Crows on fabric

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My Go-Betweens design is now up on Spoonflower as fabric and wallpaper —  my 8×8″ swatches of Celosia Velvet, Silky Faille, and cotton just arrived this week.

It’s a repeating design based on the April 2020 calendar illustration, and was already up on Redbubble on various things (prints, cushions, shirts, etc).

You can find it (and other designs) by swatch, fat quarter, or yard(s) in my Spoonflower shop.

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Time spent in procrastination is seldom wasted

I have to actively remind myself to leave time to stop and play with materials. Like lying around reading, it is actively part of the job, but rarely feels like it.

It’s closely related to remembering to do studies for a finished artwork, instead of jumping in boots first and flailing away under deadline. When I was starting out, the idea of doing studies seemed exhausting. Now, they’re a joy: just tinkering, really; no pressure; nothing to see here.

[Relatedly, before I actually wrote a novel the idea of doing 17 drafts sounded horrifyingly inefficient. Now it’s nice to be able to work on a piece and tell myself, “no need to stress, I’ve still got thirteen more drafts to play with.”)

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One of the illustration briefs for the 10th anniversary edition of Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel was for an illustration of a blueprint.  Although I do play with cyanotypes, these illustrations were to be in pen and ink — and pretty much the exact opposite. I was determined to do it without trickery, however (aided by the fact that this was an illustration-of-a-documents, not a replica of a document itself).

Above, I was testing an array of chinagraph and Prismacolour pencils, masking fluid, and just painting around the lines.

In the end, as the most complicated (but clearest) option, I went for masking fluid. It’s a liquid rubber that you paint down then watercolour (or ink) over (the picture below is before I added washes of grey ink). When the paint is dry you gently rub or lift away the masking — you can see here that I was using it to keep highlights bright on the glass surfaces.

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(You can see here the ink bottle, wine glass, and magnifying glass from the reference post).

My copies have, I suspect, run afoul of Current Events Impacting International Shipping, but I’ll post more on the process and final illustrations as I can.

Reference objects: Clockwork Angel

Here are a few photos of reference objects for the 10th Anniversary of Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel (previous post about those illustrations is here: Clockwork Angel). They cover a few of my usual sources of reference.

The first is this little angel I found at ReLove Oxley, a wonderful local second-hand shop and cafe. The final angel design didn’t look much like this one, but it was useful for a sense of scale, how to handle fine features, and for the slight metallic finish.

I frequently go to ReLove for coffee, and often find useful reference — I buy enough that for this book they just let me borrow a violin. I walked home carrying it in its case, feeling like a gangster.

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A great deal of reference material, however, comes from around my house. Here’s a parasol that’s been in the bottom of the linen cupboard, a box of beads and bangles, The Myths of Greece and Rome (old books standing in for old books), Mortimer, my Year 12 formal dress, my grandmother’s gloves, and some crumpled paper. Not featured but also starring: spare buttons, fancy embroidery scissors (also a contributor to the Scissors calendar), and my letter-opener.

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Another old book: an 1887 volume of Cassell’s Magazine, printed on horrible Victorian wood-pulp paper which smells like burned sugar and is crumbling away at the edges. It’s a wonderful reference for illustration styles of the era, particularly homewares and mechanical elements, and its inventions page is delightful.

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Look at this: “a small pocket apparatus for the electric illumination of flowers, such as roses, to be worn in the hair or on the dress.”

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Architecture is always a challenge, mostly because I usually prefer to suggest it. Here I was mocking up light and perspective possibilities for a two-story library (the Hydralyte tin is a spiral staircase which did not end up in the picture due to dear lord spiral staircases).

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Fantasy frequently requires images of hands holding glowing things, and I’m gradually accumulating night-lights in order to work that out.

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Sometimes I just have to set up the image. Inkbottle, wine glass and magnifying glass on a sketch for a different illustration.

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More Tallow-Wife glimpses

I’ve been having a wonderful time working through Angela Slatter’s The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales (previously mentioned here: Beginning Sketches) to be published by Tartarus (we hope later this year).

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It’s the third volume of stories in the world of Sourdough and The Bitterwood Bible, and my job is to sketch through it, drawing and reacting — as a reader and fan, as much as an artist.

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I love our approach for these books. It’s a style I have to constantly work towards recreating when I work in a production process that involves thumbnail sketches and pencils and approvals.

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These are pure glimpses of gesture and scene, a little lighthearted, frequently grim. Many pages of them.

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You can seek more sketches (and an extract from the afterword) over on Angela’s blog: The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales.

On silhouettes and further points of connection

This follows on from yesterday’s post about the structural role of triangles in editing and silhouettes. It’s about the points that connect and strengthen fragile pieces of a design (or, if you wish to extend the metaphor in yesterday’s post, of a piece of writing).

