The Expeditioners is here!

The spring and summer have flown by and the fall’s nearly over. Which means that it’s time for…

McSweeney’s Season!

S. S. Taylor and I are proud to announce that The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon is hitting stores this week! This is my first time illustrating a novel and I am OH-SO-EXCITED about this fantastic book. What a wonderful team to work with, and I can’t thank Sarah Stewart Taylor enough for bringing me on board!

To get your copy you can order The Expeditioners from McSweeney’s McMullens, from Indiebound, from Amazon, from Barnes and Noble, or from your favorite local bookstore. For more information about signings and appearances coming up in Vermont and New York, please check out my brand new Facebook Page for events or head over to S. S. Taylor’s blog at

I have one more announcement to make: after much consideration the time has come for me to transition away from Caterpillar Publishing and continue my blog at the domain . The content here will stay up for now, but all news about my work and coming book projects will be posted over at my gorgeous new site. Please follow me there, join my email list, and add me to your RSS feed as I get it up and running!

Thank you so much for reading my blog, whether this is your first post or your 100th. Your enthusiasm and support means the world, and I can hardly wait to share with you what’s ahead. See you at the new site!

My Own Personal Shark Week

The EXPEDITIONERS proofs are fresh of the presses and my illustrations for BURIED BENEATH US are in! So what, might you ask, am I up to right now? I’M PACKING FOR MY OWN PERSON SHARK WEEK, YO!!

Tomorrow I am flying out to San Francisco, California to accompany TOPP‘s (Tagging of Pacific Predators) white shark tagging team while they do their work at the Farallon Islands. No, I will not be cage diving, and feeding and petting the wild life is not advised, but I plan to sketch and photograph as much as possible and to interview as many people in the Farallon community as I can. Not to mention, of course, see my first white shark!

While this research trip isn’t mandatory for my book to see print, I’m absolutely certain that this first-hand experience will enrich the content of the project. It’s clear that the final pages are where I have the most rewriting to do, and being out on the water with Farallon scientists will fill out my understanding of these beautiful creatures and their fragile ecosystem.

I’m incredibly grateful to the Farallon community for the welcome enthusiasm and support of my book project! More to come soon! Follow me now on Twitter or Instagram at @KRoyStudio.

Cover Sketches for The Expeditioners

For the last few weeks galley copies of THE EXPEDITIONERS have been out in the world in search of reviews. I imagine the books all huddled together, whispering and giggling through thick mailing envelopes, as they wait to be loved by a child or a blogger or read by someone from Kirkus. The books are just gorgeous (and they’re only galleys!) and Sarah and I couldn’t be more delighted.

In anticipation of a wonderful review from Kirkus coming out today (THANK YOU, KIRKUS!) I thought I’d share a few design sketches for the final hardback book cover. It’s not often that illustrators get to draw tremendously cool double fold-out wrap-around covers—printing costs are too high for most publishers to splurge—but McSweeney’s is all about the book-as-art-object, and McSweeney’s McMullens for kids is no different!

As with any illustration project for me the cover began with concept sketches scribbled in a notebook. It needed to feature both the four main characters and a beautiful southwestern environment, so I started with a two different directions: one in a montage movie poster style and the other focused on a story moment at a waterfall:

After much deliberation with a trusted few we all agreed it would be best to combine the two ideas into one. One 30-second sketch later (see the lower right-hand corner of the black and white sketch above) I had the framework for the final drawing. Combined with editor Brian McMullen’s gorgeously designed logo font it suddenly felt like a real cover!

From there I did a simple sketch for the wrap-around outer cover:

And then digitally drew on top of it to finalize the design:

This last image is very close to what the (front) cover will look like once the subtitle and credits are in place. The book is available for pre-order now from your favorite local bookstore or from Nine weeks left to release! Whoo-eee!

Why I Like the Maya (and Why You Should, Too)

I have a confession to make: I think I like the Mayans the best.

