A year-ish of art and how I made it

Since I deeply enjoy illustrating other people’s ideas, in late 2015 and early 2016 I emailed a couple of zines with my portfolio. I had a lot of fun doing all these projects. Here are some in-progress shots and thoughts behind each piece.

I note the months during which I was actually doing the work and the times the pieces were actually published because it helps me think about how issues come together, how I perform my role and the fruit of it is taken and later released to the public in context as part of a whole body of work. Links to each issue and each story in the section headers. I’m looking forward to how I’ll build upon what I’ve done, what this year will bring, what I will seek for myself and share with others.

FEBRUARY: Evelyn Deshane’s ‘Wax Names’ in Lackington’s Issue 10, Governments.
(Published May 2016)

Waxed Names, Lackington's The story: Two women love each other in a land rule by a king who has devoured every story. An ancient Greek setting where words are uniquely powerful. Very intimate and sensual: people usually carve words into wax, but here, wax is written onto a person.

Inspiration: Luna Donyale, Fayum mummy portraits, Stella Im Hultberg.

Medium: Acrylic on board. Waxed Names, Lackington's

Working music: Little Dragon by Little Dragon, especially ‘Wink.’ Cause she winks at you/You feel your legs shake/You blow a kiss back/Then time stops until she turns her back.

Difficult bits: This was when I wasn’t so great with planning out, err, anything, so I painted over many layers and really struggled with bringing it all together. The peach robe was a last minute change. Also the FIRE, that was tricky, and I had to make my own reference image by posing near a candle and somehow not burning down the entire flat, but I did it and the result was surprising. I was also struggling with a nasty sinus infection the whole time, which is not ideal if you need to lean forward to do close work, it feels like getting water up your nose. You’re welcome.

Best bits: The background. Blending some warm peachy-gold hues into the blue and adding a few sparkles was a fun way to finish the piece.

MARCH: The Future Fire #36, ‘Vengeance Sewn in Fey Cord’ by Christine Lucas.
(Published April 2016)

IMG_7977

The story: A dark fantasy where a seamstress constructs the perfect outfit for her revenge.

Inspiration: Arthur Rackham & other classic fairytale illustrators

Medium: Gouache, watercolour, and pen on paper

Working music: Corinne Bailey Rae’s ‘Been To the Moon’, ‘I Get Lonely’ by Janet Jackson, ‘Smooth Operator’ by Sade. Also I think it was during this period where someone would watch game playthroughs on Youtube like they were movies because they are a fucking nerd.

Difficult bits: The multi-part animal costume. (Reference images were not encouraging, it was mostly scrawny white city dwellers pretending they were “tribal”…)

Best bits: Bloody antlers.

MAY: Brittany Pladek’s ‘Ought From Is’ in Lackingtons Issue 11, Possessions.
(published July 2016)

2016-05-10-14-56-51-1The story: In the Canadian autumn of a world war, a grieving nun questions God and harnesses a new power under Our Lady. 

Inspiration: Idealised landscapes and colours of Quebec. Marian art, particularly El Greco’s Mater Dolorosa (c. 1590).

Medium: Gouache on paper with a little gold acrylic.

Working music: Lisa Eldridge’s makeup tutorials. Very soothing!

Difficult bits: During the planning stage, how to convey the character’s power to sever bonds. A radiant divine heart is very common in Catholic iconography; a clear interruption in these rays was a simple way to indicate the figure is not saintly. It was also quite a job to find a decent reference image for the nun habit; since styles were so distinct, I went to the trouble of looking up nuns in Canada, and settled on a fairly generic type. Also, rotting autumn leaves were a challenge to paint successfully so they were recognisable decomposing and not just sorta ugly.

Best bits: I liked the face, particularly the set of her jaw. As I said, the figure is directly modelled on El Greco’s Mater Dolorosa, whose questioning gaze and long face is a bit different from the oval-faced sorrowful pulchritude of most Marian portraits. One minute, she looks at peace, but if you look again, she seems almost resentful, and if you look yet again, she is contemplative. For my piece, the gaze was more direct and cutting.

JULY: Lackington’s Issue 12 cover commission
(published November 2016)

Inspiration: Lush summer colours, floral motifs. I anticipated it’d be published at a later time of year, so I wanted a reminder of summer.

Medium: Gouache on paper.

Working music: Lana del Rey’s Honeymoon.

Difficult bits: Everything.

