“first impressions.” jane austen’s pride & prejudice.

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.  🙂

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not only did i consult my memories of “pride & prejudice” from my high school english marginalia in this copy on the right (boy did i HATE mr. collins!), but i took great pleasure in applying even more cultural context to our story and manners from patricia meyer sparks’ most excellent notes in the annotated edition.
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the annotated edition was a doozy of a coffee table book, and i took to studying at my husband’s studio or at the kitchen table.
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after i’d edited out the great estates of pemberly and otherwise, i went through a few variations of how to best represent each sister’s posture and story in attitude and costume.
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“hunny, take my picture holding a handkerchief.” “hey, would you mind standing like a proud and confident lizzie bennet? okay, thanks.” all in a day’s or few’s reference work and awkward conversation topics.
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after i finalized each sister’s posture, i drew them on my watercolour tablet (the original is 18″ wide and 7.75″ tall) and began to lay in light washes of colours.
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a little detail shot of dancing kitty & eloping lydia in progress.
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once the gals were there, i knew it needed something more. so true to my own character, i added a background pattern.
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i created a slightly haphazard pattern so it wasn’t as stiff and formal as sherlock‘s most recent wallpaper background. a bit more organic. a bit more like a muslin fabric pattern austenites might wear.
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so layering in some greens and blues into the pattern around each sister. (i mix my gouache paints on paper plates so they’re re-usable.)


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!

recommended reading:



“the game is afoot.” sherlock holmes’ adventures at baker street & beyond, inspired by the stories & novels of sir arthur conan doyle.

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.)  🙂

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research began on new year’s day 2018 while my husband watched innocuous amounts of football.
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and sometimes i get to take my research books to the coffee shop and match my mug to my endpapers. 😉
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my long-suffering husband poses for me when i have an idea in my head. sometimes i drag him to the furniture store. sometimes i drag him out of bed and put his robe on him. 🙂
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i ravished the library for reference materials on this one. i was going to try and keep it simple, but you know me. i just can’t help myself getting alllllll the details in there…
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the producers of the new BBC sherlock series took ALL of sherlock’s incarnations as canon as he has developed over the century. i liked that philosophy, but i also wanted to make it victorian. so those library books gave me lots of era-accurate reference.
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the baker street flat. complete with violin.
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so after i did enough research to pacify my nerd-self, i created a wallpaper pattern (with sorta-subtle S-es for Sherlock and W-s for Watson)… and then on top of the pattern, i hid inside of it our story clues.
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once i finalized my pattern and hidden-image drawing on tracing paper, i stained my illustration board with a light wash of india ink to give it that creepy foggy london effect. then i taped the drawing to the top of my board, and using transfer paper, re-traced the drawing to leave me a light grey line where i was to paint in the final image.
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so here’s me re-tracing/transferring down my drawing to the illustration board.
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once i had a light grey line for the image, i started in the top right corner and started filling in the pattern and imagery with a very fine brush and a petite vat of india ink.
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…the pattern emerges… inking the background took upwards of a dozen or two hours.
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once the background pattern was finished, i took a couple days to paint in the figure himself. sitting cross-legged in a meditative pose, contemplating the mysteries of the world in a worn rose-petaled chair of my own imagination.

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.

limited edition signed prints available here on my etsy shoppe.

matching greeting cards available here.

see below for a few of my favourite sherlock quotes:

  • “i pay a good deal of attention to matters of detail, as you may have observed.”  (the adventure of the norwood builder)
  • “by george!” cried the inspector.  “how ever did you see that?”  “because i looked for it.” (the adventure of the dancing men)
  • “i never can resist a touch of the dramatic.” (the naval treaty)
  • “you know my method.  it is founded upon the observation of trifles.”  (the boscombe valley mystery)
  • “i think you want a little unofficial help.”  (the empty house)
  • “the situation is desperate, but not hopeless.”  (the adventure of the second stain)
  • “it is, i admit, mere imagination, but how often is imagination the mother of truth?” (the valley of fear)
  • “the chief proof of man’s real greatness lies in his perception of his own smallness.” (from richter, the sign of four)
  • un sot trouve toujours un plus sot qui l’admire.  a fool can always find a greater fool to admire him.” (a study in scarlet)
  • “american slang is very expressive sometimes.” (the noble bachelor)
  • “i confess i have been as blind as a mole, but it is better to learn wisdom late than never to learn it at all.”  (the man with the twisted lip)


“back again.” bilbo baggins of tolkien’s the hobbit.

