‘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.


(Spoilers for the story underneath the cut.)

Just PG Tips, well-steeped in just enough hot water to dampen the tea and release the colour. After the first thin, pale layer was allowed to dry, subsequent layers darkened much more quickly. Dropping tea bags from a height created splats for texture.

Then came a pencil underdrawing, then waterproof black ink–fine liners and brush tips– for definition and texture, then watercolour (with some gouache for oomph), and a little brown fine pen for a warmer detail on blood rivulets, skin, and fur. For the costume image, I wanted it to be bloody without it being a tiresome gorefest, so it was about careful addition and contrast. Red-brown gouache was finger-dabbed onto the paper in some parts for a smudgy feel, and cool blues and purples were added to the background so the red would stand out more.


Would’ve used gum tape but pins were mostly ok.


As to the content of the drawing, I focused on the act of sewing and costuming. Sewing is tidy, focused violence. I sew things, my mother sews things, and her mother before that. I remembered mum’s upholstery needles, curved so you can sew the contours of seats and legs, and found that surgical needles were similarly shaped. That’s why I made the bone needle curved, to show its use on flesh.

The climax of the story comes with a costume, and I wanted it to the art to fit the text, for the point of the costume is that the protagonist takes what’s thought of as a woman’s frippery or the artifice of theatre and makes it a deadly, well-crafted instrument. I looked at whether actual people had worn similar pelts and skins to get a feel for what such a costume might look like, how it would sit on the body, and, well… there are far too many people playing at a horrid tribal stereotype with facepaint and cutesy plush wolf heads.

In the end, I took the sloping shoulders and fluffy pelt of a black bear and a snarling wolf’s head (with extra teeth placed by carefully referencing a diagram of wolf dentition), crowning it with stag horns, whose fascinating structure and texture is emphasised with blood at the tips and joins. Inside is a satisfied woman.

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