Lots of little bad drawings

Lots of tiny biro drawings, some described further in the text
(Sections shown larger below)

This is a collage of very scribbly drawings from the observation pages of the journal. I made it for a workshop about the journal I gave for SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Queensland.

Feat. Saffy, Johnny, Lulu and Oz

It’s a useful compendium of the variety of pictures in the journal — and the variety of quality. From diagrams of dangerous u-turns, through unconvincing cats, to badly-remembered helicopters. The point isn’t to be any good, or even large (see the soy sauce fish) — it’s just to make a drawn note of something from the day.

Two! Two pheasant coucals! Mwahahaha

It’s illustration as the most short-hand version of communication — but so varied in what it succeeds in communicating (at least to me, its intended audience). Only a few have a caption, like the Uber Eats receipt symbol above (it does look like the ghost of Ned Kelly). But while I could have written a more convincing crow-in-the-window, what I was trying to remember here was its attitude — and the same for the boy in the very short tree, out of which a teacher was attempting to lure him. The hot water bottle was something simple and comforting (my back was still causing havoc), and the point of the person pushing the office chair uphill was their very specific cryptid pose.

Jacaranda seedpods look a bit like stingrays

And taken together, there’s something pleasing (to me) about the sheer volume of sketches, the resonances that appear between them (a sequence of birds, a contrast between plane shadows and a sturdy drawing board. I firmly believe that:

  • if you draw fast frequently you discover both a shorthand (eyebrows + nose = me) and what you like to draw
  • if you draw small, people think it’s detailed — the opposite is true (or scale, the grid is 0.5cm, less than 1/4 inch, and the pictures are drawn with a ballpoint: Pilot BPS-GP<F>)
  • if you draw a lot of small things it becomes a big piece of art (or at least an extended comic routine, which is also art)
  • “bad” can be an aspiration, not a criticism
  • if you draw things badly a lot, it just becomes ‘your style’

And these aren’t “good” pictures in the classical sense. The anatomy is dubious, the camelids are just a scribble with ears, the perspective isn’t, I forgot how sofas work. But where they work, it’s because:

  • I don’t care if these are good — they’re not meant to be academic exercises. The only way to get them wrong is not to do them.
  • They’re fast, which makes them honest while also conferring a degree of plausible deniability
  • They’re also chatty (although I’m primarily talking to myself) and I like chatty drawings just as much as those which look like worlds you could walk into (anecdotes vs epics)
  • You can see the important-to-me shapes. The curly back of the sofa below is not at all accurate to the actual woodwork, but that’s the impression it left. The cockatoo above isn’t at all correct, but all I wanted to remember was the punk hairstyle (I think the breeze was behind it). The contrast in the movement of the boy in the tree vs the pose of his teacher (the second picture above) was all I needed — everything else is just supporting context. Movement tells a story and covers over a multitude of inaccuracies.
Featuring Saffy and Obi

But there’s something else I discovered putting these slides together: Seen en masse, these scribbly drawings become a time-lapse of a week, a month, a year, a cascade of days and alpacas and domestic upheaval and other people’s cats.

(Some of these have already shown up incidentally in observation journal posts).

May calendar — Frog princes

A pattern of dragonflies, waterlilies, golden balls, and crowned frogs on a dark background, in shades of mauve and olive/sage

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 or buy me a coffee via Ko-Fihttps://ko-fi.com/tanaudel — I’m extremely grateful for all your support.

Welcome to the May calendar! Frog princes, this month. It’s not a story that usually leaps to mind as one of my favourites, but it keeps recurring — I love the murky gleam of it, the promises, the consequences. It underpins “Undine Love”, and was one of my earliest repeating patterns and has infused my PhD.

A frog swimming towards a lilypad

But it’s a challenge, too — it’s an odd story, and greens and yellow are complicated to pair in art as pleasingly as they go together in life, and frogs’ hips are wildly improbable.

I’ve also wrangled it into a repeating pattern, which is now up on Redbubble! (I will put it on Spoonflower, too).

A Redbubble promotional image with a scarf showing the repeating pattern

(The April calendar design is also now up on Redbubble and as a print on InPrnt.)

And here (for personal use) are the printable versions. 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.

Calendar for May 2021, with the design of frogs and waterlilies

Colour-able outline of design

Illustrations: a wedding, a kite

Tiny pen and watercolour painting of a young man and woman flying a kite on a hilltop in a strong wind, and being lifted off the ground.

