Eclipse Online Illustrations – March 2013

These were, alas, the last published illustrations for Eclipse Online:

First was E Lily Yu‘s haunting, keyed-back story of the loss of loss: “Loss, with Chalk Diagrams” – a story with all its colours fading in memory like cold cigarette smoke.

At top is one of the inked drawings I discarded. The final image is at centre. The one at the bottom I adore, but it was a bit too quirky/upbeat for this beautiful understated story.

Loss, with Chalk Diagrams

And very last was An Owomoyela‘s “In Metal, In Bone“. It has been a privilege to read and illustrate all the excellent stories which appeared in Eclipse Online (thank you Jonathan). This one, the final tale, however, had one of the most powerful effects on me. It is a slow build, almost subtle, with a gradual gut-punch that I did not miss, but had to read over to make sure I had not imagined it.

In Metal, In Bone

Eclipse Online Illustrations – January 2013

Alas, Eclipse Online has closed, but the stories are still available online! And they are such very good stories. January’s illustrations were as follows:

First, The Advocate: a small-scale, lovely little story of interplanetary politics and the false privileges and real responsibilities of an unusual position of trust, by Genevieve Valentine.

I wanted to capture a little of the hopes and plans of the story, so went with the fourth sketch.

Genevieve Valentine Sketches

We tried a few colourways, but in the end decided on the red tone, to capture a little of the red Martian light which is so present in the story although it takes place on earth.

 

Genevieve Valentine Web
The second story for the month was F. Brett Cox’s The Amnesia Helmet – bitter nostalgia, part science fiction, part wish-fulfilment (and its consequences).

We went with the illustration involving helmet itself (constructed from a hair dryer), on the right, but I remain fond of the girl on the left, with her bobby socks and borrowed tools.

F Brett Cox illustration

Conflux9 – Speculative Art and Bookcovers, also a unicorn and a dragon

So, a few days before the Natcon in Canberra, the doctor tried to diagnose me with pneumonia. The x-rays came up clear, but I had several days of  alternately lying around only being stopped from climbing the walls because of not being able to breathe (I’m a terribly twitchy patient), and trying to frame art which usually makes me feverish if I didn’t start that way. I was recovering by the time I reached Canberra, but was still quite unwell and spent most of the convention propped up in corners conversing with people who stayed still long enough, and losing my breath whenever I got excited about something. Yet I still managed to Meet People, and Meet People Again, and Pass People in the Distance, and Plan Plans, and Have Plans Planned At Me (thanks all, quite sincerely), and create an impromptu conversation pit and find out that Lewis Morley has a laser, which is awesome and giving me Ideas. Also, to win two Ditmars (Artwork, for the Midnight & Moonshine cover, Fan Artist, and the EG Harvey Award for my piece “Once” in the art show), but fortunately all that required me to do on the day was negotiate the seating plan at the ceremony.

Here is the art hanging at the show – “Ex Libris” at the top and “Once” below. Both went to very good homes:

Conflux9Art

I took part in two panels – the first on speculative art and the second on whether cover art sells books. Both were very well attended (thanks everyone!).

Speculative Art: Shauna O’Meara, Les Petersen, Lewis Morley, Marilyn Pride and Mik Bennett

A lot of the conversation in this turned on the dynamics of paid work, and how that has or hasn’t changed – demands and expectations, the move to lower pay, faster turnaround and so forth. Whether it’s possible to make a living, and how, and whether you can choose and follow and succeed in and live off a single career path. But there is still a lot to be excited about (case in point: LEWIS HAS A LASER and the world cannot fail to be awesome and full of potential while that is the case), and I got to (rather more breathlessly than the topic merited) talk about the chances for people to create new things and put them out in the world (hello Kinds of Blue!) and the generosity of artists (the brilliant resource that is Gurney Journey). I know you can’t always eat ideas, and artists should be paid, but sometimes, brilliantly, serendipitously or due to industry or innovation or kindness the two coincide. And it’s art, and speculative art after all, we get paid to draw dragons, and while the first part is good and right and necessary, the second half is incredible and sometimes it’s healthy just to get excited about the possibilities. I may have begun hallucinating slightly at this point but everyone was very patient.

