“everything has a heart.” the fairyland books by catherynne m. valente

i remember reading “the girl who circumnavigated fairyland in a ship of her own making” sitting in my aunt’s sunroom back when it first came out in 2011.  she (i call her “aunt seuss” because she was the keeper of alllll the dr. seuss books when i was a kid) asked how my book was– and all i could say was “if i wrote a book, i’m pretty sure i would write like this.”  i don’t mean that as an insult to ms. valente– i just mean it was surreal and quirky and all the language and wordplay and delightfulness that i would someday wish to imbue upon the fiction-reading world.  it was just SO good.

so here we are six years later, and the fifth and final book has come out, and i took it upon myself to re-read and re-enjoy them all.  and then paint a picture.

most of my faerie tale feet series paintings are recognizable stories.  and i know the reading audience for this series of books is smaller than the crowds that usually come through my booth at art festivals, and most have maybe never even heard of them.  BUT, i do hope the painting stands on its own.  as a visual testament to the dreaming realms.  the shadow realms.  the magic realms and the eternal hope of being whisked away by the Green Wind on to another adventure on the back of a leopard- particularly if you’ve had enough of the nebraska farmland you are growing up in.  and i hope your friends are waiting for you there.

so have a look at my painting process below, and then i’ll share what all the icons in the background refer to in the books.  and as ever, you don’t have to of read the books to enjoy the painting.  but maybe you’ll want to pick one up later.  or give it as a gift to a voracious book bear that sneaks into your library at night.

(oh, and the other thing i noticed upon re-reading this series is catherynne’s love of shoes.  she gets it.  they’re symbolic and magical, and i’ll share some of the book quotes at the bottom of this post, too!!)

fairyland blog 1
i have been a huge fan of this book series since it launched. and i also had a fan ask for a painting of her (also favourite) book. and ocha tea bar here in greenville, sc wanted me to hang some art in the shop for the month of october, and september (our book heroine) is always complaining about washing the yellow and pink teacups at home over and over…. and well, it was just time to re-read these books and make a new faerie tale feet painting to share!
fairyland blog 2
so after i’ve read all the books, i go back through my margin notes and pick out the shapes to fill in the background pattern with that allude to adventures from the tale. so after i have those drawn, i use a sheet of tracing paper (11×11,” same size as my final painting) to re-trace the shapes and fit them all together within my composition.
fairyland blog 3
within the first two chapters of book one, i knew what i wanted the painting to look like– even if i still had hundreds and hundreds of pages to go to fill in the details. BUT what i couldn’t decide was HOW to paint it. did i want transparent layers like my “my fair lady” or “into the woods” pieces, or did i want it opaque gouache paint like “pippi longstocking” and “peter pan?” well, i needed to do some test patches to see if the swirling sky background would hold gouache on top of it (i normally paint the background around and THEN fill in the shapes) for the pattern icons. so here we are on two different kinds of watercolour papers and illustration board and something else i found to paint on to see what we’d paint our final piece on…
fairyland blog 4
well, our turquoise kangaroo (hi, jarlhopp!!) test patches turned out just fine. which told me nothing except– just paint already!! 😀
fairyland blog 5
so i transferred september, our clouds, teacups, and checkered floor down onto the decided-upon handmade indian watercolour paper, and painted a riotous swirly background of blues and purples. (book description of the sky in the quotes below.)
fairyland blog 6
once the sky paint had dried, i taped my tracing paper pattern on top, put blue transfer in between the layers, and re-traced my shapes to leave a thin blue line for each of the background elements to fill in on top with more colorful paints.
fairyland blog 7
so here’s early laying-in of the background shapes and colours!
fairyland blog 8
and i know it doesn’t translate in this photo, but the background blue was so bright and the colours i was painting on top were so vibrant, that through my magnifying lamp, the shapes were TOTALLY floating off the page. (i promise i wasn’t drinking anything stronger than coffee!!) it was just one of those miracles of colour theory. so know that at some point in the process, this painting was 3-d & floating! ;D
fairyland blog 9
here we are getting closer and closer to filling in all the background shapes with their colours & details…
fairyland blog 10
and here’s the background pattern done and in-process of working on september’s figure at the top and the teacups and floor at the bottom.  (the checkered floor and september’s shoes and outlines were done in straight india ink.  such a rich velvety black!)
fairyland blog 11
and here’s a (not-super) picture of the ALMOST-final painting! i glued on tea-bag tags from a scrap of the coffee-dyed merlyn watercolour paper from my last painting (tea really doesn’t stain paper that well; i’ve tried!)… the final painting has a pattern added to september’s orange dress and some more substantial outlining and details on her figure, dress, and shoes.  and of course my painting tape is still around the edges in this shot. but the prints are lovely and clean and just as bright as anything! 😀

“i shall be honest,” began september, pulling her emerald smoking jacket tight round her.  “i haven’t any little idea what the Heart of Fairyland is or where to find it.  i had hoped someone else might.”  ~ from the girl who raced fairyland all the way home.

september lost one of her “prim little mary janes” on page 2 of the first book when the Green Wind whisked her over the windowsill onto the back of the Leopard of Little Breezes on her way to Fairyland.  and so our adventures immediately begin.  and it feels like in each and every chapter, september encounters new characters and creatures, obstacles, dangers, and friends.  so narrowing down the shapes that appear in our background pattern was a doozie.  but i tried.  so here are what we ended up with:

