i’ve been obsessed with the ruby slippers for as long as i can remember. years of childhood trips to washington, d.c. with my Presidential history-obsessed mother were highlighted by seeing the (nearly lackluster, but still revolutionary) ruby slippers at the american history museum.
as any story nerd shall tell you, yes, they were silver in the original book. but mgm changed them to ruby to show off the wonders of technicolor. & i (and millions others, i’m sure) are forever grateful.
so i’m pleased to present to you the latest piece in my faerie tale feet series: “& we’re off!” inspired by l. frank baum’s oz stories. (he wrote 14 books. i read 7 before i had to quit because i was already trying to squeeze in too much obscure symbolism! also, yes, i tried making dorothy’s slippers silver for accuracy, but even with metallic gouache, they looked sad & grey. so i’m making ruby canon, okay? okay.) 😉
take a look at some process pictures below, and then i’ll break down all the story elements i hid in that amazing rainbow. 🙂
so that’s how i created this magical faerie tale feet piece. i hope you love it as much as i do!
here are the story elements i put in our piece from the original books:
the munchkin hats (blue in the books) with bells on the rims
the witch of the north’s kiss of protection on dorothy’s forehead
oil can (for the tin man)
queen of the field mice (who helped scarecrow and tin man rescue dorothy & the cowardly lion from the field of poppies)
toto, in said field of poppies
spectacles (locked on to everyone’s head who enters emerald city (“because if you did not wear spectacles the brightness and the glory of the emerald city would blind you.” bonus fact: the emerald city has 9,654 houses and 57,318 people in it.)
the pointy hat of the wicked witch of the west
bucket of water (the wicked witch’s end; she actually tripped in the book and dorothy threw it to “help.” we know how that went!)
the flying monkeys (called by a magical cap only three times to its owner; dorothy & friends use the flying monkeys to get back to the emerald city after the witch is destroyed)
the hot air balloon made from cloth scraps (all of green, naturally) that dorothy helped the wizard sew together for means of leaving the emerald city
pumpkinhead jack (a character that appears in book 2 (“the marvelous land of oz”) i have next to the signpost
the crowns because scarecrow and tin man both wear them as they rule in oz
the signpost points the way to the different lands within oz: emerald city is the center, and represented by the white star in the green circle on top; the land of the munchkins to the east is represented in blue (the color they all wear); the quadlings to the south are red; and the west country is yellow, home of the winks, that the tin man now rules that the wicked witch of the west is dead.
billina, the yellow hen who comes in in book 3 (“ozma of oz”) and appears in the rest of the adventures
large golden key dorothy & billina find on the beach that winds tik-tok
dorothy’s pink kitten, eureka, who comes along to oz in book 4 (“dorothy & the wizard in oz”)
the cowardly lion & the hungry tiger wear big pink and blue bows when they pull ozma’s chariot
in book 4 we meet polychrome, daughter of the rainbow. (so of course dorothy doesn’t sing “somewhere over the rainbow” in the book, nor is a rainbow mentioned until book 4. but we honor both polychrome and that Oscar-winning song here.)
whew! i think that’s it! i left out loads of stuff. (you’re welcome. i’m exhausted, too.) 😉
original painting is available framed for $525. (+ $30 for safe us shipping)
limited edition signed prints now available on my etsy shoppe. shop here!!
as are greeting cards featuring the quote:
“But a fairy country is extremely interesting when you get used to being surprised.”
and if you’re still with me, below are some more favourite quotes from the books.
and as ever, follow me on facebook and instagram to see new works in progress & other fun artsy, bookish stuff. 🙂
“in the civilized countries i believe there are no witches left, nor wizards, nor sorceresses, nor magicians. but, you see, the land of oz has never been civilized, for we are cut off from all the rest of the world. therefore we still have witches and wizards among us.” ~the witch of the north, “the wonderful wizard of oz.” (book 1)
“the little girl did not know of the wonderful power the silver shoes gave her.”
“you have plenty of courage, i am sure. all you need is confidence in yourself.” ~ the wizard of oz to the lion
“true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.” ~ same as above 🙂
“i feel wise indeed. when i get used to my brains i shall know everything.” ~ scarecrow
“now that is very interesting history, and i understand it perfectly– all but the explanation.” ~pumpkinhead jack, “the marvelous land of oz” (book 2)
do not, i beg of you, dampen today’s sun with the showers of tomorrow.” ~the emperor to jack, book 2
“still, it is a joke, and a joke derived from a play upon words is considered among educated people to be eminently proper.” ~ the wogglebug, book 2
“but there are opportunities for so many excellent puns in our language that, to an educated person like myself, the temptation to express them is almost irresistible.” (same as above)
“there will be no lack of fairy-tale authors in the future, i am sure.” ~from l. frank baum’s “to my readers” before book 6, “the emerald city of oz.”