Best bits: Making my editor very happy when I sent the finished version.

 

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER: The Future Fire #38, ‘Good Genes’ by Rebecca Gomez Farrell
(published October 2016)

The story: A woman flees her abusive husband, bringing her children to a small, quiet community where centuries ago, a man desperately sought a cure for a sickness destroying his town. A story about the costs of safety.

Inspiration: 19th century portraits of Spanish women.

Medium: Gouache on paper.

Working music: Hayley Kiyoko’s horniest songs. My Dad Wrote A Porno (deeply, deeply unerotic).

Difficult bits: Drapery.

Best bits: Drapery.

 

Huevember Interlude

Many people have heard of Inktober, where you do an ink drawing a day in October, and there are themes you can do each day if you want to. Huevember seems somewhat less popular but the concept is similar–you take one hue each day of November. I decided this would be the perfect time to re-learn digital painting. I was sort of right, but also there was never going to be a good time, really, so at first I did a whole load of pretty bad work before turning out some nice pieces. It was so difficult: the gesture is different, you need to learn a whole bunch of skills, but also it’s a tool which gives great control and is in some ways faster. Many artists use both traditional and media, anyway. I’m pleased with what progress I did manage to make.

Also I did a whole load of fanart; it had been building up in my system for the past decade or so.

 

DECEMBER: The Future Fire #39, ‘Hard Rains’ by S.J. Sabri
(published December 2016)

The story: In a near-future earth ravaged by climate change, a woman finds a small, strange creature and lets it loose on the parched land. This story was, I think, my favourite of this year: the main character changes her community in a world turned selfish and narrow for survival, and it’s about coming together as a body in our bodies: labouring, dancing, enjoying music, just living again. When the garden that everyone’s built is threatened with destruction, she resists–with supernatural assistance–using absolutely proportionate physical force, and the whole community wins. She moves and people move with her; this is contrasted by quiet moments in the story, a sense of stillness as she waits for things to grow. It’s what we need to hear and keep in mind for 2017.

Inspiration: A downer, but a necessary one–the bleak landscape of dried-up lakes which already exist, such as the Salton sea. In contrast, the lush jungles of North America, in particular the Hoh rainforest with its astonishingly deep blue-green hues and rich mosses.

Medium: Digital. Clip Studio Paint with Daub paint brushes, plus a gentle green + photos of dappled sunlight as overlay layers on the jungle image for subtle texture.

Working music: The Adventure Zone, Sade, aivi & surasshu

Difficult bits: Coming up with the rain beast; it’s meant to be a changeable creature, like water itself. Also doing the dry landscape; I discovered, with my current tendencies, that it actually looks like a proper environment if I work  fairly big, otherwise it looks like a mini-canvas. The first iteration is to the right, which is pretty clumsy.

Best bits: I loved doing the main character. I used Nicole Beharie as a loose reference, she has such a restful face.

With Her Diamond Teeth on The Dark

Girls are always being taken, it seems. Within a temple’s sanctuary, you peer at the murals, painted women stolen by painted men, each face serene as praphodhisat. Safe at home, you sit with jostling family, the storyteller filling your ears with tales of heroes and brides.

You know what brides look like, of course: sculpted in beauty, skin smooth and lambent, hair long as a river and lustrous as silk. I’ve looked at women, wondering if they might be my bride—an impossibility, and in any case I’m ill-suited to marriage.

 

Once I spent an afternoon reflecting upon this. Lamentations on the irregularities of my face prompted Taphaothong to offer sisterly encouragement: “You’d better die and be reborn.” Her touch was soft, her voice was tart. My little sister always knew just the thing to say. She was lovely as a crow, sharp-eyed, dark, cackling.

My latest piece is up on The Dark. I was in the mood for a re-telling, and I’d never written horror or antagonistic siblings before, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Klong Sa Bua. Chalawan and Kraithong.
Chalawan and Kraithong. Taken by me, 2011

A look through Fascinating Folktales of Thailand by Thanapol Lamduan Chadchaidee brought back a memory of the Klong Sa Bua market, where you can watch a performance of Kraithong in the water while eating wonderful snacks. Kraithong is an obvious candidate for horror—there’s at least one horror film already—but it is, perhaps, a less clear choice for a queer re-telling. It’s a straightforward tale about a hero wrestling monsters and being rewarded with marriage. I guess, if I were of a certain mindset, one way to do a queer re-telling would involve a woman punching a crocodile in the face to win her bride. But that’s still not enough substance for short fiction, imho (in my horse’s opinion), and I wanted to push harder to find said substance.

