“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.
princess pea blog 3
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.
princess pea blog 5
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!
princess pea blog 6
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.  :/
princess pea blog 7
once i’d painted all the mattresses, i painted the background wall, the stormy night outside the window, and the rug under the kitty….
princess pea blog 8
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!
princess pea blog 9
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!



“let it snow queen.”

snow 1
lots of fun sketching of arctic animals and snowflakes before beginning this piece…
snow 2
and lots of potential shoes for our magnanimous and nefarious snow queen.
snow 3
here’s the final drawing of animals that play a tale in the tale, shoes, and snowflakes ready to be transferred to illustration board.
snow 4
i painted the snowflakes, animals, and snow queen feet with resist so i could lay over streaks of wet gouache for the background in lots of cool hues.
snow 5
once the background was dry, i removed the resist and painted in the animal silhouettes. (in real life they are beautiful– subtle fur and variations of midnight blues and deepest purples.)
snow 6
shoes are almost done here… and i added shadows and details to the snowflakes for depth and variety.
snow 7
i gave the snow queen some intricate snowflake tattoos on her legs just for fun. so tiny that i had to use a seem ripper to transfer them before tracing them with metallic ink for a finale. 😉

“let it snow queen.”

original faerie tale feet gouache painting by me, hallie m. bertling

11×11″ on illustration board

some of you may know the tale as disney interpreted it for the recent animated (understatement: hit!) “frozen.” it was originally a pretty episodic tale by our beloved hans christian andersen. various versions include an evil goblin flying through space who breaks a mirror which only reflects the worst in people. so when a shard lands in both the heart and the eye of kai, he gets carried away with his own meanness, runs away with the snow queen by hitching his stolen sled to her magical flying sleigh, and is about to freeze (inside and out) until gerda, through a LOT of brave & heroic & often distracting adventures, rescues her friend from the snow queen’s coldhearted grasp. spoiler: her tears of love melt the coldness in his heart and the deception in his eyes.
you should read it. i don’t do it justice.

seen in my original gouache (& ink for her snowflake tattoos!) painting are four creatures who help or hinder gerda along her path to rescue her best and dearest friend when she refuses to give up on him.

i tried something different than my usual patterned background iconography– i could have used: the mirror shards, the rose arch, a sled, a sleigh, icicles, gerda’s red shoes, a boat, magic comb, sunbonnet, owls, a wise old woman with grey braids, the troll, angels, a prince & princess, a throne in the middle of a lake, a muff, the snow queen’s fireworks, a magnifying glass, the talking flowers, and more.

but in the vastness of the tale are also the reindeer, the wolves, a raven, and a polar bear guard. they are both friends, foes, obstacles, and sages; gerda ultimately wins, for, as the wise woman said:

“i can give her nothing more powerful as that which she already has– a loving heart.”

you can order the limited, signed edition prints here on my etsy site:  http://etsy.me/1NDMQC5

and the snow queen greeting cards here:  http://etsy.me/1EcG4kI

original painting is still available framed for $425.  contact me.  🙂

“a little love larger than the sea.”

mermaid 1
once i decided on the icon shapes i wanted to use in the background pattern, i start tracing them to fill in the background around the mermaid’s tail.
mermaid 2
here’s the full background pattern once all the icons have been traced– ready to transfer to illustration board!
mermaid 3
once the pattern is transferred to illustration board, the first paint colour i mix is the background colour– which typically informs the colour scheme of the whole piece. so here you see me starting to paint in sea blue around all those icon shapes!
mermaid 4
background has been painted in & i’m starting to fill in the icons– once colour and shape at a time! (obsessed with those peach octopi!)
mermaid 5
once the background was finished, i started painting the little mermaid’s tail. layers and layers of green to make the scales… so much fun!
mermaid 6
again with the details on the fin scales. added some red to make the deeper greens and shadows pop, too. woohoo for colour theory!
mermaid 7
there are lots of icons that allude to andersen’s tale and not the disney version– the pillow she slept on outside the prince’s door, the pearls from her grandmother, and, um, yeah, that dagger…. :/

“a little love larger than the sea.”

this faerie tale feet painting is based on hans christian anderen’s classic “the little mermaid.” the original story is a bit more complicated and tragic than the fine 1989 disney animated film, but the point remains: love can transcend an ocean, the land, and the air itself.

i invite you to read the original. it’s not just the little mermaid (sorry, she’s never given the name “ariel,” but it is a pretty name!)’s love for the prince that makes her want to become human, but her overwhelming fascination with and desire for an immortal soul like humans have. when each of the little mermaid’s sisters turn fifteen, they are allowed to visit the surface on their birthdays. when it’s finally the little mermaid’s turn (she has five older sisters), she sees fireworks and a tremendous shipwreck. carrying the handsome prince to shore, it is a girl at the convent that gets the credit for saving the prince’s life.

the little mermaid eventually discovers where the prince’s kingdom is, visits the sea witch, who cuts out her tongue and gives her a magic potion that will give her legs. while she will be the most graceful human, every time the little mermaid takes a step on land, it will feel to her as if she’s walking on shards of glass.

i’m giving the whole story away… but i will say this: the little mermaid dances for the prince and is allowed to sleep on a silk pillow outside his bedroom door as a reward. the prince goes to another kingdom to visit a princess his dad wants him to marry and it turns out to be convent girl, so they get married. the little mermaid’s sisters cut off their hair so the sea witch gives them a dagger that the little mermaid can kill the prince before the sun rises the day after his wedding so she can turn back into a mermaid. otherwise she’s become sea foam (what happens to all merpeople after they turn 400 years old). because she loves the prince too much to kill him, she throws the dagger into the sea as the sun rises. instead of becoming sea foam, for her selfless act she is granted immortality, but as an element of the air, and she watches over the prince and his new bride ever after.

stinks for her, but i guess the prince is happy…? anyway, i loved painting her luxe fin in layers and layers of gouache. and the background icons allude to both life under the sea (you’re singing that song in your head now, aren’t you?!), the clam shells and pearls her grandmother adorned her with when it was her turn to visit the surface for her birthday, the red flowers the little mermaid planted in her sea garden in the shape of the sun, a treble clef for she was the best singer in the ocean (and above land if she could have sung then), the silk pillow she slept on outside the prince’s door, the potion that made her human, her other sisters, the dagger that cut off her sisters’ hair and that could have killed the prince, the useless anchor of a ship at sea in a storm…. and hopefully the aura of living life, in any form, to LOVE.


signed, limited edition prints available here on my etsy site:  http://etsy.me/1NCmqRs

greeting card available here:  http://etsy.me/1KCJlXB

front reads

“It looked as if all the stars of the heavens
were falling down on top of her.”

(a quote from the fireworks scene in hans christian andersen’s “the little mermaid.”)