“& we’re off!” inspired by l. frank baum’s wizard of oz stories.

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.  🙂

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i wanted to become an illustrator as soon as i saw charles santore’s original watercolour painting of dorothy and friends entering the emerald city. it’s STUNNING. and being a musical, my love for the original 1939 film knows no bounds. so my collection of books of every variety continues to grow. i absolutely love the “wizard of oz.” so here’s a peek at some of my collection.
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sometimes i browse shoe stores (so dangerous! ha!). and i would have LOVED to have put dorothy in a shoe similar to this– but honestly, who wants to walk all the way down the yellow brick road in heels? so for her sake, we went with flats. but if these shoes came in sparkle? so mine. 😉
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so i began making my way through all of baum’s original oz books. (14 total, then more authors carried on after his passing.) and sometimes when i’m reading, my brain explodes with concepts. so here is an early thumbnail in my research copy of just how much of the tales i wanted to fit in… oy vey. i’m glad we eventually found a way to simplify it…
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…so i struggled with this one because there’s SO MUCH great (quirky, surreal) stuff in baum’s books. (he’d receive hundreds of letters from kids not just asking more about dorothy & friends, but sending in plot suggestions and characters & he’d work them in!) one of my greatest struggles was i didn’t want to lose this sketch of the field mice queen. she’s just the cutest. but we at least kept her silhouette in the rainbow.
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so my (fellow artist) husband helped me reign in my panoply of ideas, and here i’m beginning to create my background pattern. i copy the sketches (narrowed down from the very long list of ideas in my moleskin) and trace them in the background to keep the icons consistent.
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so after i filled in the background (well, in this case, just inside the rainbow!) with my story elements, i also used a red and blue pencil to help me map out what parts of each shape would be the different tones or shades of the color it landed on in the rainbow. (i ended up mixing four colors for each rainbow stripe. so… 24 new colors for just our rainbow.)
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once the background drawing is complete, i put a bit of transfer paper between the drawing and my measured illustration board….
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… this gives me all the lines i need to fill in with paint!
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and thus we begin our rainbow of story elements… matching them along with line with a new shade of color to match the shade of the other stripe it’s akin to. (i’m sure one of my old colour theory textbooks could explain that better, but i was a poor art student & had to sell them back to the college bookshop…) 😉
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and voila! our rainbow of oz shapes! it makes me so happy!
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here’s a view of SOME of the paper plates i mixed our paints on… i keep them from each painting because i can reuse the puddles for other smaller areas, particularly on the figures which i don’t paint opaquely.
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and here, working on the infamous yellow brick road. (which i eventually repainted between each brick so it was less visually loud. brought it all to yellow instead of a too-subtle mortar in-between bricks.) you can also see i tried to make the slippers silver here.  boring.  so i made them look sequin-y later.  🙂


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


hat’s off to your colorful journey!!  😀


“i do believe in fairies!”

“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!

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once i’ve done all my research (reading book, play, short stories, rewatching all the films and broadway versions, annotated editions, etc.), i finalize which drawings and shapes i want to use for the pattern background. so here’s the view through my magnifier lamp as i trace different objects that create the background pattern…
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here’s the final pattern drawing taped down to my illustration board. i’ll put a piece of transfer paper between the tracing paper and the board, and re-trace every line so that i can have the drawing on the board and paint around all the shapes.
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once the drawing is transferred, i’ll mix up my main background color (obsessed with what my instagram followers & i dubbed “morning moss”) and paint around each and every shape- it usually takes upwards of 5 hours and i have to do it in one sitting to keep the paint colour & smooth texture consistent.
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here’s a view once the background color is down and i’m mixing a color for each new shape. (all the mermaids shall be the same green; all the pirate swords are the same green; the lost boys are their own shade of green, etc.)
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for whatever reason, but probably so i can make them stand out as needed depending on how the rest of the piece turned out, i always paint the legs/feet/shoes of our main character as the very last thing. so here are all the different shades of green i mixed for the background on my trusty paper plates, and the finished nursery/stage at the bottom.
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here’s a zoomed-in shot of that nursery window with our london skyline and the second star to the right beckoning our adventurers on to more fantastical things.


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
  • hook’s hook
  • 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!

limited edition signed prints here:  http://etsy.me/2zhNmFO

greeting cards available here:  http://etsy.me/2iVY12N


*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.