Finished "Lady Astronaut" Fanart

by Ariela

Woo! This round of Jewish holidays is over and it is time to get back to a normal work schedule (at least for those of us who don’t have Indigenous People’s Day off from work). To celebrate, here is the finished version of the Lady Astronaut / The Calculating Stars fanart that I started just before Rosh HaShanah.

The circular text is from קדוש לבנה, the blessing of the Sanctification of the Moon, which Jews say once a month when the moon is close to full. It reads:

וְלַלְּבָנָה אָמַר שֶׁתִּתְחַדֵּשׁ עֲטֶרֶת תִּפְאֶרֶת לַעֲמוּסֵי בָטֶן שֶׁהֵם עֲתִידִים לְהִתְחַדֵּשׁ כְּמוֹתָה

And of the moon G-d said that it should renew itself as a crown of glory for those born of the womb, for they are destined to recreate themselves just as it does.

The unfinished version was my entry in the Lady Astronaut fanart contest. You can see pictures of it in process by searching my Twitter feed for the #fanart hashtag.

I have a Pinterest board of all the reference images I used when working on it. (I haaaaaaated painting that Lunar Lander, and I had to do it twice, because I am a glutton for punishment.)

And here is a crummy cell phone picture of my paint palette just after I finished.

Paint palette with lots of dark blues and greens and purples and greys, some whites, a yellow, and a light blue. Eraser, brushes, and two cups of water in the background.

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The Making of Anathem Illuminated First Page: Constructing an Edharian Manuscript Page

by Ariela

This is the second of two blog posts on the making of the Anathem Illuminated First Page art print. Read the first part here.

Where last week’s post concentrated on historical inspirations and references in imagery, this one goes into the material concerns of making a manuscript page that looks like it came from the Concent of Saunt Edhar.

Writing on a Leaf from a Page Tree

First, I want to give a major shoutout to Neal Stephenson for coming up with a plausible and sustainable paper culture model for Arbran maths. Parchment would not have been practical, both in the volume of paper usage shown in the math, and also because they would have needed a large number of skins and the math presumably doesn't a sufficient number of herd animals. Paper production likewise probably couldn't have kept apace without mechanization or a large number of avout papermakers. Details like this keep enthusiasts (not Enthusiasts) like me happy.

It seems that, even with all the sequencing, page trees don’t produce perfect writing surfaces. Only one in ten leaves is suitable for collection, drying, cutting, and use, with many having veins that are too prominent to allow for easy writing. This probably means that the leaves that make the cut have visible, but not excessively raised veins. I considered the possibility that page tree leaves would be sequenced to grow with perfectly parallel veins that could be used as ruling lines for writing, but decided that this was improbable: it would limit the uses of the paper by forcing all writing to be approximately the same size and eliminating certain kinds of folding of the leaf because it would cause the rules to orient in the wrong direction. Moreover, if the veins weren’t perfectly parallel, that would also be cause for disqualifying a leaf from use, which Erasmas would surely have mentioned. So the leaves probably have a pattern of veins similar to those of Earth trees from a similar climate to that of the Concent of Saunt Edhar.

After completing a full draft of the piece, I washed watercolor paper in a yellow brown and, once it had dried, painted a full system of leaf veins in slightly darker brown. I wanted them to be visible, enough that it would be clear this is a leaf, not parchment or paper, but not pronounced enough to be distracting from the text.

Finished underpainting with guide lines for the text positioning penciled in.

Finished underpainting with guide lines for the text positioning penciled in.

Only half the leaf is visible and it is landscape-oriented rather than portrait. This has to do with how handmade books are bound. Four or five pages are stacked, oriented horizontally, and then folded about the x-axis and stitched together at the fold. This is called a ‘quire’ or a ‘gathering.’

How a ‘gathering’ or ‘quire’ of four or five sheets of paper or parchment are stacked and then folded along the the center to create a small booklet of 16 or 20 pages.

How a ‘gathering’ or ‘quire’ of four or five sheets of paper or parchment are stacked and then folded along the the center to create a small booklet of 16 or 20 pages.

Copyists write on these quires, which are then collected and, after first checking and re-checking that they are in the correct order, sewn together to form a codex. Assuming page tree leaves, like Earth leaves, tend to grow longer than they grow wide, this means that, when a rectangle with the largest possible surface area is cut from it and oriented horizontally, the central vein will also run horizontally. 

A landscape-oriented cut on a portrait-oriented leaf that is so much taller than it is wide is inefficient.

A landscape-oriented cut on a portrait-oriented leaf that is so much taller than it is wide is inefficient.

A landcape-oriented rectangular cut out of a landscape-oriented leaf makes much better use of the available surface.

A landcape-oriented rectangular cut out of a landscape-oriented leaf makes much better use of the available surface.