“her uncle and aunt listened to her stories eagerly and in spite of their doubts began to feel that the little girl had gained a lot of experience and wisdom that were unaccountable in this age, when fairies are supposed no longer to exist.” ~ the emerald city of oz (book 6)
“it’s the thing we don’t expect, billina, that usually happens.” ~dorothy, book 6
so i read austen in high school, of course. and every time i return to her novels, i have forgotten how funny (read: witty & sarcastic) they are. how unique and complete each character in these complex, relationship-driven plots. and how ahead of societal norm jane’s austen’s own ideals were. i love the movie adaptations. i live for the sweeping soundtracks. i like funny tv spin-offs (“lost in austen”) and adaptations (“austenland,” by shannon hale). and of course, who has not been charmed into re-reading pride & prejudice by kathleen kelly & joe fox’s email romance in “you’ve got mail?”
my original intentions for this painting were a lot more complicated. but as i delved further into the book, and the annotated edition, it became less about the men and their estates, and more about the sisters. so the image became simplified so we can step into their world and dance and observe and letter-write alongside them.
the sisters– all fighting: for a husband to escape impending poverty, for a handsome husband because what else is the point of flirting, for accomplishments & attention, or fighting against a society that demanded they must sometimes settle without affection. (or, heavens forbid, to break the stigma that an unmarried woman over 23 is already a spinster.)
so i scrapped the sketches of estates and the shadows of the men that pursued (or engaged) them, and left this piece about our “first impressions” (jane austen’s original working title for this novel she started at age 20 and published as “pride & prejudice,” by a lady, at age 37) of the five bennet sisters.
have a look at the research and painting process photos and then i’ll share a little bit about the bennet gals. 🙂
so the gals in our painting:
jane. “miss jane bennet.” the pretty one. too reserved (even though she “smiles too much”) for darcy to believe she returned mr. bingley’s affections. modest. and sent over to netherfield park when mrs. bennet knew it was going to rain so she’d be stuck there getting to know the new (rich) neighborhood bachelor. she got a cold. hence the handkerchief.
lizzy. “miss bennet.” (also referred to as eliza or elizabeth.) the second oldest. the self-assured no-nonsence sister. she goes (on foot) to visit jane who’s stuck at netherfield recovering, and mr. bingley’s sister is appalled that her dress was 6″ deep in mud after the 3-mile journey.
mary. the middle sister. the only plain one in the family. always vying for a chance to show off her (pedantic) reading habits or her (mediocre) singing and piano playing; she just wants some affirmation.
kitty (catherine). in the shadow of lydia, who was the youngest, kitty also lives for the regiment (military men in uniform come to town), officers (even better), and a good ball.
lydia. the youngest. the most ridiculous. the biggest flirt. the first to be married. even if it was sure to bring wreck & ruin & scandal to her entire family were it not for mr. darcy’s interference in lydia & wicked wickham’s supposed elopement plans. [ two fun facts: she was the tallest of the sisters; and she bought what she knew was an ugly bonnet (out of boredom and living outside of her means, a lifelong habit) to dress it up at home.]
my main take away from the guys in this novel? darcy was an introvert. i get it. sure, he had “reason” to be proud, but he was just socially awkward. and i don’t judge him for that. but i hadn’t noticed before just how soon he started favoring lizzy. (“she attracted him more than he liked.”)
mr. bennet? still hilarious. witty and sarcastic, and with great affection for lizzy. also, his greatest desire was to be left alone in his library. i believe it. (being an only child myself, five sisters, and a pestering mother who wants nothing more than to see them married would be more than enough for me to retreat to a quiet in-disturbable room of books.)
and miss caroline bingley? charles’ unmarried sister? gracious, i hadn’t noticed before how much she was throwing herself at mr. darcy and sure to be full of jealousy and all the greater maliciousness to break up jane and charles to destroy lizzy’s chances of being in darcy’s circle.
oh. and i drew jane austen’s glasses interweaving into my signature “h.” because four (five) cheers for jane austen, am i right?
some favorite quotes: (there’s tons. here’s a half dozen.)
“what do you think of books?” said he, smiling. (mr. darcy while dancing with elizabeth)
“but vanity, not love, has been my folly.” (lizzy)
“i think you are in very great danger of making him as much in love with you as ever.” (lizzie to jane upon bingley’s return)
“i shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be.” (mr. bennet)
“i shall infinitely prefer a book.” (mary when the subject of a ball comes up. me too, mary. me, too.)
“i am the happiest creature in the world.” (a letter from lizzy to her aunt & uncle upon her engagement to darcy.)
original gouache on watercolour painting available framed for $525.
limited edition signed prints available HERE on my etsy site!
ordinary, extraordinary jane austen. by deborah hopkinson, illustrations by qin long. blazer + bray, an imprint of harpercollins publishers, 2018. an illustrated children’s book about young jane austen.
so this pictured “sherlock holmes: the complete novels and stories volume i” by sir arthur conan doyle was abandoned mid-way through the summer of my junior year of high school, if i remember correctly. (ooooh, that summer had its drama. but that’s another book for another day! ha!)
but i’m glad to report that the BBC show brought me back to the world’s most famous consulting detective’s original tales. and a couple months of research and doodling later, may i present to you the finished faerie tale feet painting: “the game is afoot.” [the title itself a quote from the sherlock story, “the adventure of the abbey grange.”]
