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

i’ve been obsessed with the ruby slippers for as long as i can remember.  years of childhood trips to washington, d.c. with my Presidential history-obsessed mother were highlighted by seeing the (nearly lackluster, but still revolutionary) ruby slippers at the american history museum.

as any story nerd shall tell you, yes, they were silver in the original book.  but mgm changed them to ruby to show off the wonders of technicolor.  & i (and millions others, i’m sure) are forever grateful.

so i’m pleased to present to you the latest piece in my faerie tale feet series:  “& we’re off!” inspired by l. frank baum’s oz stories.  (he wrote 14 books.  i read 7 before i had to quit because i was already trying to squeeze in too much obscure symbolism!  also, yes, i tried making dorothy’s slippers silver for accuracy, but even with metallic gouache, they looked sad & grey.  so i’m making ruby canon, okay?  okay.)  😉

take a look at some process pictures below, and then i’ll break down all the story elements i hid in that amazing rainbow.  🙂

oz halthegal blog 1.2
i wanted to become an illustrator as soon as i saw charles santore’s original watercolour painting of dorothy and friends entering the emerald city. it’s STUNNING. and being a musical, my love for the original 1939 film knows no bounds. so my collection of books of every variety continues to grow. i absolutely love the “wizard of oz.” so here’s a peek at some of my collection.
oz halthegal blog 1
sometimes i browse shoe stores (so dangerous! ha!). and i would have LOVED to have put dorothy in a shoe similar to this– but honestly, who wants to walk all the way down the yellow brick road in heels? so for her sake, we went with flats. but if these shoes came in sparkle? so mine. 😉
oz halthegal blog 2
so i began making my way through all of baum’s original oz books. (14 total, then more authors carried on after his passing.) and sometimes when i’m reading, my brain explodes with concepts. so here is an early thumbnail in my research copy of just how much of the tales i wanted to fit in… oy vey. i’m glad we eventually found a way to simplify it…
oz halthegal blog 3
…so i struggled with this one because there’s SO MUCH great (quirky, surreal) stuff in baum’s books. (he’d receive hundreds of letters from kids not just asking more about dorothy & friends, but sending in plot suggestions and characters & he’d work them in!) one of my greatest struggles was i didn’t want to lose this sketch of the field mice queen. she’s just the cutest. but we at least kept her silhouette in the rainbow.
oz halthegal blog 4.1
so my (fellow artist) husband helped me reign in my panoply of ideas, and here i’m beginning to create my background pattern. i copy the sketches (narrowed down from the very long list of ideas in my moleskin) and trace them in the background to keep the icons consistent.
oz halthegal blog 4.2
so after i filled in the background (well, in this case, just inside the rainbow!) with my story elements, i also used a red and blue pencil to help me map out what parts of each shape would be the different tones or shades of the color it landed on in the rainbow. (i ended up mixing four colors for each rainbow stripe. so… 24 new colors for just our rainbow.)
oz halthegal blog 4.3
once the background drawing is complete, i put a bit of transfer paper between the drawing and my measured illustration board….
oz halthegal blog 5
… this gives me all the lines i need to fill in with paint!
oz halthegal blog 6
and thus we begin our rainbow of story elements… matching them along with line with a new shade of color to match the shade of the other stripe it’s akin to. (i’m sure one of my old colour theory textbooks could explain that better, but i was a poor art student & had to sell them back to the college bookshop…) 😉
oz halthegal blog 7
and voila! our rainbow of oz shapes! it makes me so happy!
oz halthegal blog 8
here’s a view of SOME of the paper plates i mixed our paints on… i keep them from each painting because i can reuse the puddles for other smaller areas, particularly on the figures which i don’t paint opaquely.
oz halthegal blog 10
and here, working on the infamous yellow brick road. (which i eventually repainted between each brick so it was less visually loud. brought it all to yellow instead of a too-subtle mortar in-between bricks.) you can also see i tried to make the slippers silver here.  boring.  so i made them look sequin-y later.  🙂


so that’s how i created this magical faerie tale feet piece.  i hope you love it as much as i do!

here are the story elements i put in our piece from the original books:

