Story/Art at Unlikely Story

Cartoon Honeybee

In my (probably) last story of the year, “On Shine Wings” is up at Unlikely Story. It’s part of the Journal of Unlikely Entomology and it’s all about bees! In space!

Story Link: On Shine Wings

You’ll also note the artist for the story has a stunning resemblance to me, making this my first art sale. The art piece is titled “Spacebees”, because my ability to title doesn’t when it comes to pictures. It’s acrylic paint, tea and ink on watercolour paper.

New Fighter Fish – Shimmer

My new tank now has a resident. Shimmer is a female fighter fish, and is probably between six months and one year old. She’s white, with iridescent blue highlights on the fins and tail. As it’s her first day, I didn’t hassle too much with photographs. The best I got was this one:

White female fighter fish by an anubias plant

I also took a few videos, which I’ll likely put together later in a setting-up-a-tank video series. But here are a few still shots from them. The last shows how blue her tail can look as she moves:

White female fighter fish with light shining through her

Back view of white female fighter fish, with her tail shining bright blue

She’s generally settling in well. She’s clamping her fins a bit (not so much in the shots, but other times), which is usual after a scary day moving to a new tank. She’s really enjoying picking off little critters from the driftwood and plants, so I can recommend spending a little extra time on setting up a proper soil-based planted tank. It’s not that my previous fighter tanks were bad, but this one is much more awesome for the fish.

In about a month, I’ll introduce amano shrimp. The place I get my fish keeps the fighters in with other fish, so I’ve had a chance to see how she deals with tankmates. She had some very tiny fish in with her and was ignoring them, which is a good sign for being a tankmate-friendly fighter.

The Cockroach Invasion (Video)

Baby cockroach on an egg boxA common question raised by my bio is, “Do you really keep cockroaches?” As though it might be a quirky thing I invented just for the bio. Yes, I really keep cockroaches. I started with one cockroach (Sparkle), then got two (Ash and Gem) and this time ordered five (but I have eight). Mostly because I used to have a community fish tank. Now I don’t, I’m filling that space with cockroaches.

Other things people often ask:

What type are they? Madagascar hissing cockroaches. (There are several species called this, which interbreed, so most likely they’re a bit of a mix.)

What do they eat? I give them dry stuff (fish food, cereals, nuts, seeds) and fruit/veg (most stuff, except they don’t like cucumber and I avoid irritant things like onions and chillies). Sparkle was an odd one, in that he’d only eat dried food (and wouldn’t eat if it’d been moistened). Most of them like their fresh stuff though.

What are they called? I’ve named the one bigger nymph. They’re called Pancake, because they’re unusually broad for their length. My guess is Pancake is a bit older, as they’re hanging out on their own more and look less nymphy.

Do you breed them? No. Cockroaches breed a lot, being cockroaches and all, so that’s a lot of babies to handle. A lot of people also have reptiles, so feed unwanted babies to those… but I don’t have space for lizards.

How do you avoid breeding? Keep males and females in separate tanks. For the batch this time, I’ll split them as they get a little bigger, then sort out their final tanks when I know what they’ll be.

Do they get lonely (when kept in a tank alone)? No. Cockroaches live in colonies, but they’re not attached to each other like bees and ants. My biggest concern with the new babies is they’re rather small and the weather’s hot, so they’ll help retain moisture by staying together. I won’t be splitting them until they grow a bit (except Pancake, who’ll move after some settling time).

Why?!!!!? They’re clean, friendly and easy to keep. They tame well and live about as long as a hamster (in approximate ages, my previous ones reached four, one and a half, and three). I love their little antennae!

Can I see them? Here’s five minutes of my cockroaches being cockroaches…

Rainbow Lights: Cover Reveal

Rainbow Lights is almost here, but not quite. In the meantime, after the ritual smearing of chalk pastels on my face, it’s time to reveal the cover:

The original picture was drawn on A2 white card with chalk pastels and charcoal. I took a few progress shots as I went along, for those interested in the process:

That’s all for now. The actual release, with obligatory cupcake pictures, will be soon. Most likely by the end of this week, where I’ll have a few tales to tell of things that got in the way (none of them bad). Until then, if you have any questions about covers, squid or chalk pastels, I’m your mushroom.

Rainbow Lights: Analysis of Rainbow Covers

Colour Wheel

Usually covers have a limited colour scheme, using shades of one colour, two colours that work together (either because they’re close together or dramatic opposites), or a bold tri-colour scheme using the primary colours. This is mainly because it’s very easy to make rainbows look like a unicorn vomited on the book.

Which is all very well, but the theme for my collection is rainbows, so an all-green cover wouldn’t exactly fit (no matter how lovely). I want to avoid any of the unicorn-vomit pitfalls, but I also want a rainbow. So before starting my own cover, I looked at other artwork using rainbows. These are my thoughts about using that colour scheme effectively.

