August Calendar: Sprigs

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

This month’s calendar is an arrangement of sprigs and twigs and leaves and fronds. I’d been wanting to draw a little pattern/sampler of plants, and I had originally planned to colour these. I did prepare all the areas for colour! But in the end I fell in love with the effect of the linework on its own. I imagine them as black-work (or white) embroidery on a Tudor-style blouse, or something like that. I have, however, included a green option for you, for variety. 

I do plan to play around with a repeating pattern for this one. However, this week I have been being artist/writer in residence at Concordia Lutheran College in Toowoomba (my old boarding school), and pattern-making time has been limited (it should be a simple repeat, but I need to move a few leaves around to balance the design).

But 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.

Combined sketches

Having some fun. These quick iPad sketches were to demonstrate ways to combine ideas (for an upcoming workshop). Above, a drum-horse and floral cart. Below, laptops meet ornamental mirrors.

“On Pepper Creek” — illustration process

South of the Sun: Australian Fairy Tales for the 21st Century is now published and released (and can be bought)!

A particular shout-out to Lorena Carrington who did so much wonderful art & design AND illustrator-wrangling for the book! You can also support her on Patreon.

The anthology includes my short story “On Pepper Creek”, a story of a preoccupied (and morally ambiguous) family and an anxious (and amoral) stowaway.

It was a slightly tricky story to illustrate because (a) it’s mine and (b) it’s about something that largely isn’t seen (also, to the extent it is seen, I was picturing it in Emily Hare‘s style).

Here are some of the early thoughts I was working through.

16 ballpoint thumbnail sketches

As usual, I was charmed by the idea of doing a silhouette, and started working through the design for that, but as much as silhouettes leave to the imagination, they make it difficult to outright disguise something, unless you want it to be thoroughly camouflaged or confusing. Also, I was getting stressed by some other deadlines.

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

In the end, I decided that since this was my story, I could have as much fun with negative space as I wished, and just hint at what was within.

The final illustration was in pencil and watercolour, and I did a few versions, until it was as loose as pleased me.

So here is the final illustration for “On Pepper Creek”, in South of the Sun.

Pencil and watercolour drawing of a long hairy arm and clutching clawed hand reaching towards a red spinning-top.

Difficult dogs

Cardigan-ish Corgi (lower sketch)

Alex has requested a “corgis by moonlight” calendar some month, and I’m not saying dogs aren’t fairy-tale standards, but even the usual suspects aren’t easy to draw in a way that look as poetic as they sound. There’s a lovely literal/metaphorical interplay in some fairy tales, and illustrations can sometimes pin that too clearly to one interpretation. (Eyes as big as saucers, I’m looking at you.)

In Juliet Marillier’s Mother Thorn, where “Copper, Silver, Gold” takes the story of “The Tinderbox” as its starting point, we kind of elided the specifics of the dogs’ eyes for the illustrations — that visual element of canine body horror was not what the story needed or was about.

A very small dog detail from inside Mother Thorn

And while interchangeable canids (like interchangeable equines) rely on generalities, corgis, like donkeys, require specifics (even if it’s just to suggest corgi-kind).

And of course, even among corgis, there are variations.

Pembroke-ish Corgi, to accompany the art for Laurie Marks’ rather splendid Elemental Logic quartet

Publication: “Gisla and the Three Favours”

My short story “Gisla and the Three Favours” is now out in issue #43 of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet (available in print and e-formats).

Cover monkey by Catherine Byun, who has WONDERFUL work — soft, dense, bright, and toothy

The story is about promises and gambles and memorable dresses. It began as a landscape illustration experiment for Light Grey Art Lab, and then turned back into a fairy tale (for clarity: this story is not illustrated in the magazine!).

As Gisla’s mother lay dying, she called her daughter to her.

“When you were only a hope and a happiness, Gisla, I begged three favours of three ladies. I have not lived to repay them. This you must do for me, else when I die, Gisla, my soul will fly up out of my body, as all souls do, and it will beat against the windows of heaven, but it will not get in…”

Here is the full table of contents of the issue, which is available from Small Beer Press:

  • fiction
    • Alisa Alering, “The Night Farmers’ Museum”
    • Erica Clashe, “The Shine of Green Floors”
    • Leah Bobet, “The Mysteries”
    • Joanne Rixon, “Wires from the Same Spool”
    • Quinn Ramsay , “The House of the Gutter-Prince”
    • Jim Marino, “Acting Tips for Remaining Unknown”
    • Zack Moss, “If You Had Been Me Then What Would I Have Been?”
    • Kathleen Jennings, “Gisla and the Three Favours”
    • Gillian Daniels, “King Moon’s Tithe to Hell”
    • poetry
    • Anne Sheldon, “Three Poems”
    • Jessy Randall, “Four Poems”
  • nonfiction
    • Ayşe Papatya Bucak, “Half-Papatya”
    • Nicole Kimberling, “Time Travel Self-Care System”
  • cover
A watercolour painting, framing a page: stylised sun, moon and stars at top, a girl with a shepherd's crook standing across a stream from three mysterious ladies — one floating in a white gown, one hunched in a mossy shawl, one half-seal and in the water.
The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars — pencil and watercolour (this is actually part of a draft of the story — the final is all in words)

Light Grey Art Lab: Pandora’s Box and The Tomb

Every year I try to get into at least one Light Grey Art Lab exhibition, and this year it’s also an art swap!