  • the munchkin hats (blue in the books) with bells on the rims
  • the witch of the north’s kiss of protection on dorothy’s forehead
  • oil can (for the tin man)
  • queen of the field mice (who helped scarecrow and tin man rescue dorothy & the cowardly lion from the field of poppies)
  • toto, in said field of poppies
  • spectacles (locked on to everyone’s head who enters emerald city (“because if you did not wear spectacles the brightness and the glory of the emerald city would blind you.” bonus fact:  the emerald city has 9,654 houses and 57,318 people in it.)
  • the pointy hat of the wicked witch of the west
  • bucket of water (the wicked witch’s end; she actually tripped in the book and dorothy threw it to “help.”  we know how that went!)
  • the flying monkeys (called by a magical cap only three times to its owner; dorothy & friends use the flying monkeys to get back to the emerald city after the witch is destroyed)
  • the hot air balloon made from cloth scraps (all of green, naturally) that dorothy helped the wizard sew together for means of leaving the emerald city
  • pumpkinhead jack (a character that appears in book 2 (“the marvelous land of oz”) i have next to the signpost
  • the crowns because scarecrow and tin man both wear them as they rule in oz
  • the signpost points the way to the different lands within oz:  emerald city is the center, and represented by the white star in the green circle on top; the land of the munchkins to the east is represented in blue (the color they all wear); the quadlings to the south are red; and the west country is yellow, home of the winks, that the tin man now rules that the wicked witch of the west is dead.
  • billina, the yellow hen who comes in in book 3 (“ozma of oz”) and appears in the rest of the adventures
  • large golden key dorothy & billina find on the beach that winds tik-tok
  • dorothy’s pink kitten, eureka, who comes along to oz in book 4 (“dorothy & the wizard in oz”)
  • the cowardly lion & the hungry tiger wear big pink and blue bows when they pull ozma’s chariot
  • in book 4 we meet polychrome, daughter of the rainbow.  (so of course dorothy doesn’t sing “somewhere over the rainbow” in the book, nor is a rainbow mentioned until book 4.  but we honor both polychrome and that Oscar-winning song here.)

whew!  i think that’s it!  i left out loads of stuff.  (you’re welcome.  i’m exhausted, too.)  😉

original painting is available framed for $525.  (+ $30 for safe us shipping)

limited edition signed prints now available on my etsy shoppe.  shop here!!

as are greeting cards featuring the quote:

“But a fairy country is extremely interesting when you get used to being surprised.”

and if you’re still with me, below are some more favourite quotes from the books.

and as ever, follow me on facebook and instagram to see new works in progress & other fun artsy, bookish stuff.  🙂

  • “in the civilized countries i believe there are no witches left, nor wizards, nor sorceresses, nor magicians.  but, you see, the land of oz has never been civilized, for we are cut off from all the rest of the world.  therefore we still have witches and wizards among us.”  ~the witch of the north, “the wonderful wizard of oz.” (book 1)
  • “the little girl did not know of the wonderful power the silver shoes gave her.”
  • “you have plenty of courage, i am sure.  all you need is confidence in yourself.”  ~ the wizard of oz to the lion
  • “true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.”  ~ same as above 🙂
  • “i feel wise indeed.  when i get used to my brains i shall know everything.”  ~ scarecrow
  • “now that is very interesting history, and i understand it perfectly– all but the explanation.”  ~pumpkinhead jack, “the marvelous land of oz” (book 2)
  • do not, i beg of you, dampen today’s sun with the showers of tomorrow.” ~the emperor to jack, book 2
  • “still, it is a joke, and a joke derived from a play upon words is considered among educated people to be eminently proper.”  ~ the wogglebug, book 2
  • “but there are opportunities for so many excellent puns in our language that, to an educated person like myself, the temptation to express them is almost irresistible.” (same as above)
  • “there will be no lack of fairy-tale authors in the future, i am sure.” ~from l. frank baum’s “to my readers” before book 6, “the emerald city of oz.”
  • “her uncle and aunt listened to her stories eagerly and in spite of their doubts began to feel that the little girl had gained a lot of experience and wisdom that were unaccountable in this age, when fairies are supposed no longer to exist.”  ~ the emerald city of oz (book 6)
  • “it’s the thing we don’t expect, billina, that usually happens.”  ~dorothy, book 6


hat’s off to your colorful journey!!  😀


“the language of a lady.”

inspired by bernard shaw’s pygmalion and alan jay lerner & frederick loewe’s my fair lady, my faerie tale feet pice “the language of a lady” just happens to be my new favorite.

shaw’s dialogue is quick and witty, and full of language puns and jokes and just all-around classic interactions between his characters.  he wrote the play in just three months back in 1912, the first english production of the play was in april of 1914, and not until march 15, 1956 did the musical version appear on broadway starring none other than a 21 year-old julie andrews and the indefatigable rex harrison.

HIGGINS     Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech:  that your native language is the language of Shakespear and Milton and The Bible; and don’t sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.

i’ll show you a few pictures of my research and painting process, and then below i’ll share what all of the background icons allude to from the text!  enJOY!

so i do a lot of my research at my husband’s studio at taylor’s mill. here’s a view from where i sit at his reading desk reading, taking notes, and doodling ideas in my sketchbook. (he’s a realistic oil painter and portrait draftsman as you can tell from some of the work on the walls. check him out at nathanbertling.com!)
after i take lots of notes from the original text, i seek out reference materials to inspire posture, poses, and costume choices. early on, i knew the bow was going to be spectacular. and the shoes i used, instead of slippers as they appear in the film and stage versions, are inspired by a fancy pair of ballenciaga pumps i found in vogue last year or so…
here’s the pattern drawing created from icon sketches in my sketchbook!
i went with a beautiful subtle pink wash for the background of this piece. the first step is transferring down the drawing, and then painting around all of the shapes with the same background colour…
i used a heavier watercolour paper than usual for this piece, and it was super*absorbant… so needless to say, it took lots and lots and lots of layers of colour to build up any contrast and vibrancy…
i paint at home, surrounded by my books. so here’s my little corner of the world, you can see my paper paint palettes (great for re-using spots of color), my tins full of gouache, and the original pattern drawing on tracing paper.
i always save the feet and shoes for last when working on a piece. it just seems fitting for the whole “faerie tale feet” concept. so here’s a mostly finished background painting while about to nervously begin the leg and fancy shoe of miss eliza doolittle….
ta*da! the magnifying lamp i use to paint gives me seemingly endless potential for painting tiny tiny spaces. so the jewels on her shoe turned out rawther well, i dare say… but the bow is still my favourite part of this piece, i think! 🙂

