River Bank process – first response

This is the first process post for my illustrations for Kij Johnson’s wonderful The River Bank, from Small Beer Press.

The first step for the illustration project (after an emailed ohmygoodnessyes when Small Beer asked me about it) was to read the manuscript. I like to print a manuscript, if possible, because then I can draw my responses directly onto it. It makes for a more immediate response, but also means I can match an idea with the relevant passage again easily when I need to go back and check details!

For some projects, like Angela Slatter‘s The Bitterwood Bible and other recountings, the initial response is very close to the final illustration. The River Bank required more work and refinement (you can see at top right that I was still working out Badger) but many of these early notes recognisably found their way into the final illustrations.

Frequently, I find it difficult to objectively assess a manuscript simply as a book – this is partly because it doesn’t yet have a cover by which to judge it, but mostly because I am reading it looking at one very specific aspect: the visuals. It takes a second reading, in a non-illustrator headspace, to appreciate the text on its own terms. The River Bank, however, lifted off the page even on that first, pragmatic reading. I think it’s because of Kij Johnson’s delightful visual language – I’ve just finished her World Fantasy Award winning novella The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, purely as a reader, and my goodness I want to draw every page.

The River Bank

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Look what’s coming out soon! Kij Johnson’s The River Bank, from Small Beer Press, with my drawings!

Ratty sandwich-300dpi

This is such a delightful story, and I cannot wait to read it as a REAL BOOK – they now exist in the world:

Publisher’s Weekly had very nice things to say about it.

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Book cover: Telling the Map


Telling the Map - cover

I’m delighted to show you my cover for Christopher Rowe‘s collection Telling the Map, now available for pre-order from Small Beer Press. Wonderful strange stories of post-singularity hope and cycling, with one of my favourite gentle story endings. I can’t wait for you all to read it so that I can finally talk about it!

Here are some of the early thumbnail sketches. The art direction was for a map with vignette illustrations inset. Fitting the relevant geography around the necessary images and text was a spatial challenge, as I couldn’t purely invent it but did need to make it serve the design.

Telling the Map - thumbnails

I’d previously illustrated the first story in the collection, “The Contrary Gardener”, for Jonathan Strahan back in 2013(!), and it was such a pleasure to come back to this world.
"The Contrary Gardener"

I’m very much enjoying working on illustrated maps. Stay tuned for another coming up soon! (Or join us on Patreon to see these projects in progress and get early reveals).

The Winged Histories – cover art process

Winged Histories

This is the cover art for Sofia Samatar‘s novel The Winged Historiessequel to her World Fantasy Award winning A Stranger in Olondria (both published by Small Beer Press).

Olondria

The process of revisiting A Stranger in Olondria to reconstruct my illustration approach there was illuminating – particularly in relation to remembering to usefully label layers in Photoshop. We learn.

I had the chance to catch up (with Small Beer’s permission!) with Sofia at World Fantasy to discuss the broad approach to the cover, and exchange some reference for her vision of architecture and birds, and mine of uniforms.

Winged Histories - uniform sketches

That settled, I prepared the thumbnail sketches and general colour approach for approval – G was chosen (although the profile was later changed, and colours deepened).

Winged Histories - sketches

Time for everyone’s favourite: Awkward reference photos! I used other reference for the figure (but won’t embarrass them), I’m just here modelling in yoga pants and a leather jacket with blue masking tape so that I can see what key parts of the costume do in the pose. Again, a skyline of crockery set up with a plasticine-and-plastic-bag vulture gives some reference for light/perspective.

Winged Histories - reference photos

Then a foster-cat attack.

Winged-Histories-Cat

Then drawing.

Winged Histories - work in progress

And redrawing (there were several replacements of hands, heads etc).

Winged-Histories-spare-hands

I scanned and pieced the elements together in Photoshop, then coloured them. Here is a gif of the process, but it makes it look far faster and more logical than it was: there was a lot of reworking, experimentation, remixing and so forth, as well as adjustments, added decoration, skin tone changes and other adjustments on consultation. But gifs are fun.

WingedHistoriesGifLarge

And I can’t remember why it came to this:

Penguin-in-Olondria

A Magic Synergy – article by Delia Sherman

Freedom Maze - thumbnails round 2

Tor.com (a website well worth following) has published an article by Delia Sherman, about my cover art for her books: A Magic Synergy: The Cover Art of Kathleen Jennings.

Delia is the author of The Freedom Maze (for which I illustrated the Small Beer Press hardback, though the book has now also come out in paperback from Candlewick) and Young Woman in a Garden (just out, and very well reviewed!), as well of as The Porcelain Dove which I didn’t illustrate but just finished reading and want everyone to read, and also to let me illustrate.

The article is very lyrical, and I wish to use it in future as my letter of introduction.

Some other posts:

The Dalek Maze

Cover Art: Karen Joy Fowler – “What I Didn’t See”

Two new covers to show you! One… not so new and one not quite out yet. But soon!

The first was the cover for Small Beer Press‘ paperback release of Karen Joy Fowler‘s collection What I Didn’t See. I remember being dragged along to see The Jane Austen Bookclub and realising abruptly that into what had boded to be a very pink movie was slipped a suspiciously accurate side-glimpse of a science fiction convention, a discussion of famous women science fiction authors, and a scene which prompted my Grisham-reading sister to ask if I had any Le Guin novels. Fowler, I realised, was one of us.

When I was asked to do this cover I was hopping around the house with delight. It is a superb collection. Fairytales of holiday communities, tragic conspiracies of scientific expeditions, tales which might be just a story and might be – might be – something beyond the delusion of the characters. My favourite story, The Dark, I love so much that I mentally insert it into all collections of stories that I like and have to trace it back to this collection by the flea I drew for the cover. It is slow, mysterious, hair-raising – the best and saddest of unsolved-mysteries.

Here are the first sketches – working out general direction and technique (the examples on the right include ink and cut-paper figures):

Fowler Cover - initial sketches

I had intended to do a cut-out design for the cover, but Small Beer Press were happy with the sketch as it was in this more detailed layout-test:

Fowler Cover - layouts

I tried a few different colourways:

Fowler Cover - colour variants

In the end we settled for the original, simple black-and-white design.

Final cover art - Fowler

And then the book arrived and – it was printed with gloss spots and embossing in all black. So, so hard to get a decent photo of, and absolutely gorgeous, like something out of a gothic candy store. My first embossed cover! And a very excellent book.

Final covers - Fowler and Olondria

There too is the hard copy of Sofia Samatar‘s novel A Stranger in Olondria, the cover process of which I posted about here.

A Stranger in Olondria – cover art

I am back from Conflux, although still recovering from the flu which left me spending most of the convention propped up in corners trying to catch my breath. While I collate my convention thoughts, here is an overdue cover process post!

Last year, Small Beer Press asked whether I would be interested in trying a more ‘painterly’ style, for the decadent, festal beauty of the city of Sofia Samatar’s novel A Stranger in Olondria.

Here are the initial thumbnail sketches (you should be able to see a larger version by clicking through to the Flickr page). 
Olondria Roughs

Here is a little colour study from when I was still working out what I was doing – but in the end we went with the larger image from the right-hand page of the sketch above.

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Here is the layout sketch, to make sure there was room for text.

Cover-layout

The jacket is based slightly on a wonderfully ornate teal cutaway number my housemate bought at a second-hand shop in England, and I mocked-up the skyline on the dining table to make sure domes didn’t cut through walls, etc.

photo

I had not, at this stage, begun the cover for Midnight and Moonshine – that cover happened because certain people got wind of the style we were trying for Olondria – so there was an amount of trial and error in this. I really prefer to have a single final piece of line art so that at the end I can hold something real that exists in the world. In this case, however, I was nervous and drew four separate pencil layers: figure, railing, city and sky.

Here is the linework put together with the colour flats under it. They make it easier to select, colour and change the areas of the picture.

Olondria WIP

Here is the full wrap-around art for the cover. The most pineapply of the rooftops is based on a roof of Queensland’s Parliament House, and I now do a double-take when I walk past and see it.

Olondria cover art

And here it is in the wild, seen in Pulp Fiction bookstore in Brisbane today!
PulpFiction