December Calendar: The River Bank

The December calendar is here!

Clearly I haven’t quite got Kij Johnson’s The River Bank out of my system (and if you are looking for gifts for this time of the year, it is an excellent one – the Washington Post agrees, and included it on its list of “50 Notable Works of Fiction in 2017“!). I’ve started a series of posts about the process of illustrating it – they begin here: The River Bank Process – First Response.

While The River Bank doesn’t make it into winter, The Wind in the Willows of course does, and the image of the mice singing carols outside Mole End is one of my enduring memories of that book. So I ran with that.

I think Toad in his moments of mellower, generous pomposity would have the best tree, and insist on (recognisably) playing Father Christmas.

Beryl skating was one of the first sketches I made for this idea (also, if this were a climate in which sweaters were warranted, I would want hers).

Went a bit stocking mad here.

Now, all these pictures take a lot of time! They have been sponsored all year by my wonderful patrons at patreon.com/tanaudel – they get the calendar early and $3+ patrons also get occasional downloadable stationery (there will be print-at-home cards using some of the images from this calendar). If you enjoy the pictures, and would like to keep seeing the calendar happen, and want to be a patron of the arts, see sneak-peeks, etc, you can join in here at Patreon (a few more supporters and we might yet be able to restart the Dalek Game!). Or if you use the calendar and would like to fling a few occasional dollars in the direction of the artist, this is my PayPal link: paypal.me/tanaudel.

And at last! Here is the December calendar, to print at home – precoloured, or to colour yourself.

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River Bank: Early design

This is the second process post for my illustrations for Kij Johnson’s The River Bank (from Small Beer Press). The previous post was on my first response.

The next stage of the illustration process was to work out the style I wanted to use, and the character design.

I’ve always adored E. H. Shepard’s illustrations for The Wind in the Willows. Many many other great artists (Shepard was the fourth, and Arthur Rackham followed him) have illustrated Kenneth Grahame, but for me, Shepard most perfectly captured the gravitas and pomp, the comfort and homeliness of Grahame’s little folk.

E. H. Shepard (you might also know his art from such books as Winnie-the-Pooh)

If I were to illustrate The Wind in the Willows I would, I suppose, have to take an entirely individual approach. But because this was a sequel, I wanted to do what Kij Johnson achieved (with such apparent ease and vivacity) in doing with the text. She honoured Grahame while being herself in the telling. In the same way, I didn’t want to try to be Shepard, but I wanted to pay respects to him.

So I began by studying Shepard’s illustrations – his lines and shapes – until I began to feel that I could in some small way see through them to the living characters he was imagining.

As well as the ‘master studies’ above, I began looking at other approaches to drawing the characters, and also at reference of real animals (if I were to design characters from scratch I would start there).

Then I began to work out the new characters, in keeping with the old. Rabbits are underrepresented in The Wind in the Willows, so I went further afield – that’s a mislabeled study of a Tenniel White Rabbit at top right, below.

Fortunately, Mole did wear a dress at one point in The Wind in the Willows, so I could start there for Beryl, and begin to work out the rough proportions of both Beryl and Rabbit at the same time as working out some era-appropriate clothes for them.

And also the sorts of movements that they would need to make in those clothes. Beryl lost her cardigan and lace collar (above, lower right) and got something soberer and more sensible.

Rabbit went in the other direction.

Having sounded out the characters, I then made a quick reference sketch of varying heights. This is not a particularly easy job. The original characters are wonderfully fluid, able to fit into holes in river banks and drive motorcars with equal ease. 

It amuses me how the various illustrations and adaptations treat this. I decided to keep close to Shepard and go for an implied but unacknowledged variability. If J. M. Barrie’s fairies were only big enough to hold one emotion at a time, I think Kenneth Grahame’s folk adapt, from moment to moment, as necessary to contain all the adventures of life on the river bank.

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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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Kij Johnson’s The River Bank is now a real, published book that exists in the world. It is a beautiful story – charming and jaunty, and a delight to read as well as illustrate.

In addition to its many native felicities, the text is embellished by Kathleen Jennings’ beautiful incidental illustrations, grace notes sounded in E. H. Shepard’s mode with a line reminiscent of Beatrix Potter and a sensibility all Jennings’ own.”
— Amal El-Mohtar, NPR

One final, important point: Kathleen Jennings’s period-style illustrations add just the right extra magic to make “The River Bank” a complete triumph. If he were still around, Kenneth Grahame himself would be wildly applauding.
— Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

I’m away from my scanner at the moment, but will put up some process details. In the meantime, here is one of my favourite drawings:

RiverBank-Usual-Suspects

The Usual Suspects