Chinese space

Returning to the subset of science / sci-fi focussed posts on Writer’s Block, I came across these wonderful Chinese posters, glorifying the Chinese Space program. I understand that the program started in earnest after a satellite was successfully launched in 1970, which continuously broadcast Dongfang hong (东方红, The East is Red), one of the best known Chinese tunes, which eulogizes Mao Zedong. The program stalled during the 1970’s with the Cultural Revolution, and these posters date to that time and the early 80’s.

Rather like traveling, they give you a bewildering glimpse into a different culture, don’t they? I can’t help but wonder if they would have been received more cynically in the West, although of course I don’t know what the reception was within China either. I do love the colour palettes used. Can’t miss the appeal of socks and sandals teamed with a space helmet though! 😉

My thanks to http://www.chineseposters.net for this information.

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Kay Nielsen’s Stunning 1914 Scandinavian Fairy Tale Illustrations

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These are too beautiful to miss, so I thought I would reblog them for you.

I particularly like the sense of line, and the carefully chosen colour palettes. If only I could get some illustrations as gorgeous as this for my novel and short story collection: I’ve been thinking for some time that it would be nice to release a version with illustrations. Somehow the lack of time gets in the way – not to mention that my own style of drawing tends rather to Dr. Suess than Errol LeCain. 🙂

You can see more of these lovely illustrations at:

Kay Nielsen’s Stunning 1914 Scandinavian Fairy Tale Illustrations | Brain Pickings.

Artist profile: Judith Logan Farias

Copyright Judith Logan-Farias

Copyright Judith Logan-Farias

If you’ve dipped into this blog before, you’ll know that one of my projects at the moment is an Anthology about Honest Motherhood. That is, the real thing as experienced by ‘ordinary’ women in all its diversity and complexity, rather than the bland, white bread, buy-this-and-it-will-make-you-happy version. I’ve been immensely lucky to have had contributions from a great collection of women from around the world, and I’d like to take the opportunity to introduce you to a few of them.

Judith Logan Farias is an artist based in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, although she spent nine years living in Chile. An artist and illustrator, she works in various media, in a style that has been described as a mix of naive, figurative and semi-abstract. She is inspired by Nature, pattern, colour and designs, and loves to sketch from life when her three young children will permit her to! She not only produces beautiful prints and artwork, but has also done book illustrations and even an album cover!

While the female figure and nature are typical themes in her art, the struggle between her love for two countries and a sense of belonging is also sometimes present.

Judith says, “If I can be surrounded by nature, walk for miles and still have a coffee with a sketchbook or a good read, then that`s all I need to be happy, although if there were more than 24 hours in a day, I`d be even happier….”

She is one of our contributing artists for the project, having done a fabulous pen and ink drawing. If you check out her blog or Facebook page, you will see the sort of work she does, and why I’m so honoured to have her art in our Anthology!

If you have a story to tell, or artwork which expresses your experience of motherhood, please feel free to get in touch with me. Love to hear from you!

Exhibitionists

This year, I’m entering two paintings in the Linden Gallery’s postcard exhibition.  I entered last year, and was blown away when someone actually bought one of my paintings! Astonished that someone would hand over their hard-earned for my daubs.

The exhibition is open to everyone, the only restriction being that the pieces have to be 30 x 30cm or less. I did wonder what the quality of work would be like, but in fact it was very high. The variety of pieces was fascinating, and the different ways that people had embraced the small format.

Here are my entries for this year. Please don’t laugh too hard.

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The abstract is a representation of different colours I’ve seen in particular landscapes, and overlaid with interventions – they might be people passing through, fire events or even fenceposts.

The other is a portrait of the tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle. It’s done all in colour (no black within his face), and in pointillist style to reflect the movement of a tattoo needle. The borders show flash on skin.

I suppose it would be quite appropriate to draw a parallel between this exhibition and Indie publishing. In both cases, the artists and writers do it for the love, rather than the money (usually!), and yet we choose to bare our souls and share that work with a wider audience. Does that make us overly self important exhibitionists? The old phrase “vanity publishing” would suggest so.

However, I would suggest that perhaps there is something more democratic at work. The Linden exhibition allows people who are not full time artists to show their works, in the same way that indie publishing allows people who are not full time authors to share their writing with the world. The good stuff will hopefully be well received. Either way, the public are allowed to choose which work they like, free of the conventions and prejudices of professional critics and publishing houses.

Image courtesy of lookupatthesky.wordpress.com

Image courtesy of lookupatthesky.wordpress.com

For me, I think it is also perhaps something of an act of bravado – a challenge to somewhat introverted self to lay myself open to a wider audience. It’s not an easy thing to do, unless you have a thick skin. I recall strongly the first time I did a dance solo, in front of about 350 people. I was absolutely terrified beforehand, but regardless of how it was received, afterwards I was proud that I had been able to do it. It’s a great feeling to challenge yourself and rise to that challenge.