Once a rectangular piece is cut out of the leaf, it is folded down the middle so that it can be used in a quire.

Once a rectangular piece is cut out of the leaf, it is folded down the middle so that it can be used in a quire.

Incidentally, this is a verso, or left-hand page. The wider margin, which is the outer margin, is on the left, as are the pinpricks that would be used to align the text with all the other pages in the book.

Inks and Pigments

Once we have the writing support, aka what we’re writing on, we need to figure out what to write with. Erasmas mentions writing with a quill and ink, but what was his ink made of? As a middle-grade manuscript with decoration but no illumination or figurative illustration, this manuscript’s marginalia would be drawn in several different colors of ink.

The Concent of Saunt Edhar seems to engage in quite a bit of trade, but presumably traded goods are less abundant and more valuable than ones that can be produced from local resources. Mining isn’t mentioned as an activity at the math, so all mineral-based pigments would probably be too scarce to be used on this manuscript. Accordingly, I largely confined myself to colors that could be made from plant matter that could be grown at Saunt Edhar, or at least in an Earth climate similar to that described at the math.

The main body of the text is in a brown/black color similar to that of iron gall ink. This actually came down to an aesthetic choice, because it was equally likely that the Edharians could have made carbonic ink from lamp black. Carbonic ink is much blacker than iron gall ink. While there’s no mention of fire-based light sources, presumably some burning could be done just to produce ink. But I like the brown-black of iron-gall ink better.

The red color is similar to what might be produced from the madder plant, and the blue is similar to a product of woad, both of which grow well in the western European climate.

The exception to the plant-based pigments rule is the white, which is based on chalk white. Since chalk halls feature prominently, we can assume that there is a plentiful supply of calcium carbonate at hand that could also be used for white paint on manuscripts. Bonus: way less toxic than lead!

Disclaimer: just as I did not write this on an actual leaf, I did not actually use paint derived from madder, woad, or calcium carbonate. Using the watercolors I had on hand, I did my best to color match those displayed in the Traveling Scriptorium’s online Medieval Manuscripts Ink & Pigment Sampler.

And that’s it.

For those who are interested, I have a Pinterest board of manuscripts and other images I looked at while working on this project.

And finally a big ‘thank you’ to Neal Stephenson and his agent, Liz Darhansoff, for giving me permission to do this project.

The Making of the Anathem Illuminated First Page: Plundering History for References

by Ariela

This blog post is the first of two on the making of the Anathem Illuminated First Page art print. The second post will be published on October 3.

I tend to be painstaking about the details of my work; I research thoroughly and try to make sure I have a reason for everything to be where it is. When I asked for permission to work with text by Neal Stephenson – an author who is known for his extensive research and attention to detail in everything from historical research to eating Cap’n Crunch – I knew that I was setting myself up for a lot of thinking before the art could happen.

Why Isn't It Written in Orth?

At Neal Stephenson's request, Jeremy Bornstein created an Orth alphabet and language notes. The first decision I made, once I got the green light from Neal’s agent to go ahead with this project, was that I wouldn't be using it.

First, this passage isn't in Orth. While I am certain there are some Neal Stephenson fans, myself included, who would squee happily over someone translating the definition of Anathem into Orth, there's not enough there to do it yet. I am not any sort of linguist such that I could do a credible job of building Bornstein's work out any further.

The characters of Orth invented by Bornstein. Go ahead and make “orthography” jokes.

The characters of Orth invented by Bornstein. Go ahead and make “orthography” jokes.

Second, Orth and English are not a one-to-one substitution for sounds. Transliterating the passage into Orth letters would be clumsy and inaccurate. Even were I to do it, I doubt that the small number of fans who are familiar enough with Orth to recognize it on sight will ever see this art. Everyone else will just think that I put Greek letters and Tironian Notes in a box, shook them until they were thoroughly mixed, then wrote them down in whatever order I pulled them out. While that might make a fascinating drinking game for Medievalists, it's not going to result in comprehensible calligraphy.

Third, my game is broad-nib calligraphy, and the Orth alphabet is a rather unbeautiful monoline script. It is unfamiliar enough to most readers that, were I to make any significant alterations to make it "prettier," I might just make it unrecognizable instead. When calligraphing a passage like this, legibility is paramount.

Choosing English Caroline Miniscule

Once we’re staying in English, the question becomes, which English, or rather, Latin alphabet script to use?

The Mathic world, as a deliberately Luddite community within a larger, technically advanced world, doesn’t map onto any particular period in our history, so I can’t match it that way as I did with “Penric’s Demon.” But we can assume that Arbre has a similar history to our own from which the avout could pick and choose what to adopt into their society.

So what script, or even, what values would appeal to the Mathic world?

