August Calendar: Coracle Race!


I have been travelling for weeks, and still feel like I’m in motion. So, for August: a coracle race! (Also brought to you by a coracle-bound mouse in Kij Johnson’s forthcoming The River Bank (illustrated by me!), late-night discussions of Narnia and Reepicheep while at Readercon, and by all my supporters on Patreon, who get the calendar early – you can too!).


Edit: I left this open to confusion. These calendar mice are not specifically in The River Bank, but the monochrome fellow below is, and the book does of course feature certain folk Messing About In Boats.


You can see more River Bank illustrations at Light Grey Art Lab in Minneapolis, or preorder the book from Small Beer Press


I had to research coracle races for this calendar, and the energy expended is hilariously disproportionate to the speeds achieved.

As usual, the calendar is below – you can print it in colour, or in black and white to colour it yourself.

Edit: The repeating design is now up on Redbubble (all sorts of things) and Spoonflower (fabric and wallpaper.)

If you like the calendars, please do consider supporting them on Patreon. $1 a month adds up and goes a long way towards keeping your friendly neighbourhood illustrator sufficiently caffeinated to get them done!

August Calendar ColourAugust Calendar Lines

Illustration Friday: Summer

Where sky and water meet,
Where the waves grow sweet,
Doubt not, Reepicheep,
To find all you seek,
There is the utter East.

– Reepicheep’s lullaby, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis

Illustration Friday: Summer

It is not summer here, although it has been the warmest June on record. Wednesday it finally turned cool. So here is a memory from summers having wonderful adventures in Western Queensland pretending we were having wonderful adventures in Narnia.

The elements are cut-paper silhouettes (of course!), with colour and texture added digitally after the event.

As usual, this is a warm-up/cleanser between other projects…

And here are the original paper pieces:

Before photo - Illustration Friday: Summer

Illustration Friday: Sweet

This week’s Illustration Friday picture began, as usual, with ballpoint notebook sketches. The White Witch and Edmund, with the enchanted Turkish Delight, were strong contenders, and then I remembered… (fair warning, this isn’t a pleasant story if you are fond of rabbits)

Illustration Friday: Sweet

Once, we lived out west and had two cats. One was fat and slept all day, the other was slender and twitchy, and assumed to be the huntress (as it turned out, there was a reason the first was well-fed and exhausted by daylight). As cats are wont to do, they occasionally left gifts – bouquets of feathers, mice with curled paws – on the verandah, usually for my mother. One day, the sacrifice was a young rabbit. Apparently unable to catch two (one for dinner and one for the boss), the cat compromised, ate the top half of the rabbit and left the bottom half propped up against the wall, spotlit in a beam of morning sun. My mother, awaking and emerging to greet the day, discovered this tribute and exclaimed, “Oh, how sweet! A little pair of furry britches!”

The Dalek of the Dawn Treader

The Dalek Of The Dawn Treader

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and most particularly for Reepicheep (the bold, the indomitable, the vain, the… always reminded me very slightly of Hercule Poirot?) Dawn Treader is not my favourite of the Chronicles of Narnia, and yet it has so many of my favourite scenes – falling into the painting, Lucy in Caspian’s tunic, Eustace crying to the moon, Goldwater, the lily sea. And it does have one of my favourite first lines, out of so many: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

Each of the novels has so much its own feel – the odd, mannered Edwardian fantasy and fresh discovery of The Magician’s Nephew, the childlike, wish-fulfilment, occasionally dark, myth-steeped allegory of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the untouched-by our world, desert-city-mountain, 1001-nights pursuit of The Horse and his Boy, the midnight, lost-heir, cloak-and-dagger battles (and that taste of adult loss) of Prince Caspian, the salt-air and white-sails episodic quest (within quest) Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the death, betrayal and depression of The Silver Chair, the sweeping, contained, final beginning of The Last Battle. And Pauline Baynes’ illustrations catch each style with such perfect, consistent flexibility.

This is how I most like series, I think. Linked, locked into each other, yet each complete and Its Own Story. Diana Wynne Jones did this as well, although in a more extreme fashion across fewer books. It satisfies my desire for more story, while not ruining my memory of an already-perfect tale.

The Dalek, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Dalek, The Witch and the Wardrobe

This instalment of the Dalek Game is obviously for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and of course for Pauline Baynes’ illustrations which are Narnia for me, and whose White Witch (so elegant) is the one true Jadis, no matter how magnificent Tilda Swinton was.