How about you? I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts about these subjects. Are Indie authors and artists just blowing their own trumpet?

Evolution of a Cover

As many of you are aware, I’m about to release my first novel, The Artemis Effect, on an unsuspecting world. One of the many benefits of being an Indie author is the chance to be involved with the development of your own cover art, and I thought you might like to see how we got to the final version of the art for this novel.

I worked with Richard Morden of Mordenart, who is an illustrator of many years experience. He is the author of several books himself, and also an avid science fiction fan, so he seemed a terrific person to go to. Richard is also very friendly, should anyone else like to discuss their project with him!

Richard read the novel (not in it’s most final form, but pretty close) before starting any artwork. We then had a long and for me, quite difficult discussion on who we thought would be the target audience. It is actually surprising hard to narrow down from: Anyone who likes a good story, to specific target gender, age, and interests. As it’s quite a people-based story, we didn’t want to alienate readers who are shy of the ‘robots and spaceships’ type of science fiction, but at the same time, we did want to embrace the great history of sci-fi cover art. Considering the size of a Kindle screen, we also needed typography which was clear and yet arresting.

These are the first three sketches: all quite different. The circular features in each sketch are the Moon, which is a central theme in the book.

As the story is curiously structured with three separate and yet interlinked threads, I was quite taken by the first of these, as we could then have one of the main characters from each thread represented. I also loved the idea of a tag-line along the bottom of the page, which I hadn’t previously thought of including.

Richard and I are both members of Colourlovers, which is a site for people who perhaps obviously enough, love colour, and combining colours in new and interesting ways. I sent though a grab bag of swatches which I thought would work well with the audience and themes we had discussed, and these were used to inform the new revision of the design. There were quite a few, but here is a selection:

From here, Richard was able to take away the design to his lair and play with it for a while. When the first draft came back, I was pretty happy with it! I particularly love the texture he added to make it look more like old pulp fiction, which is apparently an image from an old hoarding. The three characters represented are Scott, in the middle, from Australia; Megan on the left, from Wales; and Kimberley, from Cleveland, Ohio. Apparently Kimberley is modeled on Halle Berry! This is actually very much in keeping with her character as a strong independent woman.

There was a bit of a hiatus in the process while the rest of the team messed about with final edits and proofreading, but finally we came back to Richard with some feedback along the lines of increasing the size of the figures, and also tweaking the colours a little. This is the final version – I hope you like it as much as I do! It also reads well in black and white, as although it will display in colour in iPads, of course Kindle is monochrome.

I’ve found the process quite fascinating, and I’ve been very lucky to work with someone so talented. A much, much better result than if I had tried to design it on my own.

The Modernist Nerd: Vintage Science Ads from the 1950s and 1960s

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I blundered across this link to adverts for scientific equipment and technology which I though you might enjoy. I’m not completely sure what some of these advertisements are for, but they are really gorgeous pieces of graphic design, and strongly reminiscent of sci-fi paperback covers of the 50’s.

The Modernist Nerd: Vintage Science Ads from the 1950s and 1960s | Brain Pickings.

If you have time, also check out the link to the Nerd tattoos in this article – some are quite stunning!

Hyper Trophies

Graphics are getting pretty astonishing these days. I’d like to share with you this link to a collaboration between Berlin fashion label Franzius, and ProdCo Tink Berlin. They are moving still life sculptures – please following the link below, as I can only paste a still image here, which doesn’t give the movement of these images.

Hyper Trophies on the Behance Network.

What a fantastic stimulus for a sci-fi story! Bring on the day when we can illustrate e-books with images like this. 🙂

At what cost e-books?

Two things have recently come together for me to remind me of the potential cost of e-books recently.

I’m not talking about the dollars and cents cost – that is obviously much lower than buying a physical book. Nor am I talking about the environmental cost. Admittedly, it takes power to read an e-book, but there must be a lot of physical books which absorb not only power in their production, but also resources such as paper.

What I’m talking about is the loss of skills.

The first instance which really brought this home to me was recently receiving a Kindle. When you turn it off, it somewhat ironically has varied screensavers of the bygone age of printing: blocks for printing, type, rolled up newspapers, sharpened pencils. All very beautifully photographed in black and white, but also a bit sad.

The second was speaking to an illustrator who works primarily on children’s books and text books. As we all know, traditional publishers have been really shaken up by the popularity of e-books. From the outside at least, it seems as if they are running scared. As I understand it, this has lead them to be more and more conservative in their choices for books, and also on the outlay they are willing to make on a book. My friend the illustrator is at the end of the food chain, and so when publishers don’t publish as much, or decide they can recycle illustrations from previous editions, he’s one of the little people who lose out.