Pandora's Box / The Tomb gallery banner

In fact, there are two: Pandora’s Box, which I am in, and The Tomb. Everyone did an edition of 100 little artworks (stickers, postcards, pins, sculptures). These are being distributed between the participating artists, and will also be exhibited in the gallery in Minneapolis.

Open Pandora’s Box at your own risk, for inside you may find secrets, creepy crawlies, magical talismans, baubles, spells, spirits, poisons, potions, amulets, demons, dark and deadly items.

The caverns are dark and dusty– it’s difficult to find your footing and to see the path forward. But then, you find it; the ancient tomb. The Tomb is filled with treasures, artifacts, maps, codes, ancient relics, weapons, items for the afterlife, lore, and relics from days gone by.

I contributed a sticker, with a tiny piece of fiction printed on the back (all, I hope, having gone well with the production!). I’ll post about that once the parcels start arriving with the artists. Here is a section of it, however, as a sneak-peek — it is called “A Spell for Returning.”

Section of an ink and digital colour illustration of a skull with a coin in its eye, and crowned with strawberries.
Section of “A Spell for Returning”

You can find the collections on the Light Grey website, and throughout the show, works will be available on the online shop as special mystery packs. You can check out the first mystery packs here! And select pieces will only be available at Light Grey Art Lab in Minneapolis. 

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 art for WQ Magazine!

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

Here is my cover art for Issue 273 of WQ Magazine, the member magazine of the Queensland Writers Centre (for whom I’m giving a map illustration workshop this Saturday!).

The theme of the issue was TIME, so all the motifs tie back to that in some way (and in my mind!). There are a few references to favourite books in there, but for now I’ll let you work those out for yourself (most of them have more than one meaning anyway). I’m very happy with how it came out!

I drew the original art with brush and ink, then coloured it digitally. There are a few extra motifs not shown here, but I will put them up in a process post soon.

WQ magazine is provided free to members, but QWC do supply additional copies and copies to non-members for five dollars (plus, I imagine, postage) if you contact them with your details.

The 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).

I will put up a proper process post soon, as well.

Back cover of magazine in brown, blue, and yellow: Memorial clock, cast iron bed, globe, hour glass, steam engine, crocheted collar, hot air balloon, man with scarf running, candle burning at both ends, ice skate, retro dinosaur, urn with flowers, mouse, python, skull

Observation Journal — Little Groves

This observation journal page was an exploration of what I like about “little woods and wildernesses” in art and stories and life, and as art and stories.

I’d found one on a walk — a stand of she-oaks in a flood reserve, dense and insular — which led to this page and the June 2020 calendar: Ominous Groves.

Double-page spread of observation journal, densely hand-written. On the left, five things seen, heard, and done, and a picture of a cake server. On the right, thoughts on groves.
On the left, an exercise in describing the day’s clouds: furled, fogged, shirred, ruched, rippled, and the crescent moon diffuse through them.

So I went in pursuit of the idea, in search of no grand conclusions (at this point) but trying, I suppose, to find the way in.

The right page of the observation journal, with handwritten thoughts on small forests.

Their origins (for me): CS Lewis and Robert Frost and Frances Hodgson Burnett, Jane Austen and Susan Coolidge and Midsomer Murders, T. H. White, ballads and fairy-tales and home and backyards and parks and childhood. Not Tolkien, whose sense of forests is vast, but Baynes’ illustrations for Tolkien.

