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Literary Essays on Gothic Horror, Ghost Stories, & Weird Fiction

from  Mary  Shelley  to  M.  R.  James —

by M. Grant Kellermeyer

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How We Make Our Illustrations

This is a quick and fun look behind the scenes at how our books are made. One of the most common questions I get in my inbox is how exactly we make Oldstyle Tales’ chiaroscuro illustrations. Due to the interest in this process, I thought I would write a short post to explain how they are done. Many readers assume that they are scratchboard drawings, but as much as I love scratchboards, I wanted to have more control over mid-tones (the shades between pure shadow and pure light which give dimension and depth to an illustration). To do this – while still retaining the gloomy, twilit look of a scratchboard – I decided to draw my pictures in negative: I sketch out the highlights with a pencil on 6x9 drawing paper, then use a blending stump (also called a tortillon) to create mid-tones.

"Pollock and the Porroh Man" - H. G. Wells

Once the illustration is completed, I scan it at 300 DPI (dots per inch), crop the scan, and invert the color. This turns the blank, white spaces black, the pencil marks white, and the shading into a pale, glowing grey. At this point, I upload the inverted scan into Pixlr Editor to adjust the contrast (making the darks darker and the whites whiter), then use the dodge tool to further brighten the highlights at specific points where I want it to stand out even further from the rest (flames, moons, suns, fireplaces, lanterns, etc.). To help illustrate this further (forgive a pun), I have include two examples from drawings that I made this week for our upcoming collection of M. R. James.

First, here are eight examples of finished illustrations from prior anthologies…

"The Waif Woman" - Robert Louis Stevenson

"The Sand-Man" - E. T. A. Hoffmann

"The Suitable Surroundings" - Ambrose Bierce

"Guests from Gibbet Island" - Washington Irving

The Phantom of the Opera - Gaston Leroux

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

"The Screaming Skull" - F. Marion Crawford

Now, here are a series of progressive photos of one of my illustrations for “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” starting with some basic sketchings, through increasing detail, up to the initial color inversion, and ending with the final product.

The Finished Product: "Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad" - M. R. James

And here is another series of photos from “Wailing Well”

Finished Product: "Wailing Well" - M. R. James


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