This is number seven in Michael Swanwick’s The Mongolian Wizard series of short stories, The Phantom in the Maze, to be released soon on Tor.com.
As usual, I read the story a few times, listing elements that I felt were good visual hooks to help push the story into the viewer’s mind and create interest. From there I started putting pencil blobs on paper, generally sketching major shapes of what I thought would be different elements.
Those shapes led to creating an overall design that sits on the page. I use the montage approach to entice the reader so that I’m not describing one scene and dictating to the viewer/reader how they should visualize it. I want to inspire their own imagination to create the world in their minds, their way, like all of us do when we read. I don’t want to take that away from them, so I give them just enough.
The series is full of wonderfully subtle but exciting ideas. This particular story deals with a time shift, amongst other eccentricities. Things can phase in and out, and it provides a nice reason for the shifting montage images.
All takes place in an old institution, with the feeling of a past era to the costumes and characters. I chose an old window to help represent this. The main figure can be almost any one of the female characters in the story. There’s a sundial in a garden, but instead of using just a plain design, I opted to gain a strong visual by using an ancillary sphere. And the ever-present Freki, the protagonist’s right-hand sentient wolf, part of the Werewolf Corps, serves as a visual anchor.
Each story tends to have a color all its own. I chose to work with greens countering blues as the overriding color scheme for this one. Technically, I drew my elements out, then projected the final sketches to the board. I sealed the pencil sketch by applying heavy washes of acrylic color. Once dry, I painted oil over the top.