so take a peek at some process photos below, and then i’ll let you know all the story icons i hid in his background “wallpaper” pattern and which stories they’re from! (i also hid a number of quintessential victorian london imagery in there, if it was mentioned in a sherlock tale, even if it didn’t directly play into a specific case.) 🙂
i hope you love the finished piece as much as i do!
and upon closer inspection, here are the things you can take time finding within the background:
the two things sherlock always carried on his person: a magnifying glass & a measuring tape
the infamous deerstalker hat (although never mentioned in doyle’s prose, it was part of sidney paget’s original illustrations and stuck as iconic!)
the house number: 221B baker street (although at the time the stories were written, baker street addresses only went as high as 83!)
his violin (oft-played throughout the 56 short stories & 4 novels penned by doyle)
a “censored” heart (in reference to “The Woman,” irene adler of “a scandal in bohemia.”)
an envelope & seeds (“the five orange pips”)
a Christmas goose (“the adventure of the blue carbuncle”)
a racehorse (“the adventure of silver blaze”)
“the naval treaty” presented to the frantic owner under a dinner cover because “i [sherlock] never can resist a touch of the dramatic.”
a cyclopides butterfly (“the hound of the baskervilles”)
a fire-breathing hound (“the hound of the baskervilles”)
a tree (disguised as an elderly bookseller, the name of the book back-from-the-dead sherlock presents to watson was the origin of tree worship in “the adventure of the empty house,” 1903.)
a bloody thumbprint (planted evidence in “the adventure of the norwood builder.”)
stick figure alphabet-code men (“the adventure of the dancing men”)
a bicycle (“the adventure of the solitary cyclist”)
a harpoon (“the adventure of black peter”)
a narwhal (my translation of the name of the ship in “the adventure of black peter,” the sea unicorn.)
candles (a flickering italian code in “the adventure of the red circle.”)
a submarine (“the adventure of the bruce-partington plans”)
a persian slipper (where sherlock keeps his tobacco)
a telephone (“the retired colourman”)
a gramophone (“the mazarin stone”)
his pipe (changed to the meerschaum seen here from the author’s straight-stemmed pipe by stage actor william gillette who couldn’t enunciate his lines with the straight pipe)
the roses on the chair (sherlock holds one while pontificating in “the naval treaty.”)
a moustache & glasses (his rival, barker, in “the retired colourman;” sherlock was also a master of disguise both in prothetics, costume, and posture, throughout his stories)
a bee (sherlock retired to the country in sussex downs where he took up bee farming, mentioned in “the adventure of the second stain.”)
a lampost indicative of victorian london streets
watson’s bowler hat
a hansom cab as sherlock & watson would have hired to scoot about town on cases
his coffee cup (how else would one be so smart? it’s in the caffeine, i hope. that’s my method.)
there of course was an infinite amount of imagery and details i could have included, but i had to leave SOME of it looking like wallpaper, right? 🙂
hope you love it as much as i do.
original framed faerie tale feet painting available for $560, + $30 for safe US shipping.
so once again i sit down to write my process & research blog of the latest faerie tale feet painting for you. and i’m staring at a mere four books (+ an essay) that i used for research, and yet (sans hyperbole), there are 65 post*it flags sticking out of their pages, vying for my attention and begging to be the snippets and details and fun nerd facts i share with you that i learned along the way.
but hold tight, i shall endeavor to edit myself. it is “only” a 305 page story, after all.
but first, what i take from the tale & why i wanted to paint it? as much as i LOVE to be home and cozy and content, we are undeniably all the richer for travel. even if anxious to be home again while we’re gone (“why, o why did i ever leave my hobbit-hole!” cries bilbo only four chapters in), we inevitably learn somethings along the way. not just about other creatures (or people) different than ourselves, but about how we fit into the world. and what role Providence may have for us to play in it. and, of course, we grow stronger as we learn about our own self-prescribed limitations we inevitably stretch when we are required to adapt &/or survive the journey.
corey olsen said it well in his book exploring j.r.r. tolkien’s the hobbit: “Bilbo has come to see that, though adventures may in truth be ‘nasty… uncomfortable things’ that ‘make you late for dinner,’ as he said back in Chapter One, it can also be rather grand to be a part of one of the great stories.” (pg. 109)
so let’s start with a few images of my “back again” painting in process, and later, i shall endeavor to whittle down the trivia and story embellishments. cool? 🙂
“if fairy-story as a kind is worth reading at all it is worthy to be written for and read by adults… [children’s] books like their clothes should allow for growth, and their books at any rate should encourage it.” ~ from j.r.r. tolkein’s essay “on fairy stories.”
so how do we begin to summarize the scope and brilliance of the hobbit? perhaps you know the tale. but how can i credit the vast knowledge of norse myths and allusions to andrew lang’s collected works and tolkien’s deep grasp of linguistics that he so expertly & effortlessly wove into this perilous tale of a solitary hobbit in the company of more experienced, aggressive, adventurous Dwarrows (the correct plural for dwarf, so says the genius professor of literature!)?
