River Bank process – first response

This is the first process post for my illustrations for Kij Johnson’s wonderful The River Bank, from Small Beer Press.

The first step for the illustration project (after an emailed ohmygoodnessyes when Small Beer asked me about it) was to read the manuscript. I like to print a manuscript, if possible, because then I can draw my responses directly onto it. It makes for a more immediate response, but also means I can match an idea with the relevant passage again easily when I need to go back and check details!

For some projects, like Angela Slatter‘s The Bitterwood Bible and other recountings, the initial response is very close to the final illustration. The River Bank required more work and refinement (you can see at top right that I was still working out Badger) but many of these early notes recognisably found their way into the final illustrations.

Frequently, I find it difficult to objectively assess a manuscript simply as a book – this is partly because it doesn’t yet have a cover by which to judge it, but mostly because I am reading it looking at one very specific aspect: the visuals. It takes a second reading, in a non-illustrator headspace, to appreciate the text on its own terms. The River Bank, however, lifted off the page even on that first, pragmatic reading. I think it’s because of Kij Johnson’s delightful visual language – I’ve just finished her World Fantasy Award winning novella The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, purely as a reader, and my goodness I want to draw every page.

November Calendar: a goblin market

For this month’s calendar, a Goblin Market, brought to you by my supporters on Patreon (it would be lovely if you could join us! There’s advance news and sneak-peeks of projects).

I don’t recall, now, why I was thinking of Christina Rossetti’s poem. One does, I suppose, from time to time.

The sisters ought to both have yellow hair, but there was too much yellow in one area and so they are now just… two more girls walking through the market.

Bonus fact: The 10th anniversary edition of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones (with my illustrations!) comes out in November. I had to illustrate a page of a menu, but there wasn’t enough information in the book to complete a whole page, so I filled it out with fruit from Christina Rossetti’s poem.

 

As an aside, my favourite of the many interpretations of “Goblin Market” (although not the most convincing) is that it can be read as a diatribe against the rise of advertising and consumer culture.

 

That is a wombat at the top right of the full illustration. Many of you probably know this, but I saw some friends find out recently so maybe it isn’t as widespread a piece of knowledge as I thought: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Christina Rosseti”s brother) had two pet wombats, which is why they occasionally get into Pre-Raphaelite art.

The calendar can be printed from the files below – pre-coloured, or to colour yourself! And if you like these calendars, please consider supporting them for $1 or so a month (or, if you prefer not to subscribe but would still like to toss something in the direction of your friendly neighbourhood artist – think of this as illustrative busking – my PayPal link is paypal.me/tanaudel).

Inktober: Trail

Ink and imitation gold leaf again for Inktober prompt “trail”. This is Mabel from E. Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle. I’m loving working with gold leaf, but I think I need to work at a larger size to get the degree of control and detail I want.

Inktober: fat; mysterious

Inktober: fat; mysterious

I have missed doing challenges, like Inktober and Illustration Friday. I’m flying to the World Fantasy Convention in 12 days, and am frantic with deadlines and art show preparation, so it seemed like the perfect time to dip my toe back into those waters.

… that’s a little bit flippant, but not entirely. In times like this, it’s easy to forget to just have a good time occasionally, and why I got into this in the first place.

 

The River Bank!

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Kij Johnson’s The River Bank is now a real, published book that exists in the world. It is a beautiful story – charming and jaunty, and a delight to read as well as illustrate.

In addition to its many native felicities, the text is embellished by Kathleen Jennings’ beautiful incidental illustrations, grace notes sounded in E. H. Shepard’s mode with a line reminiscent of Beatrix Potter and a sensibility all Jennings’ own.”
— Amal El-Mohtar, NPR

One final, important point: Kathleen Jennings’s period-style illustrations add just the right extra magic to make “The River Bank” a complete triumph. If he were still around, Kenneth Grahame himself would be wildly applauding.
— Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

I’m away from my scanner at the moment, but will put up some process details. In the meantime, here is one of my favourite drawings:

RiverBank-Usual-Suspects
The Usual Suspects

 

October Calendar – skeletons

October-calendar-art-lowres

The October calendar is here, with the support of my patrons (who get it early, along with stationery and other things!).

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Here is a door hanger from last month’s design

It is spring here (and a warm one!) but I know that is not the primary festive focus of friends in other hemispheres. So this month it is rather happy skeletons.

October-calendar-detail

You can print them either pre-coloured, or to colour in yourself. And if you have a spare $1, please do consider supporting me on Patreon, which helps make the calendars (and more!) possible.

In other news: The harpies are up on Redbubble as T-shirts, notebooks, scarves etc; The River Bank has been published and is very beautiful; the new limited edition Angela Slatter story The Tallow Wife (illustrated by me!) is available at Conflux this weekend, and we are both here to sign it; I will be going to the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio at the beginning of November, and (all going well) will have original art for sale there.

October Calendar - ColourOctober Calendar - Lines

 

Illustration Master Class 2017 – the painting!

My goodness, I had a marvellous and educational time at The IMC 2017. I’m still processing everything I learned – it was a very intensive week. But here is an overview, with the pieces I worked on.

Pieces. The intention of The IMC is that you work on one large piece over the week. As you will see, mine was more of a personal evolution, but not for that reason a failure or loss at all. I had many epiphanies.