Earlier this year, I drew a set of little people (below) for a good friend’s wedding. I’ve known Shayna a very long time, and she and her sisters have shown up in illustrations more than once, and behind cameras (her mother took my current headshots). When we can, we get together for art evenings, and she’s always saving me on technical things — she’s a graphic designer, and did the early mock-ups of the Flyaway art placement for me, too, when the illustrations were just an annexure to a dissertation. If you’ve ever visited and seen my beloved The Wolf Man painting, that was by Shayna.

I drew several stacks of ballpoint sketches (nb — not portraits), to get them sketchy enough for the invitation. Here they are in parts of Shayna’s layout (the full invitation (pdf here) was a single large sheet that folded into a pamphlet/poster).

Sections of an invitation in ochre, tan, and burnt orange, with arched layouts, for "Shayna & Joel are getting married", with pen sketches of a girl in a leather jacket, dress and leggings leaping with a kite, a girl in skinny jeans and a stripey top throwing confetti, and a man  in tshirt, jeans and elastic-sided boots jumping and clicking his heels.
These are just an extract — you can see the full PDF of the invitation designed by Shayna here

Her wedding was then cancelled by a short sharp lockdown, but in the end it was able to go ahead only two days later than planned, high on a cloudy mountain with wedge-tailed eagles circling below us.

For my card to them, I wanted to tie it back to the invitation, and put both characters together. I folded an A5 piece of Canson illustration paper in half, then taped it down with masking tape. Process: Light pencil, ink lines with an 0.05 Staedtler micron (I think), erase the pencils, put down masking fluid, colour with (Daniel Smith) watercolour, remove masking fluid, touch up with pen and a tiny bit of white gel pen.

Paper stuck to a drawing board with purple masking tape, a picture partly painted with masking fluid still showing, and a narrower tiny pen and watercolour painting of a young man and woman flying a kite on a hilltop in a strong wind, and being lifted off the ground.

You will notice this is not quite the same illustration as at the top of this post! I was seized by self-doubt at some point, and painted that second card just in case. I love them both — the figures below, and the hill and path in the squarer painting — and in the end I took both of them all the way to the wedding and made up my mind when I got there.

A hand holding the painted card on a notebook, for scale.

Observation Journal: Do it for the aesthetic

On this page of the observation journal, I was playing more with the question of whether (and how far) an aesthetic (in the pop-culture sense of a distinct style/mood/mode) can drive a story.

Two densely handwritten pages of the observation journal, with a green watercolour border. On the left page, five things seen, heard, and done, and a drawing of a bottle. On the right, thoughts on stories and aesthetics.

Left page: Butterflies, neighbours, and forgetfulness.

What I was elaborating on:

I’d been using the observation journal to think through why certain ideas appealed to me, and why certain projects seemed to just work, while others dragged. A point that kept emerging was the sense of the heavy lifting a really clear aesthetic or style could do. Here are a few posts about that:

In this post, I wanted to dig in a bit deeper.

The right page of the observation journal, with handwritten thoughts on stories and aesthetics.

The process:

  1. Selecting elements:
    1. I chose three elements from the habits and resistance exercise (e.g. “vivid”, “emphasise less obvious part”, novelise picture”). I was just using these as guides to suggest an idea.
    2. Then I picked an aesthetic. In the first case, it was a brilliantly-coloured feverish Victorian setting (the second one was nautical-piratical). I define aesthetic pretty broadly.
    1. I also picked a literary key — something to tune the idea to. In each case I picked a main or obvious reference (e.g. Dorian Gray) and a secondary reference that was either less obvious or contrasted intriguingly (e.g. a line from Milton, “they also serve who only stand and wait”). I wasn’t trying to be wildly original here — the intention was just to ride along with the aesthetic and see how far that got the idea.
  2. Mixing a plot:
    1. Using those elements for the base idea, I outlined a very rough possible plot. (Note: This is almost always faster with a brand new idea I haven’t committed to yet.) I just outlined a few points:
      1. Main Idea (someone who frames enchanted portraits)
      2. Point of View (flamboyant detective)
      3. Turning Point 1 (detective compromised)
      4. Turning Point 2 (trap sprung by unexpected person)
      5. End (twist)
  3. Identifying possible set-pieces:
    1. Rather than (necessarily) scenes, I made a quick list of visual situations and motifs that caught the right aesthetic. (e.g. poetry salon, gilt and glass and velvet frame shop, hothouse of tropical flowers).
    2. I included a contrasting note — e.g. against the overwrought decadence, one “knife-sharp and bare rooftop” scene.

