Party Portrait

Last year, Megsy Caddy commissioned to make a silhouette illustration of her D&D party, for their Christmas present.

The party’s name is either The Chosen Ones or Val’s Vanquishers, but in either case they’re on twitter as twitter.com/DnDOut. The characters are Fable (Jenn), Val (Serena), Jeb (Michael), Veritas (Ted) and Aana (Meg).

Character illustrations are great fun — trying to catch all the details of a written description plus a sense of the personality of a character in motion in their story (here are some I did for Garth Nix).

Doing it in silhouette, however, adds an extra level of challenge. Making a character identifiable in silhouette is an important and useful part of character design (I touched on it briefly in the post about my art checklist, but searching character design silhouette should bring up ample material relevant to your medium of choice).

Changing a written description to a silhouette character representation is, however, a different process. It isn’t just about making them distinctive in silhouette, as separate from other characters. It’s about trying to get all those details in.

And because they aren’t in a scene, in motion, engaging with the world, which most of my silhouette pictures are to some degree, I can’t rely on those clues either.

The first time I tried this was for Trudi Canavan, and the release of Successor’s Promise.

A D&D party portrait, however, adds an extra layer of complexity in that the characters are designed by very different personalities, and described in correspondingly different language.

Additionally, it was a group portrait, which meant I had to include just enough character interaction to link them, while keeping it relatively static. Illustrating a particular scene would have required different exclusions and inclusions.

Here is a glimpse of the process — integrating fairly organic/medieval lines with arcanomechanical details presented a challenge best overcome by harassment with a beribboned lute.

2020-02-25-KJennings-DnDWorkInProgress

The final silhouette. I scanned it, tidied it up into a solid black image digitally, then added the dash of texture and, behind the details, blue that you can see in the image at the top of the post.

The next bit is for three reasons: (1) my continued attempt to unite principals of writing and illustration; (2) we make the students come up with writing exercises in one of the subjects I teach, and I figure I oughtn’t to make them do anything I’m not prepared to do myself; and (3) occasionally I teach workshops and this is me thinking out loud. If anyone tries or likes or hates either exercise, I’m interested!

Art exercise

Get someone else’s character description from a book (or fan site, or jot down a description of a friend as if they were a book character) and then try to render them as a static silhouette portrait, including as much relevant information as possible.

Writing exercise

Describe a character (your own, or someone else’s, or someone you know) solely in silhouette. Imagine they are stopped for a moment in a doorway with the light behind them. How do they stand, what does the light do to the fine hairs around their neck, what about their clothes or attitude or profile makes them instantly recognisable, anywhere in the world?

(This used to be an occasional discussion in my family (I don’t know why!): If we were separated for decades, by which mannerisms would we recognise each other?)

