Observation Journal: The Story Behind The Story

On these pages of the observation journal, I unpacked some feedback I kept giving students on their stories: to look at the story behind the story.

On the first page, I tried it out on a couple of projects I’d been working on — a short story that has never quite got off the ground, and a very old draft that’s since become a place for testing ideas (see The Usefulness of Template Stories).

The idea is, you mentally remove the plot, and see what’s left behind — the world and the currents and relationships that support the story (or fail to). What would we know about the world, and who would the characters be if the plot weren’t happening?

Handwritten notes on stories behind stories

The exercise stirs up sediment, creates currents, pans gold dust — or, to shift metaphors, it creates sudden changes of lenses and focus.

The process certainly paid off indirectly: I can trace several elements and epiphanies about my current manuscript to some notes on this page — and observations on the facing page.

The following week, I tried the exercise again, this time on “Little Red Riding Hood”. I listed major characters/presences, and pulled back to ask what would be there if the story weren’t happening — the sorts of people who live in the woods, the natures of these wolves, how the grandmother came to live where she lives, etc.

Handwritten notes on stories behind stories

If I pulled on these strands, I ended up with a soberer story than usual, and a sequel to previous stories — a brother and sister grown old and still living in the forest, a witch they destroyed who has returned as a wolf and is trying to become human again…

The process forced logic and loops and links, as well as pulling in other recent thoughts and preoccupations. It turns out to be a useful way to expand a fairy-tale plot.

Tiny ballpoint sketch of a rose

Writing/illustration exercise

  • Choose a story — a fairy tale, or a story you like, or one you’re working on or with (see Template Stories).
  • Make a list of at least five key characters, elements, locations, or motifs that exist in the story.
  • Mentally, remove the main plot. What information or questions are you left with about those key characters/elements? What do we know about them, in the absence of Plot happening? Who would they be, if not caught up in the story?
  • How might you fill in those details? Can you link those questions and answers to suggest the fabric of the world behind the story? Or even to find some larger stories behind it?
  • Sketch out (words or pictures) a key scene from the original story, adding that new information in as names, textures, interactions, details…
Tiny ballpoint sketch of a woman holding a Siamese cat
Alex and Obi

Support and/or follow

If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it, here are some options:

Be Bold prints

The original of the Be Bold, Be Bold paper-cut design has sold, but the white-on-black print is available on Redbubble, as an art print or other things (e.g. a hardback notebook which I think looks rather striking).

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The other, more fox-centric, “Be Bold” (originally a calendar page) is also available as a print, etc, too.

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October calendar: Cold hands

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Fairy tales are famously hard on the feet (per Kelly Link’s “Travels With The Snow Queen”), but they aren’t kind to hands, either.

So here, for Halloween (and with the very excellent support of my patrons) is a collection of specific and general fairy-tale hands: spindle-pricked, scissor wielding, changed to silver, unlocking doors… (I’m including a non-blue-handed version, for those less spookily inclined, but the black-and-blue really does look rather like the colour schemes in Edmund Dulac’s fairy tale illustrations).

I also really like the underlay-colours here. Still want to work up a design like this without lines, but I keep getting distracted by detail. I should start with silhouettes.

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I’ve also created a repeating pattern of this design, and it is now up on Redbubble on notebooks, dresses, etc (as part of my Halloween and Fairytale collections) (and if you like fabric by the yard, I’m waiting for test prints from Spoonflower). Incidentally, Girls Running From Houses (from last October) is now a repeating pattern and is on there too.

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Edit to add: I’ve added the blue background (pink hand) version to Redbubble, too: Take My Hands.

The files below are for personal use and — as I mentioned — are done with the help of my wonderful supporters on Patreon (who also get sneak-peeks, variant colours, stationery, new Daleks, etc). If you’d like to join as a patron (from $1!) or otherwise throw a few coins in the tip jar to help the calendar keep happening, that would be very welcome — the calendar is fun, but takes a lot of time.

October calendar colour Black blue handsOctober calendar colour Blue pink handsOctober calendar lines

Note re links: I’m experimenting with affiliate links, which means I might get paid a small commission if someone buys something after clicking a link on my site. This is my first attempt, so I’m really just testing out the program links at this point!

June Calendar: Against the Flow

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Mermaids for June! This is largely because I was doing the Mermay challenge (mostly linocuts: you can see the progression on Instagram: @tanaudel), and the only way I was going to get through the last few days AND get the calendar done was to double up (there’s… a lot on).

Rather excitingly, I inked it all with a brush, which is not my usual choice (especially for fine lines!). There are control issues, but the fluidity of it is delightful. Here’s a progress shot.

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And below are the full calendar pages, pre-coloured or to colour yourself! If you enjoy the calendar and have a few dollars you’d like to support it with, then that is always very welcome! You can join the patrons who make it possible at patreon.com/tanaudel, or toss a coffee’s worth at  paypal.me/tanaudel. In any case, though, I hope you have fun with these folks.

