finally, make a list of the key imagery from one story. How would adding those elements to the other change it? (Try a quick paragraph or sketch seeing how it would work in practice).

On getting maps into books: An interview with Karina Granda

Previously in this series of posts:

Karina Granda, Art Director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, can be found at https://www.instagram.com/karinamakesbooks/. I’ve worked with her now on several books, including the maps and ornaments for Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air series (The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King, and Queen of Nothing), but most recently she was the art director on Samira Ahmed’s new middle-grade fantasy (and science adventure Amira & Hamza: The War for the Worlds, and I worked with her on the map.

She very kindly agreed to be interviewed about putting maps in books (generally, and specifically Amira & Hamza) — and to interview me right back! So halfway through this post the roles flip…

Kathleen 1: What do maps do for you as a reader/art director? Do you have a favourite map (literary or otherwise)? 

Karina: Typically we place our maps at the front of the book, and they are very useful for instances where the reader is being introduced to a new world, and/or where the sense of place and space is very important. We often think of fantasy books since you are entering lands unknown, often built from scratch by the author, and the characters move through a large space, multiple kingdom’s etc. But some are more unconventional. I recently commissioned a map for April Henry’s upcoming book, TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE, which is a thriller that takes place entirely within a motel. The motel map clues the reader into the entrances, the exits, the dead ends–which creates a really interactive experience where the reader can follow the map to chart the action, or try and guess escape routes for themselves! I also love the maps for the AMIRA & HAMZA series because they deal with time and space in such an unconventional way.

Kathleen 2: How do you decide when to put a map into a book? What do you look for in an illustrator, when commissioning maps? 

Karina: When I commission a map, the first thing I think of is the purpose of the map. Does it need to be highly literal? For non-fiction books, or perhaps a book where we are following a war, etc.—we often want to be very exacting about scale, relative positioning, dimensions, landmarks, etc. Or is this one where we can take more artistic liberties? Is this one where we can add more decorations and fun tidbits? Where we can choose which places to emphasize in scale/detail based on significance in the book, and not literal size? For very literal maps, I look for artists that have a cartographer’s approach. If not, I cast a wider net—including some artists that may never have done a map before—but that match the tone and feel of the story (and the art created for the cover). Or perhaps the map is an opportunity for contrast. One thing I found really fun about working on the FOLK OF THE AIR series is that we had these hyper-modern 3D covers, but were able to use the map and interior art to add a softness and whimsy that we needed for a more complete package.

Kathleen 3: Why did you want maps in this book? Did the particular requirements of this map give you any pause? 

Karina: The maps for AMIRA & HAMZA posed quite a unique challenge in that we were not just looking for how to move north to the mountains, or east to the ocean, let’s say; but we are dealing in different dimensions and moments in history. In all honesty, I conceptually understood what Samira wanted, but I did not have the vision for how to execute it in a way that was digestible as a map. But I knew Kathleen is so fantastic at fantasy, and maps, and also in giving extra special care and detail into everything she does, that I knew if she took it on, she would figure it out. And it was truly perfect.

Kathleen 4: Thank you!
Do all maps in books need to do the same thing? Or what are some of the purposes a map might serve? Have there been any Unexpected Moments in Maps in your career? 

Karina: All maps “set the scene”; but I think that can be literal, or more for the purposes of feel/tone. I do my best as an art director to avoid surprises! And really it is out of respect for the time and energy that artists are bringing to the work. So I try to start by seeking out as many details and as much information as possible. Though I have to admit that I was thrown for a loop when it was decided that FOLK OF THE AIR would need different (but similar!) maps in order to adapt to a changing landscape—and our artist works in ink! Series pose the most surprises since it can be the author’s prerogative to introduce change at many points in the process. That said, we were lucky that Holly and Kathleen are both so flexible, and such pros, and we were always able to make it work. ;)

Map for The Wicked King, by Holly Black. Little, Brown 2019

Kathleen 5: What’s the process you follow when you’re commissioning a map? Are there any surprises in that process? Has anything ever gone hilariously wrong (that you can talk about)? 