Books and Movies – June 2015

Books

  • The Magician’s Guild – Trudi Canavan: A long overdue reading, and I don’t have a whole lot to say because it was just so nice to (a) read a classic Canavan and (b) read a traditional fantasy novel with thieves’ guilds and magician’s colleges and dirty city politics and… yes, it was comfortably satisfying. And then I got to go to Continuum and eat a lot of cake with Trudi, which is a highlight of the year.
  • Beautiful Darkness – Kerascoët and Fabien Vehlmann: Aaargh. Aaaaargh!!! Ughhhhhh! This was a birthday present from Angela Slatter and I understand this was the intended effect. It’s gorgeous but – eeeeep!
  • The Game of Kings – Dorothy Dunnett:
    • This book this boooooook. I cried on the plane and still just kind of want to roll around on the floor chewing on the pages, so I’m not sure I can corral my thoughts into any sort of coherent order.
    • Quite apart from being the BEST BOOK EVER it is fascinating to read it in a continuum of influences – tracing the echoes of Sayers in Dunnett, and recognising the impact of Dunnett on Kushner. I love these cross-genre family trees: crime to historical to fantasy in this case, or the way Ibbotson and Heyer’s romances show up in science fiction writing (and occasionally in science fiction bookshops).
    • Marie Brennan just wrote a post on Tor.com about Dunnett’s writing, and all of it (and so much more) is true: Five Things Epic Fantasy Writers Could Learn from Dorothy Dunnett.
    • I have made my housemate read it. She was “eh” when I left this afternoon, but when I came back and asked how it was going she threw all the cushions at me.
  • Double Exposure – Kat Clay:
    • A rather dashingly designed little novella (kudos to Crime Factory on the presentation, it’s quite delightful in the hand). Weird noir.
    • Unless there is a clear signal, I don’t usually read the narrator as a character in third-person viewpoints. It isn’t unusual for hardboiled fiction to be in first person, but Double Exposure is in third person, and while it is fairly close third, the fact we are never given the Photographer’s name is distancing. As a result, this novella has given me Thoughts about the role of the observer in weird noir.
    • I met Kat Clay at Continuum in Melbourne, where she dressed as Furiosa for the Maskobalo, so I had Mad Max in my mind when I read this, particularly recent discussions about the role of Mad Max as observer (i.e., seeing the story through the framework of his presence in it, but not having it actually be about him).
    • I want to read more about the city of Portview because I’m interested in that observer’s point of view – how they can follow characters through the veils of film, and the fact that they are unfased by it. Perhaps that is part of the charm of weird fiction: the character of the author/narrator and their approach to reality, as much as the world and events.
  • Devil’s Cub – Georgette Heyer: I was explaining to Angela Slatter why I love the cover art for this novel, and talked myself into needing to read it again right away. Here are Mari Ness’s thoughts on what should be a more problematic book than it is: Refining the Rake as Hero. Importantly, however, it has hands-down my favourite Heyer cover art (and I do love the J. Oval/Ben Ostrick covers: image search his name and you will be rewarded):
J Oval cover art - Devil's Cub

Artist: J Oval (Ben Ostrick)

  • The Ivy Tree – Mary Stewart: I find the pacing of a lot of gothic novels a little trying, but I was reading this on the heels of Dunnett and Heyer, who for all their words keep on a fairly cracking (melo)dramatic pace. Quite interesting to read against Jane Eyre. Some gorgeous description. I’m not sure the type of narrator works with the first person pov here? I chose this on a recommendation but others assure me it is ‘more for the Stewart completist’.
  • An Infamous Army – Georgette Heyer: I read this because I did not realise it featured more of the family from These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub as well as the characters from Regency Buck. Mari Ness’ reread (A Recreation of War) also introduced me to the Best Wikipedia Article Ever (you’ll have to look at her post to get the link). She took issue with some of the recurring characters, so I am now of course rereading Regency Buck in order to take issue with that (I do in fact see her point, but still…). I have to share the cover for this too, because it is a James E. McConnell and the BEST of all the Infamous Army covers, not least because it stars a young Endora, and because the thought of a book with this cover getting set as reading at a military college charms and delights me (although less than Lord Uxbridge’s leg):
Artist: James E McConnell

Artist: James E McConnell

  • Unraveled – Courtney Milan: Assigned reading in my self-imposed, Peter M. Ball guided course of study of How Romance Fiction Is Done. I’m still collating my broader thoughts, but I will just point out that Milan makes law jokes! Yay for law jokes! I understand in another of her novels she even invokes the rule against perpetuities…

Movies

  • Jurassic World: Basically Jumanji crossed with Romancing the Stone with a faint hint of Alien.  Also this article from The Toast kept running through my head: If the Velociraptor from Jurassic Park Were your Girlfriend. I won’t say I cried twice, but I will say that I would pay to watch a whole movie of people exploring the ruins of the original Jurassic Park as it is gradually reclaimed by the jungle. (And I’ll give it this: all the dumbest moves were acknowledged in-movie). Also, this remains one of my favourite movie themes (along with the main theme from The Man from Snowy River).
  • The Woman in Gold: The story of the recovery of ownership of the Klimt painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer, stolen in WWII and held in an Austrian art gallery. Restrained, gentle, horrible, beautiful. Mirren and Maslany are a class act, and Maslany glows.

2008 Aurealis Awards

Aimee and I went to the Aurealis Awards this weekend and had a great time. We went to the (blessedly airconditioned) Judith Wright Centre early for the launch of Trudi Canavan’s The Magician’s Apprentice and the awards began at 6.30. Congratulations to all the winners and nominees! It was lovely to congratulate some of the winners in person, and to be gratified by the judges’ choices of my personal preferences (e.g. Shaun Tan’s win) and to talk to judges and hear about what goes into the decisions (a lot of reading and customised bookmarks).

