Category Archives: Wildwood – Artwork

Sprite Sense II

shard

Sprite Sense – Part II

A warm welcome to all of those just discovering Raven’s Wand! Readers frequently tell me how much they adore thunder-sprites, and so I thought I’d post a series of short articles about these wild but popular creatures. Tonight we look at Lifespan, Distribution and Flight. More to follow – enjoy!

A closer look at the world of thunder-sprites . . . LIFESPAN

Witches and thunder-sprites have partnered up for untold thousands of years. They remain a pair from the day the witch finds a thunder-sprite and proves their worth, until either the witch dies or their lightning-staff is broken. Breaking a staff is never deliberate, as no witch would wish to be parted from their sprite, this only happens by accident or in battle. Sprites then return to the thunder-heights and their Lord, Silver-fist, where they become part of the endless cycle of rain and storm once again. They might be born again as another bolt in another place, but with a new name and likely no memory of their former life or witch. Although covens are found in all corners of the world, sometimes lightning strikes in very remote places, and the sprite will go his whole life and never see a human, let alone a witch. In these instances, he will live happily inside his tree until the day it dies, which could be many centuries, or just days if the lightning-bolt was too severe, but the line between a living tree and a dead tree is surprisingly fuzzy . . . When the tree is nothing but rotten mulch, it can be clearly argued as being ‘dead’, but some trees are cut for timber to make furniture and houses, and they can last for many centuries after the tree was felled – as can any sprite still living inside them. Skald and his fellows speak fondly of one such sprite, named Torn. No witch came to claim him, and eventually his tree was felled to make a large four-poster bed for a grand hall. Sleepers in that bed often woke in the middle of the night screaming in terror, claiming an ‘imp’ had been scuttling through the canopy. Torn might not have found a witch, but he kept his sense of humour!

A closer look at the world of thunder-sprites . . . DISTRIBUTION

When Clovis crossed the star-sea to come to Kolfinnia’s aid, he (not surprisingly) had a lightning-staff and thunder-sprite of his own, named Torrent. Torrent lived by the same laws, and even spoke the same language as thunder-sprites here on Earth, even though he was from light-years away. He even looked identical, although his feathers were more emerald than sapphire. Here on Earth, animals quickly evolve into subspecies if separated by only a short distance, so how can creatures from light-years apart be so similar? The answer is that thunder-sprites are born from natural laws that are universal – the power of storms and lightning. There’s lightning on Jupiter just as there is on Earth and it obeys the same laws of physics. Torrent might be from a long way away, but in every sense he is a brother to Skald and every sprite on Earth. The only difference is that on Torrent’s world (which for the record is Vega), the thunder-heights are commanded, not by Silver-fist, but by a different Lord. In thunder-sprite legends, these Lords were always journeying to other worlds to meet strange creatures and even visit their sleeping dragons, just like Hethra and Halla.

A closer look at the world of thunder-sprites . . . FLIGHT

The reason witches and sprites originally formed working partnerships is one of those stories that’s so old nobody can get to the truth of it, although it seems every coven has its own legend explaining the origin of the witch/sprite union. One theme that remains common in every legend however, is the sprite’s love of flight. According to thunder-sprites, there’s nothing like the initial rush of streaking down from a thunderhead at supersonic speed, burning hotter than the sun’s surface, and then crashing into the earth below. It is the ultimate thrill ride. Sadly, for such action-loving creatures, if they strike a tree they’re committed to living in that tree until the day it dies (unless of course the bolt kills it), and that could be many, many years. Working with witches allows the sprite a chance to escape the confines of their tree and fly frequently, and gives a witch an invaluable ally and a magical tool in the form of a lightning-staff. Thankfully for sprites, the witches that come looking for them are at that pre-adolescent age where they feel ready for anything, and are only too happy to fly hard and fast. Some things never change . . .

Pencils

img_6859

Coloured Pencils – handy things to know . . .

All of my Wildwood art is drawn in colour pencil, and for those with an interest in this particular medium here’s an article about getting the best from your pencils.