Karina: First we determine whether we need a more literal or artistic map, and then we look for artists that would complement the style of the art we are pursuing for the jacket. Typically we share some options with the author so they can have a say in the art style too. Then I pose what many authors consider to be a big challenge: Please doodle the map for me. It can be incredibly rough and amateur, but it is very important that we are all on the same page about the relative positions of the different landmarks and locations. And I promise that everyone has been more than capable of providing what we need. I also ask for a list of the landmarks and locations with written descriptions and/or visual references so that the artist has something to work with when adding all their great details. We’ve been lucky to work with so many fantastic artists and authors, that the rest of my job tends to be easy on my end! It mostly entails shepherding and clarifying feedback. But the artists are really the ones working their magic. I am just a gopher. ;)

Kathleen 6: What would be your favourite thing to find in a map? 

Karina: I think all great art for books brings its own level of storytelling. For example, when I think of a good picture book, there is always a little something more being said in the image. It is in conversation with the text, but not just a literal representation of the author’s words. And I think the same can be said for maps. I like finding the hidden characters, the specific flowers that would grow in that forest, the pearl or mermaid in the ocean, etc. I look for all the things the mapmaker brought to the art in order to make it feel vibrant and alive.

Kathleen 7: What would be the worst/funniest book to have a map in, if you could only get away with it? 

Karina: I imagine that any book with a map that would travel through the human body could have a hilarious and also totally gross component. A book like EVERYONE POOPS or TRUE OR POO? Or if there were some non-fiction book about how cities work, you could map some poop or dead goldfish making it’s way through a sewage system. And honestly think some kids would love maps like that. Kids can be totally weird! But that said, maps are always in conversation with the text, so I don’t think it would ever be any weirder than the story the author and publisher have already agreed to put out there!

Kathleen 8: Any questions you’d like me to answer?

Karina: Yes!

Karina 1:  What is your process for taking an author’s words and doodles and giving them an actual shape/drawing/form?

Kathleen: Obviously it depends a little on the final shape. Usually I sketch out the basic layout on the first page of my folded sketch paper, just to keep it in mind. But after that, I like to start by first just reading the manuscript or extracts, and taking notes. Where possible, I take make the notes in pictures. That way I’ve already solved (or identified!) a few problems, and can see at a glance where I might need to do more research — for example, whether certain creatures should be drawn with or without shirts, or whether something “appears” because it becomes relevant or because it magically comes into being (both of these on maps I worked on with you!). That’s where I might play with style, make little wishlists of things I’d like to draw, and so on. 

Sometimes this is like reading through the pencil — it goes straight from the book to the page and I just follow along. Sometimes it is a very complicated logic puzzle — sentences that seem to make sense can be tricky to turn into an actual picture, especially with fantasy! And then I have to get the tone right — what am I doing to the words. A picture can make something more grim, more whimsical, austere, warm…

After that I get more mechanical. I rule up several boxes with the shape I have to work in. Often I’ll make a cardboard template — I have a few standard ones already in my pencil case. They might be only a couple of centimetres/an inch tall. Then I start sketching the strongest ideas into them, very tiny.  I choose the best of those and send them to the art director, so you can consult and choose or suggest variations.

Tiny sketches from developing the map for Amira & Hamza

Karina 2: What is your biggest challenge when creating a map? Or, is there any map you have worked on that has been particularly challenging?

Kathleen: The biggest general challenge, apart from sometimes drawing more trees than I bargained for, is fitting the map into the page. Worlds are very rarely written to exactly fit two open book pages! And that’s working with just one world, and not the multiple tilisms of Amira & Hamza. But I have to fit the world plausibly into that space, and then fill the rest of that space pleasingly, accounting for margins and the area that risks disappearing into the gutter (fold).

Specific challenges vary. Amira & Hamza, with its map that’s more of a conceptual representation of the links and progression between spaces, made me pull right back and ask what a map could and should look like. For Folk of the Air, I had to think about real-world vs fairytale geology in designing the islands — and then fit new details into the sequel maps (splendid fun, but some spatial tinkering!). In two maps I have coming out next year, I had to deal with a lot of unexplored space, and ask how the characters who might have made the maps might have filled those areas up. 

I like to draw maps which capture the feeling of a world, rather than precise distances. But there’s still challenges there — with Folk of the Air, for example, you and I had to consider the ideal balance of whimsy and ominous elements, which led to me adding (among other things) some tiny skulls. But still I need to think a bit about geography — what flows where, or if it’s a slightly 3-dimensional map, what might be obscured by mountains or buildings.