This image is my cover design for Kate Forsyth and Kim Wilkins‘ Aurealis-Award-winning collection of linked stories, The Silver Well (Ticonderoga Publications, 2017).

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It’s originally a cut paper silhouette that I then used to make a cyanotype print.

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The physical silhouette is delicate (see yesterday’s post for some examples of scale). While structural requirements of cut-paper silhouettes don’t technically matter for a printed cover, they do for the original art (and I enjoy the constraints it gives me to push against, and the physical possibilities and effects they open up for the illustration).

In this case, there were competing requirements. The silhouette needed to look open, airy, and leafy — not like a complete net. But it also needed to be robust enough to (a) withstand the cutting-out of neighbouring tiny pieces, (b) tolerate being picked up, turned over, scanned, printed with, etc, and (c) hold up when framed, and not tear or sag under its own slight but not insignificant weight.

I dealt with this by tiny overlaps and glancing tangents. These can be a problem in some styles of art, but they’re largely invisible in silhouettes — and need to be, to help with the illusion of twigs and leaves waving free in the wind.

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Red circles showing points of connection

These points mean that the tiny twigs support each other in space. They lock together to create a larger rigid areas. I’ve highlighted those areas below.

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Green areas are the strongest, red areas are more isolated

The strongest areas are the ones in green  — roughly triangular, they’re joined to the larger design along one whole edge, which makes them very stable. The red areas are stable in themselves, but they only connect to the larger design at one point, which means they can still shift about, and that all their weight pulls on that one narrow connection.

In that case, I’d usually at least pay some extra attention to that one point — flaring or thickening it slightly. But I could also have locked the design down further by joining it at least at the yellow circles shown below.

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Yellow circles show likely connection points that would add physical strength

Joining it there would have created a much larger rigid area, as shaded in yellow below. But it might also have made the design that bit too dense and self-enclosed for an illustrated branch, more suited to, e.g., a lace edging.  But it is an illustration, and some parts have to be given their freedom.

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The extra connection points would have created this larger area

When I begin a silhouette design, I don’t sit down and count up the connections. The process itself, born of experience and accident and a bit of lacemaking at one point — feels more organic.

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Thumbnail sketches for the cover of The Silver Well

The designs starts with looping scribbles and works its way towards a final arrangement that pleases me. And yet the points where those sketched loops cross over each other have power, and by the final stage those points of connection come into play, tying it all together.

To link it back to writing and editing: those points of connection are often the ones that need to be tightened during editing — little clarifying comments, ambiguous foreshadowing, word choices that resonate across apparently unrelated sections.

Here, by the way, is the final cover — the Aurealis-Award-winning book (which is lovely, and has internal illustrations too) is available from Ticonderoga Publications.

The Silver Well

Art & editing: three points

I mentioned the “rule of three” in my post about keeping editing checklists (aka lessons repeatedly instilled in me by Angela Slatter).

It’s a principle I work with when cutting out silhouettes. Paper is fragile, particularly when cut this fine, and although it’s light, it still has enough weight to tear itself.

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There are variations and opinions on the the idea of the “rule of three”. But tradition and culture and habit aside, it’s in the editing checklist less for its fairy-tale echoes and more for its properties as a physical structural corrective to floppy story elements.

One of the few practical constructions skills I remember from helping (helping?) my dad around the property (apart from the fact a Cobb & Co hitch is often one of the strongest elements of a building), is the importance of a brace — the beam or pole or cross-limb that creates a rigid triangle and stops objects leaning slowly sideways. Think of the planks that make the diagonals of the “Z” on the stereotypical barn door.

That inherent structural stability of triangles is the reason that finally made the idea of three references or repetitions of a clue, background element, etc, make sense to me.

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One reference (or hint, or point of contact) can be fine, if the material is sturdy enough — which paper isn’t. Lots of references can be stylistically fun, if not unwieldy — in a silhouette, they can create confusion, until you only have a field of light and shadow with no sense to it.

But in case of doubt, three little anchor points can be enough to create a stable field within the story, and enough of those form a spiderweb that can hold together quite a fragile lace.

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Four linked covers for Corella Press

 

Some stationery silhouettes

Very occasionally I remember in time to make actual art for family occasions — usually featuring interchangeable canids, frequently in haste (both the subjects and the artist).

They’re also studies in things that amuse me — what to do with a bird’s feet, how dogs run. How many anchor points are needed to stop a fine branch from being too fragile (you can see on the right where the branches cross, and glance against the tail). How many look too dense or awkward.

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Whether to add feather details (sometimes), create movement, or change my mind part way and end up with a hop.

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Whether to cut out a circle (no). How to keep momentum in a decorative medallion,

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The canids vary in style. Some foxier than others, with (here) a rare sighting of a miniature schnauzer (her name’s Indie).