First I gather the reference photos I’ll need, ones I’ve taken myself or sourced from elsewhere. Then I visualise how I’ll piece them together. I always use Daler Rowney pastel paper. It has a rough side and a smooth side and I always use smooth. Most of the time I’ll use Platinum: a neutral mid-grey shade. It might sound odd drawing on grey paper but I find that drawing with colour pencil on white paper spoils the effect, as the pigment leaves all the tiny dips and depressions in the paper uncovered and you end up with a kind of ‘white noise’ behind the image that breaks up its solidity. But that’s just me – a lot of CP artists like white paper.

Graphite can dirty the colours you lay on top, but to start with I sketch up my image with a 2B pencil, and this can take up to a day as I try out different compositions. Once I’m happy I have a choice – if the colour scheme I’m aiming for is dark then I can draw on top of the graphite (with care) but if it’s bright and breezy then first I’ll ‘dab’ off the graphite drawing with a pencil rubber so that it leaves the faintest of lines. I could of course draw faintly to start with, but that’d mean using a HB or 2H and that can leave ugly scratch marks on the paper. Sometimes I draw out my composition not in graphite but with a colour pencil, that way it’s guaranteed to be absorbed by the overlaying colours. The advantage of this is that there’s no risk of graphite smudging areas of delicate detail, such as a creamy complexion on a child’s face for instance. The down side of sketching with a colour pencil first is that they don’t like being rubbed out! You’re dealing with pigment that’s got oil or wax in, and the rubber can’t always get rid of the lines as it can with graphite – so be warned. If I draw in CP first then invariably I’ll use ‘nougat’ which is a nice subtle brown shade in the Polychromos range.

So now the under-drawing’s ready and the colour work can start. I draw a lot of human characters and they can be tricky, so I always start with the face which is the hardest part. If it goes bad then I scrap the picture and haven’t lost too much time. I use a range of colours, finding they all have their strengths and weaknesses . . .

Polychromos by Faber Castelle keep their point well and have good opacity, great for fine detail.

Prismacolor (American) mix and blend better than any other brand I’ve come across. They are softer, and so not as good for crisp fine detail. Not easy to source in the UK.

Derwent Drawing pencils come in a range of 24 earth/natural colours. They are great for nature studies and their cores are quite wide so good for laying down large areas of expressive colour.

Derwent Coloursoft have a wide core and are like Prismacolor in many ways, but I find them a little ‘chalky’ and so I only have a small range, although some of them I wouldn’t do without – cloud blue and brown-black spring to mind.

Lastly on the subject of pencils, don’t forget to include a good range of grey shades. I’ll often add a hint of grey to skin tones, sandwiched in between other pigments. Relying on colours alone can give an artificial ‘Disney’ look to a scene. So don’t forget the greys. I rely on my range of French Greys a lot.

Accessories: I have a small battery powered rubber that’s very handy if you’ve got to alter a small detail in a crucial place. It’s also great drawing tool in its own right, removing colour rather than laying it down.

Pencil extenders – better than throwing 30% of your pencils in the bin! Don’t know why more people don’t use them . . .

Scalpel – always use one for sharpening pencils and for scratching the finest lines in pigment to draw hair or spider silks etc.

Fixative: I use fix not to protect the drawing, but to get rid of wax-bloom. Once your drawing’s finished you might find it looking ‘dusty’ after a few days and wonder what’s going on. It’s wax-bloom. The oils in the pencils are now seeping to the surface. It’s easy to remove, you can either just fix it to seal it and restore the drawing, or wipe it gently with a soft tissue, and then either fix it or leave it – but the wax might come back. As I tend to work heavy there’s a lot of pigment on my drawings and the bloom can be a problem, so I let them ‘rest’ a few weeks then dust them down and spray them, but never spray too much at any one time as it’ll permanently discolour the drawing!

And lastly – tea, plenty of tea . . .

