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.