The Mathic world cares deeply about the transmission of knowledge. Presumably they would want to use a script that would be clear and easy to read. Based on the profligate use of leaves by Erasmas and the other avout, it seems there wouldn’t be sufficient pressure to conserve writing space to merit sacrificing any clarity in favor of a more compact script, as in Gothic hands.

Caroline miniscule was the chosen script of the Carolingian Empire, from last quarter of the 8th century CE to some time after 1200. Michelle P. Brown writes of it:

No other medieval 'reform' of script, or rather canonization of an evolved script, was as far-reaching and systematic as that of Caroline miniscule. Its successful diffusion throughout much of early medieval Europe was closely linked to an increase in intellectual activity based on the dissemination of texts… It offered a disciplined alternative to the plethora of national hands and sub-Roman scripts and, as part of a campaign to achieve standardisation of texts, contributed to a semblance of cohesion amongst the varied elements which formed the Carolingian empire.

A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600, p. 66

When I read that, I knew I had found the script I wanted to use.

Page from the Ramsey Psalter showing beautiful English Caroline Miniscule hand. BL Harley MS 2904, f.7r

Page from the Ramsey Psalter showing beautiful English Caroline Miniscule hand. BL Harley MS 2904, f.7r

For my script exemplar, or the example from which I copied the script, I chose the Ramsey Psalter (BL Harley MS 2904), which is of a subgroup called English Caroline miniscule because of its geography. The Ramsey Psalter hand is so pretty it was used by Edward Johnston as the inspiration for his Foundational hand when he revived English calligraphy in the 1800s.

The one exception to the exemplar was the ‘s,’ which is the letter in the alphabet of the Ramsey Psalter that isn’t readily readable for a modern audience. Instead I used the English Foundational ‘s.’

Decorating the Text

Because the avout of 3000, or 3990, would have the entirety of the artistic history of Arbre from which to draw, figuring out how to decorate this piece was less about finding the right historical references than it was about figuring out Mathic values: what sort of value would they ascribe to the codex this page comes from? What resources, both time and material, would they devote to it based on that value? How would they expect to use it?

I decided that, on the scale of pure utility to luxury, a copy of The Dictionary would probably be a middle-grade manuscript. It would merit a skilled scribe copying it out in a clear hand rather than just being copied over by whoever happened to be free at the time. It would be laid out nicely and would have some amount of decoration, but it wouldn’t have any sort of figurative scenes, and it wouldn’t get any precious metal leaf or paint. (Since gold or silver is what technically makes a manuscript “illuminated,” this is really an illustrated manuscript.) Above all, it’s a manuscript that is intended to be functional, and its function is to convey meaning. That function may be enhanced by some amount of decoration, but it should not be obscured by it.

Based on that ideal, I decided to go back to Caroline miniscule manuscripts to draw inspiration for how to emphasize the titular word of the piece. Many Carolingian manuscripts use Roman capitals, usually in red ink, for the incipit (opening line) and explicit (closing line) of each passage or chapter to great visual effect and clarity. Moutier-Grandval Bible (BL Add MS 10546), Capitularies of Charlemagne, Louis the Pious, etc. (Beinecke MS 413), and Biblia latina utriusque Testamenti (Stiftsbibliothek Cod. Sang. 76) are some excellent examples of this style.

So inspired, in addition to writing “[A]nathem” in red Roman capitals, I also wrote the closing citation in the same fashion, though much smaller. Were this an actual leaf from The Dictionary, of course such a citation wouldn’t be necessary; but this is a display piece, not an actual random page from a codex. (Presumably Extramuros Arbre has historians and archivists who would hunt you down for cutting random pages from codices, or framing found ones rather than trying to unite them with the rest of the book, just as Earth does. Don’t mess with archivists, make it clear this is just a display piece.)

Directed Acyclic Capital A

As a display piece meant for fans of Anathem, I also wanted to include a special decorative flourish referencing the themes of the book. Clarity of meaning need not translate to “plain,” after all, and the mathic world would appreciate images that work on multiple levels.

After looking at the Dagulf Psalter (Österreichisches Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 1861), I spent part of an evening contemplating backing the title word in aperiodic tiling shapes, with no small amount of fascination and terror. It wasn’t so much the idea of drawing so many tiny shapes by hand that made my brain seize up, it was the aperiodic part. I’ve done enough radial symmetry work that looking at designs that are just a little off felt a bit like Erasmas’ description of Chapter 1 of The Book – rhymes and meter that are all just a bit off. Fortunately, I came to my senses. Tiling is for tiles, not for manuscripts. And the Dagulf Psalter is also known as the Golden Psalter for good reason: it is not any sort of middle grade anything, it’s as high luxury as they come. That includes the profligate usage of pigments to produce solid blocks of color behind text, which wouldn’t read well if it wasn’t then written in gold anyway.