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?  🙂

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so every month on instagram, i share my favorite books i read the month prior. (i used to show the whole stack, but it got too unwieldy.) nonetheless, in august, i began researching my next faerie tale feet piece and was delighted to gobble up douglas a. anderson’s notes accompanying tolkien’s text in “the annotated hobbit” (pub. 2002 by houghton mifflin; i highly recommend it.)
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i also get out of the house/studio (occasionally) and take my research and planning stages to coffee shops about town. i had tolkien’s “on fairy stories” recommended to me, and vigorously highlighted all the things that warmed my soul and confirmed my beliefs about why i read so much magical fiction.
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and here’s a haphazard stack of my research materials and my trusty l’il moleskine in which i go back through all my books, taking note of marginalia and icons i want to include in the pattern background to help tell the tale visually. i created a thumbnail sketch for the final painting’s layout (which came to me while reading the book) on a vibrant post*it as you can see. 😉
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i decided to paint this piece on arches watercolour paper, so i began with a light brown wash (composed of three m. graham gouache colours) to give a cohesive underpainting to the pattern background.  i mix my paints on paper plates so i can reuse the colours for other pieces and to go back when necessary to build up contrast.
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and then i steadily filled in each shape with its respective layers of colour. (yes, each of the thirteen dwarf heads are painted according to what colour cap they had on when they arrived at bilbo’s house for the first time. tolkien tells us each one!)
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here’s a broader look at the piece as i try to work up the background shapes evenly, leaving bilbo, his pony, the arkenstone’s shine, and smaug for last.
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and we’re still building in details here, continuing to build up dozens of layers of colours to make each figure as unique as possible.
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here’s a little detail shot of the pony’s fur. there’s a video somewhere on my instagram feed if you’d like to see… 🙂


“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
  • bilbo’s pipe
  • 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!” 

the hobbit, pg. 295


limited edition signed prints available on my etsy site HERE!

blank faerie tale feet greeting card here on my etsy shoppe!

the original painting is available framed for $450, + $30 for safe shipping.  message me!

published works referenced:



“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!!)

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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!
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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.
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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…
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well, our turquoise kangaroo (hi, jarlhopp!!) test patches turned out just fine. which told me nothing except– just paint already!! 😀
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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.)
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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.
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so here’s early laying-in of the background shapes and colours!
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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
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here we are getting closer and closer to filling in all the background shapes with their colours & details…
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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!)
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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.


“merlyn’s beard!”

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?)  🙂

merlin blog 1
so after you read “the once and future king” by t.h. white in high school (or perhaps it was my own nerdy independent reading?), naturally you scurry off to the book store for this unfinished manuscript that t.h. white apparently wanted as the final chapter. it’s a lot of government philosophies told through merlyn changing arthur into various animals, but it’s merlyn. so i don’t argue.
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here is (most of) the stacks of books i read and took notes and quotes from before beginning this piece. i borrowed other movies and tv shows not shown here, and found a few more books about the house with bookmarks partway through that didn’t make it into the photo. needless to say, i did not lack for reference material or story inspiration!
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so when i finally had no more NEW notes or snippets of the story i’d missed, i compiled all of my icon drawings from my sketchbook and transferred them to a piece of tracing paper to make sure they all fit nice & snug how i pictured them in my head!
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i got this amazing piece of handmade watercolour paper from india, and used the previous day’s coffee leftovers to pour over it and stain it to look like antiqued parchment you’d find in an archival library or a dusty old dungeon full of magical books and paper.
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all of the brown tones in this piece were painted with layers of dr. p.h. martin’s radiant water color in antelope brown. (i can’t help but tell you the full name of the product mostly because they used the word RADIANT and it humours me.) so the ink bled a bit on the coffee-paper, so i learned to control density and water in my brush to let it look aged, but not lose the forms.
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i think at this point, all of the browns were down and it was time to add some solid gouache bits and pray the painting would turn out like it looked in my head!
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and voila!! i used solid gouache on the banner, moons, and stars, some details on his hat, and also on the leaves of the hawthorne tree.
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i just love this “legends of the middle ages” book i got at an antique book store. copyright 1896, this edition published in 1924. the name written on the inside cover is “minnie e. mckinney.” it’s just lovely. and yes, it has that antique book smell, you book*sniffers!! 🙂
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& ta-da! here’s the final painting all framed up in this beautiful walnut frame. isn’t he handsome?!

