Above is the rough sketch that was chosen as the second route (see my previous post for route 1) to develop for the cover of China Mieville's Railsea. The finished illustration doesn't actually look very different from this initial sketch, but that's not to say I didn't tinker with it endlessly before returning to the original look.
I tried a few variations on the design of the train itself. Part of my inspiration for the redesign were the vintage rail posters that had guided the composition, but another were illustrations of futuristic transport and machinary from science and technology magazines of the 30s. Modern Mechanix had a very particular take on the future. Their covers saw the technology of tomorrow as being beautifully rounded to the point of being bulbous... and red, everything was going to be red in the future apparently.
So I did my Modern Mechanix version of the Mole train Medes. There was a little inspiration too from the Geo Ham motoring illustrations - the chrome side exhausts and the wheel arch styling borrowed from a Delahaye coupe. I wanted to make reference to marine vessels in the design too. This was Rail-sea afterall, and the story itself plays on the story of Melville's Moby Dick. To this end I placed what is essentially the conning tower from a U-boat near the rear of the engine. Out of this protrudes a mast flying a flag, though I didn't go as far as adding sails.
I was quite pleased with this look but it didn't go down so well when I asked friends for their opinion. Everyone felt it was overdesigned and just had too much going on. I have to admit that the teardrop styling and red paintwork probably didn't fit very well with the concept of the train being a vessel for hunting giant Moles. It looks more like the sort of thing a Railsea-world movie star would have taken out for a leisurely cruise.
I was casting around again for moletrain inspiration when I came across the vintage rail illustration below by Alexander Leydenfrost. It shows the distinctive Pensylvania Railroad T1 Locamotive, streamlined by Raymond Loewy.
I thought the distinctive wedge shaped nose of the train had something of the look of a U-boat design or possibly the prow of a ship... once again the seafaring connection. It felt like it would make more of a pared down, raw and dangerous vehicle than the portly scarlet predecessor. I also thought the nose design seemed to echo the shape of the Mole, an idea that I liked.. but that may just be me, I probably had moles on the brain by this stage.
I worked up a rough based on my initial route 2 composition, but adding my T1 inspired Moletrain. I'd been asked to take a look at the design of the type for the title too, and found that if I flipped the illustration I could possibly work the title into the tracks running alongside.
I thought I could simplify the design further by limiting the palette to just three colours. I then went even further by suggesting two duotone colourways, which I felt could look quite cool and very striking.
All of this may have been one design change too many however. The panmac design team liked the new sketches but were still really sold on the initial black and white rough sketch I'd shown them, including that pretty simple train design. If 'it ain't broke don't fix it' was the feeling I got, and with the deadline looming I was happy to go with this. So it became a case of going back to the rough and making as good a colour interpretation of that as possible.