What I learned

  • This aesthetic framework is a useful way for me to think about stories. It’s also a lens that lets me try out and understand other people’s thoughts about story structure better.
  • The observation journal continues to be a very useful way for me to chip away at little questions and concerns, and find my way into them.
  • As with most mix-and-match games, this was both fun and quite fast, but could have used more space (in fact, I tried it again the next day, with more art — I’ll post that soon).
  • I could feel how the aesthetic picked up the idea and set certain story-gears turning and catching. I’d like to trace more clearly where that happens, but it needed a bigger page.
  • Having that contrasting secondary aesthetic, like a note of a contrasting colour in a painting, was appealing. I wasn’t sure how much it added to the feeling of the story, but it definitely added to the creation of ideas. Setting up the opposition of an overheated drawing room and a cold roof automatically teases out things that could happen to bridge the space between those settings.
  • I think I could use this to start working out a story (as here). But even just doing it as a game now and then has made me a lot more aware of what I am doing with the aesthetics in other projects, and which ones I like, and how to use them to come up with or deepen ideas.
Tiny pen drawings of women in late Victorian evening gowns near a fern, a woman in a travelling outfit by a gladstone bag, an Oscar-Wilde-ish gentleman, and a collection of clocks and broken ornaments.
Some sketches made the following day

Activity/exercise

  • Make a list of aesthetics you like, or hate, or have seen recently, or found in a list online, or can invent by hyphenating two things in your field of vision — Regency Romance, Nordic noir, 1970s beachside, Horse & Hound, midcentury Elvish (I’ve seen this in a nightclub), a particular Instagram filter…
  • Pick two that are fairly different.
  • Sketch (words or pictures) a quick setting that suits each (a room, a poolside, an arrangement of scenery). You can be obvious, and even cliched, as long as you really commit.
  • Consider the sort of story which might let you move from one set to the other. What moments or characters or actions emerge to fill that space? What happens if or when trailing elements of one aesthetic brush up against the other?

Chain of Iron (with illustrations) — NYT bestseller

It’s an illustrator’s prerogative to bask in some reflected glory, so here’s Cassandra Clare’s Chain of Iron, for which I made 10 silhouette illustrations, heading up the NYT Young Adult bestsellers!

Cover art by Cliff Nielsen

I’ll put up a proper process post soon, but in the meantime, here’s a behind-the-scenes shot of one of the more complex illustrations:

And here’s the full NYT list.

Sketching once more

Sketch of woman carrying a small suitcase. Black pen with mustard-yellow background.

It has been lovely to be gradually getting back into the world and sketching again (I’m in Queensland, Australia, where — with the odd short sharp lockdown — it’s mostly safe and legal to do so).

A note — these close-ups are really close-up, and likely larger than the original drawing. The sketches are done in a pocket Moleskine sketchbook (3.5″ x 5.5″), with Pitt Artist Pens.

Sketch of father and son walking from the back. Green background.

I’ve written about trying to keep sketching when this wasn’t an option (sketching adventures; experiments with sketching; sketching the people glimpsed from the corner of your eye).

Sketchbook pages with a drawing of a boat and a number of people at a shopping centre.

I’m still only getting the chance to do it occasionally, but I’m trying to take more of those chances! I’ve missed being in practice watching little mannerisms, the way people stand or walk or put their weight on one hip, or hold bags. It’s a whole vocabulary of human movement that’s very useful to know — and the more I draw it, the more it’s likely to come out of my pen when I need it to.

Sketch of three women looking at art.

My pens dried out last year and I had to replace them in order to do the QLA portraits. So I’m getting used to the colours again, and to seeing people in the wild, and to finding where the corners and chairs that I’m allowed to linger in are.

In more crowded times, sketching makes me like people more. This year, I’m just happy to see anyone again.

Sketchbook pages with people looking at art, the audience at a concert, and singers on stage

And it’s been lovely to move from drawing individuals decently spaced (as in the shopping centre sketches earlier in the post), to groups at art galleries (the border was open again, so Angela Slatter and I drove to see the travelling Archibald Prize exhibition at the Tweed Regional Gallery), to going to an actual gig (the Wildflowers collaboration at The Old Museum), and realising how wildly different pen colours are under coloured lights, and the joy of sequins.

March Calendar — Rondels

An ink drawing on a mottled blue background of 12 floral wreaths/rondels, colouredin pale beige and white, including stars & moths, grasshopper & dandelions, heron, crown, bees, spiderweb, goblet, fox, moon, cat, bouquets, and a snuffed candle.

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: paypal.me/tanaudel — I’m extremely grateful for all your support.

I was cutting it fine on this month’s timing, so I decided to do the most complicated of many ideas (the other main contender was a simple repeat of dandelion flowers and leaves).