tolkien credits a couplet from cynewulf as “rapturous words from which ultimately sprang the whole of [his] mythology.” as for the entire idea itself for the hobbit? that came while he was grading papers at oxford and came across a “mercifully” left-blank page in a student’s assignment. on it, tolkien wrote down “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” and thus set forth for himself to find out what a hobbit was. he published the work in 1937, and edited a number of times before and after The Lord of the Rings trilogy began releasing 18 years later. a humble book that was the gateway to a full realm, a true realm of myth and history, echoing owen barfield’s influence on tolkien, “that myth, language, and man’s perception of his world are inseparable… man in his beginnings has a vision of the cosmos as a whole, and of himself as a part of it, a vision which he has long since left behind…” (please do find those extended margin notes on pg. 271 & 272 of the annotated hobbit. it’s the same sweeping truth that makes madeleine l’engle’s works resonate with me as well.)
so here are the icons, objects, and characters i used to tell the tale in the background pattern and elsewhere of this faerie tale feet painting:
the thirteen dwarf heads (dwalin, dark green hood; balin, scarlet hood; kili & fili, blue hoods; dori, nori, ori, oin, gloin- 2 purple hoods, 1 grey hood, a brown, & a white; bifurcation, bofur, bombur- 2 yellow hoods & 1 pale green; & thorin, in a sky blue hood with a long silver tassel)
gandalf’s tall, pointed blue hat (he had bilbo join the league of thirteen as their burglar, also to off-set the unlucky number of journeying dwarrows.)
silver key (thorin wore it around his neck until they got to the mountain)
the finger pointing is a reference to the map with the moon letters the elves help them read by the light of the moon
wargs (the old word for wolf as an outlaw, a hunted criminal; they had their own spoken language and were therefore not just the mounts of the goblins, which i was too scared to paint)
the Lord of the Eagles i alluded to in the blanket on bilbo’s pony
the bear, for “beorn,” the old english word for “man, warrior” and the old norse word “bjorn” meaning “bear.”
the purple emperor butterflies in mirk wood that were dark, velvety black, a twisted, corrupt forest with a heart of darkness
sting, bilbo’s sword
the elven king’s crown of berries and red leaves i indicated as a small branch above my rune signature beneath smaug’s right claw
smaug, the “vast, red-gold dragon”
two-handled cup hidden in smaug’s vast gold piles that bilbo attempted to steal first
arkenstone (the heart of the mountain, a great white gem; “silver in firelight, water in sun, snow under stars, rain upon the moon” with its own “inner light.”)
the thrush (a deeper significance to the whole prophecy vs. luck balance, explained well by olson on pgs. 66-67, “‘Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks…the setting sun with the last light of Durin’s Day will shine upon the key-hole.’ Notice that it doesn’t just say a thrush; the message seems to foretell the knocking of a particular thrush. the sense that what we are reading is not advice but prophecy is deepened by the reference to Durin’s Day…”)
the barrels the dwarrows escape from the forest elves in, thinking they’re empty wine barrels to be refilled in boat town
nard’s black arrow that bring’s down smaug (with a helpful hint sent from bilbo via the thrush)
the two chests, one of silver, one of gold, bilbo carries home as the spoils of his adventures to the misty mountain
the gold bag is when he went back to the troll’s cave after staying with beorn for a few months on his journey back home
the rabbit (there are a lot of allusions to hobbits’ rabbit like-ness)
the daisy with the ring center (one of the riddles from the game between bilbo and gollum when seeking his escape and when he comes upon the ring!)
there’s a teapot in smaug’s stash to remind us of the comforts of home
the silvers spoons that went missing, even as bilbo arrives home to see his own relatives pilfering his home for things to keep, assuming he was gone for good
er… i think that’s it! 🙂
while we long to be “back again,” our adventures have gained us not just a deeper appreciation for the comforts of home, but bilbo i think would also go back again through the adventures to become the new, honest burglar of a hobbit he has become.
olsen summarizes bilbo’s revelations well commenting on the last lines of the book:
“you don’t really suppose, do you,” [gandalf] asks, “that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?” gandalf confirms that what bilbo and the narrator have been calling “luck” the whole time was more than simply chance. bilbo’s adventures have been “managed” by divine Providence for a purpose far greater than the enrichment of one small hobbit. as we have seen, bilbo was one of the chief instruments of Providence in this story, but bilbo’s story has been thoroughly blended with the voices of many other instruments, contributing to a symphony whose score incorporates everything from the tea parties of hobbits to the motions of the moon and stars.” (exploring j.r.r. tolkien’s the hobbit, pg. 304)
so here’s not just to tea time, but here’s to adventures. (but in moderation for me.)
“yet feet that wandering have gone, turn at last to home afar.”
the hobbit, pg. 302
bonus galdalf fun nerd facts:
“nearly all of the dwarf names in the hobbit were derived from a list of dwarf names in the old norse poem “voluspa” (the prophecy of the seeress)…. the name Gandalf also appears and would be translated as “wand-elf” or “sorcerer-elf”– hence, “wizard.” (the annotated hobbit, pg. 77)
“in the lord of the rings, we learn that gandalf is called by the elves Mithrandir, which is Sindarin for “grey pilgrim.” (the annotated hobbit, pg. 287)
“may you ever appear where you are most needed and least expected!”
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!!)
“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
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.