I feel sort of terrible about this, in the way a parent might feel admitting that they have a favorite child. But it’s right there in front of me and rather undeniable: the Mayans are just way cooler than the other three. If JetBlue offered a special on 4-day, 3-night ancient American getaways you can bet that I’d sign up for Copan (with the optional day trip to Uxmal). Sorry Cuzco and Tenochtítlan, your lack of writing system and brevity is against you. And Cahokia, we don’t even know your real name. Lie about your age, but your name… really?

But if you don’t agree with my instincts, let me point out a few things I’ve learned about the Maya that might just change your mind:

1) For one thing there’s the gorgeous writing and hieroglyphics to consider: Maya script is made up of both logograms (words) and syllabic glyphs (syllables that make sounds, like a consonant and vowel sound together) called a logosyllabic system, a little similar to Japanese. This means that there are over 800 different Maya glyphs which overlap and fit together in different combinations and can be artistically stylized very differently between one scribe and the next. The glyphs are so complicated that the language’s full code wasn’t cracked until the 1980’s, the culmination of centuries of work from archaeologists, anthropologists, artists, art historians, epigraphers, and linguists from around the world. The Mayans were wicked smaht!!

Maya stucco glyphs on display in Palenque, Mexico.


2) Then there’s the Mesoamerican habit of human sacrifice: the Maya weren’t quite as bloodthirsty as the other three seem to have been. (Yes, it’s true, the Maya did make some regular human sacrifices, but heads up, Judeo-Christians of European descent: the Crusades, Witch Trials, and the Inquisition aren’t exactly high points for us either.) The daily Aztec ritual of killing of a war prisoner really grosses me out (cut out his heart, lop off his head, throw him down the stairs, repeat) and so far as we know the Maya didn’t regularly sacrifice children (like the Inca did) or groups of women (like the Cahokians did). Not killing off prisoners and children might mean that the Maya were better neighbors to surrounding tribes, too.

No Mayan ceremony would be complete without feather headdresses and some self-sacrifice (bloodletting).


3) Finally we have their stunning sense of architecture, art and style. Grand civic planning, echoing temples, and stone stela sculptures of great leaders are all standard features of Mayan cities, and in combination with their painted vases, jade jewelry, and ceremonial dress with more feathers than a drag queen at Pride, I suspect they had a deep-running love of order and natural beauty. There is this elegance to everything that is Mayan, a Rome-ness that I can’t help but connect to. And, like the Romans, the Mayans fell from grace, fading away into the jungle after exhausting their land and other resources.

Reconstruction drawing of Copan by Tatiana Proskouriakoff.


They Maya didn’t have their act together in lots of ways, and I’m sure that my preferences have been partly shaped by our culture’s fascination with them (second to our Egypt obsession, of course). But of the four cultures they firmly stand as my favorite. I hope to get to work on another book about them soon!

My rough study of a Mayan king receiving an offering from a servant.


Rocks and the Ancient Inca

Before working on BURIED I really didn’t know much about the Inca. I knew they lived in Peru, in the high mountains of the Andes, and I’d of course seen lots of dreamy photos of Macchu Picchu and llamas with tassles. Oh, and of course there’s that Disney movie. Kronk was surely based on a historical figure, right?

But after months of research there’s one thing I now know for sure: above all else it seems the Inca were big fans of rocks. Big rocks, round rocks, square rocks, little sissy rocks… pretty much any kind of rock. They dragged rocks over great distances to build their homes, they hauled rocks up steep mountains to build castles and temples, they carved rocks to match the silhouettes of mountains of celestial significance, and they did all of it–all of it!!– without iron tools, draught animals, the wheel, mortar, or a written language. Their rock building techniques are still something of a mystery to modern day archaeologists.

Inca Walls at Sacsayhuaman near Cusco, Peru


NOVA even put out a short documentary in 1997 called The Secrets of Lost Empires (Disc 3) that explores efforts to replicate Inca building methods by leading researchers in the field. According to the film, how did the ancient Inca carved 15 ton boulders? With a great deal of patience, human labor… and more rocks.

Inca 1: How are we going to carve this giant rock? All we’ve got is wood, bone, and rock.

