Above is the final art image that J.H. sent to me. I loved it. In fact, it was even better than I had imagined after seeing the layout. Jim is truly a gifted artist! Working from the bottom up, he’d taken my idea of the fighting dragons and created two dragon images very much in the style of mediaeval manuscript art. They aren’t fighting, but they are polar opposites and form a very cool design element. Above, on either side, are the Celtic knotwork patterns I sent him, but reversed, dark bars on a white background, which connects well to the top dragon, and also provides great contrast for both the ivy growing over them and the lighter text area.
The rock the anvil is attached to is full of great detail. One thing we hadn’t discussed was the possibility of putting Thomas Malory’s inscription on it: “Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England.” Many artists, and even author T.H. White have assumed that the inscription is on the sword blade, but Malory doesn’t actually say where it is, and I think that’s unlikely. First, some of the blade was invisible, inside the anvil and stone. Second, it’s an awfully long inscription for a section of sword blade. I always felt a much more likely spot was on the stone, and thought I might put it there, but when I saw Jim’s final art, I realized that wouldn’t work, either. But, I have an explanation. You see how the stone is straighter on the left side? That’s where the inscription is. And young Arthur hasn’t bothered to read it, obviously, since he doesn’t realize what he’s accomplished once the sword is removed.
Above the anvil, which has a nice ancient-looking design, is the sword hilt, off-center, a good touch. By the way, have you ever wondered why there’s an anvil between the sword and the stone? I’m not sure, but I think that was Malory’s addition, and perhaps his thinking was thus: any stone can be broken by a hammer and chisel, allowing the possibility of someone removing the sword that way. But a steel sword piercing an iron anvil? Anvils are designed to withstand hammering, and heat, too, for that matter. Just as it’s impossible for any man to pierce an anvil with a sword, it’s equally impossible for a man to remove one, without some kind of divine intervention. The anvil insures that no merely mortal effort can remove the sword.
Around the sword hilt is a sort of symbolic halo. Jim and I had talked about the two halos he wanted to use, and I knew I would be putting a painted spot color in the inner open area. In the gray area Jim added a row of symbols suggesting a Celtic cross, and also faintly visible inside the circle is a Celtic triple swirl.
Arthur’s face, lit by light coming from the sword below, is determined, but not strained, just as Malory suggests. He wears simple but well-made clothing, befitting his role as a page, not the more elaborate dress of some other depictions. For his hair, I’d suggested it be brown or black, rather than the blonde some have used. With additional light coming from the halo above it, it’s hard to say what Jim had in mind, but I think it’s meant to be brown. And that top halo has another symbol in it, a greek letter Omega. That was the one place where I think Jim went wrong, and I changed it later. Christians use the Alpha and Omega symbols together to represent God, but Omega alone suggests only “The End,” not a good choice here. Plus, I wanted to avoid greek letters. I suggested we use the roman letters REX, latin for King instead, indicating the possible Roman ancestry for Arthur some have suggested, and also very Christian without being too presumptuous, I hope.
Above that is the Holy Grail, ghostlike. I love that element, so glad he got it in there!
The large sword in the title area is perfectly shaped, though the top of the hilt had to be cut off. At least that’s visible in the other image below. The gnarled tree branch behind it is cool, and at the upper right is the faint image of a royal castle. Camelot, perhaps. And throughout the art, Jim has used computer effects to give things a worn and aged look that I think works very well. The criss-crossing beams of light in the text area add to the design, though they were destined to be hidden somewhat by the text. Jim suggested the text might be a medium gray so the rays would show up better, but I had to veto that idea. I wanted black text, like the black printing of the original book.
The next task was to lay out the text in the spaces provided. I knew from the start that I wanted a Blackletter style, used throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, and in the early days of printing as well. Used by Caxton for his printing of Le Morte d’Arthur, as seen in part 2 of this series of posts. I had a Blackletter font of my own, created from my hand-lettered alphabets. I’d designed it in 2003 to use in Neil Gaiman’s 1602 comic series published by Marvel:
I used it for the version of Doctor Doom in the story. It seemed a good choice for him, as it gave his speech a slightly Germanic feel. German printing held on to the Blackletter style the longest, and is still often associated with it, though another Blackletter style is called Old English.
