Once, not so long ago, a marvellous stag lived in the forest at the foot of our mountain, on the other side of the little bridge you must still cross when you leave our village…
My (very) short story “The Wonderful Stag, or The Courtship of Red Elsie” has just been published on Tor.com — with this gorgeous and luminous illustration by John Jude Palencar.
That lit crescent of its antlers! The strange wise oddity of its face! The texture of its fur! The ears!
A fun fact about this story is that it actually began as an illustration — one of the earliest of the ink-and-gold Inktober fairytale illustrations I did in 2019.
The story I imagined behind this illustration was a little different (although it survived as one of the narrator’s asides about possible origins). It was prompted by a @fairytaletext tweet “Before long, the suitor fell in love with a mischievous stag.”
I couldn’t shake the image of a stag running through the forest, hung with rings with which it had made off. When I sat down to write that, however, the consequences became rather deeper-reaching, and George-the-Wolf emerged to listen to the rumours, and Red Elsie flickered into being, and all the courtship arrangements of the isolated village…
Which brings us to Inktober. I’m repeating my approach to it last year, using three main boundaries:
Prompt: I use the main/official prompts (there are many others), because that’s simple, and because where they don’t fit my personal tastes/interests (i.e. “radio”) it makes me work harder to come up with something that pleases me. I like using and fighting against external prompts and timeframes, and having to incorporate something that’s not entirely from inside my own head — that was the appeal and lesson of Illustration Friday way back when (and that tag is a deep dive).
Technique: Ink, obviously, but I further limited it to silhouette brush work because I want to get better at brush work and silhouettes seemed simpler (why I, of all people, would think that, but here we are), and incorporated imitation-gold leaf (because it’s pretty and I have a lot to learn).
Second prompt: I’m using tweets from Fairy Tale Fragments (@fairytaletext) on Twitter. This pulls everything into my preferred fairy-tale area, but involves some mental acrobatics to incorporate e.g. “radio” into that sort of setting.
Note: It’s tricky getting good photos of the foil, and impossible to scan usefully, but it’s got a lovely buttery-gold gleam under lights.
Ink and imitation gold leaf again for Inktober prompt “trail”. This is Mabel from E. Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle. I’m loving working with gold leaf, but I think I need to work at a larger size to get the degree of control and detail I want.
I have missed doing challenges, like Inktober and Illustration Friday. I’m flying to the World Fantasy Convention in 12 days, and am frantic with deadlines and art show preparation, so it seemed like the perfect time to dip my toe back into those waters.
… that’s a little bit flippant, but not entirely. In times like this, it’s easy to forget to just have a good time occasionally, and why I got into this in the first place.