Super Nova(con)

A convention snapshot…

Novacon is the UK’s longest-established science fiction convention. It started in 1971 as the Birmingham Science Fiction Group’s annual meetup, then expanded and moved around over the years, eventually finding its spiritual home in Nottingham. Novacon is a little different to your bigger conventions; there are no costumes or that sort of thing, and has a stronger emphasis on the literary side of SF&F, but all aspects of fandom are covered – film, television and comics, etc. As you might expect, there’s a rolling programme of panel discussions, science talks, art talks and a whole range of other things alongside book launches, author readings and of course, the busy dealer’s room, fantastic art show and art auction. Every year offers something different and a Guest of Honour whose presence, interests and work form a central point to many of the discussions. 

This year’s Guest of Honour was Mike Carey – perhaps now best known as author of The Girl With All the Gifts. Needless to say, the film and book were regular talking points, as were Carey’s Felix Castor series and his work in the graphic novel industry. In fact, the discussions around comics and graphic novels was refreshing and really interesting for me, as a one-time wannabe comic artist! Mike also gave us several engaging readings from his forthcoming novel, The Book of Koli

I have been going to Novacon since 2012 and have met a wide range of amazing people – many have become good friends and others I’ve gone on to collaborate with on cover art. During Sunday’s closing ceremony, Mike Carey described Novacon as “warm hearted”, and I couldn’t have put it better. The bulk of the membership is made up by many familiar, returning faces. It is an easygoing and welcoming convention and refreshing to be able to casually chat with renowned authors or artists without any sense of celebrity or ego. This year, Christopher Priest attended with his daughter Elizabeth – now also a published writer. It was great to have the time to catch up with him, as I have admired his writing for many years. 

The convention drink of choice is Black Sheep ale, which tends to start flowing early on and continues throughout the weekend. It may result in people falling asleep during talks and snoring loudly (the point at which a polite reminder they’ve also paid for a bed wouldn’t be a bad thing). But loud nasal interference aside, it is always nice to have the flexibility that the con offers; some folk attend all the talks, some are more selective, while others simply seem to go purely for the social side of things and set up camp in the bar, catching up with old friends and making new ones.

While the crowd ought to (and deserves to) be a little larger, what I do like about this convention is its size, as you can find the time and space for proper conversation; and if you want to find somebody again, you can – unlike at bigger events such as Eastercon where everything is so packed and frantic, and simply trying to track somebody down or have a conversation in more than passing is quite difficult.

I mainly attend Novacon to be a part of the art show. It is always an honour to be able to exhibit my work alongside renowned space and science fiction artist, David A. Hardy (who has been at every Novacon since 1973!). The art show brings in a vast range of styles and genres, from new artists to well-known names. The art room – or in this year’s case, rooms – are brimming with science fiction, space and fantasy art and illustration in all media, plus various other arts and crafts, such as jewellery, needlework and even knitwear! Serena and John always work tirelessly to make sure their artists are looked after, and we can never thank them enough! Most of the art on show comes with a bid sheet for any potential buyers, and the pieces with bids are entered into the art auction on the Sunday.

The dealers’ room mainly comprises booksellers and independent publishers, such as PS Publishing, NewCon Press and Elsewhen Press – all of whom are putting out some of the most exciting and original titles in science and speculative fiction, fantasy and horror. 

It’s not all about science fiction though – Novacon doesn’t forget the science bit! Although this year, there was no British Interplanetary Society presence, David A. Hardy gave us a whirlwind visual tour of the planets, via his excellent presentation To the Stars – On A Paintbrush!, and as always, there were two science talks. I missed the first, but astrophysicist, Dr Rachael Livermore gave an excellent insight on the Sunday morning into Dark Matter – a fascinating and fun way to start the day (even though I tend to find science talks first thing in the morning a little too much for my convention brain!). 

I took part in the panel which followed – a great discussion on working with artists, alongside Mike Carey, Manga expert Zoe Burgess and Peter Buck of Elsewhen Press – all chaired by Patrick McMurray. I have obviously attended enough Novacons now to have progressed from audience member to panel participant! 

Novacon for me is also about those great connections. Two such examples are Elsewhen Press, whom I met during my first Novacon, and have since illustrated several of their book covers; and a couple of conventions later, I met Helen Claire Gould, who after seeing my art display, invited me to produce the cover art for her début novel, Floodtide – it was great to see Helen back at Novacon this year, promoting the book as well as her more recent titles.

The Sunday afternoon sadly comes around so quickly, and it doesn’t feel like a few minutes have past since installing the art show on the Friday, when the time comes to reluctantly disassemble it. However, with not one, but four Guests of Honour booked for next year – Novacon’s big five-o – it will certainly be an event to look forward to.