Karina 3: What is the most fun part of working on a map?

Kathleen: The fact that every map is so different! I really do love these little puzzles — and then, once I solve them, getting to fill all the blank spaces with simurghs or mermaids or skulls or ominous toadstools or stars. And getting to put tiny stories and jokes and reinterpretations into the design. And I love how much people who see them get excited about having a world unrolled in front of them.

When I was little, I envied the characters who got to climb into books, and of all the jobs I’ve had, being an illustrator is the closest to that, and of all illustrations, drawing maps is like parachuting in.

Karina 4: What are your favorite maps? Literary or otherwise?

Kathleen: The Muppets travelling by map!

Well, my least favourite is the big wall map I have which is centred on Australia, because it turns out there are good design reasons not to do that: vast oceans on either side, and all the other continents squished around the edges. It’s rubbish for reference, and has made me feel so much further away from everyone all year.

Favourite… Hmm. I love so many — I’ve previously posted links of some of my favourite books of maps. Pauline Baynes’ maps were my first fantasy maps and she was the first illustrator who made me realise what illustration could do. And the maps always make me taste salt air and smell pines in the snow… When I walked into the Tolkien exhibition and saw her maps of Middle Earth — right there, in gouache! — I gasped. And my father used to build 3-dimensional maps out of blankets and cushions, to demonstrate historical events or how our property was laid out. That was when maps first made sense to me, as objects you could — almost — hold and touch and turn to see how the world works. More recently, I really like Elisabeth Alba‘s work, especially her map for Henry Lien’s Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword.

Finally:

And do check out Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds, a rollicking, thrilling middle grade adventure through science, mythology, poetry, and more worlds than you usually get in one map!

Amira & Hamza — An interview with Samira Ahmed!

A few days ago, I wrote about the illustrated map I drew for Samira Ahmed’s Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds. Here is the link to that post: Map Process — Amira & Hamza.

Photo pinched from Samira Ahmed. Cover illustrated by Kim Ekdahl and designed by Karina Granda

Samira very kindly agreed to let me interview her for this blog, about the book and its world(s)!

About Samira: Samira Ahmed is the bestselling author of Love, Hate & Other FiltersInternmentMad, Bad & Dangerous to Know, and  Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds, as well as a Ms. Marvel comic book mini-series.  Her poetry, essays, and short stories have appeared in numerous publications and anthologies including the New York TimesTake the MicColor Outside the LinesVampires Never Get Old and A Universe of Wishes. You can read more about her, her books, events, and more over at https://samiraahmed.com/.

KJ: You combine the physically observable world (in fact, astronomy is a big part of how the book starts!) with many things the readers won’t see so often through a telescope. How do these two parts of Amira & Hamza come together?

SA: Part of what made writing this middle grade fantasy fun for me was intertwining the known world with the unknown. It presents an interesting challenge to the characters, especially Amira, who is very much a science nerd and a logical, data-driven kid. What happens when the world you know is challenged by the fantastical? By the things you have to (maybe not so willingly) suspend your belief to confront? Those questions create tension and conflict in the story and are a space where the character can grow. And it also reflects our history. As Amira says, sometimes the magical is just science we don’t understand yet.

KJ: In between the adventure of Amira & Hamza, there is some very useful science. How (and why) did you decide to balance those two aspects?

SA: Science is real. And science is incredibly cool! Those are two facts that Amira understands at her core. Science allows us to understand the world we live in; it allows us to understand ourselves and our space in the natural world and I think that’s absolutely amazing. When confronted with some seemingly impossible situations, I really wanted Amira and Hamza to try and science their way out of things. Yes, there’s magic in the book. But science is also magical and I wanted to show that.

KJ: Is the box of the moon real?

SA: Yes! In a way. Al-Biruni (973-1050), one of the great scientists of Islam’s Golden Age (9th-13th centuries) designed the Box of the Moon—a mechanical astronomical calendar that had eight gear wheels and a gear train. It was considered an early processing machine. Though there is no existing “original” Box of the Moon artifact, I thought it would be cool to have one as a key element to the story. As a kid, I loved learning about ancient tools and instruments! And I wanted to incorporate a bit of medieval Islamic history into Amira & Hamza’s story.