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.
if you, like me, grew up watching disney’s “the sword in the stone,” we all know merlyn as a bumbling, lovable, sagacious, kooky old man. (with a lot of dumbledore vibes, if you ask me!)
in college, i was nerd enough to take an arthurian legends course for an english credit during my summer session, and was exposed to just a small snippet of Just How Many authors have been inspired by the legends of king arthur, his knights of the infamous round table, and the love stories of lancelot and guinevere and company.
so needless to say, i may have spent too long trying to read all the merlyn books i wanted to (over the course of two and a half years) before starting this faerie tale feet piece. BUT, even if i did paint before i finished the entire stack of books and recommendations, i at last present to you: “merlyn’s beard!”
have a peek at my process and study habits below, and then after all the pictures, i’ll tell you what all lurks in the background from merlyn’s adventurous life!
(and title note: no, you can’t see his beard in this painting. but he had one. and it makes me laugh anytime a harry potter character says “merlin’s beard!” as a euphemism, so there ya go. it’s going to be our title. fair enough?) 🙂
so what all is in this image?
the dragons: the red and white dragons that kept vortigen’s tower from being built. vortigen’s magicians/wise men told them he had to find a fatherless child and spill his blood before he could build his tower on the hill; he found merlyn, rumored to be the son of a virgin and a demon (a non-human father). merlyn foretold the sleeping dragons under the lake beneath the hill, sparing his own young life, the dragons fought, and the white prevailed.
stonehenge: merlyn was builder and architect. he designed/created (according to legend, of course) stonehenge, uther pendragon’s castle, arthur’s camelot, magic fountains (referenced in spencer’s faerie queen), the infamous round table, and more.
the merlin egg: merlin is also the name of a bird, and of course being ye olde english, the spelling of his name can vary. i put a bird’s egg in there, as merlyn could also have come from “myrddin” a welsh name, meaning “many,” as in many talents. his mother was the granddaughter of king constantine, therefore merlyn was of royal birth, and according to one book i read, the second cousin of arthur. his mother was a nun visited by demons or incubi, and merlyn was raised and tutored by blaise, a hermit monk. (again, so says the books i read!) 🙂
the magic book: because he was wise, also because nimue stole it when he was old (more on that later)
his horn-rimmed spectacles (with no ear pieces, according to white)
his wand of lignum vitae (a type of wood)
the bear: arthur was known as the bear of the west, or the great bear. not only did merlyn bring about arthur’s birth by disguising uther pendragon to bed the duke of cornwall’s wife igraine while the duke was off in battle, but merlyn placed arthur with sir ector to be raised as a commoner until it was time for him to pull….
the sword in the stone: the sword was on an anvil on a stone in the churchyard with gold letters: “Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil is the rightwise King born of all England.” of course arthur grabbed it for sir kay’s sword he’d left behind at the inn, and arthur was the only one who could get it back out of the stone, and merlyn up until that point was the only one who knew arthur was the son of king uther. fun fact: this sword was NOT excalibur. i’ll spare you That story, but excalibur (& its more-powerful scabbard) was handed to arthur by the lady of the lake after he lost this sword.
holly berries & leaves: because the sword in the stone incident happened during a Christmas/New Year’s Day tournament in town
(see, i told you: SO MUCH MERLYN/Arthur information!!)
merlyn’s pipe: his meerschaum pipe made him look like he breathed fire
the three queens in the boat: the three queens who took arthur to avalon after the great battle with mordred
the round symbol: a combined reference to the round table (designed by merlyn, possibly a wedding present from guinevere’s dad to arthur) which depending on the telling, could seat anywhere from twelve to 250 knights; also a reference to merlyn being the change/gateway from the olde religions to Christianity in England. and merlyn magically selected the knights, according to some accounts.
the goblet: merlyn created a cup that would reveal the drinker’s pure life (but probably also looks like the holy grail, a famous incident/quest in arthur’s life)
the castle: again, merlyn designed uther pendragon’s castle as well as camelot
the plumbline: another reference to merlyn as architect
the heart-studded ring near the tree: vivian (also vivienne or nimue or the lady of the lake) and merlyn may or may not have been in love; he loved her and taught her all of his magic, which she then used to trap him in a tree for all of eternity. (or possibly an underground palace where only she could visit him. or a cave. pick a preference.)
the hawthorne tree: possibly the prison where merlyn remains to this day, growing in wisdom, but not in age.
oh, and archimedes! his tawny owl.
and his hat, a pointed cap like a dunce’s cap full of spider webs and bones and insects and all sorts of stuff. which i made pretty with some metallic gouache. 🙂
there are eleven pages of my tiny-scrawled handwriting in my moleskin notebooks i tried to condense into this painting. there are six pages in my sketchbook trying to find the best shapes and objects to use. i hope you enjoyed your magical (if brief, compared to merlyn’s lifetime, possibly lived backwards) journey through his tales.
the original framed painting is available for $560.
added BONUS, here are a few of my favorite merlyn quotes i found in various readings:
✨“it makes no difference if you are a dream or not, so long as you are here.” [from t.h. white’s “the book of merlyn.”]