What I thought I would do is lay out the text with my font, TKBlackletter, using the computer to make all the small adjustments needed to get it to fit nicely, then I’d print that out and trace over it on vellum with my hand-lettering pens, and replace the font type with hand-lettering.
I started the layout process on the computer, and was pretty happy with the way it was going. When I created the font, I tried to make it as readable as possible, while retaining the Blackletter style, and it seems to work. It took a while, but I got all the text in that I wanted, and by making tiny adjustments to character width, line spacing and line breaks, it fit into the space Jim had given me like a hand in a glove. I was talking to Jim about this, and told him my plan of redoing the text by hand. “Really?!” he said, sounding like he thought I was crazy…and in that moment I finally admitted the truth to myself: I didn’t want to go through all that work, knowing it probably wouldn’t look as good as the font when I was done. So, true confession time, folks, I bailed on that idea, and went with the font. For those of you who prefer my hand-lettering, all I can say is…sorry. I do have one excuse: I wanted something that would look like old type, and my font is probably the better choice for that.
The next thing I tackled was the title. For that I needed a large, decorative capital D, to keep my alphabetical theme going (previous prints having featured A, B and C). I really hated to have to cover up the sword at the top with it, though, and eventually I found a way not to. I drew a D with a large, circular feature, very similar to the halos in the art, and tucked it behind the sword, keeping enough visible to show what it was. (Note: the only part of the lettering that at least began with a drawing!) I also used my Celtic Knot font to create a design in the widths of the letterform. Here’s the way it turned out:
When I told Jim I’d done this, he couldn’t picture it until he saw the result. The rest of the title ran above the sword, over the tree branch and vines, and on the sword itself I put our names in another of my fonts, this one in the Celtic calligraphy style I use to sign my name. You’ll see it below in a moment. So, two fonts, no hand lettering. But even the fonts echo the dichotomy of Malory’s work, one Celtic, one Germanic like the Saxons. Sounds good, anway.
As I mentioned earlier, I needed to change the content of the upper halo from the greek letter Omega to the latin word REX. I took the greek letter out of the art, then put the latin text in with the rest of the type, using Adobe Illustrator, in white this time. The font is Trajan, the ultimate Roman style, so now three themes were represented.
A few other very minor art changes were made. I won’t point them out, see if you can find any later by comparing the art image at the beginning of this post with the finished print.
When the image was complete, the type all combined with the art in Photoshop, it was time to print some samples. Jim and I had decided to use the same paper as on my Alan Moore print: Wausau Exacta Bristol Cover stock in Cream color. This gave the gray tones of the art a little warmth, which I liked. Then I needed to paint some spot color samples. Jim had suggested green for the spot color, and it sounded okay, but when I tried all the green liquid watercolors I had on hand, none of them seemed right to me. The best one is shown above, and it just didn’t work. Even on the cream colored paper, the gray tones in the halos were cool, while the green paint seemed a jarring and too-bright warm, jumping out of the picture.
I tried some blues, and they worked better for me, with this one, Cobalt Blue, my favorite. I sent these two samples to Jim, and he agreed with me. We would go with the blue. I also gave Jim another choice in these two samples: the green one has less contrast in the art, the blue has more contrast. Jim liked the blue one in that case, too.
Once that had been decided, I printed the entire run of 500 prints, and began the lengthy but enjoyable process of painting each one. A batch of 50 generally took me an evening after dinner, and I got more done on the weekend, so in about 7 days they were complete. Next I signed each print, packed them all up, and shipped them off to J.H. for his signatures. Jim has signed them, and they’re now ready to sell:
Hope you’ve enjoyed this lengthy description of the print’s creation. Links to earlier parts are below. If you’d like to read about the creation of my other prints, you can do that on my SIGNED PRINTS page. Ordering information can be found there, or on my BUY STUFF page.