Dagulf Psalter f.26v

Dagulf Psalter f.26v

I decided that a Directed Acyclic Graph would be a much better visual cue to the themes of the novel, but I wasn’t sure how to incorporate it. Once again, the answer came from a Carolingian manuscript convention. I was flipping through The Bible of Illuminated Letters by Margaret Morgan when it suddenly occurred to me that the loops of Ottonian capitals looked a bit like the loops of a DAG. From there, it was an easy leap. After checking with a mathematician that no, such a DAG wouldn’t be appallingly nonsensical, I just reproduced an Ottonian capital A with a bunch of additional termini and arrowheads. I also added a left leg, to the A, since again, I want it to be readable by a modern audience. Plus, I liked the visual balance it lent to the overall composition.

The Otonian capital ‘A’ from Margaret Morgan’s  The Bible of Illuminated Letters.  Note the lack of left leg.

The Otonian capital ‘A’ from Margaret Morgan’s The Bible of Illuminated Letters. Note the lack of left leg.

Draft of the DAG ‘A’ inspired by the Otonian letter.

Draft of the DAG ‘A’ inspired by the Otonian letter.

Next time we will look at the practical considerations of making an Edharian manuscript page.

Lady Astronaut Fanart

by Ariela

I finished The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal on Friday evening, August 24. Terri had finished both books in the Lady Astronaut duology by then, and on Monday when we both managed to be on a computer at the same time, Terri started poking me to do Lady Astronaut art.

“But I specialize in medieval-style illuminated manuscripts,” I protested. “That wouldn’t be appropriate here.”

But Terri suggested we do something with a biblical quote about the stars and the idea was planted and wouldn’t go away. Terri suggested a rocket and I suggested art nouveau instead, because I hate painting rockets, and I had been thinking for a while that I hadn’t done any art nouveau lately. And then it sat for a bit. Waiting.

On September 3 I found this passage in Kiddush Levana, the sanctification of the moon that is done once a month:

וְלַלְּבָנָה אָמַר שֶׁתִּתְחַדֵּשׁ עֲטֶרֶת תִּפְאֶרֶת לַעֲמוּסֵי בָטֶן שֶׁהֵם עֲתִידִים לְהִתְחַדֵּשׁ כְּמוֹתָה

And of the moon G-d said that it should renew itself as a crown of glory for those born of the womb, for they are destined to recreate themselves just as it does.

And suddenly the idea was in my brain and wouldn’t get out. One problem: it was the week before Rosh HaShanah and I didn’t have any time for anything, particularly not an involved art project.

Then, a few days later, I found Mary Robinette Kowal’s newsletter in my mailbox highlighting the Lady Astronaut fan art contest. Deadline for entry: September 21. Yeah, there was no way I was going to make that deadline.

Except the idea would not let me go, and two days after Rosh HaShanah I started working on a draft in earnest. I did a full pencil of the final on Sunday and have been painting since Monday (with a stop for, you know, Yom Kippur on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday).

I’m not actually quite done and I am posting this during grace minutes after candlelighting before the Sabbath. But here’s the current state of the art:


Labor Day Repost: The "Starving Artist" Trope Should Die in a Fire, ASAP

by Ariela

Two years ago I wrote this post. Sadly it is still relevant and in the intervening two years I have only become angrier and more disillusioned by the evils of the Capitalist machine and all the other -isms that tend to come bundled with it as a package deal. I'm a member of a labor union in my day job and the hard limit on the number of hours I work thanks to that union (and the organized workers' lobby before them) is what allows me to pursue my art; without it, I am certain my job would gobble every hour I could give and demand more.

So drink a toast (doesn't have to be alcoholic) to the workers and activists of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, remember that something you love is still labor, and get over the idea that labor unions are only for blue collar jobs (and for pete's sake, recognize that blue collar jobs are very worthy of respect).

Image reads "I am an artist. This does not mean I will work for free. I have bills just like you. Thank you for understanding. Image found on

Image reads "I am an artist. This does not mean I will work for free. I have bills just like you. Thank you for understanding.
Image found on

"The Starving Artist trope needs to DIAF."

I have been having the same, or similar conversations, in various forms, a lot of late on social media. So I decided to write about it at more length than I can in 140 characters, even in consecutive tweet. The topic is only somewhat related to Labor Day, not being about an Artists' Guild or other organized labor movement. But it is about recognizing the labor of artists and valuing it properly, so I thought this would be an appropriate time to post about it.

You probably know the trope of the Starving Artist; it's quite common in American culture. It's the one that says that artists almost never make enough money to make ends meet and that aspiring artists have no sense of practicality and make no plans to support themselves while they blithely pursue their art. This trope needs to Get Gone.