Four ink drawing coloured in greeny-blue. A ruined castle behind trees. Two women circling a stand of trees. A statue carrying a jar and a statue of a dancing faun among trees. A skull below and a ghost within a canopy of trees.
My favourites (now more muted) from the June 2020 Calendar

A few points:

  • The pocket-sized-ness of them, and the way they fit into unexpected pockets of the world. (And their ornamental possibilities).
  • Their closely-bound contradictions — pretty but wilderness, ornamental but feral, good but not tame, small but eternal, tiny but encompassing.
  • The existence of an enclosed world, contained, self-possessed and possess-able, cut off from other concerns and yet full of its own rustling existence. Set apart from the outer world, in terms of light and shade, temperature and inhabitants and sound. Different from the staginess of more flamboyant settings, with which a grove might seem to have more in common.
  • The necessity of finding a gate into them, and that they are (after all) bigger on the inside.
  • Their function as a gate to other worlds — forest as psychopomp.
  • Their opacity — their threats and secrets and how they function (small as they are) as a weighted point on the world.
  • What they mean to time — separated from it, bending it, a place where time might be lost, or a treasury of lost time.
  • What is beneath them — from what soil they grow, and what happens among their roots, and how they pin layers of time and worlds together.
  • That they can function as a shorthand for stories (I realise this isn’t a novel idea, but I need to stumble into thoughts for myself) — their function and structure, metaphorically, but mostly their enchantment.

At the time I felt I hadn’t got very far with this look at groves (although the calendar is not nothing!). But in retrospect, particularly in the light of some projects I’m working on now, revisiting this page has brought several ideas (for and about stories) into focus.

And I do like them!

Observation Journal — story structures

An observation journal page from my birthday last year, in which — while very full of cake — I attempted to think about the shapes of short stories (written and drawn).

Two-page observation journal spread. On the left, five things seen/heard/done and a sketch of a birthday balloon in a bathroom sink. On the right, densely handwritten short story thoughts.
I do rather like those scribbly bird frames on the left

All that needs to be written about story structure probably has been. Personally I suspect that, as with art composition, “be deliberate” does a lot of the heavy lifting. (That said, Kim Wilkins (through the University of Queensland and the Novelist’s Bootcamp) and Angela Slatter have taught me most of the practical side of structure, and I recommend both).

But (to the despair of friends and mentors) I understand things best by thinking/blundering my way into them, and sometimes the act of reinventing of the wheel is more valuable than the individual wheel itself. This page began a series of exercises tinkering with how stories work in my head.

First, I applied observations to a structure:

  • I drew a table of the second-most basic story outline: Beginning — Middle — End.
  • Next I filled each cell randomly with observations from some of the left-side journal pages.
  • Then I thought about which ones felt like a story, and what sort of moods/actions were happening in the sections.

Then I made a list of those moods/actions. Some were suggested by the table above (e.g. a beginning in which something is squeaking in the breeze felt a bit ominous). Some I’d observed in other favourite short stories. Here’s the (non-comprehensive) list:

  • Ominous
  • Formation of goal
  • Inkling
  • Foreshadow doom
  • Meet-cute
  • Fragments
  • Situation
  • Door
  • Metaphor
  • Suspicion
  • Compounded
  • Quiet progression towards goal
  • Red herring
  • Proceed towards doom
  • Complication
  • Facets
  • Failures
  • Something [gets] through
  • Peel back
  • Twist (of plot or knife)
  • Achieves goal
  • Solution
  • [Evade] doom
  • HEA [Happily Ever After]
  • Whole
  • Success
  • Pushed back
  • Truth & consequence

Finally, I rearranged those elements into a story outline: Beginning — Middle — End. I made notes on what stories (existing or otherwise) those evoked. For example, “Foreshadowed doom — Facets — HEA” suggested a sort of Sliding Doors / Run Lola Run situation.

This page has been useful for a number of reasons:

  • It kicked off an occasional series of thoughts on plots I like (more to come on this).
  • It’s been helpful for teasing initial ideas out into more of a story shape.
  • It’s been useful for adjusting and restructuring ideas.
  • It’s a reminder of the importance of movement, because at the very least the story has to get from one mood to the next.
  • It gives me a working framework that I understand from the inside out.
  • It’s helped me get a lot better at reading stories and noticing what the author is doing, and talking about it.

WRITING/ART EXERCISE

  • Pick a few stories (written or drawn or a single very narrative illustration) you like, or have encountered lately.
  • Think of how they start, continue, and finish. With a lot of illustrations and some very short stories, some of those aspects are implied.
  • Jot down a list of the big mood/effect/movement of each section.
    For example, I’m looking at the cover of Dungeon Critters right now, and you could say that it starts in ominous shadow and proceeds through vigorous confusion into overwhelming luminousness. Or perhaps it begins in a cavern and proceeds through a fight through brambles to threatening reward. There isn’t a correct answer — it’s a matter of how you see stories.
  • Now pick three entries from your list (or mine above) and assign them to “beginning”, “middle”, and “end”. (You can read anything as a metaphor.)
  • Consider whether you know any other stories/images that would fit that model?
  • Could you invent a story that would suit that shape? If you’re stuck for ideas, pick something innocuous you’ve seen today (a deliveryman? someone making toast?) and apply it to the story. Do a quick sketch (written or drawn) of the idea.

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).