I have a little list of authors whose work I would like to illustrate one day, editors I would like to work with, and so on. So when I was asked to illustrate To Spin a Darker Stair from Fablecroft Press, I almost fell off my chair, because I like working with the publisher (I did a few illustrations for Worlds Next Door in 2010), Catherynne M. Valente was one of the unattainable heights on my list (I mention her occasionally) and I realised, after reading Faith Mudge’s story, that the only reason she wasn’t on the list was that I hadn’t read her writing before.
The book is a collection of two short stories – fairytales retold from the witch’s perspective. Valente’s “A Delicate Architecture” is a bitter confection, as suits “Hansel and Gretel”, while Mudge’s “Oracle’s Tower” traces the rise and fall of a witch and her power over her charge.
Here are the cover roughs:
It was harder developing a design for a two-story book than it is for a collection. We wavered between B and C, and the publisher decided to go with C, but as a wraparound image. I’d still like to make a dress with painted panels as in G. From there, I drew a final pencil sketch, probably (I hope) emailed it for approval, inked it, scanned it and added colour in Photoshop Elements.
I also drew two internal line illustrations for each story, but those will wait for another time. Or, buy the book!
This instalment of the Dalek Game is for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is also an excuse to practise drawing donkeys – one day the necessity will arise! I think it is a little better than the last one (for the same play – I am only practising donkey heads). Certainly cuter, and when drawing Daleks that is evidently the prime consideration.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not my favourite Shakespeare – I have not decided what is. Neither its title nor its stage directions are as wonderful as A Midwinter’s Tale (although I had to wait for J. K. Rowling before I learned how to pronounce Hermione). I am not certain why I resist it – perhaps because it conjures up such a floating, sweet image, although that isn’t what I get when I sit down and read it. Perhaps it is the general connotation it takes in the collective consciousness? A shame, if it is, because parts of it are – or should be – hysterically funny.
My current favourite references/adaptations/reworkings of it are:
- Dead Poet’s Society (directed by Peter Weir and written by Tom Schulman) – for the ethereal tragedy (I get flashbacks to this whenever I watch House).
- Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies – for a very funny, very nasty, very (what? respectful? faithful? something different but equal to that) Discworld take on the story, with all of the beauty that ought to be there and all of the horror and earthy bloodiness which makes the beauty terrifying. Also the stick-and-bucket dance. I commend to you Tansy Rayner Robert’s post on this book: Slash! Stab! A Lesson in Practical Queening.
- Neil Gaiman’s short graphic story “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (drawn by Charles Vess and coloured by Steve Oliff) – for an interleaving of the play with its historical setting and performance, within the story of Sandman: complex, beautiful, complete.
It would be easy, I suspect, to take a wholly unpleasant reading of the play – no doubt it has been done. I appreciate the role of that sort of reading and storytelling, but it usually feels to me more as comment/exercise than a distinct and independent Thing In The World. What I love about the pieces above is that none of them disregard the beauty which is associated with the story in order to rewrite it into nastiness. They are all truly beautiful. But the loveliness which could be merely pretty or at worst cloying is not only offset by the darkness: together they make something very solid and elegant and – without detracting at all from that – funny. All three have scenes which still, in recollection, make me laugh aloud (“this desk set was made to fly”).
I’m reminded of Catherynne M Valente’s story “A Delicate Architecture”, in which sweetness must be offset by the hint of salt and marrow. Which conveniently leads me to…
In other news: To Spin a Darker Stair, a boutique collection of two short stories by Catherynne M Valente and Faith Mudge, and illustrated by me, is on pre-order from Fablecroft Press (more news on the cover when it appears). Also, speaking of English takes on fairy queens (and taking on English fairy queens), I drew some pictures of Janet and Tam Lin for Illustration Friday.