I've said it before and I'll say it again: fan art--and fan fiction--gets a bad rap, despite having this amazing power to build community, support other creators, and expand an artist or writer's skills. It took me a long time to stop feeling embarrassed about creating fan art and -fiction--now I can look back and see all the strides I've made because I was inspired by my favorite books or movies to draw and write, and I can safely say I wouldn't be at the same place, technically or stylistically, without sketchbooks and Word documents full of fan-fueled creations.
It's timely, then, that I'll be giving two presentations this summer on the power and value of fan art! I'll be sharing some work that has made a difference in my career and doing a live-drawing demonstration of a popular character the audience will help me pick (for more info, see my Events page). To get ready for these programs, I asked my Facebook and Twitter followers to vote on a character I should draw for my May blog post. Out of a poll of four cool young women, Katara beat out Hermione, Eowyn, and Moana!
I got into Avatar: The Last Airbender in undergrad, which at the time felt way too old to be watching a kid's anime, but now I love referencing it as an example of masterful storytelling, worldbuilding, and character arcs. And I hadn't drawn Katara in so long! So here she is---check out her progress video and art tutorial below the jump!
“What are you doing, Mrs. Beaver?” exclaimed Susan.
Ah, the quest—a staple of fantasy literature both classic and modern. Rugged journeys through wild lands, relying on wit and luck and the kindness of strangers. Quests and survivalism remain some of my favorite tropes to both read and write.
However, I have to admit, when I read a quest where there’s no mention of packs or bags—or more blatantly, when there’s a movie adaptation and no depiction of characters carrying gear—the ranger in me convulses a little. You, human, hiking through the wilderness—where’s your water bottle? Your map? Your fire kit? Your blanket?
I get it—bulky packs look silly (which is why Samwise carries one for comic relief), and too much time spent on travel minutiae can bog down a story’s pacing. But in fantasy worldbuilding, it’s often the mundane details juxtaposed with fantastic elements that create a complex, lived-in world. Seeing Hermione trying to stew mushrooms in a billy can in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows shows us how dire things can get, even for wizards. And seeing Mrs. Beaver determined to pack a few necessities despite the complaints of the others show that while strange and wonderful, Narnia is still a dangerous place for the unprepared.
This is one of two segments I’m planning to write on the topic of quest practicality—in this post I’ll focus on the most basic gear a typical human might need to survive in the wilderness, while the second installment will be on improvising the rest from the surrounding environment, like first aid, shelter, and clean water. This is all written for like-minded authors collecting ideas to flesh out their world- and character-building, not for adventurers looking to pull a Christopher McCandless and strike out into the wild. We can have that conversation another time, when I’m wearing my ranger hat.
Read more after the jump!
Some of you know that Creatures of Light had to be almost entirely rewritten just a few months before publication--particularly if you were lucky enough to follow along my slow deterioration into temporary insanity while on deadline last summer. The book as it exists now was written in about three and a half months. While there are a few snippets that remained the same from the first incarnation to the next--like some of the travel through the cave system, and a bit of the interaction with Gemma's mother--most of it is completely different. Different characters died, different characters fell in love, different countries ended up with alternative political systems. And almost none of it revolved around the protagonist, Gemma--which became the main reason the story needed a complete reorientation.
The book is much stronger now, thanks to the guidance from my agent and editor and feedback from my betas. And one of the many gifts the rewrite has given me is an entire manuscript of unpublished material. Most of it is irrelevant now, but the prologue below still could have happened within the canon of the current book. In it, we see Mona, Mae, Rou, and Colm a few weeks after the end of Ashes to Fire, with Mona sick in bed and still trying to get stuff done anyway. I never truly loved this prologue, because unlike the first two books, it didn't add any extra layers to the story--and again, none of it revolves around the protagonist at all. But it's got a few little fun snippets, and probably still happened in the interlude between books 2 and 3. Check it out below the jump!
Warning: There are some spoilers for Woodwalker and Ashes to Fire included, so proceed at your own discretion!
The Creatures of Light trilogy is complete! Help celebrate the last book in the series by participating in the Creatures of Light Coloring Contest! One randomly-drawn winner will receive a full trilogy set, with author-illustrated title pages and matching bookmarks!
The contest runs from March 12 to April 15, 2018. Get all the details, rules, and, of course, coloring pages in the Coloring tab!