The Starving Artist trope was popularized during the Romantic era in Europe and America, which peaked around 1800-1850. In America, it had a large overlap with the Bohemian movement. Both of these groups valorized the idea of devotion to art - be it writing, visual arts, music, etc. - to the exclusion of all else, particularly material concerns. In these environments, the Starving Artist was an aspirational model, not a negative image.

The 1980s and 90s saw a bunch of movies, TV shows, songs, and other artistic projects showing the young artistic hopeful arriving, usually in NYC or LA, with just a suitcase and a few dollars in their pocket, also presenting this image in a positive light. Jonathan Larson's musical Rent, based strongly on Puccini's Romantic-era opera La Bohème, was probably the pinnacle of this trend, though I'm sure some people would put in a word for "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey.

The evil counterpart of the Starving Artist is the Sellout, the person who has decided to abandon their artistic dream in favor of creating Extruded Art-like Product in exchange for money.

The stereotypes of the Starving Artist and the Sellout combine to create a double-bind of expectations for artists. Artists are starving, so if you want to be an artist, the immediate assumption is that you are an impractical flake with your head in the clouds and no economic sense. If you are already working as an artist and have the audacity to require payment for your work, you must be a greedy Sellout and your art can't possibly be good enough to be worth your quoted rate. Artists are "right-brained" people, so they don't pursue their careers logically and you can't possibly have a realistic plan or expectation of how hard you are going to have to work. And if you have a day job and pursue art on the side, why are you demanding to be paid for your hobby?

This is galling enough on its own, but even moreso when compared with the treatment of another group of creative dreamers in America: "entrepreneurs." Wikipedia defines Starving Artist as "an artist who sacrifices material well-being in order to focus on their artwork. They typically live on minimum expenses, either for a lack of business or because all their disposable income goes toward art projects. " But this description could also be applied to an entrepreneur in the throes of starting up a business. Startups have a high rate of failure, but we don't have a derogatory "Starving Entrepreneur" trope; in fact, people who do that tend to be lauded by the American capitalist machine. And I don't buy that this is due to the newness of entrepreneurship compared to art - the Romantic period that saw the birth of the Bohemian ideal was in large part a response to the Industrial Revolution, so the tension between these two groups goes back plenty long.

Someone who lives on ramen while working on the next big app,  or mortgages their house to finance their restaurant, or works at a day job and then codes all night, etc., is considered "goal oriented," or at least they are if they succeed. We don't tend to hear about failures because they don't match the cultural narrative surrounding entrepreneurs and The American Dream. Artists who live meagerly are derided for "not having a real job," or living in an "unsustainable way;" those of us who work a day job are frequently condescendingly applauded for recognizing that our art will never be a going concern. Our failures are incorporated back into the cultural canon and our successes are forgotten because they don't fit the preconception of the Starving Artist. It's confirmation bias at its most basic.

This boondoggle of unrealistic and conflicting expectations is inextricably tied to and exacerbated by the way that our society values art. Or rather, the way that it doesn't value art. Art is seen as unnecessary, something not worth spending large amounts of money to obtain, or only worth spending top dollar for if one is so rich that one simply has nothing better to do with that money. I'm including more than just graphic arts in that estimation. Music, novels, theater, dance, and other media are similarly denigrated. One might think that wider access to the arts, through recording, scanning, printing, streaming, and other reproduction technology, might give people across class lines a greater appreciation for them and increase the number of people who understand their worth; alas it is not so. If anything, I suspect that it has further devalued them by creating false expectations about the cost. When art could only be afforded by the wealthy, of course it was expensive to produce; but when anyone can buy a poster, it's an huge sticker shock to encounter custom art prices. People who aren't in the habit of commissioning work don't think about the fact that the cost of production, including the artist's time, is amortized over the entire print run/album run/clothing line/etc. Sticker shock is normal, and I don't resent the clients who hear my breakdown of costs and expected labor time and say, "Ok, wow, that's out of our price range, but thanks for your time!" I also don't mind the ones who ask what the options are to cut the costs. It's the ones who get angry when I tell them my prices who are the problem. (Terri deals with most of this as part of general administravia, so I get off easy in this department.)