KJ: Amira & Hamza is full of helpful, antagonistic, and warring beings, startling and colourful! [I had a wonderful time diving into reference images!] Where did they come from, and how did you fit them together with a story of two people who’ve grown up not seeing devs and peris on a regular basis? Do you have a favourite creature or being in the books?

SA: Jinn. Peris. Devs. Ghuls. These are ancient creatures and their countless stories and legends might be new to the Western world, but Amira & Hamza were familiar with stories of jinn and other fire spirits as are most people from South Asian Muslim backgrounds (and likely those of any Muslim background regardless of ethnicity/nationality). Specifically for Amira & Hamza, I was inspired by the Hamzanama—or the Adventures of Amir Hamza—an incredible Islamic epic about the warrior Amira Hamza. The tales of his exploits traveled across the Islamic world through oral tradition. It is believed that the legend began in Persia, well over a thousand years ago! My two favorite fantastical characters in Amira & Hamza are Maqbool and Aasman Peri—for very different reasons. But both were very fun characters to write and were critical to the story.

KJ: There are a lot of worlds in Amira & Hamza. Or rather, a lot of bits of worlds, and small worlds, and subworlds… It was quite exciting to try and draw them all on one piece of paper! How did the idea for/design of the worlds come together? And how did you keep track of them? (And do you have a favourite?)

SA: You depicted them beautifully! Truly, one of the things I’ve always wanted as an author was a cool map in my book and you gave me one! In the original tales of the Hamzanama, the warrior Amir Hamza travels to the fantastical lands of Qaf and visits many of the same tilisms and realms that I wrote about in the book. Of course, as I wrote them into the world of Amira & Hamza, I created them to fit the narrative and built them as intertwined—as you showed them—so Amira & Hamza would be compelled to travel forward to their quest’s end. I actually drew (very, very rough) sketches of the world of Qaf before I started writing so I could figure out how my characters would physically move through the world and how each place they visited presented a new danger and a new challenge.

Soon I will also post an interview with art director Karina Granda — keep an eye out for that! You can read about the map process here: Map Process — Amira & Hamza.

And do check out Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds, a rollicking, thrilling middle grade adventure through science, mythology, poetry, and more worlds than you usually get in one map!

A thrilling fantasy adventure intertwining Islamic legend and history.

On the day of a rare super blue blood moon eclipse, twelve-year-old Amira and her little brother, Hamza, can’t stop their bickering while attending a special exhibit on medieval Islamic astronomy. While stargazer Amira is wowed by the amazing gadgets, a bored Hamza wanders off, stumbling across the mesmerizing and forbidden Box of the Moon. Amira can only watch in horror as Hamza grabs the defunct box and it springs to life, setting off a series of events that could shatter their world—literally.

Suddenly, day turns to night, everyone around Amira and Hamza falls under a sleep spell, and a chunk of the moon breaks off, hurtling toward them at lightning speed, as they come face-to-face with two otherworldly creatures: jinn.

The jinn reveal that the siblings have a role to play in an ancient prophecy. Together, they must journey to the mystical land of Qaf, battle a great evil, and end a civil war to prevent the moon—the stopper between realms—from breaking apart and unleashing terrifying jinn, devs, and ghuls onto earth. Or they might have to say goodbye to their parents and life as they know it, forever.…

Mother Thorn: The Special Edition

The special edition of Juliet Marillier’s Mother Thorn and other tales of courage and kindness is available!

It has a linen-texture cover and the silhouette illustration is printed all in gold.

And in this edition, the illustrations inside have details in metallic ink!

The special edition is available from Serenity Press at this link: Special Edition Linen Hardcover.

The other, matte edition (paper and hardback) is also available here: Matte editions.

There are four stories in the collection, each with a full-page silhouette illustration and various incidental images and ornaments. I will be putting up a process post soon…

Observation Journal — Getting meta with story shapes

On this observation journal page I had intended to play more with previous thoughts on story structure, treating them literally as the story. The idea becoming the thing.

It’s not uncommon, of course — consider the Discworld’s Narrativium — but I suspect I had been thinking in particular about how Diana Wynne Jones occasionally literalises some aspects of genre her books (see e.g. aspects of the Gothic in Time of the Ghost and Aunt Maria, and of course the mythosphere in The Game).

Left page: “A scrabbling in the ceiling”. Also, the diffuser has fallen off the bathroom skylight, so sometimes on full moon nights it projects a perfect circle of moonlight onto the bathroom floor.