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.

limited edition prints now available on my halthegal etsy site and greeting cards have just landed!!

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.]

“Pea is for Princess.” hans christian andersen’s “the princess and the pea.”

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.  🙂

princess pea blog 1
i have vivid memories of this storybook as a kid, and was very pleased to get my hands on a copy. i love the silly animals and the subtle colors over the drawings. it’s a classic for a reason. and i always let myself collect as many versions of the story i’m working on as i can find for inspiration. and really, it’s just a great excuse to expand my fairy tale shelves!
princess pea blog 2
my nerdtastic*bff (er, cousin-in-law) once again came to the rescue and let me take some reference photos of her climbing a ladder (braver than vertigo-me!) to get the movement right for my final sketch. i also used her beautiful kitty mertz to style our own curious kitty.
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here’s in-progress of early thumbnails and sketches, compiling my notes, and editing what i want to keep in the picture.  (things that got left out:  feathers flying out and down around the mattresses.  and i put the mouse with a (the?!) pea in the windowsill instead of squishing him between mattress layers.
princess pea blog 4
here’s the final drawing to final scale- 11 x 14″ about to be transferred down on to watercolour paper.
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once i’d transferred my image (re-traced it down to the watercolour paper using transfer paper in-between the drawing and the final paper), i got to start my favourite bit: painting!  you’ll also see a little sheen in the puddles around the princess’ boots.  i used some masking fluid for raindrops in the windows, the kitty whiskers, and said puddle so that after all my painting, i’d have clean white-of-the-paper patches in those spots!
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layers and layers of colors for each mattress pattern. patience waiting for the wet, thin gouache layers to soak in before adding more shapes or stripes was my challenge!  otherwise all those edges would run.  :/
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once i’d painted all the mattresses, i painted the background wall, the stormy night outside the window, and the rug under the kitty….
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and hours and hours and hours later (some of which were equally stormy!), here is our final painting! lots of layers of colours. lots of details. lots of peering through my magnifying lamp and controlling teeny tiny brush strokes!
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and here was the final stack of books and media i referenced for creating this faerie tale feet piece. the original tale, in various translations, lots of illustrated children’s books, more fairy tale collections, and even the original broadway cast recording of “once upon a mattress” starring a very young carol burnett in 1959!

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.

prints now available in my etsy shoppe!!  https://etsy.me/2GuOScB

& greeting cards available individually, or as part of the PRINCESS PACK!  😀

original painting available framed for $525.  contact me through etsy or instagram.  you can see more in-progress shots and short videos at instagram.com/halthegal2.  follow along for what’s next!


“narnia, awake.” Aslan of c.s. lewis’ the chronicles of narnia series

“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.

Aslan halthegal blog 1
i re-used a few icons from queen lucy‘s painting so that they’d make the perfect pair on any library wall. but there was also a LOT of imagery i wanted to use in Aslan’s background. so i sketch shapes and ideas in my sketchbook until i see what shall work best with the entire composition, and what shapes are imperative to telling the tale. and what shall read clearly as a silhouette.  (in this picture, you can immediately see three that didn’t make the cut– father Christmas’ sleigh bells, the thrones at cair paravel, and the silver chair!)
Aslan halthegal blog 2
once i have my final feet drawing (Aslan is my first non-human-eque biped!), and have traced the final shapes out of my sketchbook, i use a bit of transfer paper, and re-trace my pattern drawing (created on tracing paper) onto my illustration board so it leaves a light blue line so i know where to paint inside & outside the lines!
Aslan halthegal blog 3
well before i paint the feet, and even before i paint the shapes, i mix up The Background Color…. and spend many, many hours painting around all the shapes to get a solid gouache covering for the painting.
Aslan halthegal blog 4
the red background came out exactly how i had hoped. so here i am starting to add color to each shape. i’ll paint all the wardrobes at once with the same color of brown. then i’ll mix my brown for fledge the flying horse, the yellow for the inside of the crowns, etc etc etc…!
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here’s more of the colors getting filed in and coming together!
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painting the tiny roaring lions on the battle standards made me all the more grateful for a good brush and a magnifying lamp to paint by!
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once the background is completely painted, i start on our main character’s feet. layers and layers of fur…

click HERE to see an instagram video of those fur layers!