Continue reading “With Her Diamond Teeth on The Dark” »

‘Vengeance Sewn with Fey Cord’ Illustration in The Future Fire

I was thrilled when Djibril got in touch soon after I sent along my portfolio. The story was dark fantasy with plenty of imagery and emotion to pull from, so I was happy to put down some ideas.

For the illustrations, I wanted to evoke a book of fairytales, aged paper with washes of colour, so I began staining the paper with tea.

IMG_7963

(Spoilers for the story underneath the cut.)

Continue reading “‘Vengeance Sewn with Fey Cord’ Illustration in The Future Fire” »

‘How We Are Marked’ in Interfictions + 10 Things

Young rice grains.

1 Thing About Bones

  1. It isn’t as straightforward as you think to tell the gender of skeletons, ancient or contemporary. Wide hips do not always equal woman, then or now. We have no idea how Ban Chiang people thought of gender, really, and if we look at bones through a binarist, essentialist lense, we will see (and tell) a simplistic story.

9 Things About Thailand

Organic rice paddy in Northeast Thailand. Photo by Sompop Butarad.
Organic rice paddy in Northeast Thailand. Photo by Sompop Butarad.
  1. This grew out of a longer piece of, er, short fiction I began working on last year, set in the area and approximate historical era now known as Ban Chiang in Northeast Thailand.
  2. This was a Thailand before Tai people, Brahmanism or Buddhism. The inhabitants were likely Mon-speaking peoples, an ethnic group who were the earliest to settle in Southeast Asia. I read basically all of the available literature on the University of Pennsylvania website in an attempt to get enough information for a short fiction setting, but I still didn’t feel confident. (Maybe one day…)
  3. Ancient Ban Chiang people are argued to have practised residential burial. That is, the bones of their ancestors were buried within their homes. As life went on, people would shift the locations of their homes, and would set up house above someone else’s ancestors, like musical chairs but with dirt layers and corpses. I’ve heard the modern inhabitants of the Ban Chiang site would be spooked when they occasionally unearthed human bones by their houses.

    Northeast Thailand
    chicken chicken chicken (photo by Sompop Butarad)
  4. Pretty much all the items mentioned in the poem were actually found at the ancient site. You begin to see how this civilisation thrived–the haematite used for some of the famed Ban Chiang pottery wasn’t found locally, nor were certain metals they used in their tools and jewellery, so they likely traded for it.
  5. I’ve never been to Ban Chiang specifically, but I’d very much like to. I’ve been to various parts of the Khorat countryside, since that’s where all my mother’s family come from, and it’s a beautiful place. Maybe you think, since it’s remote, inhabitants of the countryside are isolated and low-technology. That’s really not the case. Not to downplay relative economic hardship, but in some rural areas people definitely have TV, electric rice cookers, and 4G internet for their smartphones, and would probably be confused if you expressed wonderment at this. (And if that’s what rural life is like, imagine what it’s like in the heart of Thailand’s many bustling cities.)IMG_0421
  6. (Let’s be clear for a second that access to certain electronics doesn’t mean access to all other tangible/intangible privileges and absolutely everyone deserves clean water, healthcare, education, and not to be occupied by foreign forces, ok? Ok. Good.)
  7. It’s wrong and boring to write a static Thailand, charmingly backwards and worthy of tourism and feel-good charity without any regard for the people who live there each day, a Thailand there to be stared at or rescued. I wanted to write about small everyday moments similar to what I briefly live when I get the chance to visit. Let’s be real: I’m a Westerner, my passport, life experience, privilege, and ignorance say so. I’m also Thai, a gift from my parents, which I want to honour.
  8. I’m tired of depictions of LGBTQ Thai people as punchlines or villains, their gender and sexual identities described through a reductive Western lense. Please. Here’s a hint: if you describe a gender identity in the same way as Alan Partridge, you’re doing it wrong.
  9. There is, as with any other country in the world, a strain of conservative thinking which leads some people to think queerness is a “sin,” and certainly there’s a level of structural oppression. But sometimes people live as their true selves despite emotional and material difficulties;  being blessed with loving families helps. That should be the norm. It isn’t, but I still wanted to write a series of short, bright, queer moments. If you think ‘Uhhh how the f do you know that Ban Chiang is full of queer families’—I don’t. But I’ve written what I know and what I imagine, and it just seems so silly and obvious to say it, but myself, my friends, and my parents’ friend are queer, and it’s not that big a deal in our social circle.  And is it any less believable than ghosts chatting to you? Hmm? Ok.