Narnia infused my childhood – they are among the earliest books I remember reading (and being read, and reading aloud every year). For me they are the standard of wonder, the true quality of fairytale and fantasy – almost tangible, utterly ethereal, the best of the mundane and the least trammelled by the dullness of the world. Through the door and into the woods, through the desert and over the sea, forests and hunts, high romance and low loving adventure, “once upon a time” and all stories (they begin, after all, when Sherlock Holmes was living in Baker Street and the Bastables were digging for treasure in Lewisham Road), and always. Unlike The Lord of the Rings, which gained the third foothold in my heart, they were almost within reach, and unlike The Chronicles of Prydain (which I learned to love between Tolkien and Lewis) they never ended. They barely even began.

And here is a bonus drawing – originally for a card, with a touch of greenery added for current purposes:

Queen Susan

The Dalek Chair

The Dalek Chair

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for C. S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, the second-last book of the Chronicles of Narnia, the third to feature Prince Caspian, the second in which that world extends for a moment into our own, and the one with the most obvious Doctor Who connection: in the BBC movie, Puddleglum the (highly respectable) Marshwiggle was played by Tom Baker (the fourth Doctor).

I loved Puddleglum. This was not my favourite book, but I am hard pressed to commit to one. Many of my favourite scenes are in this: Puddleglum, of course – his misery and bravery and selfishness and speeches. The immense hospitality of the giants. The first comprehension of the enormous ruins. Jill trying to run for safety in her dress and cloak. The press and darkness of the world beneath the ground. The lamps going out one, by one, by one. And the wholesome, laughing, dangerous Lady of the Green Kirtle.

One of the many things I love about the Chronicles of Narnia is how various the books are. The series isn’t a neat sequence of events, like most, or one book split into one (Lord of the Rings), or even the measured progression of styles that echoes the path of growing older (Chronicles of Prydain). Each has such a different feel, from the heavily allegorical The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, to the elegiac The Last Battle, the Edwardian adventure of The Magician’s Nephew (which name-checks E. Nesbit after all, in addition to letting she-who-would-become-the-White-Witch rampage around London), the splendid, heart wrenching nautical adventures of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the truest goodbyes are in that book), the embroidered and stylised The Horse and his Boy, the cloak-and-dagger, die-in-a-ditch adventures of Prince Caspian. And I love the way they nest and overlap, telescope and view each other from great distances: The Horse and his Boy takes place within the last paragraphs of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which in turn takes place within a wardrobe built from the wood of a tree grown in the last paragraphs of The Magician’s Nephew, and yet the Pevensie children have grown so little older when they discover the ruins of what they had known as a beautiful palace. In The Silver Chair Jill meets Caspian as an old, old man while Eustace still remembers him as a young King, and yet when they return to the dying world in The Last Battle, they have come from a meeting with the Pevensies and Polly and Diggory who were still alive in ours.

As a result, I find it difficult to disentangle the books – oh, I could give a good accounting of the plots, but my love of each is coloured by the others. They are some of the earliest books I was given and learned to read. Whenever my little sister had the choosing of books to be read in the evenings she would choose the Silver Brumby books, and I would choose Narnia. I read them aloud to her, and at Easter when the regular crowd of friends (still good friends! camp with one this weekend, coffee with three yesterday and the marriage of another in a week!) came to visit us at the property, we would sprawl in afternoons across my bed and read. I read them to friends at college. I went to Camp Narnia – a week long camp on a macadamia nut farm in the Gold Coast hinterland, where we lived and breathed a book for a week. I was possibly somewhat obsessed. But the scenes and the feel and Pauline Bayne’s illustrations still colour so much of my imagination.

The Horse and his Dalek

The Horse and his Dalek

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for C. S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy, the 2.95th (in internal chronology) of the Chronicles of Narnia.

Oh, I did not like that book when I was small and first in love with Narnia, and not for any of the reasons which may restrain some effusions about it. It was because it was out of the chronology, it felt wrong, it was hot and dry and urgent and belonged to the wrong sort of fairy tale world, and never touched on ours, and Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy were grown up and talking about political alliances, there were tombs…

It was, for me, an earlier experience like that of I Capture the Castle: by the time I was a few years older, The Horse and his Boy was my favourite of the Chronicles, and for the same reasons I had disliked it (and at the age I discovered Le Guin’s Tombs of Atuan) – because it was high adventure, chases across deserts and through bustling cities, stories of families and dynasties and separated twins, a glimpse of the wider world outside of Narnia, of keener hungers and cruelties, of convoluted stories, and people who told stories beautifully, of deceit and escape and reunitings, of dear characters briefly glimpsed as older and wiser (of the Pevensies on their first adulthood, and Mr Tumnus dancing).

