Chain of Iron (with illustrations) — NYT bestseller

It’s an illustrator’s prerogative to bask in some reflected glory, so here’s Cassandra Clare’s Chain of Iron, for which I made 10 silhouette illustrations, heading up the NYT Young Adult bestsellers!

Cover art by Cliff Nielsen

I’ll put up a proper process post soon, but in the meantime, here’s a behind-the-scenes shot of one of the more complex illustrations:

And here’s the full NYT list.

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!)

Once more, with feline

I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy drawing cats (Cats; Stray Bats). Lately, going through files, I keep coming across sketches and projects with cats in them.


They appear in a variety of media and, in some cases, distinctly different approaches and styles. Taken en masse, they function as something of a sampler (On making samplers).

It’s not just a way of offering different treatments to a client, but of exploring the subject. How much you can communicate in a silhouette will translate into a line drawing; the movement and roundness of a line drawing feeds back into a silhouette (more about silhouette drawings here: Party Portrait).


Sketches of Church for a design for Shadowhunters leggings

Similarly, producing a large cat can teach you a lot about which gestures you can select in order to produce a small cat, while making a tiny cat gives you the minimum detail you need to create a large cat — anything more is a bonus.


Cover detail for Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Creature Court novels

Or even how little information is needed to read as “cat” at all (and how to know when you’ve gone too far).

The shifting of styles is important not just when working out the style, but working out where the weight of a story is — in the picture of the cat itself, or the trail of paint below it? That might not correlate with the amount of detail in the picture.


And every new cat teaches you more about that style you’re working with, as well as about the possibilities of cats, and suggests details and poses to carry off into other styles (or tactfully leave behind).


Art and writing activities and exercises:

  • Take a small scene (drawn or written, your own or someone else’s — if you can’t think of anything, then simply imagine a cat). Make a list of styles/genres (Pre-Raphaelite, Art Deco, Pop…; Da Vinci, Mary Sheppard, Banksy…; Tolkien, Montgomery, Funke…; Hardboiled, Edwardian comedy, 21st-century travel writing…). Roll dice (or point at random) to choose one, then quickly rough out how that original scene would change when reworked in that style. Try it again, and see what happens now. What works, what shifts, what new details do you discover about the scene or the style or your own preferences?
  • Picking one image (or animal) to pursue through different styles is a lovely thematically coherent way to create a sampler for your own reference.
  • If you’re stuck indoors with other people, you could easy make this a sort of round-robin/Exquisite Corpse/Telephone game, each writing a short scene or then passing it to the next person to change it into a different genre, and then on to the next until it becomes something entirely different.
  • A game like this can of course become its own project — see for example Matt Madden’s comics book 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style (“inspired by the French author Raymond Queneau’s 1947 book Exercises in Style (Fr Eng), itself inspired by Bach’s Art of the Fugue“). And slightly less formally, Catherynne M. Valente’s “decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery” Radiance contains a backstory that keeps shifting genres as its film-making characters work out how best to retell it.



Queen of Air and Darkness — Banner


This is a banner illustration I drew for Cassandra Clare’s Queen of Air and Darkness, the final novel in her Shadowhunters trilogy, The Dark Artifices.

It was of course a lot of fun (mitred corners!), but also an interesting challenge to do an illustration of an object that contains an illustration by a character, which is itself in a different medium (and not the first such Shadowhunters illustration I’ve done, either!). But there is a reason, after all, that I love sketching in art galleries.

I was also able to drop into the Simon & Schuster offices and admire paperstock. Shout-out here to Art Directors Russell Gordon (now of 1000 Jars) and Nicholas Sciacca, who have been a delight to work with.

Finally, here is a glimpse at the process behind it: rough positioning and ideas in my notebook; pencil layouts and different treatments; test for a woodcut effect in scratchboard; pen and ink tests.


And now it’s out as a patch from Topatoco, too!


Photo pinched from Cassie Clare’s instagram