I am far from the only one who experiences this problem. Plenty of people attempt to get artists to do work on the grounds that it will be a good portfolio piece, or that the project will bring them publicity. The twitter account @ForExposure_txt documents some of the egregious examples of this trend. Another common trend is the non-profit that asks artists to donate their work "because it's for a good cause!" but would never dream of asking their plumber to do likewise. People who accept the quoted prices of consulting firms without a blink try to bargain artists down. The perceived valuelessness of the time and work of artists is, I suspect, one of the factors that causes Patreon to be so much more contentious than other crowdfunding platforms, like Kickstarter and GoFundMe. A society that derides us for not being able to support ourselves through our art and then turns around and demands that we work for free or insultingly low rates is hypocritical and sick. Our lovely capitalist machine demands that far too many people in a variety of jobs work below the poverty line, but what I am addressing here is the particular moral outrage expressed at artists who have the gall to say that they deserve to get paid, not just be snivellingly grateful for whatever pennies get tossed our way by noble and beneficent people with "Real Jobs."

Artists know our vocation takes an enormous amount of hard work, dedication, and perseverance. We're not in denial about this. For some of us this means we work a day job while pursuing art at night and on the weekends, sometimes for a few years, sometimes for all our working lives. For some of us it means paring away our expenses until we can live within our earnings as artists. For many it is a combination of both. We do this so that we can produce the art we love, which we hope you will love, too.

Artists make things that are beautiful, profound, disturbing, thought-provoking, challenging, and sometimes things that exist just to make you happy. We deserve respect for this work. And we deserve to get paid.

And the Starving Artist trope, which tells a story that we deserve none of this, needs to die in a fire.

Did you like this post? You might like this product:

Fuck You Pay Me - Art print from Geek Calligraphy
Fuck You - Pay Me
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Sometimes profanity is required. When someone asks you to work "for exposure," for example. Or for "portfolio development." Or tries to haggle you down from your stated prices by trying to convince you that you're not actually that good.

Remind yourself to stand firm and insist on being paid what you are worth with this print. Beautiful letters and graceful flourishes deliver a blunt message with class.

Available in three sizes. All come with a blue mat and ship flat.

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New Product: Anathem Illuminated First Page

For anyone who read Neal Stephenson's Anathem and though "I'd love to go live in a math," "I wish I had the opportunity to meet people from other universes in the polycosm," or just "Wow, that was a great book," our new art print is for you.

Art print featuring the definition of "Anathem" that opens the book of the same name written in English Caroline Miniscule one what appears to be a leaf. Print is matted with a white mat.

Created with the permission of Neal Stephenson (eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Ariela and Terri are both huge fans), we are proud to bring you a manuscript page produced in the Cartasian mathic style.

Written on a yellowing "leaf of a page tree" with delicate veining showing throughout, the body text is written in a delicate brown-black ink with the title in red. A directed acyclic graph makes up the initial letter 'A' in a nod to the polycosm.

This is a limited edition run of just 100 art prints. Each print is matted on a white, archival-safe mat and comes ready to hang or to put in an 11”x14” frame. Ships flat.  $55 each.

Scheduling Note:

While we normally do product releases on Wednesdays and blog posts on Mondays hereabouts, Jewish holidays are about to start, rendering any hopes of "normal schedule" utterly borked. We will be taking a short hiatus for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. The "Making Of" blog posts for this piece will be posted on Wednesday, September 26 and Wednesday, October 3.

New Sticker: Explode the Gender Binary

Want to adorn your stuff with a colorful burst and a reminder that humans are wonderfully complicated?

How It Came To Be

This has been a project rattling around in Ariela's mind since February, but it was put on the back burner until the "Penric's Demon" Illuminate First Page project was finished.

We are two straight, cis-gendered women. Neither of us is queer, but both of us feel constricted by traditional gender roles. Ariela is a very femme person with a day job in a traditionally masculine field (tech) who likes to play with power tools. Terri, on the other hand, finds femininity to be performative for her, rather than innate. And both of us are interested in moving beyond the religious role prescribed to us by dint of our sex. People are complicated, far more complicated than a single, simple binary can possibly reflect.

Given the success of Fuck You Pay Me, the first draft read "Fuck the Gender Binary." But eventually we went with "Explode" instead, because that's really what we want to do: break out of the confines, burst out in as many directions and dimensions as possible.

The colors in the center are primarily blue and pink, reflecting the binary that is being exploded, but it gets more and more colorful the further out the burst gets, reflecting the expansion of possibilities, the range of human nature.

The sticker is die cut and measures 3" x 2.38".

So You Want Custom Ketubah Art? Why This Ketubah Artist Recommends Against It

by Ariela

Ariela completes Terri's  ketubah , August 2011

Ariela completes Terri's ketubah, August 2011

We're in Wedding Season, which means that lately I have been fielding lots of requests for custom ketubah work. Some of those inquiries ares for custom text calligraphy to go with pre-existing art, or to go with art from a family friend. Most requests, however, are for original art with a hand-calligraphed text, which is what we're discussing today.

On my first call with prospective clients, the question at the top of my list is always "Why do you want a custom ketubah?" I don't ask because I'm looking to judge their reasons, I ask because the answer tends to tell me a lot about what my experience will be working with them.