After all, what more could you want, but to share a hotel with several hundred likeminded people?

Novacon 49. Photos by Alexa Dubreuil-Storer

Mike Carey – All That’s Red Earth

For this year’s Novacon (report to follow…), I was invited to provide the cover art to the traditional convention chapbook that each attendee receives in their welcome pack. This year’s Guest of Honour was Mike Carey, author of The Girl With All the Gifts and the Felix Castor series (among others!).

This year’s chapbook – limited to just 250 copies – contains two short stories; All That’s Red Earth and Second Wing. Both stories are featured in The Complete Short Stories of Mike Carey, from PS Publishing. However, this was an opportunity to illustrate one of them, and All That’s Red Earth was the selected, as it is the story that ultimately spawned Mike’s forthcoming novel, The Book of Koli.

I usually ask writers or publishers for a synopsis and chapter or excerpt, as I rarely have the time to read a full manuscript prior to illustrating a book cover. However, this being a short story was ideal, as I could read the whole thing. Mike was particularly keen on one of the scenes towards the end, where the story’s protagonist Tari, summons a snowstorm by magic. We also agreed it would also work well as an image to provide an overall feel for the story.

Mono draft sketch:

One of the many enjoyable things about this cover for me was that it was a little different to what I’ve done before, and I also wanted to reflect that in the colour scheme. While the scene needed the onset of a blizzard, too much snow wouldn’t work, and I really wanted to capture the colours of a wintry sunset. The character of Tari is an unusual one, which took a couple of revisions to get right – such is the joy of working digitally!

It was a real pleasure to be able to give All That’s Red Earth its own cover art – and here it is.

Final cover:

Wanderlust

I’m pleased to have recently designed the cover to L.Costevelos‘ début novel, Wanderlust – a dark psychological fantasy. And here it is!

Looking at the genre(s), we decided a more conventional photographic approach was best for Wanderlust rather than illustration, which was also a nice change for me.

Wanderlust is available now via Amazon in print and ebook formats.

Wanderlust_cover

Rophonic – In With the Out Crowd

I was recently commissioned by Sheffield duo Rophonic, to produce the cover art to their new album, In With the Out Crowd. With an advance preview of the album, I was able to immerse myself in the pastoral and hazy world of Rophonic, and there came the challenge of creating a piece of cover art to match the music.

Guitarist and vocalist Peter Rophone’s brief was “this is the world where dreams are made”, and that both band members should be relatively small. The rest was up to me.

We initially looked at a variety of different artists for inspiration, particularly English Romantic painter John Martin, whose work we both admire. From this, came the conclusion that there should be a golden dusky sunset.

After working on several very different concepts, I hit upon the right direction, with what is on first impressions, a warm, surreal and dreamy landscape. Yet on closer inspection, it looks somewhat dystopian. There are strange buildings towering into the horizon, and the scene is framed by ruins. Rophonic themselves stand among the crumbling ruins, but both figures are overgrown with vines and entangled with creepers, as if they’ve been there for some time… perhaps in perpetual performance!

With tracks such as Welcome Back to the Afterlife, The Door Into Summer or the sublime Curtain Call which closes the album, the music does indeed pose certain questions as to our existence and what comes next. I wanted to reflect this in the strange world I had created – which is part digital painting and part photo montage.

The artwork was designed to continue across the front and back cover of the album packaging, plus there would be a different scene on the inside. Having created the main panoramic piece for the cover, the next challenge was applying the text.

I decided to use a transparency effect for the typography. White text (or any other colour for that mater) simply cut through the artwork and jarred with the whole thing. This needed to be subtle, yet legible and in-keeping with the mood of the whole project.

In With the Out Crowd is available on CD and digital download via Bandcamp.

The Sleeping Dragon

This week, my latest cover art was unveiled – a full cover wrap for The Sleeping Dragon, a fantasy comedy by Jonny Nexus.

This is probably among a minority of fantasy books with “dragon” in the title, but no dragon in sight on the cover, and there is a good reason for this – but you’ll just have to investigate the book when it comes out, to discover why!

Jonny was keen to show two times within the cover; a lush, Tolkeinesque landscape of the past, intersected with a glimpse of the future metropolis that would be built on the same land. Showing the future vision via a crystal ball conveyed the magical, fantastical element that we wanted.

The Sleeping Dragon Cover

I also created a short animated visual for the cover, which Jonny has used in his own cover reveal video…

You can find out more about the book and Jonny’s other work, by following him on Twitter.