Read the latest Interfictions Online (Issue 5, June 2015) here!

‘Mermaid in The Mermaid’ in Stone Telling Issue 12: JOKE

Stone Telling Joke Issue TOC by Shweta Narayan
via Shweta Narayan

My newest, shortest piece is the first one to be published. ‘A Mermaid in The Mermaid’ is on Stone Telling. You should look through their archives, be appropriately delighted, add your support to their patreon, and buy Here, We Cross: a collection of queer and genderfluid poetry from Stone Telling 1-7 edited by Rose Lemberg (Amazon US / UK).

1012441_10151746062830589_1738772066_n
Rye, 2013

 

About my poem: it’s set in Rye, a small town in East Sussex, England, a seaside town abandoned by the sea centuries ago. My partner’s maternal family grew up there. I visited it myself a couple of years ago, it’s one of my favourite places in the world. You can read more about my trip here. There’s an actual Mermaid Inn on Mermaid street there, so it was an obvious choice for the Joke Issue.

The moment I visit somewhere like Rye, places which are so charmingly cobblestoned with history and where much of the diverse people I encountered were tourists like me, I get thinking.

Rye is the perfect place to set a piece of historical fantasy fiction, a genre replete with images of cravats, silver teapots, billowing skirts, and sprightly pink nipples. It doesn’t have to be that way–indeed, it shouldn’t, as a narrow history ignores material evidence and constructs a narrative which harms people today, erasing their heritage. Certain readers can apparently believe in magic, fantastic beasts, and improbable economic systems, but if you suggest that brown or queer or neurodiverse characters may exist in the front and centre of your work—why, you’re taking it too far, you’re making everyone uncomfortable with your Forced Diversity, it’s simply not believable, sellable, readable. Well…  ¯\_()_/¯

 

And just because something is A Joke doesn’t mean it can’t also be a little thoughtful. We who are marginalised are often the butt of jokes. Jokes shouldn’t have to be cruel to work; nothing bores me more than “satire” which is so clearly the end product of the same old chewed up and thoroughly digested petty bigotries, pushed out and then finger-painted in the usual patterns–only you’re supposed to admire it simply because the author says it’s satire. Please. Your jokes are bad and you should feel bad.

Er, this is not to say that a light-hearted short poem fights the good fight against hegemony. I just wanted to write a fun little poem about lesbian mermaids, and it never occurred to me to make the mermaids blonde and straight. That’s all. There may be poems which are powerful and life-changing in as many lines, but it is not mine.

The shortest thing I’ve written is also the one I have done the most teeth-gnashing over. I’ve tried to forgive myself for that: unless you make it a regular exercise, rhyming well is tricky.

44639_10151746065400589_119309473_nSince the preferred length was just 25 lines, I thought I’d have a good go at it. The estimable Nicki Minaj only took a week to write her glorious verse in ‘Monster,’ which is essentially the only reason you should listen to that song. I worked on my piece sporadically throughout January.

It occurred to me as I was wrestling with the verse that I actually have no idea how to rhyme properly, or how to write a basic poem. There must be rules somewhere, obviously. Instead of looking them up, I hammered away at a rhyme dictionary, switched tabs to stare angrily at ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter,’ and swore a lot.

I showed my partner what I’d written and asked what would make it better.

‘Um,’ he said, ‘scansion?’

o

h

I had to re-write the whole thing, letting go of certain images I wanted to use because I just couldn’t find a single bally rhyme which would work. You know how it goes better than me, I expect.

Somehow, through all the fiddling, a poem happened. My partner talked more enthusiastically about this second version, paying particular attention to its legs feet. I nodded. There were indeed some of those in the poem, even though it is mainly about a mermaid and a piece of the sea. I tweaked it a bit more and then off it went, all within the hour before the deadline passed in my timezone.

Is it unsightly and not terribly interesting to know that a lot of effort went into a short poem? Maybe to some. I get that. But this will serve as a reminder to myself, and perhaps another writer out there, that this is just fine. And it got me published in a zine I’ve read and enjoyed for years. So, know that.