Review of Stray Bats

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A lovely and thoughtful review of (Aurealis shortlistee!) Stray Bats from Charles de Lint in the latest issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

 

The chapbook is available from Small Beer Press, and even setting aside that I illustrated it, I think it is wonderful — lyrical and, per Charles de Lint, “luminously earthy”, a collection of vignettes that is a delight to read through, but also just the sort of book to dip into, when concentration is in short supply.

Sketches and notes: their purpose

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I was going back through photos and found this unused sketch from Kij Johnson’s The River Bank.

This stage of a project is very charming — the snapshots of moments, the hint of movement (or, as here, stillness) and expression. They are usually just notes for myself, but a lot of the work involved in finishing a more formal final illustration is about trying to capture that lightness. (Although when I’m making sketches that will be the final illustrations, there’s a lot of unseen work involved in trying to teach my hand the shapes of what I’ll be drawing).

 

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Sketches in progress for Angela Slatter’s The Tallow-Wife

 

Something I’m gradually learning with writing is to treat the early stages in a similar way: quick notes on an aesthetic, lists of “lush language” (per Kim Wilkins), just sketching the best bits (including sketching with words) so that the heart and movement is there.

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And if you are looking for a pleasant, gentle, sunlit story, with nothing more nefarious than foxes and stoats, written with a deft touch and a loving eye, I highly recommend The River Bank.

Aurealis shortlist: Stray Bats

First, enormous congratulations to all the works on the Aurealis Awards shortlist. If you need some reading, that is an excellent place to begin.

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Second, I’m thrilled to announce that Stray Bats, by Margo Lanagan, published by Small Beer Press and illustrated by me, is on the shortlist for Best Collection:

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It is a chapbook of splendid and fantastic vignettes, very much the right length for reading between many tasks, or when concentration is low (as well as in more optimal situations).

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You can buy it here: Small Beer Press.

I always endeavour to take some credit for the accolades received by books I have illustrated or, in this case, suggested, but the nomination really is all due to Margo’s splendid writing.

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Pursued by a (small) bear!

I’ve mentioned before how nice it is when someone takes away a drawing and brings it back as something shiny. Well, yesterday, when I was expecting an electrician to carry a sheet of melamine back through the open front door, Sue of Tiny Owl Workshop walked in, bearing treasure!

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Back in 2014, I illustrated a cover for Greer Gilman‘s wonderful Ben Jonson novella Exit, Pursued by a Bear for Small Beer Press:

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(Gilman’s 2009 Cloud & Ashes was my very first book cover.)

And Sue made the bear!

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Look at his little face! His nose! His paws!

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I love it so much. I keep stroking the bridge of its nose.

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See more Tiny Owl work at:

Elemental Logics

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All of Laurie J. MarksElemental Logic covers (from Small Beer Press) in one place, together at last!

These are beautiful and unexpected books, laconic and startling.

I put the covers together over several years, starting in 2012 (!), but the line work was all on one sheet of scratchboard, with branches gradually winding across it. Having a tactile interaction with the original style helped a great deal in keeping it fairly consistent. The hardest bit was revisiting the Photoshop file every 2/3 years and trying to work out past-Kathleen’s rationale in setting up the layers.

Here are some of the very first roughs:

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From there, we worked up a connected design. This is the sketch which became the final image. I must have read the first two books at this stage, but the last two weren’t yet available, so they’re more just guidelines.

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This was (I think) my first time using uninked scratchboard, and inking it myself in the areas I wanted line and texture. So much less chalk dust this way! All scratched with knife blades.

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The last book was Air Logic. Once I read the book, I had to work out how to fit the images into not only the style but the pre-existing connecting branches, and keep movement. I still quite like the running figures in the second sketch from the left on the bottom row, but it is a bit Scooby-esque.

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The books are now all available from Small Beer Press:

Fire Logic

Earth Logic

Water Logic

Air Logic

 

Stray Bats — a chapbook

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Dachshund droids, sinister crones, shapeshifting children, a plethora of witches, dragonstalkers, familiars, slithering eels and, of course, bats, flit and fly through these pages, aided and abetted by Kathleen Jennings’s inspired pencil drawings. Stray Bats is a madcap miscellany consisting of fifty vignettes based on poems by Australian women. Lanagan delights in playing with language, rhyme, and rhythm.

This could be the perfect gift for that slightly otherworldly person in your life—or for yourself, when you need a moment of magic, a dip into darkness, a spark of light.

For the reader who would like to explore further, there are a list of poems that inspired the author and notes on where those poems might be found.

Small Beer Press have just announced this new chapbook, which Margo and I have been secretly working on — it’s so exciting that it will be a real book in the world in November! Pre-orders are open now on Small Beer’s website, and Margo and I will both be at World Fantasy in LA.

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.

Next post: Early Design

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!

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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


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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.

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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.
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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

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Then a foster-cat attack.

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Then drawing.

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

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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.

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

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