✨“unless you had lived this, you would not have known it. one has to live one’s knowledge.” [same as above]
✨“the Stars which taught the Sun to rise must agree with him at noon– or vanish.” [same]
✨“there is a thing about Time and Space which the philosopher Einstein is going to find out. some people call it Destiny.” [from t.h. white’s “the once and future king.”]
✨“the most famous man of all those times, Merlin, who knew the range of all their arts, had built the king his havens, ships, and halls, was also Bard, and knew the starry heavens; the people call’d him Wizard.” [from tennyson’s “merlin and vivien.”]
✨“who are wise in love
Love most, say least.” [same]
✨“what does any man seek, but his destiny?” [from the short story, “the temptations of merlin,” by peter tremayne.]
✨“merlin travels the world, from kingdom to kingdom, forest to forest. he brings news, he recaps the past and foretells the future. so i am not surprised that Arthur knows him.” [from the short story “excalibur” by anne e. crompton.]
what i love about this fairy tale is that in the original, the prince has set out to find a TRUE princess. and the queen concocts this crazy test– a tiny pea underneath 20 mattresses and 20 quilts to prove the gal’s “delicacy.” if she’s sensitive enough to feel the pea, she Must be a true princess.
in all the visual retellings (faerie tale classic theatre, once upon a mattress, for example), she’s a total tomboy. and still the only one who passes the delicacy test! i love it. because princesses come in all shapes and sizes, all personalities, and can come into the castle in the midst of any kind of storm!
have a peek at my process below and then i’ll tell you a few more story details beneath all the pictures. 🙂
i’m really excited to share this faerie tale feet piece with you.
“Pea is for Princess.,” from the faerie tale feet series by hallie m. bertling, a.k.a., halthegal.
inspired by hans christian andersen’s “the princess and the pea.”
11 x 14,” gouache on watercolour paper.
the faerie tale classic theatre episode (starring liza minnelli!) was a perpetual childhood favourite (right after “the twelve dancing princesses.”) the broadway show “once upon a mattress” is fantastically quirky and silly and lyrically very funny and sweet.
and i even found some versions of hans christian andersen’s theme in other cultures’ folk tales- “the most sensitive woman” is an italian fairy tale which features a pulled hair, a wrinkled linen sheet, and then a jasmine blossom bruising a true princess’ foot. and from india, “the three delicate wives of king virtue-banner,” in which a lotus-petal, moonbeams, and then the most delicate was the one who bruised from just hearing the pestles grinding grain.
all that to say, i hope you get a better night’s sleep than these ladies. and can rest well knowing your princess status, and without having to pass such a test. i hope the king lets you in when it’s storming outside and you’ve been wandering the moors. i hope the pea is still in the museum and hasn’t been stolen. and if a bewildered, curious kitty does have to watch you climb a ladder to reach the top of an unruly pile of mattresses, i hope you’re not scared of heights. or allergic to tiny green vegetables.
“i didn’t believe in Magic till today. i see now it’s real. well, if it is, i suppose all the old fairy tales are more or less true.”
it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that i was first swept away to narnia through that magical wardrobe crafted of the wood of the tree of the apple that digory brought back to save the life of his mother in the magician’s nephew.
Aslan holds deep spiritual significance for me. as does the unwavering faithfulness of queen lucy. it was with an awestruck wonder that i attempted to paint “Aslan the King. the King of the wood & the son of the Great Emperor beyond-the-sea– the Great Lion.”
so have a look at a bit of my painting process & then scroll down for a deeper look into all those background icons i used to attempt to tell a tiny piece of Aslan’s Great Story.
so what did i scatter throughout Aslan’s background? hopefully a little bit of the essence of all 7 narnia books.
the lamp-post (seen in both the magicians nephew, and completely iconic to the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe, it’s how lucy finds her way back to “Spare Oom of War Drobe.”)
strawberry, whose name was changed to fledge, the father of all the winged horses (the magician’s nephew)
apple of life (that Aslan sent home with digory to save his mother’s life; it grew into a tree in the backyard of uncle andrew’s house which was used to make the wardrobe)
the wardrobe (not just full of fur coats!)
two snowflakes (to represent the white witch & Winter, of course. and i couldn’t help but strategically place it under Aslan’s back paw for the prophecy of Genesis 3:15, “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”)
mr. tumnus (with his neck scarf, carrying packages, and carrying his red umbrella as lucy first met him)
four crowns (for the two daughters of eve and the two sons of adam who came in the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe to fulfill the prophecy and sit on the four thrones of cair paravel.)
peter’s shield (a gift from father Christmas as spring was arriving because Aslan was on the move!)
susan’s ivory horn (“help of some kind will come to you;” also used by prince caspian to call back the young-again kings & queens of narnia; who then called Aslan back to help conquer the telmarines)
the broken stone table (roar!)
unicorns (for the great variety of creatures and talking beasts in narnia, and the special one in the last battle.)