That was the plan.

Instead I got distracted by some theories of narrative that were working for me, and wondering what they would look like AS a narrative.

It has similarities to the pick-three-pictures-and-match-them-to-a-movie game (for a more involved version of that see: The Deal with Dixit). It’s a way to shuffle stories I already know into new configurations, as well as to draw out directions I’d like to pursue.

So:

  • Story takes shape of its container” becomes… well, at it’s mildest it’s just “grow to fit circumstances”, but actually it becomes several VERY GOOD books I have read since writing this page. But I can’t tell you what they are because this would be a spoiler. Impressionable things that become good (or feared) because of who took them in, and all the violence and generosity and assumptions involved.

The main lesson: Nearly anything can be a story-shape if you’re deliberate enough about it.

Edit: This has now been continued: Getting meta with story structures #2.

Writing/art exercises: Made-up rules

  1. Theory into story: If you’re familiar with theories and guidelines in your field, pick one theory of writing or art composition that you often work with (the rule of thirds? the rule of threes?).
    • Alternatively, pick some personal beliefs about what makes a good story/picture (velvety moss? forward motion? girls with swords?) and rephrase it “all stories/pictures should do XYZ”.
    • Treat that theory TOO literally. To what extent can you make it become the story? Does alluding to something three times have an actual magical power known to people in your story? Is this a painting of a world in which all girls MUST have swords, whether they want to or not?
    • Do a quick written/drawn sketch.
  2. Found theories: Or instead, pick an object lying nearby. A bowl of receipts? A fork?
    • Convert that into your new theory of story/composition. “All stories/books should be like a bowl of receipts”. “A good painting should comply with the Fork Theory of composition.”
    • Now see if you can (a) work out what that might mean and (b) sketch out a story/image adhering to that theory. (An ornamental framing device for a found-text piece?)
    • (NB I think it’s Loomis’ Creative Illustration that deals with randomised compositions.)
  3. Bonus:
    • Did you think of any existing stories/pictures that fit that theory?
    • Make a few notes on what went hilariously wrong, and if anything worked unexpectedly — to what extent do formal guidelines vs freedom vs deliberateness suit you?

New map! Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds

Photo pinched from Samira Ahmed. Cover illustrated by Kim Ekdahl and designed by Karina Granda

New map just dropped!

I was thrilled to do this slightly unusual map (involving multiple worlds!) for Samira Ahmed’s Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds, from Little, Brown.

I’ll post more about the process soon, but in the meantime, please admire the cover art by Kim Ekdahl.

On the day of a rare super blue blood moon eclipse, twelve-year-old Amira and her little brother, Hamza, can’t stop their bickering while attending a special exhibit on medieval Islamic astronomy. While stargazer Amira is wowed by the amazing gadgets, a bored Hamza wanders off, stumbling across the mesmerizing and forbidden Box of the Moon. Amira can only watch in horror as Hamza grabs the defunct box and it springs to life, setting off a series of events that could shatter their world—literally.

Suddenly, day turns to night, everyone around Amira and Hamza falls under a sleep spell, and a chunk of the moon breaks off, hurtling toward them at lightning speed, as they come face-to-face with two otherworldly creatures: jinn.

The jinn reveal that the siblings have a role to play in an ancient prophecy. Together, they must journey to the mystical land of Qaf, battle a great evil, and end a civil war to prevent the moon—the stopper between realms—from breaking apart and unleashing terrifying jinn, devs, and ghuls onto earth. Or they might have to say goodbye to their parents and life as they know it, forever.…

Observation Journal: The evolving review, art process, sparks

These three observation journal pages are all a review of the same two art projects, and hammering out more of the best way for me to review projects.

The first was my illustration for “On Pepper Creek”, which is now out (with its accompanying story, also by me) in the South of the Sun anthology of Australian fairy tales from the Australian Fairy Tale Society and Serenity Press). I’ve posted about the art process for that illustration here: “On Pepper Creek” — illustration process.

Pencil drawings of trees and waves and creatures with long tails.
Process sketches

The second was a scratchboard illustration for the World Roulette art exhibition and book (from Light Grey Art Lab). I’ll post more about that once the parcel of books arrives.