This month, in the lead-up to the Creatures of Light paperback release, I've been producing all kinds of bonus content--including character profiles for a few final main characters. The most significant, of course, is Celeno, Seventh King of Alcoro and sort of the unwitting epicenter of all the messes everybody's sorting through in the series. His character design has remained fairly constant from my early drafts--my mom fan-cast him as Oscar Isaac pretty early on, which has given me a good stable design foundation (as well as a phone gallery full of Poe Dameron screencaps).
For Celeno's official character portrait, I took a video of my Photoshop process, from sketch to finished product. Check it out below the jump:
Quick, when I say Harry Potter, what’s the visual image that springs to your mind?
It’s probably a picture of the protagonists decked out with wands and robes, right? But is that all? Are they drifting in a void? Or do you see the setting around them—vast, mischievous Hogwarts castle, with its shifting staircases and moving portraits? The mysterious library, the murky lake, the rolling grounds?
As writers, we hear a lot about worldbuilding—the art of creating a deep, well-rounded world that provides the physical and cultural setting for our plot. When this is done well, any mention of a story instantly gives the reader a vivid mental picture. But worldbuilding can go a step further! Instead of just being a setting or backdrop for your characters to move through, it can become almost another side character—something that your characters don’t just react to, but interact with. Something that gives heft to the plot and affects the story.
Hi all! After a few months' hiatus, the blog is back, with a fresh and more orderly outlook on life. Starting in January, I will be posting once-a-month content, geared toward one of three audiences: artists, writers, and readers of my work. Content may include art videos and tutorials, writing and publishing tips, and bonus content from my books. Additionally, each post will contain:
This is a post I’ve been planning for months, ever since I attended a local school’s career day and geeked out with a bunch of middle-school artists about fandoms and fantasy. When I told them their sketchbooks reminded me of mine at that age, they exclaimed that I should post re-draws of some of my old art. I told them I would—but of course, between then and now, I’ve had a full manuscript to re-write and an eighteen-chapter middle grade novel to illustrate, on top of my day job and maintaining the illusion of being a competent parent. Now, in the brief inhale between projects, I have just enough time to finally follow through on this post.
There was no question as to which work I should redo, particularly not after I got my hands on Megan Whalen Turner’s Thick as Thieves, the fifth book in the Queen’s Thief series. I’ve posted twice before about the impact MWT has had on me and my art and writing, but the cliff notes version is--a lot of impact. I read the first book shortly after it came out in 1996, and from day one the protagonists started appearing in my childhood drawings. From sketchbook to sketchbook, through the rise and fall of other obsessions, Eugenides was a constant face—he appears at least once, and usually much more, in all fourteen of my high school sketchbooks. And Turner’s storytelling has been driving my own since I first started scribbling stories in spiral-bounds at age ten—right around the same time I first read The Thief.
So it’s fitting, I think, for this post to be half art-redraws and half testament to my longest-running, longest-beloved fandom.
I wish I had some of the earliest pieces I drew in elementary and middle school, but unfortunately, most of that art is gone now. The plastic portfolio I was keeping many of them in got wet at some point in my parents’ basement and mildewed beyond recognition. So sadly, the earliest work I have is from around 2005, when I was a junior in high school and nine years into my relationship with MWT’s work.
Based on context clues from the surrounding pages in my sketchbook, at that time I was hashing out the plot for my 7th spiral-bound novel and in the first real fever-pitch of my obsession with Lord of the Rings. I had the time and brainspace in those days for two obsessions at once, and sure enough, in the midst of cropping off movie-Legolas’ blonde locks and drawing weird winged cat creatures, Gen and his companions pop up, complete with awkward posing and a cartoonishly villainous Ambiades.
My style in those days tended toward oversized heads and undersized necks, and noses that extended halfway up foreheads. I was learning from old Internet mainstays like Tealin and Makani, trading my ill-formed pseudo-anime for their Disneyesque style. I still draw my heads too big and my necks too long, so even though the below redraw was done in 2015, I tweaked it a little to fix some of those errors.
Half a sketchbook later, in the summer of 2005, amid the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Gen was back, this time with Helen, who is obviously telling him off about something. Gen still has his long hair, so I like to think of this as Helen coming to find him after the events of The Thief.
At the time I was not a fan of Irene, thinking of her as soulless and cruel, but the thing I love most about MWT’s work is that it has aged with me. Now I love the sharp vulnerability and complexity of Irene’s character and how both she and Helen use every ounce of their resources to direct their lives and their countries.
