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:, and also by those very kind people who throw a few dollars towards it via the tip jar: — 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 (starts at US$1/month!) or through the tip jar at

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.

(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

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?

Continue reading

Flight — to be published by PS Publishing

Illustration in pen and ink with digital colour of a girl in a pink gown walking into a thicket of improbable roses, watched by a fox. A castle is in the background.

Some exciting news about a project that’s been a rumour for a while now. Angela Slatter‘s story Flight, with illustrations by me, is being published by PS Publishing UK, and is currently in layout and design mode.

More on that as it becomes available! In the meantime, PS Publishing have published Angela’s The Heart is a Mirror for Sinners and other stories, with cover art by Danielle Serra and an introduction by Kim Newman.

Mother Thorn — book trailer

From A Licence to Quill comes this book trailer for Juliet Marillier’s Mother Thorn, and other tales of courage and kindness, illustrated by me.

The Serenity Press hardcover special edition is out now, and the trade release of the linen cover is in April 2021. More on that as the date approaches!

My Dalek and Other Animals

A Dalek! This is for one of my very favourite books, the gentle, chaotic, loving My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell’s autobiographical account of an erratic English family relocating to Corfu in the 1930s. (I have finally picked up a copy with the dust jacket shown at that link). 

If you’re looking for an adaptation of it, there are several. I think the series are flawed because this is not a story which can be drawn out. All the urgency of it comes from knowing that the overlapping, unfraught episodic adventures must end at the back cover. For this, among many other, reasons, my favourite adaptation is the delightful 2005 BBC movie, which stars Imelda Staunton, Tamzin Merchant, Matthew Goode and Russell Tovey, et al.

(For more Daleks, see The Dalek Game.)

January calendar — houses running from girls

Note: This calendar is supported by patrons, who get it a little bit early, along with other sneak-peeks and behind-the-scenes art:, and also by those very kind people who throw a few dollars towards it via the tip jar:

Chicken-legged huts for January! To… open the year with a sense of momentum. I’ll pretend that’s it. Also: HAPPY NEW YEAR, and may it be very much so.

There are two colourways (my favourite is below), or you can colour in your own.

It is not yet up on Redbubble, but it will be soon, so stay tuned if you’re into art on things.

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 (starts at US$1/month!) or through the tip jar at

(Not) illustrating Travelogues

While filing art recently, I found early printouts of some of the threads that would become Travelogues.

Pencil sketch of foxgloves, over cut-off text.

These were made before I knew what on earth these records of journeys should become, and I was trying to work out whether they could (or ought) to be illustrated.

Pencil sketch of cow, tractor, and boat, over cut-off text.

I sketched my way through, and eventually realised they should not. The words that make up Travelogues were already very visual; those images needed to stand alone.

Pencil sketch of violin, sack, tree in pot, over cut-off text.

But there are metaphors and sounds in there, too, and graspings after meaning that I realise now might have been flattened into a single dimension, if I’d illustrated them.

Pencil sketch of passenger looking out a train window, over cut-off text.

It’s a peculiar chemistry, working in words and images. Illustrating Flyaway, I realised that I often use illustrations to annotate, and that the academic work I was doing parallel to Flyaway had drawn that away (more on that here: Illustrating Flyaway).

Pencil sketch of abandoned vehicles, a window with leaves against it, ruined jetty, tanker, over cut-off text.

On the other hand, this loose, light, pencilled style suited Margo Lanagan’s Stray Bats very well — perhaps because it was a way of linking minds and teasing out thoughts (as, indeed, the text itself was — it’s a delightful chapbook of vignettes and I highly recommend it).

Pencil sketch of workman, over cut-off text.

Travelogues, however, already contained all the snapshots I was trying to capture, and the rhythm of the railroad, and its sounds, and the strange tunnels of the mind.

Pencil sketch of waterbird, over cut-off text.

Travelogues: Vignettes from Trains in Motion is available from Brain Jar Press, and through good bookstores and the usual online suspects.