July 22, 2022

Fairy Tale Flights of Fancy

         Here are two pieces from the large set that were mostly carved during my shows in May.  At that point, however, they still needed touch-ups and tweaking, and got put on the back burner as Life and Other Circumstances intervened.  But I finally got around to completing them, printing, and releasing them into the wild.  So, what have we here?
        These pieces are both illustrations for a fairy tale “The Swan Maiden,” by friend and fellow author Cari Lyn Jones.  As a fairy tale, her story makes use of many of the images, patterns, cadences, and tropes of classic fairy tales, weaving them together into something both timeless and fresh.  This first piece illustrates a passage in which the prince is being carried by the Swan Maiden: “Through the night sky they flew, the stars a blanket above them. Below them rose seven high mountains, which fell into seven deep valleys with seven wide rivers winding through them like silver ribbons. On and on they flew until he saw in the distance a dark hill crowned by a house that shone like fire.”  The image caught my imagination and I loved thinking about that night flight over mountains and rivers.  However, at the same time that this illustration depicts a very specific passage, I also wanted to capture the universality of the dream-like fantasy.  For that reason I have refrained from giving the rider any too-specific details.  Yes, in this story he happens to be the third son of the king, but really, can’t any and all of us imagine the wind on our faces and the feathers beneath our arms as we fly swanback toward adventure through moonlight and magic?
        The technical challenge in this piece was to get the textures and shadings to suggest the moonlit mountains below.  I wanted a variety of textures that would read with a range of value, while still looking like rocky mountains at night.  My first round of carving produced patterns that were a little too regular and mechanical-looking.  I had to go back and add more rough randomness with my tools until it looked a bit more organic.  Yes, I can certainly name artists who could do this far better than I, but since it pushed me a little to get to this point, I’m fairly pleased with it.
        The second piece comes from the end of the tale.  The Swan Maiden had instructed the prince to gather three crow’s eggs from the top of a tree.  When the pair finally reach safety, “she told the prince to open the first egg.  He did as she suggested, and what should he find inside but the most beautiful little castle, made all of gold and silver. He set the palace on the ground and it grew and grew until it covered a whole acre of land.”  From the other eggs came other treasures, but for me nothing beats a good castle!  And again, who doesn’t love the idea of cracking open a tiny egg and finding something magical inside?
        Cari commissioned me to do these illustrations because in addition to the classic feel of her tales, she wants to evoke the feel of those classic fairy tale books.  Many of them include a large full-page illustration for each story, plus a smaller chapter heading or tailpiece for each.  The castle in the egg is therefore a smaller, less detailed piece than the flying scene.  The technical challenge was to get a little shading for dimension on the eggshell, and, of course, to get a decent level of detail in a small piece.  Shading is never my strong suit and I decided against any attempt to add shading on the interior of the eggshell.  I thought it would just distract from the castle.  Plus, I love the way eggshells are so white inside!
        In terms of Cari’s final project, an anthology of her fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, that may yet be a long time coming.  I am hoping to do a few more illustrations for her, although I don’t have anything else in the works just yet.  You can find out more about things from her end at Idyll Dreams & Nonsensical Things.

[Pictures: Night Flight, rubber block print by AEGN, 2022;

Hatching Dreams, rubber block print by AEGN, 2022.

Quotations from The Swan Maiden by Cari Lyn Jones, proof copy.]


Cari Lyn said...

And your prints are perfect for invoking that classic fairy tale feeling!

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Thanks, Cari! =D