As a strange interlude—this was around the same time I started watching the Marx Brothers, too, which my brain somehow fused irrevocably into a moment from Thick as Thieves, when we learn Gen re-introduces himself to the Mede ambassador every time they meet.
Near the end of high school I started teaching myself to work digitally. I’ve lost a lot of my earliest work—it’s probably on some ancient floppy disk or fifty-meg thumb drive, but I’ve yet to find it. The oldest digital Thief piece I can find is from around 2007, when I was a freshman in college and re-reading the series for the umpteenth time. By this point I had developed a basic proficiency in Photoshop, though my egregious use of a single jarring background texture leaves something to be desired, demonstrated here as Pol threatens Gen to keep his mouth shut. Judging from Pol’s exaggerated Bruce Timm torso, this was around the time I was watching a lot of animated Justice League and Justice League Unlimited
My college sketchbooks were dominated once again by Lord of the Rings, my own novels, and new faces from Avatar: The Last Airbender, but Gen still sneaks in once in a while, accompanied now by Costis and Sophos. The “Are you out of your mind?” exchange in Queen of Attolia is probably my most-illustrated scene, showing up in 2006 and 2007, and again here in 2010—the year I got married and started my first position with the National Park Service.
“What would I have done if Attolia had caught you, cut you up into little pieces, and sent the pieces back to me?”
With the birth of my daughters, my time to draw dwindled, and as I wrote and queried Woodwalker, my time vanished almost completely. Any sketching went to character development for my novels, and finished digital work went to promo material for their publication. And yet. In 2015, despite having less personal time than I’d ever had before in my life, guess who pops up right in the middle of paintings of Mae and Mona?
2015 was only two years ago, and while I produced some good art I still like, the piece below was not my greatest. I was practicing my speedpainting, trying to force myself to work looser and faster, and I still hadn’t gained full confidence in the process, leaving my colors over-saturated and my proportions a bit too stretched. I solved this in the repaint by using practically no color at all, which you might recognize as cheating, but in the spirit of the thing I decided to keep to a speedpaint, focusing more on correcting the wacky proportions and garish lighting.
Now, in 2017, I’m working on muting my palette, making myself work within a narrower range on the spectrum. I’m hoping this moves me toward a more mature look, as my current aesthetic tends to lead folks to assume my novels are middle-grade unicorn fantasies. I’m embracing a little softer style and, as always, fighting for good depth. It’s fun to dive into my cringey old sketchbooks and see where I’ve come from. Maybe soon I’ll do some more redraws. Maybe in another few years I’ll redo some of the ones in this post.
At any rate, it’s safe to assume Eugenides will still be right there with me.
It's summer again, which means it's time to take the flat hat out of storage and head into the wilderness for four months. I will be spending my summer working with the National Park Service again, and my WiFi will be limited. I am working to keep my social media feeds updated, but blog posts will be few and far between. Please follow me elsewhere for updates throughout the summer!
Projects I'll be tackling:
Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@EmilyBeeMartin) to keep up with all this and more!
It's ghost season!
I've shared with you that fireflies are sacred to Mae's culture, but of all the species that live in the Silverwood Mountains, the blue ghost fireflies are among the most revered, and the ones that Mae misses most during her exile.
Blue ghosts are a real thing (Phausis reticulata), about as close to magic as we can get in our world. They don't flash or blink--- they glow a steady, moonlight-blue color, and they float a few inches off the ground, like a silent fairy slow-dance. They're found only in a small region of southern Appalachia. April and May are great times to look for them---if you live near Great Smoky Mountains National Park or any one of the state or national forests in the area (Pisgah or DuPont especially), you can look for them yourself. I've also seen them along the Chattooga River and near Jones Gap State Park (SC). Ask a ranger if they know of good places to look. They like damp, dark places under the trees (the bugs, not the rangers), so close to creeks or rivers is a good bet.
But please! If you do find some, stay out of the area they're flying. The females don't fly, and trying to catch the males mean you can easily step on the females. (Mae is setting a bad example here. Stay on the path, Mae!) Keep light to a minimum; put red cellophane over your flashlight or headlamp to avoid disturbing them and killing your night vision.
Great Smokies also has an annual Firefly Festival that will be coming up later in the spring, which is a fantastic place to see the ghosts and another incredible species--- the synchronous fireflies. I'll be back in the ranger hat again, helping host the event, one of my favorite parts of working in the Smokies. Suffice to say, nature is awesome and magic is real!
Emily B. Martin
Author and Illustrator