Aslan’s standard/banner of Narnia
the mice which nibbled away Aslan’s bonds as he lay murdered (sacrificed) on the stone table
giant paw prints (from the horse and his boy)
reepicheep (the valiant mouse whose tail Aslan restored in prince caspian)
dragon heads (poor eustace clarence scrubb, who “almost deserved” his name; what a fantastic transformation Story in the voyage of the dawn treader!)
i didn’t have a chance to add the silver chair, or the shooting stars from book seven… or the golden key as an homage to george macdonald whose fairy tales c.s. lewis himself read and learned from. but i think you get the idea. 😀
the original painting debuted at artisphere 2017, and prints and cards are now available on etsy!
it was incredibly interesting to re-read this entire series (cursed child, included; we can debate later, but i’m a huge fan!) keeping ONE thing in mind: ron weasley. he turned into 5 pages of teeny tiny handwritten notes in my faerie tale feet moleskine– all things to help represent his adventures with and without harry and hermione throughout the series. he really “grew into his own” as it were… he became more than a loyal, fumbling sidekick. he made mistakes. he became a hero. he didn’t have to outgrow his family shadow, but got to claim his own stake in the wizarding world. and as book seven closes, declare with much truth and humour, “don’t let it worry you. it’s me. i’m extremely famous.”
have a peak at my painting process, and then jump down for all the icons that i (finally, with some help) decided upon for the background imagery to help tell his story.
i consulted my nerdtastic*bff to help me narrow down my too-many-pages of ron notes (& let her see some preliminary sketches) for what shapes were working best to tell ron’s story. so here’s what we decided upon:
one of each of ron’s red-headed family members are represented since his family was such a huge part of his motivation and place in harry’s world. there’s mr. weasley (balding, horn-rimmed glasses, according to the text), mrs. molly weasley (lower left), bill (devilishly handsome; ponytail), charlie (a bit of a thicker, wider head since he’s probably a bit sturdy to work with dragons), fred & george (the twins. yes, george is missing an ear), percy (the “perfect” prefect on the far left), and ginny (the only girl, bless her, top right)
scabbers (the fat, grey rat who turns out to be an animagus revealed in book three; my fave book, although it’s a tie with book six.)
chocolate frogs (part of harry’s very first meeting with ron on the hogwarts express in book one)
the maroon sweater (Christmas present from his mom; every year.)
flying turquoise car (ford anglica, later destroyed by the whomping willow, but also their savior in the forbidden forest)
howler (the red, steaming envelope of a letter that molly sends to yell at ron for stealing the car and being seen flying over london because he was late for the train)
spiders (ron’s greatest fear)
three broomsticks (for ron’s unwavering crush on its bartender, rosmerta, who wore sparkly turquoise heels, which i feel are important because they sound amazing.)
red rat tonic (something was obviously wrong with scabbers)
the three tall goal posts of quidditch (he DID become a keeper, even without the help of felix felicis. but maybe not without some subversive wand work from hermione.)
elf hats (of course, dobby. but also because the first time ron & hermione kiss, it’s because of ron’s mention of elf rights. so that’s why one of them is rose-colored instead of green like in hermione’s painting. one of their children was named rose.)
weasley is our king crown pins (with a green shadow since the slytherins did it to torture ron “he always lets the quaffle in!” however, his victory turned the chorus of the song into something a bit more uplifting.)
felix felicis (a molten gold liquid luck that harry wins in professor slughorn’s potion class that he lets ron believe he put into his juice before a big quidditch match; but it was a trick of the eye & harry later uses the potion to get an important memory out of slughorn at aragog’s funeral in hagrid’s garden)
love potion (not only the need for a life-saving bezoar, but let’s not mention that whole lavender brown nonsense, shall we?)
sword of gryffindor (like all weasleys, ron got sorted into gryffindor. but unlike any of his siblings, he dove into a frozen lake to retrieve the sword, save harry’s life, and destroy salazar slytherin’s locket of a horcrux with it.)
the deluminator (left to ron in dumbledore’s will, it lead ron back to harry & hermione. the blue, floating light… swoon.)
his silver terrier patronus
& of course the knight wizard’s chess piece he uses to help harry & hermione across the board in book one!
other shapes there simply wasn’t room for: the infamous wingardium leviosa feather, the burrow, de-gnoming the garden (but my sketches were adorable), bezoars, an egyptian pyramid (family vacation), the sneakoscope ron brings back to harry (more scabbers clues), lavender brown’s bunny binky, pidwidgeon, the merpeople from the goblet of fire challenge, his prefect badge, the brains from the department of mysteries, the silver quidditch cup, cattermole’s raining office, dragomir despard, the yellow dragon they escaped gringott’s on, the basilisk fang he & hermione go back to the chamber of secrets for to destroy rowena ravenclaw’s diadem…. well, those were the second tier of icons. there was more… ;D
“a wizard’s best friend.”
original gouache painting from the faerie tale feet series
6 x 14″ on watercolour paper
limited edition signed prints now available HERE on etsy!