Aslan halthegal blog 9
… about ten hours of teeny tiny brush strokes, to be almost exact. and you’d never know all those layers are there if i hadn’t have told you, but i think the final result definitely made Aslan’s fur all the more visually powerful.

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!

limited edition signed prints available here on etsy:  http://etsy.me/2ysEAWs

blank greeting cards available here: http://etsy.me/2h0NZct

original painting available framed for $495 + $30 for safe shipping.  message me on etsy, please!  🙂

“a wizard’s best friend.”

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.

ron halthegal blog 1
i always start a new faerie tale feet painting by doing all the research i can. for ron, of course, i got to reread all the harry potter books, taking copious notes about how our favorite tall, lanky redheaded hogwarts express companion made an impact on all the other characters.
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after i decide on the icons i want to use to help tell the story, i transfer my drawing down to watercolour paper, and here i am adding the very first glaze of the background colour. i used masking fluid on the shapes that wouldn’t have a subtle orange undertone, like the deluminator and the flying car….
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here’s the painting with colors slowly being added… for all the faerie tale feet paintings in the harry potter collection (there’s now four! harry, hermione, ron, & luna!), i painted on watercolour paper, mixing a few new colours, but mostly reusing paints from my other paintings– lots and lots of sheer layers of colours, recharged from the saved paper plates that i mix on for each piece.
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here was the first layer of gouache, graphite, and a bit of india ink is coming on the knight piece that ron rides/plays as in the very first book to help our trio cross the wizards chess board so harry can (what they think) stop snape from stealing the sorcerer’s stone. more contrast came later.
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here is an extreme zoom-in of one of the scabbers (in-progress) you’ll find in the background. he was so fun to paint, even if he was a villain. (so much more to his story than i remembered!)
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and here’s the left hand side of the final painting, ron’s too-short jeans, dirty hand-me-down-shirt, and what sneakers i would have put him in if they existed. 🙂 (i just can’t handle boring uniform shoes! i had to mix it up!!)

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

$450, framed.

limited edition signed prints now available HERE on etsy!


“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.

“it’s possible.” {your own personal fairy godmother.}

fairy godmothers can be working for the heroines or their conniving adversaries.

they can be evil, or hold a grudge and take it out on the child.

“fairy godmothers” may be fairies- but they aren’t necessary alluded to as having wings- they can pretty much appear at will- or arrive via chariot (decked out with fiery dragons, or butterflies, depending on the occasion.)

madame d’aulnoy is perhaps the earliest user of fairy godmothers in fairy tales.  charles perrault famously used a fairy godmother as a replacement for the traditional cinderella tales where cinderella’s deceased mother is replaced by a gift-giving tree or a kind-spirited animal.

the thirteen (or 8 fates if you read perrault’s telling instead of the brothers grimm’s) wise women of the sleeping beauty can technically be classified as fairy godmothers because they give gifts.  beyond toys and treasures, they bestow gifts of charm and loveliness.

the moral of charles perrault’s cendrillon, or the little glass slipper, possibly the most familiar telling of the cinderella tales, ends with:

Charm is the true gift of the fairies;

Without it you’ve nothing; with it, all.

i’ve perhaps taken a bit of liberty with my fairy godmother piece, as there is no SET character of the fairy godmother throughout fairy tales, folktales, storybooks, or otherwise.

let’s look at my process for creating this painting in the faerie tale feet series, and then below, i’ll share where i got each specific background icon!