(Note: The prompt I worked to was for Seanan McGuire’s Beneath The Sugar Sky, in which there is a rhubarb soda sea, so I also used a lot more pink than I usually would!)

So: At the beginning of the week, when we were still all at the thumbnail stages, I was being heavily influenced by all the fabulous painters around me. Without consciously considering it, I felt I ought to be very painterly.

01painterly-ideals

I’m not a painter. I learned to thumbnail much more boldly, and came to terms with doing that tonally, but in terms of how I was going to execute the idea, I managed to get myself pretty worked up. Although I still rather like the skull above.

Then we had two lectures close together: Irene Gallo’s presentation on colour in art, which featured many illustrations that were much more graphic in style; and Daniel Dos Santos’s lecture, in which I realised that while I resent the fact that his work looks like magic to me, and want to paint well enough to see the point where it comes together, I do not in fact want to paint like him or even paint all that much at all. Just enough to incorporate the lessons into my own style.

So I went back to my desk, scrapped my plans and went back to the extreme basics: Silhouettes. Having cut those out, I played around with the scrap paper, using it as a stencil and adding in details. I found I didn’t mind doing that. That’s just cheating on silhouettes.

And it turned out the reference photos I’d taken when I thought I’d be painting did feed into the shapes and angles of the silhouettes. One of my IMC realisations was that preparations are seldom wasted (lots of my epiphanies on the trip were obvious, and some I could have parroted before).

02recallibration

I’d decided by this time that what I wanted to get out of The IMC was learning how to be at it: learning how to learn. How to get everything I want from a lesson, drag it back to my lair and process it into my own work.

So, next I just added a bit more detail to that silhouette and began building it up in gouache, remembering the little textures I love in medieval paintings and Pauline Baynes’s illustrations.

Now, I was surrounded by painters, but one of the wonders of that is getting to see how people actually think a painting onto the canvas. Getting to watch John Jude Palencar paint and think, “Oh wait, it looks like a painting when he’s finished, but the process looks to me like cross-hatching and wash. I know that. I can think that way.”

It was also good being able to go up to illustrators with a sheaf of pen-and-ink drawings and have them draw over them on tracing paper, and getting to see and hear how they would have solved the same problems.

03Painting

Another realisation was how much tidier having to comply with work health & safety regulations keeps a workspace. I didn’t spill anything.

I was feeling more confident with the gouache now, but I was worried about losing the liveliness in sketches. So for the next piece I did the thumbnail sketch, took reference photos (which I won’t show, as I haven’t the permission of the models, but they look like the world’s most awkward ballroom dancing lesson).

Then I sat down and drew the picture without looking at the reference. Then I used the photos to go back in and adjust details and accuracy. It certainly helped.

04Dance

And I used up the leftover paint drawing in other people’s sketchbooks.

05Scraps

Here’s a drawing of reference photoshoots happening.06Poses

So! On ot the finished pieces:

Here is a digital composition of the silhouettesSilhouettes cover

(The painted silhouettes on their own for comparison)Silhouettes---pink

A little Cake Queen, painted largely without reference, but with obvious Andrew Hem influences on approaching planes of colour.

Cake Queen

An even tinier pen-and-ink version of the lady.

Cake-Queen---ink

Seanan’s Cora swimming. I like the tiny skull so much (you may notice a pattern here).

Cora Swimming

And the final gouache painting of the walking figures.

WalkingFigures

In the end, they were all vignette drawings, but someone who knows me said “Next you’ll learn to draw backgrounds, and then you’ll be a real illustrator.” He got a multipurpose background in his sketchbook.

Another point Irene made was about the elements fantasy illustrators should be able to handle, like horses, and others which it is good to show you can do, like group scenes. That’s why I ended up painting the three walking figures, to check that I could! And since I rather enjoyed it, I started looking for more crowds to draw: Here are the survivors of the IMC at about 2am on the last evening.

07last-night

A few lessons that resonated for me (there were many more – these are the ones which were still echoing around my head this week):

  • Preparation pays off.
  • Thumbnail using tones.
  • Take good, well-lit, detailed reference photos.
  • Keep caps on bottles.
  • Gradients! Use them compositionally.
  • Go to galleries and look at just one thing: a colour, fabric, use of highlights, etc.
  • Watch how ink lines end, and use lines to echo shapes in other parts of the drawing.
  • Whatever you’re doing (in composition, colour, etc), commit and then push it further. This came up a few times over the trip: exaggerating scale, doubling down on ‘errors’ instead of taming them.
  • Skulls and wigs and gauntlets are things people just own and bring to workshops with them.
  • Always do more than you need to, professionally. Get up earlier, or paint images twice, or…
  • The cheerfulness and generosity of real (apparent) confidence.
  • When watching a demonstration, copy it rigorously, then go back and try doing it your own way. I’ve always skipped the middle step, but it turns out I learn more by watching and emulating before getting creative.

… I just pulled out my notes and got distracted by all the wonderful information, but I will leave this list as it is.

But more: It was amazing to be surrounded by professional, excellent artists, all learning and critiquing, helping, posing, advising, sharing advice on brushes and paints, but never doubting the worth and ability of what was on display.

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