Illustration Friday: Fluid

Pen and ink with digital colour. I love the constant transition in fairytales – human to tree to bird to animal…

In Kelly Link’s “Magic for Beginners” class on the weekend, one of the exercises was to make (and maintain) a list of elements we really liked in stories, and another of ones which disturbed us. I may post the full list in time, but  this is one of the elements I like – characters who easily and naturally shift between states. Not “shape shifters” as such (were-creatures, for example, although I don’t mind the odd one), but beings which appear part physical, part metaphorical – the thorn-lady of Diana Wynne Jones’ Deep Secret, the Faery Queen starting up out of a bush o’ broom in the ballad of Tam Lin, Tam Lin’s own transformations (man and creature and glowing iron), the shifting dream-states of Wonderland. The ageing, elongating, bulging, shifting, feather-grown variations of Studio Ghibli characters. Cat Valente’s princess in a tower, trapped between states, her mysterious pirate captain. Selkies, moving to and fro between seal and human (unless someone intervenes). Bear-princes, crane-wives, swan-women, raven-brothers. Sometimes the changeableness is a great and beautiful power, yet often flexibility is a trap – E. Nesbit’s “Belinda and Bellamant”, the lovers of Ladyhawk, each cursed with unsychronised transformations – and a settled state (Valente’s princess again, Tam Lin helpless and human) is a basis for freedom.

It is a theme I enjoy playing with in my stories as well as illustrations – the water-to-child-to-human progression of “Mouseskin”, the promise-bound river-creature of “Undine Love”, the twined shifting background characters of “The Splendour Falls”. The purpose of transformation is different in each, of course, but often it seems to be about becoming human (mature, an adult, responsible) or relinquishing that. In others it is about forcing people to be what someone else thinks they should be.