Edited to add: the Governor of Queensland attended this year, which was lovely!

The highlight, of course (apart from the airconditioning) was just being able to catch up with old friends and acquaintances and make new ones and put faces to Facebook profiles. I got to thank Ron Serdiuk of Pulp Fiction (Press and Bookshop) in passing (he moved around a lot) for his efforts as coordinator, meet Lynne Green in person, after a few minutes where we sort of hedged around trying to work out if we were the person in the Facebook photos (mine is a drawing and hers is psychadelic), and many of the Vision and Clarion South people who were there, and spent most of the evening sitting cross-legged on the floor near the bar talking with John Catania (who was a judge in the childrens’ section) and Patrick Jones. We had a very good reason for sitting on the floor in the busiest area of the venue, but I recommend it generally – you can hear the people you are talking to so much better down there! Even so, they both thought I said we usually had a pajama party after book readings at Avid Reader (when in fact we tend to go to the Punjabi Palace).

The following morning (hot, humid and very rainy) there was a recovery breakfast at the Stamford Plaza, where survivors of the night before ate far too much and talked about teaching and books and Trudi Canavan’s builders and Alex Adsett meeting DWJ, and Aimee and I started reading aloud Space Train, which Peter M Ball kindly brought along for me (although he assures me the desire to read it will wear off after the first few pages).Then Robert Hoge convened an industry discussion panel at the Metro Arts Building, which this year focused on copyrights and contracts.

Nicky Strickland, Damon Cavalchini, Peter and I stopped at the Belgian Beer Cafe while Aimee went to the art store. Then Peter, Aimee and I had coffee at Aromas before heading off separately to the Valley where Margo Lanagan was reading from her new novel, Tender Morsels in the humidity on the back verandah at Avid Reader to a packed-out crowd (I had my knees in Angela Slatter’s back (I didn’t really get to talk to her properly this weekend, but she had a lovely red rose in her hair) and was probably distracting Jack Dann (to whom many congratulations) with the fan Aimee talked me into carrying around (although otherwise I’m glad I did). I bought a copy of Tender Morsels and Margo wrote that if I found any sentimentality in it I should let her know and she would have them all pulled.

Aimee and I are holding our own Australia Day/post-Aurealis Weekend recovery at the Coffee Club on Monday at the moment, where it is nominally airconditioned.

This is us at the awards (I have a fan here too but it is behind my back):

Aurealis Awards

I’ve put the winners here because I don’t know if the official page is a static one. There are probably more detailed write-ups all around the web if you want the gossip, who cried and who didn’t fall down the stairs on the way to collect their award.

Best Science Fiction Novel: K A Bedford, Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing

Best Science Fiction Short Story: Simon Brown, ‘The Empire’, Dreaming Again, Harper/Voyager

Best Fantasy Novel: Alison Goodman, The Two Pearls of Wisdom, HarperCollins

Best Fantasy Short Story: Cat Sparks, ‘Sammarynda Deep’, Paper Cities, Senses 5 Press

Best Horror Novel: John Harwood, The Seance, Jonathan Cape (Random House Australia)

Best Horror Short Story: Kirstyn McDermott, ‘Painlessness’, Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD), #2

Best Anthology: Jonathan Strahan (editor), The Starry Rift, Viking Children’s Books

Best Collection: Sean Williams & Russell B Farr (editor), Magic Dirt: The Best of Sean Williams, Ticonderoga Publications

Best Illustrated Book/Graphic Novel: Shaun Tan, Tales From Outer Suburbia, Allen & Unwin

Best Young Adult Novel: Melina Marchetta, Finnikin of the Rock, Viking Penguin

Best Young Adult Short Story: Trent Jamieson, ‘Cracks’, Shiny, #2

Best Children’s Novel: Emily Rodda, The Wizard of Rondo, Omnibus Books

Best Children’s Illustrated Work/Picture Book: Richard Harland & Laura Peterson (illustrator), Escape!, Under Siege, Race to the Ruins, The Heavy Crown, The Wolf Kingdom series, Omnibus Books

Peter McNamara Convenors’ Award for Excellence: Jack Dann