Creating F THE ENCHANTED LETTER Part 2

This and all following images © Todd Klein and Bill Willingham, except as noted.

My approach to the small illustrations for this print needed a different technique from what I’d done previously for two reasons. First, I planned to use a parchment-like paper, so gray tones wouldn’t look good, nor would large outlined shapes because the paper texture would conflict with the intent of the drawings. I felt high contrast art with lots of solid blacks, using silhouettes as much as possible, would be the way to go, and that’s what I drew. The poem describes many scenes or ideas, and while I couldn’t cover them all, I wanted the art to include as many as possible. The tall, narrow spaces could each show several described elements, and there was room for one additional vignette to the right of the first stanza.

I started at the upper left with a fairytale castle in the mist representing the “Fogged road to Fairlyand”, with a Frog who would turn to a prince at the bottom, in a watery setting. Between I wanted to have a bubbling spring suggesting the “Fountain of Youth,” but wasn’t able to get that very well in the pencils.

© BaylorBear78 on Flicker

I found this bullfrog picture online and used it for the frog outline. I have my own bullfrog pics from our pond, but this one gave me a better view of the entire frog.

The vignette to the right of that became an image of one of the Fleet of a thousand about to sail off the edge of the world. They say one picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, one ship represents a thousand! I found an image of a Greek trireme sailing vessel that I used to create this one, tying to Bill’s nod to Homer’s Iliad, though I believe the edge of the world myth is from elsewhere.

To the right of the second stanza I tried to depict a path carrying you “Far From the Fields that we know,” a nice reference by Bill to an anthology of Lord Dunsany fantasy stories titled Beyond the Fields We Know. Below that are some “Fiends of the Flesh-eating kind” in the darkness above a boiling “cauldron and Flame.”

At the lower left I went more symbolic than representational, showing a winged Pegasus arising magically from an open book, representing the magic of stories (and one my own favorite fables, as retold by Nathaniel Hawthorne). In front of that are clashing swords, these two images representing “flights of Fancy and glory” in the poem. I found some reference for the swords and the horse online. Also emerging from the book are magical swirls, stars and other symbols that waft up to fill the narrow space left of the second stanza. I had room at the very top, where the creator credits had been, so I continued those elements there. A little strange, perhaps, to have black stars, but somehow it works for me. When the pencils were done, it was time to ink them, and I used the same Castell TG1 pens for that, too.

Here’s the upper left art inked. I’ve made some minor changes from the pencils, like adding two more windows in the castle, but it’s essentially the same. Lots of things needed tweaking on the computer, so when all the art was inked I worked on that, a process that took quite a bit longer than the inking.

Here’s the final version of the top left art. I’ve at last managed to add a bubbling spring that sort of works, and many other details are sharpened or clarified, and rough spots smoothed or improved.

Here’s the final version of the second stanza art with lots of small changes. For instance, there are more eyes in the darkness, and a wisp of smoke is emerging from the cave.

Here’s the final version of the entire print with all the computer tweaks. Some lines were moved slightly for better spacing, all the lettering was corrected and tweaked, and the final step was the addition of the indicia line in very small lettering at the bottom. I had ordered the paper, Wausau 11 by 17-inch Astroparche in “Aged” color, the closest to real parchment to my eye, so I was ready to print the run of 500 copies, plus some extras for Bill and I, on my Xerox printer. That took about four hours.

The next step was to fill the open centers of the large F at upper left and the small one at lower right with a hand-painted color. I was originally thinking of a violet or purple, and I tried that, but wasn’t happy with the result. I settled on Alizarin Crimson from my set of Dr. Ph. Martin’s Hydrus Fine Art Watercolors, the ones I’ve used for most of my prints. Crimson is an interesting color. I tend to think of it as a slightly darker shade of red, which is right, but the darkening factor has some blue or magenta qualities that come out more when the color is diluted, as above, making a Rose tint. Doing some research I learned that modern Alazarin Crimson is a synthetic developed to replace the older Rose Madder paint color derived from the Madder plant, but a color that did not hold up over time, and faded easily. True Crimson came originally from an insect called Kermes vermilio, which fell out of favor and was replaced by another insect-derived color, Carmine, derived from the cochineal.

I used the Hydrus color straight from the bottle, no dilution, and under the neon light at my drawing table it tends to look closer to Maroon, or if you’re feeling hungry, grape jam color.

Under an incandescent bulb or natural light, the red tone comes out more. In all, it has a nice old-fashioned feel, and the color went on easily without any streaking, so it worked quite well.

I followed my usual practice of painting them in batches of 50, which took about an hour and a half, a good thing to work on in the evening, or when I had a break from regular lettering work. By the end of Memorial Day Weekend I had the prints painted and signed by me, so in early June they went out to Bill for his signatures. it took Bill a few weeks to find time to sign them and send them back, but at last the print is complete and in my hands. Here’s the result:

A few days ago I announced the print on my blog, putting the image there for the first time, and in less than an hour readers had pointed out two errors in the text that both Bill and I missed (and I read it dozens of times!) In the seventh line, the fencing term “repost” should be spelled “riposte,” and in the eleventh line “it’s” should be “its,” no apostrophe. I thought about scrapping this print run and doing a new one, but finally decided not to. The expense of buying more paper and the time needed to print and paint them, as well as the shipping cost to send them to Bill again for his signatures, and more waiting until he found time to sign them would mean the print would probably not go on sale until September or later. I felt it would be better to acknowledge our errors, put up with the embarrassment, and move ahead, and Bill was okay with that.

Despite the mistakes, Bill and I are happy with our new work, hope you like it, too. Information about ordering can be found, along with lots more about my other prints, on my SIGNED PRINTS page, or on my BUY STUFF page. If you missed part 1 of this article it’s HERE.

4 thoughts on “Creating F THE ENCHANTED LETTER Part 2

  1. Cindy McShane

    I have to say that I think the mistakes are part of the charm of this run, and I can’t wait to see the print in person.

  2. Eric Gimlin

    Some of the artwork reminds me of some of Tolkien’s illustrations, most specifically the mountain path reminds me of the cover to the Hobbit. Another very appropriate association with the poem, of course!

  3. Susan

    another beautifully-executed print, as are they all. Nice to see your own artwork, as well as your always-phenomenal calligraphy.

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