Saturday, June 27, 2020

Doubt Comes In

I've really fallen head over heels in love with Hadestown lately. I've been listening to it for a long time, but as I've had renewed interest in Greek mythology and love musical theatre so much it's scratching both itches for me. I wanted to go see it when I was in New York but it had recently won it's slew of Tonys and the only seats left were in the nosebleeds and for ridiculous prices considering they were restricted view so I left it - which right now I'm feeling regretful of, especially with everything shut down as it is!

Originally this was just going to be Orpheus and Eurydice from the myth, but then I figured why try and fight making them look like their musical counterparts and not just go with it? So I did. Reeve Carney kinda looks like my characters anyway so it's perfect! I tried to combine it with the myth, which is why I gave Orpheus an actual lyre and not the guitar he uses in the musical. I took inspiration from this painting by Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein-Stub, and this painting by Emily Balivet.

My favourite aspect of Hadestown is how it re-characterises these well known figures. Orpheus is quite arrogant in the myth, very sure of himself and his own abilities, and he enters the Underworld with complete certainty that Hades will return Eurydice to him. When he turns back to Eurydice it's with a triumphant air of "I did it!" before he realises that Eurydice isn't in the light yet and so the task is failed. I much prefer the anxious naive Orpheus of the musical, so consumed with self doubt, his journey from optimistically seeing the way the world could be to seeing it the way it is. It makes the tale far more of a tragedy than the original myth for that reason alone because the world beats us all down eventually, as Eurydice knew from the start.

"I'll tell you where the real road lies:
Between your ears, behind your eyes
That is the path to Paradise
Likewise, the road to ruin"

Friday, June 26, 2020

Daedalus and Icarus

I've always really loved Greek mythology. I'm not sure why it's always held such allure to me more so than any other mythology, but it has and as a little girl I carried around an illustrated book of Greek myths everywhere I went in the same way other children carried around security blankets or plush toys. I loved it so much that my mother took me to Ephesus when I was 6 so that it could be brought even more to life for me (I think she was kind of hoping I'd grow up to be a learned historian, but no such luck!). I was obsessed when Disney released Hercules and combined my two biggest interests into one, and as a teen I developed some minor internet popularity for creating a series of illustrations around Disney's Hades and my own design of Persephone that blended the traditional mythology with the Disney universe. Because it was something I began to be recognised for drawing for a long while it became all I drew, and naturally from that I went the other way and completely lost interest. I don't know what's piqued it again recently, but I'm back and I can't get enough!

I didn't really think about this too much as I was painting it, I just had an image in mind that I wanted of Daedalus reaching for his son Icarus and just went for it. First page of a brand new sketchbook and I approached it without a second thought, a bravery I'll likely never see again! I messed up in that I forgot to make Daedalus look older than Icarus, and by the point I realised it was too far in and if I'd given him white or grey hair it would've thrown off the whole palette and distracted from his wings, so I just gave him some grey temples and hoped for the best. Hopefully the myth is obvious enough to get away with it!

I coloured the sun with a gold sharpie, and I love the contrast it gives the piece. The rest is gouache, touched up with a little coloured pencil for the outlining and such. I'm enjoying painting a lot lately. I turned to digital as I didn't feel like I could get the results I wanted from traditional mediums with a cohesive colour palette, but I feel like painting digitally has taught me how to paint traditionally too.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Sister Alyonushka, Brother Ivanushka

Another Russian folktale, this one based on Sister Alyonushka, Brother Ivanushka. You can read the whole tale here. As in a lot of these stories they were orphaned as children and set out across the forest so Alyonushka could find work. Her younger brother Ivanushka soon grows thirsty on the long journey and begs for water each time he sees it, but each time Alyonushka says no and warns that he'll be transformed into various animals. Finally he's so thirsty that he doesn't stop to ask at the next spring, and Alyonushka is devastated to see him transform into a goat. There's much more to the tale, and you'll be glad to know that it works out happily - Ivanushka is able to save his sisters life and gets transformed back into a boy.

It definitely has elements of that scene in Pinocchio. I feel inclined to say that Ivanushka was less deserving of the punishing transformation as literally all he wanted was a glass of water, whereas Lampwick and co got up to all kinds of shenanigans - but really no one ever deserved that.

