As a fantasy author, I have tons of sketches that appear on anything within arm’s reach. These multiply as I write a story, and often the story only grows because of the ideas that form in the sketched scenes and scribbled creatures that appear in the margins.
That sword I sketched stuck in my mind, and became Felltang, the swordmaster’s blade. My father even crafted the sword for me in steel. I almost broke my wrist trying to swing the thing at a tree. At which point I realised that the blade must be order-forged and made of a much lighter composite than steel.
The lyre was Tabitha’s instrument, but although I’d seen the shape of it, it took me some time to reach the point in the story where she receives it. So drawing is absolutely vital to my writing process, because it helps to display things that have risen to the surface of my subconscious long before I understand their place in the story world. They are gifts from the Muse, or as Stephen King would say ‘the bones of the story I’m digging out’.
My sketches are simple scribblings to help my creative process, but when it comes to promotional posters or cover art I encountered a problem. I’m not a commercial artist. I can’t draw in colour at all. But because I was so close to the books, anything someone else drew seemed to have no connection to the story I had created. I had strong dislikes about cover art (too grungy, too gamey, too pretty, too dark), but only a vague idea of what I wanted or needed to promote The Tale of the Lifesong properly.
After a lot of soul searching, I learned that I hadn’t developed the thinking skills to form the concept of the art I wanted. That conceptual thinking is hard. So I set out to learn the art form.
After studying more advanced graphic design at Sessions College, I’ve become a little better at communicating ideas through images. This image comes about as close as I can get to summing up the beginning of the Tale of the Lifesong, in a paragraph:
Let’s see. What we’ve got here is a girl who sings, almost with abandon, to the point of not paying attention to those drawn to her music. The dark side: strangely seductive, but leading to evil, and beyond to darkness. On the light side: things are not what they seem to be. There’s the outline of the Riddler: his presence, or his shadow. But is he really there? Or is he really made of darkness? Is he leading Tabitha to the light, or blocking her approach? He’s associated with some currents of magic of cosmic proportion, because that’s his background, and there’s fire in there too because there’s chaos burning through the order. Then a field of stars, because the story spans the universe, and there’s a red colour because it’s all linked by passion and … well, music. So I guess the image should have a soundtrack by Lisa Gerrard.
Then again, you’ll add your own soundtrack and panoramic movie as your imagination fires things up. That’s the beauty of reading.