“you don’t mean to tell me that there is a fairy in this room!”
i credit my dad with my obsession with peter pan.
of course i grew up watching (repeatedly) the classic disney animated version.
and “peter pan’s flight” is still my favorite ride in all of the disney parks.
i didn’t read the book until i worked in a book store during college. and it didn’t quite resonate with me. but i’d say in the past five years, i’ve probably read it another ten times. i guess i get it now. barrie’s adventurous island. the darlings’ daring escape into the night. peter’s forgetfulness. the lovely mermaids. brave tiger lily. the ridiculous pirates.
but perhaps i’m mixing what i grew up with into barrie’s marvelous prose. before i even saw the disney film, i saw mary martin’s broadway performance in the cbs (re-)telecast. (hook’s tarantella is just one of those things that sticks with you. and mary-as-peter outsmarting him in the woods as that “mysterious lady.”) i got to see the traveling show live with cathy rigby (can i watch the lost boys and the indians drum on the stage forever, please?!) and i absolutely fell in love with p.j. hogan’s non-musical, very colorful, film version in 2007. it’s in my top ten favorite movies ever.
i’ve read every peter pan retelling or twist telling i can get my hands on. (there are a lot of awful ones out there, but i do enjoy dave barry & ridley pearson’s peter and the starcatchers series, for the record.)
all that to say, the story, just like peter, doesn’t get old.
i wanted to revisit neverland, and more particularly, the glowing stage presence, of everyone’s favorite pixie, tinker bell. so i created a companion piece to my paintings “wendy loves peter pan.” and “off to neverland!” (my wendy & peter pieces which have both sold, but prints still available!)
so behold: my process and iconography for “i do believe in fairies,” my faerie tale feet gouache painting ode to tinker bell.
see my process below, and then further down i’ll tell you everything from the original story hidden in the background!
tinker bell first appears in the stage production (it was a play to begin with, of course, then due to its tremendous theatrical success, barrie was “forced” to turn it into a readable novel; i’ve read the stage and prose versions multiple times, naturally) as a ball of light, flickering about the stage, looking in lamps and drawers for peter’s shadow that nana, the nurse dog, caught when peter had made an earlier visit to the darling family’s nursery window.
in light of this (theatre pun!), i wanted to weight the painting with a facsimile of the nursery set that opens the stage production. so we see the beds of wendy, michael, & john, complete with the nightlights hanging by each of their beds (“the eyes a mother leaves behind for her children.”) i also snuck in a teeny tiny pirate ship by the boys’ beds as they were ever so fond of playing pirates, even if forever bickering of who would play villainous captain jas. hook.
the open window not only lets tink and peter into the nursery, but lets the children out. (& of course must always remain open if they are ever to return. peter’s a bit bitter that by the time he finally flew back to his mother’s house, the window was shut and he had been replaced with another baby. so he went back to neverland. forever.)
nana’s doghouse is in the nursery, too, and i mimicked the london skyline that is seen in wendy‘s painting. second star to the right (& straight on ’til morning; famous directions, although peter makes it up on the spot)* shining brightly as ever.
in the background you’ll find:
peter’s pipes (early illustrations from “peter in kensington gardens” show his musical side.)
skeleton leaves (not only what tink’s dress is made out of, but what she tries to send wendy afloat back to the mainland on in one of her many jealous pranks)
acorn (the “kiss” that peter gives wendy which saves her life when tink tells the lost boys to shoot down “the wendy bird.”)
thimble (the “kiss” that wendy gives peter, causing tink to pull her hair)**
pots and kettles (it’s why “she is called tinker bell because she mends the pots and kettles.”)
the lovely mermaids of neverland (another source of tink’s jealousy over her wayward, charming, flirtatious if clueless, peter.)
tiger lily (princess of the piccaninnies tribe, another contending female for peter’s affections)
there were “a million golden arrows” pointing the way to neverland for wendy, john, & michael, but i also painted them to look like the arrows of the lost boys (one that hits mother wendy) and the piccaninnies
the pirates’ scabbards
one of each lost boy (tootles, nibs, slightly, curly, and the twins.)
hook’s poison (which tink drank to save peter’s life; the cause for peter to directly plead with the audience to “clap if you believe in fairies!” so that tink might live)
the mushroom chimney that hook sat on which revealed the long-sought-out hiding place of the lost boys’ underground burrow and commenced many schemes of kidnap and beguiling
and of course, floating in the left-hand corner is tink herself. “exquisitely gowned in a skeleton leaf, cut low and square, through which her figure could be seen to the best advantage. she was slightly inclined to embonpoint***.”
fun fact: i intended to paint peter’s shadow on the nursery walls as it appears in the disney ride, but i obviously forgot. i do hope you get the idea of our little minx and her jealous, protective self, even without peter’s lingering presence. 🙂
there were lots of other shapes i’d wished to fit in there to tell the tale, but i hope you’ll read the play. read the book. see the musical. see the movie. see the animated film. relish in the unending adventures of neverland and the boy who refused to grow up. and his fairy.
the original painting has sold, but prints and cards are up on etsy!
*barrie took these instructions from robert lewis stevenson’s invitation to visit him at vailima, his estate in the samoan islands. “you take the boat at san francisco, and then my place is the second to the left.” (the annotated peter pan, notes by maria tartar, w.w. norton & company, 2011; pg. 53.)
**according to the annotated peter pan, “young audiences participated in the early production, not just by clapping their hands to save tinker bell but also by throwing thimbles on stage to peter.” (page 41)
***embonpoint: excessive plumpness, stoutness. as she should be.