Does Cover Art Sell Books? Mark Gascoigne, Rowena Cory Daniells, Cat Sparks, Shauna O’Meara

Rowena led this off with a slide show on how she puts together a “resonance file” for her novels, even including photo shoots (much more professional than my lounge-room reference photos of people in cloaks and pyjamas), and Mark supported this approach with reference to authors who put together Pinterest pages of reference which helps a lot in bringing together ideas for covers. I do this a bit myself – it’s a handy way to corral links and ideas which people sent me and also to build up the feel of a world or idea (for some reason, with my own stories, it works better for me in reinforcing ideas after a story is already written). Mark also discussed cover trends and how it is necessary to be ahead but not too far ahead of the trend – that something too far ahead can confuse readers (and bookstore buyers). Also, thumbnailing (how a cover will appear online/in ebooks) and the “blokes in cloaks” trend.

Cat sprung the “what lets self-published/small press covers down” on me, so I talked about how useful an art director is as a mediator of ideas and personalities, and let loose on the trio of typography, dimensions and paper quality which are usually the biggest giveaway, and talked about a short story I once adored and how I looked out for ages for a novel by the same author, and when it came out it had the poorest imaginable cover and in spite of several attempts I couldn’t read the book. I also believe good typography can save bad art, but nothing can save bad typography.

We talked about the template approach which Tor.com uses for its short stories (uniform, professional layout and typography) which unifies and complements the gorgeous art they commission, and the potential for this to be used by small press and self-publishers to create a brand and allow them freedom in tailoring the art while still looking professional.

Eclipse Online illustrations – December 2012

With another two brilliant stories to appear in Eclipse Online in December 2012, Jonathan Strahan and I ironed out some of the formatting for the illustrations. I had been leaning towards the all-over texture with which I was comfortable, but because the layout of the site was to be quite simple, Jonathan preferred a self-framing image, which made sense!

The first story was Christopher Barzak’s restrained “Invisible Men”, an alternate perspective of a classic. It never did what I expected it to, and reminded me more of Wyndham than Wells, using one of my favourite styles of narrator – tangentially involved, observant, apart.

The first image was a darling of mine – a combination of linework and solid texture, with one scan of the endpapers of my great-grandfather’s autograph album, and another of mysterious stains.

"Invisible Men"

Below it (above) is the final, which I do like  (although it is quirkier than the first) because I love drawing floating things. I should reread the story and see if the change of illustration style changes how I read it. I’m looking at the picture again now as I edit this post, and it amuses me.

The next story was Lavie Tidhar’s fragmenting, decades-encompassing social media biography “The Memcordist”. I had just met Lavie at World Fantasy (he won a World Fantasy Award for his novel Osama). It was at this late stage I realised Jonathan had tricked me into illustrating science fiction!

I tried to avoid the inevitable by dwelling on the memory of basil – my housemate had bought some and so I was able to directly reference it, and then eat it while adding colour on the computer. But it was a (deserving) victim of the decision to go for a self-contained style.

"The Memcordist"

And so here is a robot. Metal is an interesting surface to render, but reflections depend on their surroundings and in this case the illustration was in a white void. Adventures in drawing! Science fiction illustration is traditionally about brilliant sleek schematic black and whites, perfect reflections with a highlight of pale gouache, hard lines, bright lights… Occasionally I find a way into it which lets me have fun with lines instead of rulers, and fluid movement instead of angles. At this point I’m still exploring.

Eclipse Online illustrations – October and November 2012

In 2012, Jonathan Strahan relaunched his anthology series Eclipse as an online publication, Eclipse Online (through Nightshade Books), showcasing two original short stories each month. He asked if I’d like to be involved and I said yes (possibly with more vehemence than that implies!).

So, since October, I have been drawing two spot illustrations a month, for stories I am very lucky to be reading. I do so much reading for illustration that I don’t always get to read stories I’m not illustrating. The two, I am happy to say, overlap surprisingly often, but I don’t always know in advance that they are going to! And these are stories I’m so glad I haven’t missed out on reading.

October

The first was “The Contrary Gardener” by Christopher Rowe (fellow Steampunk! contributor, a story of a high-tech agricultural future with an ending which was not what I had come to expect from stories in such worlds. I sent Jonathan a selection – we went with the last. I like the bounding white clouds, but I still cherish a fondness for the brussel-sprout styled balloon.