If the answer is anything other than "We have a very specific vision for our ketubah art," the next thing I tend to do is to try to persuade them to find a pre-existing print and get that instead. Gone are the days when there were only a very few, cookie-cutter designs and one text available. You can find ketubah art in almost any genre and most artists can accommodate a custom text, too. In most cases, there is simply no need for a custom job.

But Ariela, you say, why would you try to turn away a potentially lucrative commission?

The answer is that planning a wedding is a miserable experience that is long, and expensive, with scrillions of tiny details that must be attended to individually. And commissioning custom art is a process that is long, and expensive, with scrillions of tiny details that must be attended to individually. Trying to complete the two projects simultaneously isn't something to do on a lark; you have to really want it to make it worth it. Even if you do want it, it's still no cakewalk. My spouse and I ditched art completely and we still had hours of arguments about the text.

The Wedding Industrial Complex means that working with overwhelmed, stressed clients is part and parcel of the wedding gig. But a wedding vendor can make it easier on their own self and on the clients by helping them to cut out unnecessarily complicated steps. But to do that, you have to figure out what is necessary. Which is why I ask "Why do you want a custom ketubah?"

If it's important to you, let's talk. I love to create things that are truly special to people. But if it's not, perhaps it is time to let go of expectations (your own, or others'), and put your time, attention, and money, on things that will make a bigger difference to you.

Wishing you a stress-free wedding season, as much as it is possible.

The Making of "Penric's Demon" Illuminated First Page: Symbolism

by Ariela

This is the third in a series of three blog posts on the making of the "Penric's Demon" Illuminated First Page art print. Read the earlier posts: Part 1: Artistic Framework | Part 2: Drafting

This is the post where I reveal how obsessive I am about putting things on the page as deliberately as I can. I come by it honestly: I was raised in a tradition that extracts meaning from the smallest nuances of text and the habit of looking for significance everywhere is ingrained. I also suspect that it is an innate instinct of the way my brain is wired.

Rectangles in a Quintarian World

All papers in Battlestar Galactica are octagonal

All papers in Battlestar Galactica are octagonal

Something I didn't address in the blog post on artistic framework was actually a negative decision: I didn't mess with the page shape. It took barely a moment's decision to realize I couldn't go full-on Battlestar Galactica and change the shape of the page; their decision to go for octagonal pages made for striking worldbuilding artifacts on screen, but always strained my suspension of disbelief because it would make the production of books much harder. Rectangular pages make sense from a production standpoint because they can be halved easily, whether by folding them (and then sewing them into booklets) or by cutting, and it yields another rectangle, though not necessarily one with the same proportions as the original.

As much as I found the octagonal pages of BSG unbelievable, pentagonal pages would be much, much worse. There is no way to halve a pentagon and yield another pentagon, at least not within any Euclidean geometry of which I am aware. In order to produce a page that could be folded in half to yield two pentagonal leaves in a book, you'd need to start with a regular nonagon without rotational symmetry like this:

Two regular pentagons that share one side, producing one regular nonagon that has bilateral symmetry along the x and y axes but not rotational symmetry

No way was any culture, no matter how devoted to Quintarian theology, making books like this. Aside from the ridiculous amount of labor it would require to cut the pages, contemplating either a pentagonal text or a fitting rectangular text within a pentagon makes my head hurt. No, thank you. I suppose they could have an irregular pentagonal page, with two shorter sides on the top, but then you run into the theological problem of which two gods get represented by the shorter sides? And it would still require extra labor to make. Better not to go there at all.

I did experiment with changing the shape surrounding the illuminated initial from a rectangle to a pentagon. If you were looking closely at the process shots I put in the post on the drafting process, you can see my efforts in that direction. In the end, I decided not to for three reasons: a pentagon would make the T harder to read, not easier; I didn't want to deal with the question of how to position each of the gods relative to one another; and if Trinitarian Christians can deal with a four-sided illuminated initial in our world, so could Quintarians in theirs.

Historiated Initial

Another thing that changed from my draft to the final was the big initial at the start of the text.

Initial T on the completed draft with the two thumbs in the bowl of the T

Initial T on the completed draft with the two thumbs in the bowl of the T

Initial T on the final art with Ruchia clutching a hand to her heart in pain.

Initial T on the final art with Ruchia clutching a hand to her heart in pain.

I spent the entire time I was working on the draft noodling around with what to do with the T. After I abandoned the idea of putting it in a pentagon, I still wasn't sure about how I was going to decorate it. I thought I might just illustrate it with more viney bits, but that seemed to me like a sad waste of an opportunity to jam more symbolism in. I experimented with putting the device of the Bastard's order, the two hands, one thumb up one thumb down, in the bowl of the T, but it didn't feel cohesive to me. I hadn't come up with anything better by the time I finished the draft.