Sunday Flowers

Sunday Flowers

New artwork on the go – Sunday Flowers. Those who’ve read Raven’s Wand will know that Sunday is one of the main characters. We meet her at different points in her story-arc and see different aspects of her along the way, and although I can’t expand too much on what those aspects are without spoiling the plot, it’s fair to say that during Raven’s Wand we never really see Sunday as she ought to be – the solstice queen of Regal-Fox coven.

She boasts of being ‘a witch of high rank’, but what her duties as solstice queen might be we never find out fully. This wasn’t an oversight on my part, it’s just that Sunday’s background needed just a basic outline, otherwise it would have clogged up the flow of the story. In this illustration, I’ve decided to give Sunday a little of the ‘regal’ treatment that she believes magical practitioners deserve, and I’ve imagined her at Regal-Fox coven (before Krast’s Knights come along, of course) doing what she does best – being the centre of attention. The picture also hints at what her ‘solstice queen’ duties involve. Sunday’s association with the summer solstice is well documented, but I wanted to draw her on the winter solstice, welcoming back the sun after its long sleep, which for me personally is a far better reason to celebrate that the height of summer. Knowing the long winter nights are slowing ebbing is like letting out a huge gasp of relief! Sunday sits directly under the rising sun on December 21st, and she’s been there all night enduring the cold and meditating on this critical day of the year, because while magic might be regal, it’s also bloody hard. The whole coven will gather to see the sun rise as if from her crown of swan feathers, and as it does she becomes the living conduit between heaven and earth. Very regal.

Because this is a frosty December morning, I’ve included a lot of grey tones in her skin and hair, and the background will be likewise subdued. There were two ways to go about depicting her costume as far as I could see; one was to make it very showy, the other was to play it down and make it very simple, and that’s the look I’ve gone for. Our eyes should be on her, not what she’s wearing. When finished, we’ll see her attendants (a pair of foxes) and perhaps her thunder-sprite, Strike, and I hope the overall impact will be profoundly regal, just as Sunday would want. More to come . . .

devisers

devisers

Inventing the kinds of spells used by Dark Raven’s witches was good fun. I really wanted each character to boast a different skill. This is useful from a writer’s perspective as it marks each character in the reader’s mind and helps differentiate them, but also it gave me the chance to create my very own magical skills. I say ‘magical skills’ rather than ‘spells’ because once I’ve described how Kolfinnia can commune with trees for instance, there’s no need to repeat an incantation or spell every time she works her magic – it’s just something she does. Readers might also have noticed the lack of spoken spells throughout the story, (in fact, I think there’s only one instance where we overhear a witch reciting a spell; when Kolfinnia’s at the river, trying to topple the Knights) this is because I find magic spells a bit hackneyed in story terms and because my rhyming isn’t that poetic! Plotting what witch had what skill was very satisfying, but no matter how fantastical their skills I always rooted them in a logical approach. Flora can raise crops in moments because it’s crucial to self-sufficiency, and Kolfinnia couldn’t have recruited trees to their battle without her skill of reading woodgrain. It’s magic – but it’s also logic.

I took the same approach with ‘devisers’, witches’ dark Illuminata counterparts, and I’ve had no less fun inventing their twisted view of magic too. The term, ‘black magic’ has become such a cliché that it’s difficult to employ in a literary sense because readers will instantly think of The Devil etc. I’ve shied away from using the term ‘black magic’ all the way through the Dark Raven Chronicles for this very reason, and because I feel it’s derogatory to true witchcraft. That said, devisers do use magic, and their aims are always wicked, or at least their victims would say so. Deviser magic is the antithesis of true witchcraft because it exploits powerful natural forces for the practitioner’s sole benefit, regardless of the harm it causes to others. If a witch wanted to study nature, they would stand back and observe without intrusion – a deviser would imprison nature and dissect it. This to me is true ‘black magic’, and not a forked tail or cloven hoof in sight. Devisers’ handiwork is evident throughout Raven’s Wand; they inspired the first-dawn experiment and engineered the chromosite interrogation creatures. Without their devisers, the Illuminata’s Knights and Lords would be armed only with sticks and stones.

