Undine Love: Reprint, new art

A big week for writing news! In addition to the new piece, my short story “Undine Love” has just been reprinted on Tor.com!

It’s a story of promises and hospitality, set in Australia (or something like it), and I’m still rather fond of its heroine and her not-entirely-absent family.

Ever since doing the cover for The Border Keeper I keep thinking it would be a great idea to cut out strands of wire.

This is the first publication of Undine Love since it appeared in ASIM in 2011, and although Tor.com doesn’t usually illustrate reprints, I wanted to do a fresh set in the style of the silhouettes in Flyaway.

But you’ll need to go to https://www.tor.com/2020/06/11/undine-love-kathleen-jennings/ to see more…

More legs than strictly necessary

“I had a little pony,
His coat was dapple grey
…”

To make nursery rhymes creepy, usually only a slight wilful misinterpretation is necessary.

An additional leg here or there.

The slight twist that makes the familiar uncanny.

“… I lent him to a lady
To ride a mile away.

Flyaway: A silhouette in gold!

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Looook at it! I did not know there were going to be foils on the case (under the dust jacket) of the Tor.com edition of Flyaway!

(These are the production manager’s photos for approval)

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They are so shiny!

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I remain fascinated by what different colour treatments do to a silhouette — what grows and narrows, what turns into a void or lifts off the paper.

It’s just over two months before publication (although both the US and Australian editions are available for pre-order now).

I’ve written more on the illustrations here:

 

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).

The Silver Well

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).

Silhouettes, or: Outline View

Occasionally when I talk about silhouettes, I don’t mean silhouettes-as-finished-art but silhouettes-as-part-of-the-process. See, for example Art Checklist (and writing) and the activities in Party Portrait.

Liking silhouettes as I do, I enjoy hiding line and colour layers occasionally, just to see what’s underneath them. But it’s also a useful way to assess the clarity of a design. Most of these unicorns (from this month’s calendar) are fairly self-explanatory, for example. But the one scratching itself needs a little more effort/horse experience to parse: not itself a bad thing, sometimes a silhouette can function as a gestural sketch, and compact designs are appealing.

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Just seeing them in silhouette can also help show up anatomical or perspective vagaries — not always a problem, depending on style, but it’s nice if they’re deliberate (or at least plausibly deniable).

They’re also useful for assessing whether a certain mood is conveyed (this is from March’s Giants).

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They’re also useful for assessing whether I’m happy with how the space is filled — whether it needs more variation, or pollen-dots to fill in vacuums (this one is from October’s “Cold Hands“).

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I’ve been marking essays and commenting on scene cards, for uni, so I suppose the writing application for all this is — as for illustration — really an editing one. The effect can be replicated by writing an outline after the draft is finished, in order to see the clean shape or if any rowdy elements need to be pulled into line.

Small projects and tiny unicorns

Another pleasure of small projects is falling into tiny pieces that exist purely to pursue a pleasing line, or to test a sliver of an idea, with no immediate or greater purpose: a single silhouette, a miniature of a tree, a poem, a vignette.

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These were some tiny silhouettes I did two years ago, in Brittany at the Arthurian festival at the Château de Comper (an enchanting — and enchanted — place). It was a hot summer day, and I was sitting at our table under a canopy, watching a girl on a unicorn riding towards the food van (“Morgana le Crepe”), listening to French novelists discussing the state of the publishing industry but (without the very able translation of Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner!) able to say very little more in French than “Harry Potter! Tu es un Sorcier.”

 

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(I don’t think I ever posted about this trip — a bit of catching up to do on sketchbooks!)

Hundreds of dear little lines

Usually when I share process pictures of silhouettes, they’re for specific commissions, and the final transferred line is very tidy — it’s a function of the approval process, the need to fit specific formats. But when I work on my own pieces, for gifts or for patrons or as samples to test treatments for a larger project, the drawing isn’t neat at all.

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A stationery-design-in-progress for Patreon, doubling as a test patch for another project

It’s a graphite scribble directly onto the back of the paper, working out the curves and patterns, the tension and shapes, gesture and narrative. Dozens of searching lines until the promise of something is there on the page (this example is unusually tidy). When I cut, it’s a matter of choosing the right line from those there, improvising along structures established in the fray, or trusting to an average of equally appealing choices.

In a conversation today I realised that people think I’m being wildly productive and well-adjusted, and I’m really not. This isn’t to seek pity or sympathy (beyond the current blanket baseline!) — it’s just that I don’t usually talk too much about life outside art/writing on here, and wanted to keep it like that! Everything’s not great (although I’m much better off than many people and recklessly optimistic in company) and it’s been difficult to do anything at all except flail at urgent changes to courses I tutor, or else sit and stare at the sunlight (the weather’s been wonderful, which just makes it more surreal — usually disasters come with weather, and scents of mud or smoke heavy on the air).

But when I can, I potter and chip away at things, and it all comes back to art in the end, as usual — or at least, to stories. Making little lines, and flailing, and feeling my way back to a shape on the paper. Just one. And then another.

And the weather is marvellous.

Process post: Chapter opener for Finding Baba Yaga

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Cover design by Jamie Stafford Hill

A little while ago, I illustrated a chapter title page for Jane Yolen’s verse novella Finding Baba Yaga, from Tor.com (art direction by Irene Gallo).

I had drawn chapter headers before — illustrations that ornamented and promised and hinted and summed up individual chapters. Along with endpapers, they were one of my earliest wishlist illustration jobs (largely because of Charles Vess’ work in that field — I’m particularly fond of his headers for The Faery Reel: Tales From the Twilight Realm and The Green Man: Tales From the Mythic Forest anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling).

Chapter header illustrations are, I think, a little like epigraphs in some regards (in Flyaway, I think of my little silhouettes as functioning a tiny bit that way).

An single, repeated chapter opener is a different proposition. In this case, I had a whole page to play with, rather than a narrow horizontal band, which meant I could at least fantasise about treading merrily into Kelmscott Press territory.

Here are the early thumbnail sketches (and a test cut-paper silhouette).

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A single, repeated chapter opener is necessarily both more ornamental and less illustrative than either individual headers or incidental illustrations or a book cover. It is not the first feature that advertises a book. If it sums up the book, it can’t be too obvious about it. It’s not a cue for a pivot-point or a change; it doesn’t point to a particular moment or character. If the book has tonal and emotional variations, it must suit (or at least not detract from) them all. It’s more decorative and less action-filled, and one of its primary functions is to add to the overall impression of a book — what its through-line is, the fact that people thought it deserved ornamentation.

These are slightly more nebulous goals, but they aren’t by any means negligible. It’s like those almost subconscious cues of paper weight, or dignified margin widths, or font choices, that say this book mattered to people.

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In the end, we chose D — a fairly simple design, but it suits the slim volume. A denser pattern might have weighed it down too much, although it would suit a heavier hardback. I could have introduced more movement into the hut, but then the trees are in motion and because this is a verse novella, the text contains quite a bit of forward motion, which balances this more ornamental composition — a full-page point of stillness before the search goes on. There’s that little tension, too, of the characters looking away from each other, and the forward-winding of the grass, and the hint of modernity in trousers + ponytail.

And here is the final version, printed in grey to push the chapter titles forward.

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It was a fascinating project — not just the evergreen challenge of representing a book, but of working out what role this sort of illustration could play.

I’ve had the chance to do a few more since then, but not in this full-page format. It’s a mode I’m keen to revisit.

In the meantime, chicken-legged huts still make occasional appearances, like the little free library in the February calendar., and I very much recommend reading Finding Baba Yaga.