June Calendar - Colour

June Calendar - Lines

Be Bold: Small Art for a Big Cause

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Light Grey Art Lab, as well as its many other marvellous exhibitions, is currently exhibiting and selling Small Art For A Big Cause, featuring many of their regular artists. You can find the images on their Instagram (always worth following in any event) under #smallartforabigcause or on their website, and framed prints can be ordered from the Light Grey shop.

My piece, Be Bold, was inspired by the heroine of “Mr Fox”, and other fairytale ladies.

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It began, of course, as a silhouette:

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With colour added subsequently.

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It is available for a limited time through the Light Grey shop.

Update: The Light Grey prints have finished, and the original art has sold, but the design is now available in white-on-black through Redbubble as an art print, but also on notebooks, etc.

BeBold-Redbubble

Dancing Shoes

I have big giant feet, so any love I have for shoes must be limited to the fairytale variety. So the September calendar features an assortment thereof. As usual, this is brought to you by my very dear patrons on patreon.com/tanaudel — you are very welcome to join us, and get the calendar early(ish) and other things. (Also, anyone who has signed up at the $15+ supporter level before the end of August also gets an enamel pin, while stocks last).

Feet and shoes are not something I naturally find easy to draw, so I used to sit in cafes and draw people’s feet as they queued. Hot tip.

(Also, August’s deer design is now a repeating pattern on Redbubble, with Spoonflower fabric to follow).

And here are the printable files — pre-coloured or to colour yourself (for personal use only).

(for personal use only)

The Running of the Deer – Patterns

I’ve finally persuaded the deer from the August calendar into a repeating pattern. They’ll be up on Spoonflower as fabric once the test swatches arrive, but in the meantime, they are up on Redbubble (scarves, bags, shirts, phone cases, etc).

Brown background:

 

Pink background:

May calendar: Selkies!

Selkies for May!

These calendars are brought to you with the help of my patrons on patreon.com/tanaudel, and if you’d like to contribute, or are trying to think of a birthday present for me (it’s in May!) joining Patreon would be a great way to do it. Levels start at $1 a month, and there are many extra behind-the-scenes things, as well.

The colours were tricky for this one. Selkie pictures tend to be very muddy brown or too green. I worked towards these colours after consulting a number of William Morris designs and several photos of seals on beaches at sunset.

The page can be printed coloured or to colour yourself, from the files below. And please do consider supporting the calendar on Patreon!

(Oh, and the Angela Carter foxes are up on Redbubble as individual stickers and many other things)

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November Calendar: a goblin market

For this month’s calendar, a Goblin Market, brought to you by my supporters on Patreon (it would be lovely if you could join us! There’s advance news and sneak-peeks of projects).

I don’t recall, now, why I was thinking of Christina Rossetti’s poem. One does, I suppose, from time to time.

The sisters ought to both have yellow hair, but there was too much yellow in one area and so they are now just… two more girls walking through the market.

Bonus fact: The 10th anniversary edition of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones (with my illustrations!) comes out in November. I had to illustrate a page of a menu, but there wasn’t enough information in the book to complete a whole page, so I filled it out with fruit from Christina Rossetti’s poem.

 

As an aside, my favourite of the many interpretations of “Goblin Market” (although not the most convincing) is that it can be read as a diatribe against the rise of advertising and consumer culture.

 

That is a wombat at the top right of the full illustration. Many of you probably know this, but I saw some friends find out recently so maybe it isn’t as widespread a piece of knowledge as I thought: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Christina Rosseti”s brother) had two pet wombats, which is why they occasionally get into Pre-Raphaelite art.

The calendar can be printed from the files below – pre-coloured, or to colour yourself! And if you like these calendars, please consider supporting them for $1 or so a month (or, if you prefer not to subscribe but would still like to toss something in the direction of your friendly neighbourhood artist – think of this as illustrative busking – my PayPal link is paypal.me/tanaudel).

February Calendar

February 2017 Calendar - detail

As you may have noticed, I’ve started a Patreon account. That lets people be involved with the process of creating my personal art – like this calendar! If you’d like to join in, that would be lovely.

This month, with the input and support of my patrons, I decided on Sleeping Beauty (it’s also the current fairy tale under discussion for the Australian Fairy Tale Society).

February 2017 Calendar - art

I will be developing it into a repeating design, but I had a couple of other end-January deadlines, such as finishing the first round of edits on an Australian Gothic novella! In the meantime, this version of it is up as a print, t-shirt, etc on Redbubble. (N.B. Patreon support helps there be more time for calendars and patterns:)

February 2017 Calendar - detail

You can download the pages by clicking on the images below to print at home (no commercial use, please, without prior arrangement with me), either pre-coloured or to colour yourself.

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