Here’s a test sketch for a new deviser horror from a later Dark Raven novel. Here I’ve sketched up a drone-scout called a ‘signalman’. Remember – devisers are hostile to rival Illuminata bloodlines as much as witches, and their inventions might equally target enemy knights as much as witches. The signalman looks like it means business to anyone that gets in its way, both from a writing point of view and an illustration one, but it also has to adhere to a twisted deviser-logic. From its cross-section we see a metal skeleton inside, but what’s the power source? Wrapped around the steel, sealed in a pressure suit filled with nutrient-fluids, writhe hundreds of engineered eels – of the electric variety. Remember, this is the late 19th century and the world is just waking up to the potential of electricity. Devisers have converted living creatures into a bio-electrical circuit providing the locomotive power. The signalman’s ‘brain’ is no less cunning. A copper orb is shrouded in a cerebral membrane cloned directly from the deviser controlling the scout. Through a short-range telepathic link, the deviser, who is safely tucked away in a bunker, inhabits the signalman and puts those unfeeling robotic arms and legs to very good (or bad) use. It’s twisted, but there’s a crazy logic to it that’s plausible enough to carry the reader along.

As The Dark Raven Chronicles continue to unfold we’ll see more of deviser society and how it fits the hierarchy of the Illuminata and how sometimes it comes into conflict with it. Raven’s Wand might have started the story with a bang, but it really only scratches the surface. I look forward to unleashing new magic upon readers over the coming months and years.

A Rare Bloom

Flora 150

One of my personal favourite characters from The Dark Raven Chronicles doesn’t take centre stage often and is easily regarded as a support character, although if she were to vanish, then places like Wildwood-coven would dry up and die. Her skills are crucial to Wildwood’s survival and it’s no exaggeration to describe her feats of magic as miraculous, and perhaps even holy.
She cannot make herself invisible, topple mountains, or shoot bolts of lightning from her fingertips, but The Illuminata nevertheless regard her brand of magic as deeply subversive, and toxic to their own agenda. Her powers are so profound, yet so fundamental to everyday life, that she is easily overlooked, but for me, Flora embodies the highest values of witchcraft. What good are lightning-bolts and superpowers if at the end of the day you have nothing to eat? Through the grace of the twins, Hethra and Halla, Flora can summon crops in any soil and any season, and turn barren earth into a productive garden in moments. For an organisation like The Illuminata, that control populations and nations through poverty, this is truly a terrifying prospect. Who would toil in the mills and mines to stave off starvation if they could emulate Flora’s miracle? Nobody. The foundations of Victoria’s Empire would sink into the sand, the pyramid of power would be inverted and the masses set free. All of this a witch like Flora could achieve if her magical skills were shared and spread.
For me, she is a hero of dignity and modesty, neither of which were accidental. Too often, heroes in popular film and fiction win through strength and force, and all too often female heroes have to become like men to achieve their victories. Kolfinnia and Flora take up arms to defend their world, but reluctantly and with consequences, and along the way they may have to take lives. Neither is it accidental that Flora is maimed – who can fail to spot her eye-patch – as when I crafted the character I knew she would be perhaps the most gentle yet most profound of Wildwood’s witches, and because cosmic laws are cruel and ironic, I imagined that she would have faced the greatest violence in her short life, because evil always seeks to undermine the greatest goodness. Flora was half-blinded as a girl, as punishment for being born to a witch. Her mother, Roslind, was taken for correctional-blessing, a civilized way to describe interrogation and capital punishment in The Illuminata’s world. And so Flora’s scars are found both inwardly and outwardly, affecting both flesh and spirit, yet her greatest triumph is to cling to her dignity and humanity despite all that’s been taken from her. As the story unfold, Flora’s skills prove the lifeblood of her coven, and later, when adapting magic to devise new ways of fighting The Illuminata, Flora’s talents veer from growing crops to growing thunder and lightning . . . although it would spoil the surprise if I were to explain how. She might not be a Lycra-clad, kung-fu babe with an attitude (thank Oak!) but Flora packs a punch that can topple empires, and best of all she’s modest about her powers and gentle with it – the rarest of blooms.