Also, dramatic renactments of it involved carrying precariously-perched Lasaraleen Tarkheenas around on makeshift litters, which (if you were not playing Lasaraleen) was tremendous fun.

In other news: I love my new computer, although I now no longer have time to make a cup of tea while images are being cropped. I spent a beautiful morning talking tales (and receiving a private telling) from the enchanting Alexandra McCallum. She told me some Irish tales I did not know, but which may bring some elements of the prolonged work-in-progress together perfectly. I spent twilight sitting on the steps with Aimee reading Georgette Heyer aloud and drinking rosella tea. As far as I can tell Aimee is currently making a dream-team of actors she would like to see play Doctor Who.

Illustration Friday: Slither

Illustration Friday: Slither

The Lady of the Green Kirtle (from The Silver Chair), mid-change, sporting a rather ’90s updo. Pen and ink and digital colour.

In other news, my hair was cut again (a group effort, this time, and not something which should be done the morning of your birthday party, mid-preparations, but no harm done). Also, aside from other projects, I have been working on a thank-you card design. My little sister (and style consultant) vetoed the first design (ink and watercolour bougainvillea flowers), but I finished the new design tonight and will post it once I print and write and send all the cards.

Small Kingdoms

I have written two fan letters, but there is a third I would have liked to have written. Perhaps I discovered Pauline Baynes at an age when I did not know to think of storytellers as real and separate people – or perhaps she was of an age I assumed had long ago become history. I only really realised today that Pauline Baynes was still alive until a few days ago.

Pauline Baynes’ illustrations are my favourite and the most influential. She taught me to see words and pictures and stories (all stories, I think, as well as those I loved because of her) as deep and beautiful things: windows, not mirrors. Those detailed maps and tiny vignettes frustrated me with their promise – the certainty! – of real and green lands just through the page. I could smell the heather and snow of Narnia, feel the hot winds of Calormene, taste the salt of the seas, know the perils of the far islands and the edge and the end of the world.

Her pictures were not inferior to the stories. They were part of them and half the enchantment. When another hand takes over, Narnia is less and different. When the exuberant marginalia are removed, Farmer Giles loses his charm and good humour and becomes a bawdy ogre.

Pauline Baynes taught me what stories and illustration – simple clear inked lines without colour or dazzle – could be. Allan Lee and John Howe may divide the rest of Middle Earth between them and welcome to it. Hobbiton and Bombadil belong to Pauline Baynes. The hills and farms of the little kingdom (before England had one king), when knights tangled themselves in chain mail and dogs spoke (dog) latin and farmers loaded blunderbusses with old nails and went out in search of hapless but well-spoken dragons – they are all Baynes’ as much as Tolkien’s.

The dying Aslan, the brave mice, Aravis seated cross-legged telling her story, the marshwiggle’s long streak of misery, Susan dancing with Tumnus, Lucy (oh, Lucy!) barefoot on the Dawntreader wearing Caspian’s tunic, Jadis magnificent and mad driving a hansome cab through London – those memories are gifts Lewis could only have given me through Pauline Baynes.

Her pictures did not explain or apologise or merely accompany. They were not aids to the words. They spoke and created and illuminated all those small bright kingdoms and I hope I never come to an age when I cannot take out those books and pore over them, and pour those bright worlds like jewels through my fingers.

Illustration Friday: Fail


An illustration for an as-yet-unwritten article (or essay or… there are other possibilities for this) on the Chronicles of Narnia, tentatively titled “Did Susan Fail?” (or “Did Lewis Fail Susan?”). I’m not ready to give away my conclusions yet.

This picture takes up most of an A4 sheet and is much larger than I usually work. You can see it closer to the original size here.

It is pen and ink and about four hours work on the pencil and final. The pens were unipin Fine Lines, 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, 0.5 and 0.8. I had hoped to use my dip pen and new nibs on this, but convenience dictated the unipins.

Now I’m exhausted and my elbow hurts. If I had my time over, I would do a bit more research and put more symbolism in (I had vague plans for the design on the other side, but that will have to wait until an appropriate topic comes along). The research I did do was fun. One reason I like illustration is the research – it appeals to that part of me which likes to read the encyclopaedia.

Oh, and by way of comparison here is one of the thumbnail roughs for the picture, slightly larger than actual size:

Illustration Friday thumbnail

Comments and criticism are, as ever, welcome.