This is a great post I read recently on this subject: Birth of a book from Katy at Storytelling Nomad. It certainly brought on a dose of nostalgia for me.

I recognise that the market for books is not infinitely expandable, but arguably, publishers (and ultimately readers) are shooting themselves in the foot by taking this approach. By producing less titles, they make it harder to get published, especially if you are a new author. Therefore, more people are bound to either be disheartened by rejections, or turn to Indie publishing, compounding the problem.

By providing less work for all the people who rely on the publishing industry, (graphic designers, illustrators, printers and so on), they decrease the skills base available to them, as people are forced to move into different industries.

I was taught graphics by a fabulous old gentleman who had worked in advertising in the days before computers. This was a man who really understood colour, layout and the impact of different fonts. He made us draw letters by hand, and there are a great many fine nuances in their shape which influences the feel of the finished piece. Now that we can all produce our own covers, and the formatting of the book is largely a dictate of whichever device we are producing it for, all of that sophistication is lost.

As someone about to become an Indie author myself, I realise that this may seem like a slightly hypocritical rant. 🙂 However, I do think there is a place for both e-books, and truly beautiful hard copy books. Maybe this is how physical books can truly differentiate themselves? If we want a quick read, an airport book, or to sample a new author, then e-books seem a good way to go without using precious resources.

But for a really treasured tome, or to own books by authors we adore, perhaps we should be willing to spend a bit more for a beautiful thing. Maybe this is just my buried luddite coming out, but the loss of the special for the ease of the mass produced seems to make us all poorer. Love to hear your thoughts.

International Children’s Book Day

Well, I guess there is a day for everything now, but apparently today is International Children’s Book day. It’s a day to read to your children, and also to encourage a love of reading.

Rather surprisingly, given kids interest in robots and spaceships (not that I’m saying sci-fi is just that), there really seems to be quite a limited range of kids books in the science fiction genre. Most of those suggested seem to really border more on the Young Adult market. There is of course quite a lot in the fantasy genre, and dragons and unicorns also seem very good fodder for young imaginations.

Some of my personal science fiction favorites (some of which may not still be in print, unfortunately):

Dinosaurs and all that Rubbish

A fabulous picture book, ahead of its time in terms of a strong environmental message. A man sees a star, which he longs to visit. He orders his factories to build him a  spaceship to reach that star, in the process destroying the Earth, and covering it with pollution and rubbish.  The heat from all the rubbish wakes up the dinosaurs who have been sleeping under the earths surface, and they clean up the Earth, with dancing dinosaurs breaking up the roads, and others burning waste in volcanoes. The man, reaching his star, sees that it is very dull, and want to visit the beautiful world he sees in the distance, which is Earth. But will the dinosaurs share?

Olaf’s Incredible Machine

Beautifully illustrated book, about an inventor who creates a machine who’s only purpose is to grow. As it grows and is fed coal and paraffin, houses must be built for the workers, and so rather like the book above, the Earth is slowly covered by machinery. No-one will listen to Olaf when he says that they should stop feeding the machine, so he builds a new home on a platform with plants and animals, supported by a beautiful balloon. Eventually, the roots of the plants reach down to the workers, and they scramble up into the fresh air above, and no-one is left to feed the machine.

Peril Space Tours

This book  is full of complex puzzles, mazes, logic problems and spot-the-difference challenges, held together around the story of taking a tour through the galaxy on a rickety spacecraft. I love the humour in the illustrations, and some of the puzzles are genuinely quite hard! Thankfully solutions at the back.

The Captain Cal series

Captain Cal and her friends zoom off into the galaxy – a lovely work of imagination. In truth, the text is not all that exciting, but a lot of the story (and the imagination) is in the illustrations by Richard Morden.

I’d love to hear if anyone else has any suggestions!

You may also enjoy these bits and pieces:

Spoofs of kids books

Other suggestions

Dr Who monsters who missed the cut

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A disaster befell our household the other day. The video player (yes – you remember VHS,) finally broke down after 15 years of faithful service. So we’re making the slow and painful transition of recording all our irreplaceable videos to mp4.  I’ve heard that it’s the curse of Gen X to always be converting things between formats. It has had the up-side that we have been re-watching our old Dr Whos. These are the ones from the age of Tom Baker – the man who really lived the Dr Who role. They are slower than the modern ones, and in some ways more enjoyable. The stories take place over between four and six half hour episodes, and actually make sense, which is more than can be said of a few of the new ones. There is no CGI, and so the monsters are rather charmingly made of bubble wrap and egg boxes. I think these were the days when Dr. Who didn’t really take itself too seriously.

Anyway, I have been tempted to create a few Dr Who monsters of my own, just for fun. I have stuck to the rules that they need to have an actor inside them, as you will notice a strange propensity for the aliens Dr Who meets to have a basically humanoid form. Enjoy!

An alien crustacean