A snipped of the illustration

The first page was a quick exploration of the difficulties of not having an art director, and therefore having to make decisions myself. I realised that in this situation I frequently take two designs to quite an advanced stage before committing (or letting the deadline commit me). See also this small discarded skull.

Left page: Two men carrying a chair, crossing a flood plain

I then followed up with a few thoughts about why I chose the final image, and what I liked about it.

  • In one case, I chose the simplest idea so that I would still have time to do my second choice if it didn’t work (in fact, I drew several final versions of the first image, getting it to look as simple as I wanted it to be).
  • For the other, I chose the design I most wanted to spend the materials on, but ended up using the most complicated technique.

The main things I learned were:

  • On the day: Overcomplication is part of how I get things done, and so to leave room for it, within reason. (Efficacy > efficiency.)
  • In retrospect: I need to more consciously seize the reins of projects without the voice of a strong art director. I learned this more thoroughly later, but the beginnings of the realisation are here.

The next day, I decided to review other aspects of the projects, realising (although not learning) that one page was not enough for two projects.

Left page: Uber Eats’ “Your orders” symbol looks like the ghost of Ned Kelly

Here I looked at likes, alternative concepts, difficulties, dislikes, and things to try. A few themes are the ongoing pull towards denser folkloric designs, the desire for movement, the value to a piece of committing to a strong style for that piece, and the use of space.

I also wanted to leave more room to think about “why this one”, i.e. why this design. So I added it on the next page, the following day.

Left page: “Your name on rice”

As suspected, this was an illuminating question. As when I looked for the sparks in writing ideas, it has the potential to speed up the process (I’m sure I’ve posted about this, but maybe it’s still on the way). But completing this page also gave me some guidance around choosing projects when working under pressure.

A few highlights:

  • Playing with the space on a page, and/or filling the space pleasingly.
  • Fluidity/movement AND a sense of ornament.
  • A strong stylistic choice.
  • The pleasures of the material.
  • Limits on what I needed to think about.

Writing/drawing exercise:

  • Look back over a selection of your drawings/writing/other creative projects.
  • Jot down a few notes about what appealed to you about that idea: what made it spark, why did you choose it, what about it made you keep going?
  • Are there any patterns to those reasons?
  • Choose a few of the strong or common reasons. See if you can retro-engineer an idea that meets those requirements. (Here, for example, a strongly narrative wallpaper design would meet my criteria above, and is in fact a thing I often stumble into playing with — and I’ve finally signed up for some actual lessons about classic pattern design). Do a quick sketch of it (in words or writing.)
  • Bonus: Flip those criteria and repeat the exercise above. (For my criteria, that would result in a sort of overcrowded and deliberate ugliness.) Can you do it? Do you hate it, or are there things in it you’d like to try? Does it define the edges of why you mean by those criteria (for example, the point where a detailed all-over design becomes crowded)?

For posts on finding the spark in a project, see also: Sparks and navigable worlds, Do it for the aesthetic #3, Giving ideas a push, and A tremor in the web,

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.

September Calendar — Chairs

Note: This calendar is supported by patrons, who get it a little bit early, along with other sneak-peeks and behind-the-scenes art: patreon.com/tanaudel, and also by those very kind people who throw a few dollars towards it via the tip jar: ko-fi.com/tanaudel

I am perpetually trying to find a better desk chair, so the obsession got into this month’s calendar. (Printable versions are at the bottom of the post.)

These are all from books — the only particularly subtle one is in the top right, which is based on one of my illustrations for Margo Lanagan’s Stray Bats

Here are the original sketches for the idea — with a few more fairy tales, rhymes and riddles, and a bit of Diana Wynne Jones! It turns out there are a lot of chairs in fairy tales. (I later dropped all the people out, for simplicity.) 

And here are a few more, branching out (there’s a Georgette Heyer in there, and I have no recollection of the thoughts behind the chair with shoes).

The process from there was to sketch the images up in more detail:

And then to ink them, before scanning and colouring digitally.

This one is based on one of my own illustrations for Margo Lanagan’s Stray Bats

So here (for personal use) are the printable versions — one pre-coloured and one to colour in yourself. If you like them and/or like supporting the arts, you can contribute to the calendar (and get it and other behind-the-scenes things early) at patreon.com/tanaudel (starts at US$1/month!) or by buying me a coffee or two through Ko-Fihttps://ko-fi.com/tanaudel.