Rainbow Rules

My first step was a visit to Google images. I searched for terms like “rainbows” and “rainbow lights”. A few observations on the pictures that came up are as follows:

  • Some images used the vomit method on purpose, such as psychedelic artwork and digitally edited photos of rainbows. These are intended to overload the viewer. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for a book cover, it’d detract from the details you want the viewer to see (the title and the author).
  • For non-psychedelic works, the most effective had de-saturated backgrounds, such as black, grey or a greyish shade of a colour. This made the rainbow stand out and also solved the visual overload problem. White backgrounds were also used for a brighter feel, but the rainbow stood out less against them.
  • Some focused mainly on one or two colours, with only small amounts of the rest. This gave the feel of the rainbow, without too much of a colour explosion.
  • The central colour would often appear to dominate at first glance, even if it was in the same quantity (or less) than the rest.
  • For contrasting areas, some used rainbow opposites. What I mean by this is they’d pair the opposite ends of the rainbow – red and violet. Usually in art, you’d use the opposite on the colour wheel* for this sort of contrast (which would be red opposite green, and violet (purple) opposite yellow). Red and purple wouldn’t be considered to have this sort of contrast, as they’re next to each other on the wheel. However, in a rainbow, the viewer has the expectation that red and purple are opposites, so odd though it is, it works (as long as the picture sufficient screams “rainbow”).
  • Realistic rainbows had more subdued colours for the rainbow itself, because in the real world, rainbows aren’t generally that bright against the sky. Sometimes it’s good to remember that you don’t have to set saturation to maximum when editing a rainbow picture.
  • Rainbow lights often had darker shades of the colour at the edges, with highlights in a bright/light shade. Most of these in the image search were photographs of lights, but the principle would work for a painted image too.

Cover Examples

After looking at rainbow images in general, I found book covers with rainbow colour schemes, and analysed which techniques they used (and how well).

Meant to Be – Lauren Morrill

Meant To Be Cover

The cover takes an inspiration from natural rainbows, both in having the rainbow in rays like a sun, and having a scene in the foreground. There are colours in the scene, but they’re somewhat muted (note the red dress is not that bright, and has been mostly shadowed out… the grass is somewhat de-saturated). It’s focused on reds and yellows, which goes with the feel-good contemporary novel blurb. It’s also used some rainbow opposites to show the city against the sky.

It does a decent job of implying a groovy psychedelic theme, without going into eye-bleeding territory. The thing I least like is the font choice, but that’s not a colour issue. It’s certainly readable.

The End of the Rainbow – V.C. Andrews

End of the Rainbow Cover

Not only did a unicorn have an accident here, but the magic turned it into a rainbow-vomit whirlwind, which ate the protagonist! Also, the title is in a similarly bright colour so there’s no real contrast. Add in the blurb, which talks about devastating tragedies, secrets and hardship, and someone had too many skittles.

In terms of colour balance, red was shifted to pink, and the yellow/green part is smaller than the rest (possibly in an attempt to make the yellow title text stand out a little more). This wasn’t a successful cover, and it doesn’t surprise me they changed it for the newer version (the new cover barely has any rainbow on, so I won’t be looking at it).

Arclight – Josin L. McQuein

Arclight Cover

The black background makes the light beams stand out, with white to outline the face without drawing away from the rainbows. A focus on purples and blues is common for speculative fiction, and has been used to good effect here.

Rainbow opposites were used for the title, making it stand out, but also fit with the rainbow theme. It uses the same patterning as the lights, linking the title to the picture.

Crewel – Gennifer Albin

Crewel Cover

Another speculative book with a different approach. One trick here is the extremes have been minimised. There’s only a hint of violet, indigo and blue. Red is softened to pink for most of it. Saturation has also been used – most of the background colour is less saturated (more subtle than using a grey background, but it’s still there). The swirls are the most saturated parts, and draw the eye (the focal point of those being near the centre, close to the title).

I liked the choice of the pink swirls and red lips as the central colours. It’s playing with cover colour stereotypes, as such colours are usually put on chicklit books. But it’s using them in different ways, with an overall composition that’s more dreamlike and suggests a speculative book. This goes with the blurb about becoming a beautiful and deadly spinster.

Much like Arclight, the title interacts with the picture. It’s dark, so it stands out, but has reddish sections where it crosses the picture.

My Plans

My original idea was a rainbow squid in a black ocean. Arclight was very close to my colour scheme ideas, so I’ve seen it can work.

The debatable point is how bright to make the squid. It could be lit up, as though it’s self-illuminated. It could also be fairly dark, as though a light is being shone onto it. Or a mix of both, with small points of light. As the squid body will take up a fair bit of the cover, I’m leaning towards a darker approach, with some points of light.

Colour-wise, purple/blue is often associated with speculative work, so would be a sensible dominate colour scheme. I liked Crewel‘s play on the cover colour stereotypes, but it’s more of a risk for self-published work. Making the genre easier to identify increases the chances of a reader looking at the book.

I preferred the covers where the title and the picture went together. Meant to Be worked as far as the picture was concerned, but the text seemed separate, as though it was an afterthought. But this decision can come a little later, as I’ll be adding the title digitally. The next step will be drawing the squid, which is a story for another post.

* See the top of the post for a picture of a basic colour wheel.