"The Contrary Gardener"

Next followed the elusive KJ Parker, with “One Little Room an Everywhere”, a title with which I fell in love. The voice, the pragmatism, the gold leaf and icons – an enchanting story, and although it is a cautionary tale as much as a fantasy of magic and buildings, neither the main character nor the story itself are at all unlikable (a common failing of stories of ill-advised behaviour).

This illustration, too, is pen and ink with colour and texture added digitally. I do like this picture – it captures a little of what I enjoyed in the story.

"One Little Room an Everywhere"

November

The first story for November was Eleanor Arnason’s “Holmes Sherlock: A Hwarhath Mystery”, a detective story of translation, admiration, secrets and art photography, and one for which I struggled to choose a representative image because the alienness (or otherwise) of the Hwarhath was not for me the main point of the story – but could override an illustration of one of the more active or landscape images.

"Holmes Sherlock: A Hwarhath Mystery"

And last for November 2012 and this post, Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “Firebugs”, a tale of joint and several individuality, arson and belonging.

With this story, I was trying not to be all Midwich Cuckoos and went for a more symbolic image. Because of the formatting of the site for Eclipse Online, the all-over background of this image and the last one would be discarded for future stories in favour of self-contained spot images.

"Firebugs"

Author Portraits for the Lair of the Evil Doctors Brain

Lair

Over the last little while I have been providing very small illustrations for a series of interviews for the Lair of the Evil Doctors Brain (aka Angela Slatter and Lisa Hannett) which can be found here: http://www.angelaslatter.com/lair-of-the-evil-drs-brain/ and here: http://lisahannett.com/2011/09/28/lair-of-the-evil-drs-brain/

They have invited very impressive guests, and subjected them to the indignity of being drawn in footed pyjamas, up trees and in full Jedi get-up.  All poses and costuming are at the request of the Evil Doctors.

The first was China Mieville (rejectamentalist manifesto) – interview “China Mieville in da Lair”

China Mieville

Stephen Jones (Stephen Jones Editor) – interview “The Peripatetic Life of the Freelance Editor”

Stephen Jones

Jason Nahrung (Vampires in the Sunburnt Country) – interview “Sublime Juxtaposition and Gravitas”

Jason Nahrung

Karen Miller (karenmiller) and Sean Williams (seanwilliams) in their Star Wars capacities – interview “So You Want to Write for a Franchise, or Thanks for my New Kitchen, Mr Lucas”

Karen-Miller-&-Sean-Williams

Kirstyn McDermott (kirstynmcdermott) – interview “Oops, Your Psychosis is Showing”

Kirstyn McDermott - large

And a bonus:

Kirstyn McDermott - small

Exploding Mice! (or: new story for publication)

Illustration Friday: Stripes

Late in 2011, editors Edwina Harvey and Simon Petrie invited a number of people to write stories for their new anthology Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear (due from Peggy Bright Books in June 2012). The title was intriguing, and the topic was elaborated as follows:

“Nothing happens without some initial impetus or spark. But it’s also impossible to predict exactly what will happen once that spark is struck, that match lit. Will the rocket shoot skywards? Will the dragon shoot flames from its mouth if provoked by one more jab from the rusty sword? Will the fireworks display appease, or at least distract, the ruthless, jaded emperor? “

I find set topics attractive, but this turned out to be a very tricky idea on which to get a grip. Almost all stories have something that sets them off, and I came up with scores of excellent impetuses, but those stories all became about what happened afterwards, not about the point of ignition or the catalyst. At last I wrote my way into “Kindling”, and a dingy cafe in an odd, little, over-mapped world: part noir, part fantasy, part steampunk. No images for it – I do occasionally live an unillustrated life – but I managed to name-check the creature in the illustration above (there is also a very oblique Darren Hanlon reference). With adjustments from helpful beta-readers and a few editorial wranglings over the correct nomenclature for several professions, the story was accepted!

The line-up is impressive:

As is the cover from Les Petersen:

The writing of the bio proved to be as fraught as the writing of the story. My final bio is fairly respectable. The original, vetoed bio was written late at night in a state of desperation and included the following edifying anecdote:

“When Kathleen Jennings was young, an old man with an enormous beard who played the piano accordion gave her a Nobel Detonator tin. He told her that Nobel had switched to packaging its detonators in cardboard, but mice ate through the boxes and ran away with the detonators. When the mice bit into the detonators, he heard the mice go “pop, pop, pop”. The theme of this anthology has given her flashbacks to that story.”