Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Ink & Sigil

Published this week is ‘Ink & Sigil’ by New York Times best-selling author Kevin Hearne, which has its US release on 25th August and its UK release on 27th. 

In a 'career first', I’ve illustrated both the North American and UK editions of this murky Glasgow-set novel involving enchanted ink (obviously), mysterious symbols known as ‘sigils’ (look them up!), craft cocktails and the cursed Al MacBharrais, whose apprentices keep...dying. 

In ever-bizarre and unexpected ways.

It’s published by Orbit Books US and is the most recent of Kevin’s myriad fantasy and adventure novels. I have been most pleased to make his acquaintance while working on his books! This is the first in a planned series which is a departure from his usual style of novel, so the cover had to reflect that. Influences for the US cover, which came first, included tattooing, Victorian medicine bottles and apothecaric ephemera, whisky bottles, etchings and classic maps. 

Here's my 'sigils reference board' - fascinating, mysterious symbols with immense power - for go0d, in the right hands, and in the wrong hands, well...

These had to be pulled into a cover that made sense in a very readable but detailed way - the initial suggestions I made were a little contemporary and stylish, using a free-wheeling lettering based on real sigils without too much of the meaty detail, and some really bold colours - several ideas were sent based around these two proposals:

Since I happened to be in New York while I was working on this cover, I went for a meeting at art director David Stevenson's office at Penguin Random House, to discuss where next to take the cover. (Ah! remember the good old days - meetings at people's offices!) We ran through the suggested inspirations and talked over the vibe of the manuscript, which I'd read a couple of months before, and re-framed the direction with a lot more murk and intrigue. Here was my next set of suggestions:

It was THIS one that hit the spot - this is the more evolved, final-pencil version:


Once this was inked in, it was scanned and put together with its hand-made ink backgrounds - three of them, all layered up to create that dank, wet Glasgow-street feel - again presented in an assortment of options. I remain convinced to this day that that ampersand isn't quite right - but the art 
director liked it, so it stayed in!

With the addition of colour the final art looked like this; I made a full wraparound:
and with some slight adjustment to those colours by David, the cover was done!

A few months later came the request for the UK version of the cover, from British art director Duncan Spilling at Little, Brown. The request here was for the same cover, but rendered in a more detailed style of line work - less 'tattoo', more 'etching'. The research for this was most engaging, ploughing through image after image of the full spectrum of etching work, and pinpointing whereabouts on the spectrum of 'etching' this illustration should fall, exactly.

I did a practice run to establish just how tidy or neat the line needed to be:

The beauty of this version was that I didn't have to think about the composition and layout - just focus on the rendering, which was really quite different from the US version; smaller, finer lines, more of them; cross-hatching, pointillism and sketching - and the opportunity to rectify that ampersand I'd never been happy with!

Here's the final art, all black drawing ink on paper:
And here's how that looks with its antique paper background and ink spills:
Again we added some colour and by mid-April - we had non-identical twin covers!
Two completely separate pieces of art.

You can buy a copy of Ink & Sigil in the US from here

and if you're in the UK, get it from here.

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