In June of 2010 I was making plans for future prints in my alphabet series, having just released the sixth one, “F the Enchanted Letter.” There were several artists I thought might be interested in doing one with me, artists I’d see at the San Diego con in July, so I tried to come up with ideas they might like. I thought about subjects for the letter H, and eventually came to the idea of Hope, from the Greek legend of Pandora. I’ve been a fan of Steve Rude’s work since discovering NEXUS in the early 1980s, and I’ve worked with Steve as a letterer several times, most recently on his self-published issues of NEXUS, which was challenging but also a thrill to do. Steve’s work has always seemed to me to have a classical feel in the figure work, so I thought he might enjoy depicting Pandora and Hope. I asked Steve, above, when we met in San Diego, and though he was hesitant at first, he was intrigued by the subject, and finally agreed to do a print with me. I told him I’d put together a written proposal and a layout for him and get in touch.
Back home I took out my favorite version of the Pandora tale, adapted by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The story appeared in Volume II of “The Junior Classics,” a multi-volume set I had as a kid, and where I first read it. Later I picked up the source, as illustrated by Maxfield Parrish, on the right. Hawthorne’s versions of the Greek myths are somewhat syrupy by today’s standards, but as a child I didn’t notice that, and I loved his friendly, engaging writing style. My favorite of the stories is the one about Pegasus and Bellerophon, but Pandora is one I liked also.
Incidentally, both the books above included this Maxfield Parrish illustration of Pandora and the mysterious box, probably the most famous depiction to date, though there’s one by Dante Gabriel Rossetti that’s well-known, too:
While these illustrations were not something I referred to for this project, it’s always interesting to see how artists from different eras depict a figure from classical mythology. They usually add plenty of contemporary styles and influences from their own time. As you’ll see below, I think Steve Rude did the same.
So, I reread the Hawthorne story, entitled “The Paradise of Children,” which you can download from Project Gutenberg at THIS site and read if you like. There were a lot of things about it I’d forgotten, such as the other main character, the boy Epimetheus, who was the actual owner of the mysterious box that Pandora so wanted to see inside of. The dynamic between the boy and girl is a lot like that of Adam and Eve in the Bible, and in fact the Pandora myth is rather similar to that of Eve and the Serpent. I found the crucial passage involving Pandora opening the box to be the one I wanted to focus on. The entire episode covers several pages, and was too long for my purposes, so I had to narrow it down to a few sentences that I could use on my print. I left Epimetheus out of it, as I felt he wasn’t important to this scene, allowing just Pandora and Hope to take the stage, along with some nebulous “Troubles,” which Hawthorne describes as a swarm of winged creatures that sting and pinch the children, and says they represent evil Passions, Cares, Sorrows, Diseases and other kinds of Naughtiness. That’s Hawthorne trying to keep his child readers from getting any shocking mental pictures, I think!
Another famous literary reference to Hope is in a poem by Emily Dickinson that I like, too. Here’s the entire poem:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—
And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—
I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.
Dickinson describes Hope as a singing spiritual bird dwelling inside us, and while I didn’t see any way to tie that visually to the Pandora myth, I like it well enough to want to include part of it on the print, and chose the first verse. That gave me a good reason to have the word “Hope” at the upper left of the print, and a large H, continuing my alphabetical theme. I’m hoping the poem’s description, which doesn’t match the image, won’t create any visual confusion!
It took me a while to get my thoughts together, but in January of this year I emailed Steve my ideas for the print, the two literary works, and this layout with the quotes at top and bottom. I said, “Between would be your art, portraying Pandora and Hope in any way you’d like. I think the youthful female figure of Pandora looking up in wonder at the fairy-like Hope should be the main focus, with the light source being a glow of white radiance coming from Hope. If you’d like, and have room, you could portray some of the Troubles around the shadowy edges.”
Steve thought that sounded fine, and promised a sketch in a few weeks.
And in February, Steve emailed me his sketch, which I thought looked terrific. I had wondered how he might approach Pandora and Hope visually, and here was the answer: Pandora is a grown woman, though a young one, and Hope, while a nebulous spirit, is also a woman. While getting away from the childlike Pandora of Hawthorne, I had no problem with this, and since Steve draws attractive women, I thought it a fine idea. If you look at the Rosetti depiction above, you can see he went in the same direction.The broken box and emerging menacing vaporous spirits, which Steve notes as “Evils” were also fine with me; not the insects of Hawthorne, but I think a fine alternative that matches the ethereal spirit of Hope. The entire image is full of drama, too, something I hoped for from Steve, and he delivered it in a big way. By showing the broken box, on it’s side, and Pandora’s fallen figure and amazed expression, plus the fallen flowers and broken sandal, Steve has conveyed more of the conflict in his image than I had room to cover in my lettering, which I think works perfectly. I told Steve to go ahead with a final painting whenever he had the time.
In late March Steve sent a high resolution scan of his finished painting, and as you can see, it followed the sketch in almost every detail. I loved it! I did see some challenges in placing my lettering over the art, though, as I didn’t want to cover any of those cool Troubles. I also didn’t want my upper text to impinge too much on the glow around Hope’s head. After thinking about this and making some rough layouts, it occurred to me that flopping the art, flipping it right to left, might give me the spaces I needed. Here’s how that looked:
This version gave me a larger area to letter in at the top left (and I added a small amount to the art across the top using the cloning tool in Photoshop to get to the exact proportions needed for my print.) At the bottom I felt I could fit in the text by dividing it into two smaller sections with the central Trouble between. I also preserved the signature from the first version so I wouldn’t appear backwards. I sent this back to Steve, a little nervous about how he might feel about me messing with his art, but Steve thought it was fine. Relieved, I started working on the actual lettering, and I’ll discuss that in PART 2.
More information about all my signed prints can be found on the SIGNED PRINTS page of my blog.