so here are what the shapes in the background represent…

  • the sailor hat of black straw (eliza doolittle as a flower girl selling violets in covent garden, where our story begins)
  • her flower basket
  • violets spewing out of the phonograph (she was selling violets, and as she tells henry higgins later in act V, “…the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated.”)
  • the birdcage (one of two possessions she sent for from her own flat once she moved in as the grand experiment of henry higgins to make good on his bet to “make a duchess of this draggletailed guttersnipe.”)
  • the phonograph (in henry higgins’ study, for listening to records of dialect, and for eliza to practice repeating sounds as she developed proper english speech patterns)
  • the tuning fork (again, another instrument found in the stage and set directions for higgins’ study)
  • the 3 ostrich feathers of orange, sky blue, & red (what eliza doolittle had on her hat when she came to ask for lessons from professor higgins; her best attire, which he had burned.)
  • the bathtub (poor flower girl eliza thought she would drown if she ever washed more than her face.)
  • the tan men’s hat (for professor higgins, a “confirmed old bachelor”)
  • the red slippers (what eliza threw at professor higgins after he refused to give her credit for all her hard work passing as a lady out in society, but also the last line of the 1964 film where he says merely at eliza’s return “where the devil are my slippers?”)
  • the piece of sanskrit (to represent colonel pickering, returned from india to meet henry higgins, author of ‘higgins’ universal alphabet’; as higgins claimed he was going to india to meet pickering, the author of ‘spoken sanskrit.’)
  • the mustache (nepommuck, a former pupil of higgins’ who at the ball claimed eliza was a fraud, believing her to be of hungarian royal blood as her english was too good.)
  • the tophat (for alfred doolittle, eliza’s father, who sings both “with a little bit of luck,” and once higgins has turned him into an unfortunate member of the middle class for his philosophical ramblings on morality, in his tux sings “get me to the church on time” on his nite out before his wedding.)
  • the racehorse, dover, for eliza nearly giving herself away with everyone’s favorite movie line, “come on, dover!!!  move your bloomin’ arse!!!”(the race wasn’t in the stage version, they merely had tea; i think the “ascot gavotte” number is just delightful and i’m glad they added it to the film.)
  • on the front of the phonograph, i painted eliza’s opera fan she carried to the ball
  • the suitcase (another favorite number of an empowered woman, eliza sings “show me” to her pining suitor freddy eynsford-hill as she storms out of higgins’ flat after the ball.  shaw was adamant that higgins and eliza do NOT end up together romantically, but that she does indeed marry freddy and open a flower shop and they are content to be poor and lead a simple life.  hollywood changed the ending to an implied relationship between higgins & eliza, which i think could have worked on a friendship level, but he was too boorish to deserve her is what i say.)
  • and last, but not least, i put a penguin in there.  why?  well, a favorite piece of trivia i discovered while researching these works was that rex harrison (who played henry higgins in both the stage & film versions) would cry out “where’s my penguin?!” during rehearsals when he wanted to compare his broadway lines and lyrics to shaw’s original text.  as a true englishman, someone would have to bring him his penguin classic edition of the 1912 text to ensure lerner was remaining faithful to the artistic truth of shaw’s words.  well, rex did this all the time, so the producers finally got him a taxidermied penguin!  he got the joke, never asked for his book again, and kept the penguin in his dressing room for the run of the show.  (three years on broadway before the cast took it to london!)


another piece of trivia you may be wondering about is why if the broadway and london stage production was such a hit, why julie andrews wasn’t used in the film.  well, the hollywood producers didn’t think her name had enough marquee punch to it, so they cast a well-known actress instead, a miss audrey hepburn (whose singing voice was dubbed).  which, i will forgive them, because in 1964 (the same year), a mr. walt disney made a super star out of julie andrews with a little film called “mary poppins.”  i’m glad we have both even if i do wish there was a recording of julie andrews in this role outside of just the cast album.

(a great book i thoroughly enjoyed if you’re a fan of the film was loverly:  the life and times of my fair lady by dominic mchugh, oxford university press, (c) 2012.  i am fascinated by the creative process and recommend it for a further look behind the scenes of stage & film versions!)

okay, if you’ve made it this far, you may be interested to know that you CAN indeed purchase prints and cards of this piece on the halthetal etsy shoppe.


cards available here:  http://etsy.me/2kVnlFY

and the original painting is available framed for $585.  email me!