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once in a great while, i’ll take my research to the outside world. here, a nearly-too-pretty to drink latte from the fair ladies at the village grind on pendleton street in west greenville. i brought my trusty li’l notebook and a couple books full of fairy godmother versions and madame d’aulnoy’s fairy tales, the earliest mentions of fairy godmothers.
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once i’ve done my research (see media pile in back corner of my drafting table!), i’ll start sketching the most obvious or recognizable icons that can help tell the story visually. so i’ll do thumbnails for layout, plus lots of versions of each shape until i find something that shall read clearly visually.
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here’s the final background pattern drawing!
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and once my drawing is done, i’ll tape it to my illustration board, put a bit of transfer paper in between, and retrace every line and shape…
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…. so the blue lines are what transferred when i retraced my drawing, so here i am painting with a teeny tiny brush around all the teeny tiny background shapes to fill in the background color– i have to do it in one sitting or it gets streaky. so that usually takes, oh, 5-7 hours at one go if i’m on a roll!
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once the background colour is done, i’ll paint one color at a time… i started with the frogs, then a bit of the wings…
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and more and more colours get added….
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almost done! the keys were fun to paint, but oh such tiny details. i painted them once in a mustard golden hue, then went over them again with literal shiny gold gouache.
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here’s the final painting and a beautiful photo of one of the fifteen stunning galleries dedicated to the “Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia” that i used for color scheme reference. i wanted her to match my “cinderella’s escape” painting so you could hang them side by side, but definitely wanted to give this one its own distinct vibe!

i’ve included background icons from these various fairy tales:

“The White Doe” told by Andrew Lang, via Madame D’Aulnoy (the dragons, for pulling chariots; a white dove; and a doe)

“La Sendraoeula,” an italian cinderella tale (the acorn, which cinderella taps with a wand and “a lovely dress like stars with golden shoes” appears)

“The Blue Bird,” by Madame D’Aulnoy (big flying frogs; the beautiful bird, actually the prince King Charming under enchantment from his beloved Florine’s rival and wicked stepsister Truitoone’s god-mother Soussio, the fairy)

“Finette Cendron,” by Madame D’Aulnoy (the golden key to open the fairy casket full of gifts which the more you took from it, the more there was in it; also starry diamond bursts, as her dress was “a gown of blue satin covered with stars of diamonds”)

Quite possibly the earliest cinderella telling, by greek historian strabo, from the first century b.c., in which the egyptian courtesan rhodopis is bathing in the nile and an eagle carries her shoe to memphis and drops it in the king’s lap, prompting him to search for the shoe’s owner and marry her. (the egyptian sandal)

“Cendrillon, or, The Little Glass Slipper,” by Charles Perrault, 1697 (the pumpkin for the carriage; the clock about to strike midnight)

i also added wings, because i would want some if i were a fairy godmother.

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top left corner detail from “it’s possible.”

and for good measure, here are a few favourite fairy godmother quotes i came upon in my usual miles upon tomes of miles of my research:

  • “a folktale is not just the spoken equivalent of a literary short story.  it has no set text, but is endlessly re-created in the telling.” ~neil philip, the cinderella story, the origins and variations of the story known as ‘cinderella’ 
  • “oh!  i’ve lost one of the shoes off my feet,” said trembling.                                            “don’t mind that; don’t be vexed,” said the henwife; “maybe it’s the best thing that ever happened to you.”~from “fair, brown, and trembling,” an irish cinderella tale, 1890.
  • “and it is not difficult to imagine how happy they were after having known so many hardships.” ~from madame d’aulnoy’s “the blue bird,” circa 1895.
  • “everything that a baby could possibly wear or play with was there, and, besides, they had other and more precious gifts to give her, which only children who have fairies for godmothers can ever hope to possess.” ~from andrew lang’s telling of “the white doe,” by madame d’Aulnoy, 1906.
  • “the glass slipper is where i got the idea i might not be the best fairy godmother.  if you think about it, it’s completely impractical, uncomfortable, and un-walkable-in.  but i’m good at shoes.  the shoes are the only thing that last beyond midnight.  everything else turns back.”  ~helena bonham carter, on playing the fairy godmother in kenneth branagh’s cinderella, 2015.
  • “there’s a lot of power in godmothering.  it’s like being a part of history.”  ~from terry pratchett’s witches abroad, 1991.
  • “will she live happily ever after?” he said.                                                                              NOT FOREVER.  BUT PERHAPS FOR LONG ENOUGH.                                                            and so stories end.”           ~from terry pratchett’s witches abroad, 1991.
  • “The Authors, are in Eternity.”  ~william blake, 1803.
  • “The story is, after all, what matters.”  ~p. l. travers, about the sleeping beauty, 1975.


the original painting has sold, but limited edition prints are available HERE on my etsy shoppe, the greeting card HERE on my etsy shoppe, and the small framed print HERE.

“go!  with the promise of possibility!”

& have a magical day!