As for this design, of stars & moths, grasshopper & dandelions, heron, crown, bees, spiderweb, goblet, fox, moon, cat, bouquets, and a snuffed candle — oh, I like self-contained worlds, and objects that could belong to tales, and old endpapers, and a sense of being watched, and silver-and-bronze, and blue brocade, and arrangements that could be the best sort of game… There are a couple call-backs to other illustrations I have done, including for Holly Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy, and Angela Slatter.

Pencils vs final

Edit: It’s also up as a print on Redbubble.

And here (for personal use) are the printable versions. 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 through the tip jar at paypal.me/tanaudel.

Art reveal: Chain of Iron silhouette portraits

Cover art by Cliff Nielsen

Cassandra Clare’s latest Shadowhunters novel Chain of Iron comes out very soon. The cover art is by Cliff Nielsen, but I had the enormous fun of cutting out 10 silhouette character portraits, to be printed in the first edition.

They will be printed in black on white, but for one online event they are also being printed on these rather resplendent dust jackets!

Exclusive dust jacket for FANE event

I will post more process pictures in due course, but here are a few to begin with!

This was to be a ghostly portrait, but translucency is an… interesting proposition for a cut-paper silhouette, so in the end I reversed it from the other images.
Spider!

(Some other illustrated projects that are available to pre-order are the new bind-up of Holly Black’s The Curse Workers, with three new silhouette header designs, and the limited edition of Angela Slatter’s The Tallow-Wife — and there are a few more coming soon, like the special linen-cover edition of Juliet Marillier’s Mother Thorn in April!)

Curse Workers — art reveal

Some more exciting news!

A new bindup of Holly Black’s magical con-artist trilogy The Curse Workers is coming out in November — and I designed a new silhouette chapter header for each book. It’s available to pre-order now.

(The cover design is by Michael McCartney)

They are great books, gritty and with a cynical enchantment. Much as I love Holly Black’s Elfhame and fae enchantments, I’m always so surprised and drawn in by the patina of her (almost) real-world settings — it adds such a salt-and-acid note to the sweetness (however decadent and cruel) of the more fantastic settings. And The Curse Workers is all that side of the story. It’s also a story of embedded rather than discovered magic, where it’s a (disreputable) part of the structure of technology and fashion, politics and society and organised crime.

(Another illustrated project that is available to pre-order is the limited edition of Angela Slatter’s The Tallow-Wife — and there are a few more coming soon, like the special linen-cover edition of Juliet Marillier’s Mother Thorn in April!)

“Ghoulish but sentimental” — an interview with Socar Myles, Ghostwriter

BIO: Socar Myles is a Vancouver-based former illustrator and full-time ghostwriter, whose illustration work can be found at www.gorblimey.com.

KJ: Socar Myles and I first met years ago through the old Elfwood notice boards, and Socar gave me a great deal of thoughtful, professional advice on my early efforts. Her art enchanted me — ethereal creatures, and strange, soft, dense, spooky imagery with hints of Beardsley and Klimt and sly laughter — and recently she made a remark on Twitter that suggested she was writing seriously, only I couldn’t find anything under her name or any open pseudonym! So I sent her a message to find out more, which turned into this interview.

KJ: You’re known more as an illustrator, but you’ve moved into ghostwriting and I am fascinated. How did you get from illustration to writing full-time?

Socar: Many years ago, I wrote and illustrated a short comic, “The Zombie Ball,” which appeared in the Fleshrot Hallowe’en special. I posted an excerpt on my blog, and a book packager reached out and asked if I’d be interested in writing middle-grade fiction. I thought writing middle-grade fiction could be a quick route to children’s illustration gigs, so I said yes.

As it turned out, I never wrote any middle-grade fiction (or illustrated any). I didn’t understand the market at all. Instead, I spent years writing “for fans of” books (something popular would come out, and I’d dash off something in the same vein). It wasn’t glamorous work, but it taught me to write fast in a variety of genres, and to identify what would sell.

As my illustration career took off, I focused mainly on that, and let the writing fall by the wayside. But when my vision failed, I decided to pursue ghostwriting more seriously. By that time, my original publisher had gone out of business, and I wasn’t sure how to break back in. I Googled “ghostwriting jobs,” which led nowhere—mostly, I found Upwork gigs and content mills paying pennies a word. Then, I researched book packagers, and found a few that felt right.

At the moment, I’m doing contract work for two packagers, one of which produces mainly romance, the other YA fiction.

KJ: How does being, or having been, an illustrator feed into your writing?

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