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.

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.

Observation Journal — three thoughts about maps

This page of the observation journal is about maps, as well as about a specific book: Mark Monmonier’s Cartographies of Danger: Mapping Risk in America.

It was a fascinating book (and dense — it took a long time to read and absorb). Also, it was published two decades ago and I HIGHLY recommend reading technical books (outside of your own field) that are 20 years out of date — it takes the pressure off having to remember details accurately and is very useful for conversations at parties, because you can usually find someone who is willing to fill in the gaps.

Three map-specific thoughts on reading it:

  • Every map is rhetorical.
    • I had a very invigorating argument with someone on a panel, once, about whether a particular map could be considered as absolutely objective, and they just CAN’T. Especially military maps, which I think was the focus of our debate.
    • Every map exists for a reason, and makes choices, and needs artificially constructed skills to create and/or read it, and presents views and is intended to accomplish (or enable the reader to accomplish) a purpose. That’s their whole reason for existence! And their fascination, power, and possibility.
    • I’ve made a note here to play more with the idea of maps for hyper-specific purposes, but I’ve already touched on this in a few stories (“Kindling”, in which maps suppress the fantastic, and “The Tangled Streets”, in which maps are an expression of the fantastic), as well as illustrated maps. I approach book maps less as tools for physical orientation than as a pool of narrative possibility into which the reader is about to be pushed.
    • Related to this, and equally subjective: I often enjoy introductory descriptions of the location of a story (separate from character action) when (and because) it plays the same role as an illustrated map (of the type I like).
  • All maps are maps of where the dragons are (or might be, or how far they have been pushed back).
    • This is a more lighthearted argument than the one above, but I’m still prepared to have it.
    • I don’t know why I compared this to applying for grants.
  • That maps (like books) are pins stuck in time.
    • For some reason this thought linked to both the Muppets travelling by map and Connie Willis’ characters’ reliance on maps of where bombs fell in the Blitz in Blackout and All Clear. There was also a splendid website that let you go back to maps from specific years of Brisbane’s history and find photos of or from those places in a given year, but I can’t track it down.
Trees sketched for a new map, in progress.

Observation Journal — a sequence of week-in-review pages

Here is a series of end-of-week summary pages from the observation journal. (I wrote about the structure of the summary pages here: reflections and summaries.)

It’s useful having these pages, both to catch big ideas at the end of each week and to look back on them much later, following the little growing fascinations, the recurring epiphanies, the big and little moods, the lessons I did learn and the ones I won’t.

For example, this time I notice that apparently I like these shades of green. (Previously on colours.)

The same goes for the “Things to Do” page: it’s more a list of possibilities than actual tasks, so there are items that are carried forward week to week until they suddenly turn into a project (I did finally order the foil cards), and ones that get set aside, or are written off but suddenly roar back into my field of vision a year later, or are just there as a reminder to keep in mind.

So below is a five-week run of summary pages, with some of the points that now seem most interesting to me extracted.

Week-in-review c 25 April 2020
  • 2020 effectively squashed most of my domestic urges.
  • While the journal is great for writing blog posts, this blog is also one of the things that keeps me reviewing the journal.
  • The (useful, if I act on it) frustration of not making things, whether because of admin commitments or because I’m just splashing around coming up with ideas.
Week-in-review c 2 May 2020
  • I like colour! I do so much linework I need to remind myself of this. It also makes the journal more of a pleasing object to keep and review.
  • The playful aspects of the journal do get into more formal projects.
  • The power of unlikely abrupt intense proximities for creating stories.
  • The joy of being silly when classifying things.
  • The charm of specificity.
Week-in-review c 9 May 2020
  • How much easier everything is if I (am legally allowed to) leave the house for some portion of the day.
  • The effect of a shape on a story.
  • Relatedly, making space for a thing to happen makes it more likely to happen.
  • Flipping and hypothetically remixing a story (my own or others’) is a way to take charge of an idea.
  • How characterisation works when it is done by creating sympathy for a character off the page. (Related, or at least I should link the ideas: Sympathy for characters)
Week-in-review c 16 May 2020
  • Going outside is nice but I have enormous difficulties achieving escape velocity. (My whole family does. I used to have volcano-and-bushfire nightmares in which we kept having to rush back into the house to get things we’d forgotten… thanks Children’s World Book Encyclopaedia and assorted Ash Wednesday bushfire novels.)
  • The charm of playing something (even the magical/unlikely) very straight and low-key. (I think this was prompted by murder mysteries.)
  • I’m more likely to get editing done if I just keep tinkering my way into the story than if I start with some strategic plan.
  • Key ideas (this reference-story, that painting as a visual key) are very useful for narrowing editing choices.
  • Doing something, and keeping on doing it, even in small ways, reduces later bars to entry.
  • The extreme usefulness of tentative mock-solutions. (Not closely related, but not unrelated: ten terrible things.)
Week-in-review c 23 May 2020
  • Changing ONE thing in an idea (varying one character in a story, picking one colour note to commit to), and then following the consequences, is sometimes more interesting than flipping everything.
  • The power of definiteness in first lines. (Staring at sentences; First sentences.)
  • Reading is a necessary and relevant part of the job!
  • The pull that a strong aesthetic exerts both on the story being written and on the reader, to pull them into it. (If the reader is me: aesthetic posts).
  • Perhaps not unrelated to the above: how many of my favourite first lines highlight a setting more than a character.

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 — or I will once we get out of lockdown again!).

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.