Kraken

 

Kraken II

Imagine you’re a witch, and by this I mean you follow a particular faith and pracitse magic to some degree, in the understanding that ‘magic’ is simply holding reverence for the Earth. You might find it hard to believe that this simple lifestyle rouses the intense hatred and fury of an organisation known as The Illuminata Knighthood. They openly denounce magic and magical practitioners as evil and persecute them, while covertly they confiscate any and all magical knowledge and twist it to suit their aims. To this end, they crush all sympathies and allegiance with magic amongst commoners and witches alike, using brutal and merciless tactics, whether in a so-called ‘courts of law’, or on the battlefield. If you were one of those people deemed a target by this organisation, you might wake up one day in your small rustic coven, hidden in the woods or some other remote place, to find an army of giant metal war machines bearing down upon you. These are The Illuminata’s Krakens. You can either run for your life as your home is demolished, or stand and fight, but considering true magic is the essence of revering the Earth, there is potentially little you can do against tons of iron and steel, bullets and flaming jets of fire. Chances are you would run – and run straight into the waiting arms of the massed infantry encircling the coven. You are vastly outnumbered and pitted against professional fighting men who have a taste for their work. Resist and you’ll be shot, and perhaps that’s for the best, as captured witches are taken for ‘correctional blessing’. Another coven is destroyed and more esoteric knowledge is confiscated and vanished from history. All in a day’s work for The Illuminata.

I drew upon my memories of illustrating for Games Workshop (long ago!) to produce this new artwork of Krakens. Against covens, they prove a highly effective psychological weapon, but as The Illuminata bloodlines are constantly warring amongst themselves, they’re also effective in crushing rival infantry, and even enemy Knights. The Illuminata’s roots reach almost as far back as witches themselves, and are equally steeped in magic, although of the malevolent deviser kind. Krakens themselves hint at these deep roots. They are not named for monstrous sea creatures as you might suppose, but for Krakon, the god of war worshipped by outlawed cults in antediluvian Atlantis. Ironic then that Atlantis was devoured by the sea, and the name Krakon became synonymous with a monster of the depths. But Kraken regiments and their arrogant Knights don’t have it all their own way. Sometimes they enter the field with banners flying high, but leave it as scrap metal. This is almost always when confronting enemy Knights, but on very exceptional occasions a regiment of those Krakens swagger into one of those small rustic covens only to be destroyed as surely as Atlantis itself, as Valonia will happily tell you . . .

A Story Within a Story

The Fairy's Tale

This illustration is entitled ‘A Fairy’s Tale’. In it, master-storyteller Chikabok entrances a gathering of woodland folk with a vivid tale. The gathering comprises a fantastical array of creatures, including keddy-potts, drummon-toadies, snap-dragons, slug-fairies, baby mountains and potato men, as well as Chikabok himself, who is clearly a magpie-fairy. Confused? You need not be . . .
Within The Dark Raven Chronicles, witches have their own customs and of course their own traditional tales. We might grow up knowing certain popular nursery rhymes, and it’s the same with children growing up in covens. All of the amazing creatures I’ve just described are familiar enough to young witches. I’ve always loved the idea of a story within a story, yet I never found the right place for it in Raven’s Wand. Instead, we’re afforded just hints and glimpses of the rich world that lies behind a coven like Wildwood. I wanted to include these traditional witches’ stories, but the pacing of the novel never really allowed it. Richard Adam’s included two or three of the rabbits’ folktales in Watership Down. (I’ve written a full blog on this, one of my favourite books, here on this website, entitled ‘Black Rabbits and Terrible Generals’). What I will say again, is how effective these small inclusions are at expanding any fictional world. It’s like peeping at the cogs that drive the hands on the clock.