Anyway, when I was deciding to draw The Armless Maiden I initially couldn't decide which folktale to illustrate so I decided to go with both. I've never drawn a goat before, but I think it came out OK? I tried to include elements to hint that all isn't what it seems by giving him the same coloured fur and eyes and Alyonushka.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Inside my sketchbook

Like I said in my last post, I've been drawing a lot in my sketchbook lately and thought I'd offer a peek at what I've been working on. Not all of it's finalised, much of it is simple sketches that are waiting to be digitally coloured, but I always enjoy 'behind the scenes' glimpses so figured I'd offer one!

Y'all know how I love to draw a ballpoint portrait of Aaron Tveit 😅 I found this photo saved on my iPad when I was clearing it out and realised that I'd meant to draw it way back. I actually find drawing portraits a good way to unwind, and I like to stay on top if my skills. In the past I've either focused exclusively on realism or exclusively on illustration and then gotten frustrated when I've lost skills in the other.

I am often asked if I'll do portrait commissions, and I'm afraid the answer will always be no. It's something I do for fun and it's difficult for me to put my heart into it when I don't care about who I'm drawing, which is why I draw the same people over and over. It's also why I stopped sharing my portraits for a long time as I didn't want to create a business of it and get stuck drawing strangers.

Dmitri and Anya from Anastasia, they'll be coloured digitally at some point. I wanted them to be similar in style to my Wicked illustrations, with the background elements specific to each character. Dmitri is in St Petersburg, and supposed to look like he's casually playing with the music box by throwing it from hand to hand - I was really stumped with how to pose him, and this was the first character illustration I'd done like this in a long while so I felt like I was getting back into it. Anya came much easier, and it shows in her more natural posing and flow. Pooka is perhaps too small, but eh. There's the sign in the background where she meets her crossroad - one pointing to St Petersburg, one to the Fishermans Market where she's been given a job out of the orphanage. It's a pivotal moment for her, so it felt like the perfect backdrop. I just changed the writing to Cyrillic because that's the one thing that bothers me about the movie - in all of the Russian locations, all of the background writing is in English and I think it's details like that that can really solidify a setting - or not in this case. Especially as I watch the film with Russian audio so it's even more jarring!

I got some new Copic markers and wanted to try them out, so I sketched this based on a publicity photo of the London production of Wicked. I love this scene in the musical because it's so short but so telling of how the distance between Glinda and Fiyero is growing.

Another sketch to be coloured digitally. I've always liked the movie The Little Mermaid but it's never been my favourite, but it's really growing on me lately. I'm at a point in my life that I can relate to Ariel more, and that feeling of being stuck and yearning for change and the freedom to be who you want to be. Which isn't a million miles from why I relate so strongly to Elsa, who is my favourite, and they're both obviously Hans Christian Andersen characters so I thought I'd create a little homage to that.

Hans looking suitably pissy which is my favourite way of drawing him, and I tried to add some little historical details to his outfit as I've fallen down a rabbit hole of watching historical costumers on YouTube and those videos showing what the princesses would look like historically accurate. No one ever does the princes or focuses on male historical fashion which is a shame I think, I'm almost tempted to try and perhaps create a little series of them myself. And a ballpoint portrait of Mika, my other fave who I draw all of the time! I want to try and translate him to my illustrative style some time and see how it works, as he is very distinctive so wouldn't be that difficult.

I don't know if I've mentioned about it on this blog before, but way back when I was doing my foundation degree in 2010-11 I created a whole illustrated book of the original tale of The Snow Queen. I found the original book I'd created when I was clearing through stuff to move and it felt a bit cringey to me now as my skills have developed so I decided to update it. I'll go into it all in more detail when I've finalised and digitally coloured some of them, but these are some of the rough sketches I'm working with right now. I'm super excited for how they're coming out! I obviously don't want it to reference Frozen as it's such a different story even if it is what inspired it, but as I'm such a fan of Frozen I have thrown in little 'easter eggs' here and there, such as basing elements of Kai on my design of Hans - I made a big post on my personal blog about how I feel Hans is an interpretation of Kai anyway, so it fit. It won't be too obvious where you think "OK that's Hans", but enough to link the two when you think about it.