In the end, I chucked symbolic abstracts and decided to depict something concrete, if a part of the story that occurs off the page: Ruchia's heart attack. This meant that suddenly I was doing an historiated initial.

Quick definition of terms: initial letters with designs but without any gold or silver are 'illustrated initials;' initial letters with gold or silver leaf are 'illuminated initials;' and initials that incorporate a picture are 'historiated initials.' The first two definitions also apply to manuscripts, so a manuscript with pictures but no gold or silver is not technically an illuminated manuscript, it's an illustrated manuscript. An historiated initial is also illuminated if it has gold or silver applied.

An illustrated initial T - no picture, no gold or silver Dictys Cretensis , De bello Trojano libri sex, 14th cent., BNF; fol. 28v

An illustrated initial T - no picture, no gold or silver
Dictys Cretensis , De bello Trojano libri sex, 14th cent., BNF; fol. 28v

An illuminated inital T - symbols but no picture, note gold leaf Facta et dicta memorabilia, 1500s, Pal. lat. 902 fol. 48v

An illuminated inital T - symbols but no picture, note gold leaf
Facta et dicta memorabilia, 1500s, Pal. lat. 902 fol. 48v

An historiated initial T with a picture of a scribe working; no gold, so not illuminated Omne Bonum, c. 1350, BL Royal 6 E VII fol. 514r

An historiated initial T with a picture of a scribe working; no gold, so not illuminated
Omne Bonum, c. 1350, BL Royal 6 E VII fol. 514r

Now, back to the historiated initial at hand.

I drew Ruchia still mounted on her horse, clutching her chest in distress at the moment of her heart attack. Per the text, she is not wearing her whites, but rather "robes of no particular colors." I gave her a headcloth, as most women in the manuscript illustrations I looked through were so dressed. Pen sees her hair when she is lying down, yes, but presumably her veil slips off when she lies down at the roadside. Desdemona is also here, depicted as a slight, glowy purple outline all around Ruchia.

Ruchia's skin is grayish, due to her illness, but underneath that I decided to give her skin much darker than that of canton-bred Penric and Gans. Why? Because she isn't specified to be pale and I am sick of the fantasy world default being all white all the time. All illustration is interpretation.

The Crow of the Bastard

Speaking of white, the place where I took even more artistic license, in that I fabricated it completely instead of working from an element of the text, is the white crow in the right margin. I wanted to place an avatar of the Bastard there to symbolize the fate toward which Penric is riding. I decided on a crow for three reasons: I wanted an animal that was sacred to the Bastard; I needed a sacred animal that could fly, so that it could be placed naturally in the sky; and the crow is a nod back to The Curse of Chalion, the book that started the universe.

Carrion crows, the breed of crow that lives in Western Europe, are all black. This is fine in text, where there is room for nuance, but the Bastard's color is white. Using a black animal to represent the White God without  illustrating something in the text explicitly won't work without the backing of an extensive and recognizable iconography. Also, given the difference between medieval illustrations of crows and actual crows, I didn't trust that the meaning would come across. I debated with myself, probably far longer than the topic merited, whether to put a hooded crow here instead.

Hooded crow in Berlin, Germany; Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Hooded crow in Berlin, Germany; Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Carrion crow in Dorset, England; Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Carrion crow in Dorset, England; Photo from Wikimedia Commons

On the one hand, hooded crows, which have grey bodies and black heads and wings, are not found in Switzerland in our world. On the other hand, the world of the Five Gods is most definitely not our world, and who says that there wouldn't be hooded crows in the Jurald cantons?

Crow with mostly white feathers, smattering of black and silver, hovers in the right margin

Crow with mostly white feathers, smattering of black and silver, hovers in the right margin

In the end, though, I decided that this would be a leukistic carrion crow, because leukistic creatures would surely be an extra sign of the Bastard. (I haven't been able to find anything suggesting that carrion crows in our world are prone to leukism, but hey, it's a holy animal of the Bastard.)

I'd initially put the crow in the top right corner, but I moved it lower to connect it more firmly to Penric and Gans. Pen and Gans are riding from left to right, the same direction as the text, because the reader will perceive that as "moving forward," while anything facing against the text will seem to be "moving backward." The crow, being entirely in the right margin, seems almost to be leading them, as the Bastard is leading them down the road to Pen's destined meeting with Ruchia and Desdemona.

So there you have it. For those who are interested, I have collected most of the images I referenced directly in a Pinterest Board, though I looked at lots more that I didn't pin.

Finally, a big, big thank you to Lois McMaster Bujold, both for writing such inspiring work and for giving her permission for this project to happen.