Inca 2: Hey! I know! Let’s use this other rock!

The Inca were clearly doing something right; the walls that survived the Spanish conquistadors have withstood dozens of earthquakes in the last 500 years (while the colonial buildings on top of them have repeatedly collapsed. Ha! Take that, Spanish conquistadors!) Archaeologists have an idea of Cusco’s original layout, but, like the present-day city of Alexandria, there’s very little to show for its original splendor.

Inca walls still standing in modern Cusco, built without mortar or the use of iron tools.


Now part of my job as the illustrator for BURIED is to do a spread that depicts ancient Cusco. And for someone who needs to draw a recreation of the original city, a simple archaeological map of scattered foundation lines isn’t all that much to go on. I thought that perhaps I might track down an ink sketch or two from an artistic conquistador’s journal, but the only source image of the city on record is this painting by a Spanish monk, completed after the earthquake of 1650 about 100 years after Pizarro conquered the Inca. In other words, this doesn’t look much like Cusco as the Inca knew it.

Earthquake Painting in Cusco's Cathedral, Peru, from 1650.


The only other illustration leads available to me were the existing foundations of the Temple of the Sun at the Coriancha. Plated in with hundreds of sheets of gold and home to Inca kings and priests, the Coriancha sat at the heart of Cusco and was of course Pizarro’s first place of pillage. Today the foundations of the Coriancha still stand and bear the weight of the Church of Santo Domingo, and (luckily for me!) is the site of ongoing restoration inside the walls of the Church. Between tourist photos online and an archaeologist’s recreated drawing, I could begin to conceive of what this small part Cusco might have originally looked like.

Coriancha, the Temple of the Sun. The original foundation is the dark gray stone beneath the modern church.


Recreated drawing of Coriancha from the book ANCIENT CUZCO: HEARTLAND OF THE INCA by Brian S. Bauer


First I used the photos and the drawing above to make a quick clay model to draw from for my roughs (it’s terribly useful to turn a model in space, and it’s also a welcome break from sketching!) The drawings themselves were easy, but I was quickly frustrated by how un “city-like” the Coriancha appeared. The small handful of steeply sloped buildings felt terribly underwhelming compared to the vast expanse of Copan or Tenochtitlan. (In the case of Copan, the city was abadoned to the jungle, and in the case of Tenochtitlan there was indeed an artistic conquistador on the scene. No such luck with Cusco.)

Clay Model of the Temple of the Sun.


Sketch of the Coriancha.


Sketch of the Coriancha.


Sketch of the Coriancha.


In the end I chose to shift the angle of the drawing, focusing on the view of the Coriancha from below. A little wisp of smoke and some sun breaking through the clouds in the final drawing will help increase the drama of the scene, and I’m much happier with the city spanning the full width of the page spread. And look at all of that beautiful Inca rock that I get to draw for the book!

Final Sketch of the Coriancha.


Coming soon: more on the Maya! Stay tuned!

July Inspirations

Last month was full of drawing, friends, family, and good food, and since we just got back from a quick trip to the Cape I thought I’d share a handful of visual inspirations from July. These images represent in some way the things currently knocking around in my brain:

Toad found near the bike path taken to the beach on Cape Cod. I haven't held such a small creature in quite a long time.


Gray seal colony of several hundred individuals. The pups practiced their swimming as the adults napped.


Sandy dunes on the Cape. I wouldn't mind owning a summer home here, not one little bit.


The Domino Sugar plant on the East River bank across from Manhattan, taken from a river cruise ferry. I love the fonts and the mood of the building.


A trash boat leaving Manhattan, also taken from the ferry. Catching glimpses of the trash subway trains at night has piqued my curiosity about where it all goes.


A very quick sketch of an african elephant in the Museum of Natural History. These animals are just so gorgeous!


A baby elephant learning to walk immediately after birth. Check out YouTube for some incredible videos.

I look forward to whatever it is that August holds. In the meantime back to my work on CITIES!

Adventures in Art & Story by Katherine Roy