I've been drawing so much that I had to buy a new sketchbook! I've nearly finished my Leuchtturm, which is a shame as they're my brand of choice and not easily available here. I picked up a Handbook Travelogue Journal which I've been intrigued about for a while, and got the watercolour edition as I'm really enjoying painting lately. I've already begun, but you'll see more of that soon!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020


I've been drawing a lot lately - more than I think I ever have before? I don't know where all of the inspiration and drive is coming from, but it feels endless. A lot of it is currently in progress; works that are sketched and being held up by needing to be digitally coloured. I want to take the backlog to do an experiment of sorts on Instagram. I know the platform favours those who post everyday, which really isn't artist friendly and promotes quick, disposable art that's easy to both create and consume which makes me sad. But at the same time there feels no getting away from it while it's still people's preferred platform of choice. I've tried Twitter and had even less success, how anyone gets their work noticed on there is beyond me. My Instagram account has been stagnant for a while as my posting is so sporadic, so I've decided to just completely avoid posting there until I've got this mass of work I'm currently working on finished, and then I shall attempt posting everyday and see how much truth is in the theory. So all of that to say that this blog will be kept far more up to date than my Instagram for the time being!

One of my lifelong fascinations and artistic inspirations has always been Russian and Slavic folktales. It was my main focus for Folktale Week, and that art has always been some of my favourite that I've created and I've wanted to illustrate something similar for a long time. So I began looking up various Russian folktales to see which one sparked my interest and came across Безручка, or 'The Armless Maiden'. It tells the tale of an orphaned brother and sister, and when the brother marries he takes his sister to live with him and his new wife. The wife dislikes the sister and pulls all kinds of tricks to accuse her, but the brother is never angered. It culminates with the wife giving birth and cutting the head off of her own baby which she then accuses the sister of doing, and in retaliation the brother takes his sister out into the woods, cuts off her arms at the elbow, and leaves her there.

The sister wanders through the woods weeping, until she finally comes across a town and she marries a merchant's son who falls madly in love with her. He leaves his pregnant wife with his parents to go on a journey, and tells them to send word as soon as his child is born. The armless maiden gives birth to a son who has golden arms to his elbow, a moon on his forehead, and a sun on his heart. Word is sent to the merchant's son, but her brother's wife is still obsessed with ruining her life even though they haven't seen each other in years and she intercepts the letter and replaces it with one telling the merchants son that the baby boy is half wolf and half bear. The merchants son wrote back his support, which was again intercepted and replaced with a letter to his parents telling them to send his wife away with the child, so they strap the baby to her chest and cast her out.

When wandering through the woods the maiden stops to drink from a well, but her baby falls in and she weeps as there's no way she can save her baby without her arms. A random old man (who himself doesn't help but offers his sagely advise like they always do in these tales) tells her to reach into the well anyway, and she does and her arms grow back and she's able to save her baby. She ends up finding her brothers home, where coincidentally her husband is also randomly staying, and tells them what her brothers wife has done. Her brother ties his wife's braid to a mare and sends it across the fields, and when the mare returns only her braid is left of her.

It's pretty gruesome, which is typical of all folk and fairy tales - The Brothers Grimm and common European tales have been highly sanitised and edited over the years to make them more palatable for modern sensibilities. But I was still quite shocked at the brutality of the scenes with the brother, but it's important to recognise the symbolism in these stories as they're never intended to be taken at face value and were a way of passing on messages or warnings in the days of old. And so I recognised that the dismemberment could represent any traumatic experience, and the subsequent journey the maiden goes on shows how there will always be many more obstacles to overcome even when it seems like things are better. It's about the ability to not just endure, but to strengthen and regenerate as many times as you have to, and it tells readers that although they may feel alone in their journey, there are always others who have walked the same path before.

< Although it's a fairly long tale, I knew which part I wanted to illustrate on my first reading and I'm really pleased with how it came out. I had some Deleter screen tones which I'd picked up out of curiosity the last time I was at the art supply store. Now I live in Japan I'm having a lot of fun exploring new art supplies. I don't know if these screen tones are used in the West, but I understand they're popular in traditional creation of Manga. Comics and manga really aren't my area of interest and I know nothing about it, but I wanted to just see what using these were like and whether they could be incorporated into my work.

I'd hoped that it would add a sense of depth to the background, but I think because the colours are already dark that it's barely noticeable and doesn't make much difference! I'm definitely going to try again on something less colourful though. I guess they're usually used on grayscale or even just lineart pieces, but I don't want my work to take on a graphic or 'comic-y' look and would rather try and see if I can get the screens to work with my art, rather than adapt my work to fit the screens.

The other half of the screen tone. It's sticky backed and transparent once you peel the backing paper off, and it's made up of tiny little dots. You can get them in all kinds of patterns.
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