  • the pink-and-yellow teacups which she had to wash everyday
  • the witches’ wooden spoon (stolen by the marquess)
  • a-through-l, the wyverary (his parents were a wyvern & a library)
  • lye (a woman made of soap)
  • september’s shadow self curtseying
  • september is carrying her new ball shoes, a dangerous gift from the marquess (described in the book as:  “…if september’s shoe had grown up, gone to a great many balls and theatrical to-dos, and found a dashing mate.  they had little heels and black crystal lilies on the toes, with bits of ribbon looping and whorling all around, speckled with garnets and tiny black pearls.”)
  • saturday (a marid, and september’s closest future more-than-friends friend)
  • gleam, a great orange lantern, one of the tsukumogami
  • the walnut-wood radio september would listen for news of her father off to war
  • the rowboat
  • jarlhopp- a furry turquoise kangaroo
  • the moon (something about a yeti?  i got very confused over that adventure, i’ll admit)
  • stamps (to send a troll by post; changelings have to get here somehow)
  • hawthorne’s baseball (all sorts of scary troubles when he comes to life)
  • the pencil and balloon represent thomas rood/hawthorne’s notebook “inspector balloon” in which all the rules are written
  • the plum blossoms represent tamburlaine’s purple flower garland hair
  • the king’s tea had an elephant and a crown on the tea tag
  • the walrus cobbler and subsequent kelly green & bright-violet foot prints (so many margin notes in a favorite chapter of book four called “unhappy feet.” so many shoes!!)
  • derby race car
  • book bears (!!)
  • the crown of blue tongue berries and silver stars
  • and for the background sky, i tried to do the prose justice:  “the sky shone neither blue nor black, day nor night, but a fiery, swirling twilight.  light blazed in scarlet, peacock, deep plum, and molten quicksilver, light so thick it seemed to drip from the air onto every surface.” (from the third book, the girl who soared over fairyland and cut the moon in two.)

there was more.  and a lot of things relevant to the story that just didn’t work as background icons (blunderbuss, the patchwork scrap-yarn wombat, for example.)

but i think we packed enough in here to celebrate our heroine september and all of her adventures, no?

so i hope you like the painting.  even if you haven’t read the books yet.  ms. valente’s writing is delectable and prances drippingly off the tongue, firing up imaginations and stories and escapades one would only dare to dream of.

the original painting has SOLD, but limited edition signed prints are now available HERE in my etsy shoppe!

you can also purchase the matching greeting cards here.

fairyland etsy large small 1          fairyland card for etsy 3

and in closing, here are just some of the remarkable lines and snippets from the five books of fairyland.  enJOY.

“september read often, and liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armor and rode out with colors flying.” (page 51, the girl who circumnavigated fairyland in a ship of her own making)

“i… i suspect it means that if we act like the kind of folk who would find a Fairy city whilst on various adventures involving tricksters, magical shoes, and hooliganism, it will come to us.”  (page 51, the girl who circumnavigated fairyland in a ship of her own making)

“i cannot help that readers will always insist on adventures, and though you can have grief without adventures, you cannot have adventures without grief.” (page 68, the girl who circumnavigated fairyland in a ship of her own making)

“shoes are funny beasts.  you think they’re just clothes, but really, they’re alive.  they want things.  fancy ones with gems want to go to balls, big boots want to go to work, slippers want to dance.  or sleep.  shoes make the path you’re on.  change your shoes, change the path.”  (page 187, the girl who circumnavigated fairyland in a ship of her own making)

“yes, of course, my little leaf.  and when you speak of tea or coffee or wine or any of our liquid spells, the drink must be matched perfectly with the drinker to get the best effect.  if the match is a good one, the coffee will get to know you a little while you drink it, to know you and love you and cheer for your victories, lend you bravery and daring.  the tea will want you to do well, will stand guard before your fear and sorry… september thought about her pink-and-yellow teacups in the sink back home, and how she had hated them and their slimy clumps of leaves.  she felt poorly on it now, thinking of tea as a thing alive, which wanted only the best for her.” (pages 71-72, the girl who fell beneath fairyland and led the revels there)

“but she had not, in her estimation, ever managed a good poem.  hers came out fitting together more like a broken faucet and an angry milk-goat.”  (page 170, the girl who fell beneath fairyland and led the revels there)

“but shadows keep secrets better than anyone.” (page 257, the girl who fell beneath fairyland and led the revels there)

you cannot argue with fate, whatever Candlestick says, she thought.  you can only defy it.” (page 185, the girl who soared over fairyland and cut the moon in two)

“of course, all shoes are magic– they get you where you’re going and tell you where you’ve been.  they tell your secrets, can’t hold their tongues a bit.”  (page 167, the boy who lost fairyland)

“you have to wear through three pairs of shoes to get anything done.  everyone knows that.  once you wear through the third pair, whatever story you’ve got yourself into has to hurry up and finish its business so the next one can get going.  call it a head start.”  (page 173, the boy who lost fairyland)

“a powerful shhh is the final test of any great librarian, and Ell had been practicing.”  (page 6, the girl who raced fairyland all the way home)

“and all four of them disappeared with a sound like a date-stamp clonking down, leaving behind a puff of dust that smelled strongly of dictionaries, first editions, and the complete works of everyone ever.” (page 106, the girl who raced fairyland all the way home)

“well, it sounded very exciting.  and it had a lot of exclamation points in it, which is one of the signs of an excellent book.”  (page 196, the girl who raced fairyland all the way home)

thank you, catherynne m. valente, for turning your book character’s favourite book into five whole real, readable books “for everyone forever” in this fairyland series.  we curtsey humbly to your queenly reign of fairyland.