For those who’ve read Raven’s Wand, or are reading it, keep an eye out for the following; Wildwood’s chief witch Valonia, on rare occasions calls her bright young student Kolfinnia, ‘Little Wolf Mother’. This isn’t just a throwaway remark. There’s a whole story behind it entitled ‘Wolves in the Stars’, which tells how in the distant past, a cosmic monster tried to devour the Earth, and was stopped by one particularly brave witch named Luna, and a vast pack of wolves led by wolf-mother Fen. It’s a real story, in the sense that it exists complete and ready to read, and it directly integrates with everything about The Dark Raven Chronicles, and explains why Kolfinnia earned the nickname Little Wolf Mother. Interesting, isn’t it?
There is another, perhaps even more potent example of a hidden story with Raven’s Wand. I think it crops up just twice, and always in a sombre context, but look carefully and you’ll hear Skald, Valonia’s thunder-sprite quote the phrase, ‘If need of witches be so great’. He’s not being melodramatic – he’s quoting a pact made by his own Lord long ago, and which directly relates to his partnership with Valonia. ‘If need of witches be so great’. What does it really mean? Again, the story to explain this vague but ultimately critical pact, entitled ‘A Witch’s Best Friend’, exists and is ready to read, and in doing so we also learn something very special about Skald.
I hope that eventually all of these short stories will become available, but like fractals, the deeper we look the more detail we see, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find a story within a story within a story . . .

Soul sign

Sunday soul II

Fairies don’t see the world as we do, at least not those fairies that dwell in The Dark Raven Chronicles. When frost-fairy Neet, meets witch Sunday Flowers for the first time, he’s entranced by her soul sign. This mystical representation of the soul takes the form of a tree, and floats above the crown of the head. Some of the branches might be bare, while others are in bud, or laden with fruit or flowers, and these branches might sit right beside others that are twisted and diseased. The branches represent all that’s good and bad about a person. Neet can see this, but Sunday, for all her skills as a witch, can’t.

Neet’s seen many soul-signs down the years, and although he understands little of the symbolism he instantly recognises that Sunday’s soul is unique – terrifyingly so. All other trees he’s seen are complete, yet Sunday’s tree has been cut clean through the trunk. Somehow she has defied the first and oldest universal law – she has died, and returned to life.

Flowers of Fate is the second novel in The Dark Raven Chronicles, and aside from being what I hope is an exciting story, it explores deep issues such as freewill versus fate, atonement and self-sacrifice. I look forward to sharing Flowers of Fate with readers later this year.

Beauty and Duty

for blog

Reworking the cover for Raven’s Wand, the first of the Wildwood books, I brought Kolfinnia to the fore. Book covers demand an eye-catching and appealing image for obvious reasons, but I didn’t want Kolfinnia (the story’s young hero) reduced simply to cover decoration. She’s a young woman with a serious duty, she’s been through a lot and has a lot more to get through before the book’s over.

I hope she’s beautiful (and beauty’s a wildly subjective topic!) and if she is, then I hope it’s because of what’s inside her. Look into her eyes – there’s focus and resolve there. She’s strong, but not in a macho-aggressive way that some writers portray female leads, but rather it’s her sense of compassion and justice that enable her to face the challenges ahead. I wanted to keep the focus on her face and what she’s feeling. Look long enough, and the surrounding details begin to melt away and only Kolfinnia’s steady gaze remains. Before you know it you’re looking at a real person, not just a pleasing face to brighten a book cover, and it’s her conviction that helps make a fantasy story seem more like a story rooted in fact. Neither did I want any trace of voyeurism. Sorry – but nobody goes into action in high heels and a bikini outside of the realm of Hollywood.

So here is Kolfinnia, holding Raven’s Wand itself. Around her are witches’ deities Hethra and Halla, the dragons of oak and holly that she’s prepared to defend to the death, as well as Skald, her loyal thunder-sprite. She is as real as you or I, as are the dangers and joys she faces. The fact that she happens to have a pretty face is immaterial . . . but it makes for a nice cover (-: