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.



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).

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).


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.


Then drawing.

Winged Histories - work in progress

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


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.


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


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

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.

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.


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


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.


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!

Delia Sherman’s new novel The Freedom Maze is (very well) reviewed and out and launched and everything.

So here, in celebration, is a little about the cover.

The initial brief was for a girl with a yellow parasol in a maze (this was to be quite a fast turnaround, so the sketches are very loose). These are the thumbnails I sent – pencil with digital colour. The composition of 6b is my favourite:

Freedom Maze - thumbnails round 2

On consideration, it was decided that characters from both time periods should be in the picture, which meant changing the layout and looking at a lot of 1960s suit patterns and wishing I could grow up to be Nancy Drew:

Freedom Maze - thumbnails round 2

The faceless mystery of the characters in 8 was preferred, so I agonised for a while until Aimee arrived and struck a pose for reference. Then I sketched up and inked the picture – continuing the hedge so that it could be a texture for the back. I would usually have sent a copy through for approval at that point, but time was short and timezones were offset, so I scanned, coloured and added a layer of old paper from one of my books.

Freedom Maze - first cover

That is the version which is on all the web previews. There were, however, three final adjustments: I moved Sophie’s foot and hand (this was the hardest part), joined front and back into a wraparound image, and finally (but most importantly) replaced the statue of “Belle Watling” on the back with Antigua.

Freedom Maze - final cover

The peculiar perspective is deliberate, and works when cropped and wrapped.

Edited to add: Here is the final cover – with bonus Gregory Maguire: Freedom Maze final cover (Small Beer Press)