Land of Legends

Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is one of my all-time favorite stories. On some basic level, it’s one most American’s know; it’s the story of a headless horseman who chases some doofus-looking guy named Ichabod through the woods. It’s legend has become our own and it’s a staple of the fall nostalgia routine and any decent Halloween movie marathon.

Most of us are probably familiar with the various film adaptations — most notably Disney’s Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad, a 1949 animated musical narrated and sung by Bing Crosby, and the 1999 Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movie — and personally, I enjoy each of them. I love how Disney nails Ichabod’s strange proportions and beak-like nose, and I welcome Burton’s gore, witches, and dreamy, withered sets. Still, the story itself is what I love best, though it’s much quieter and much less about heaving jack-o-lanterns than the films would have you think, as I discovered reading it for myself the first time, standing behind the counter at Books of Wonder on a particularly slow fall afternoon. The text is full of descriptions of people and New England, of Ichabod’s strange visage and massive appetite (“He was a huge feeder, and, though lank, had the dilating powers of an anaconda”; one of my favorite lines), and the quiet, “drowsy, dreamy” Dutch community with it’s atmosphere of whispered rumors. It’s just a little bit about a crazy Hessian riding around with his own decapitated head on the pommel of his saddle, and even less about tossing said head like a mother elfin’ shot-put. The edge-of-your seat rustle of excitement as Ichabod and his scrawny horse Gunpowder navigate the woods at night, startled into the worst kinds of thoughts by the snapping of branches and screech of an owl, is short and comes at the very end. But you need that calm before the storm to really enjoy the chase when it happens, I think. Besides, Irving’s language and observations are so enjoyable; so funny and perfect in their concise understanding of fear and love and idleness, I hardly care what happens at all, really. And so I pick it up at least once a year, every year, around Halloween-time and love it all over again.

A beautiful edition of the book is a must. I’m a big fan of my Arthur Rackham illustrated hardcover Books of Wonder edition with glossy full color plates and tons of black and white drawings throughout. The Rackham illustrations are beautiful in an spooky fairytale way, though not a literal depiction of events for the most part. Instead the art matches the story’s mood, with witches and devilish imps are sketched into the landscape and trees that come alive in monstrous, contorted ways and seem to follow beak-nosed Ichabod about town. They give a definite sense of foreboding… …but why am I talking about Arthur Rackham before sharing my own illustration? That’s not an act I wanna try and follow, and my own interpretation was, in fact, quite literal.

All of this is to say that I love fall, and I love New York and the Hudson River Valley, and Washington Irving, and pumpkins and Halloween, and book covers, and especially this story, so, so much. So I thought I’d have my go at illustrating a poster or hypothetical cover. I sketched and made notes while reading to try to clear my mind of movie images and focus strictly on Irving’s own descriptions, and I based my bridge on this photo of the purported one from the story. And… well, here it is…

Another convulsive kick in the ribs, and old Gunpowder sprang upon the bridge; he thundered over the resounding planks; he gained the opposite side; and now Ichabod cast a look behind to see if his pursuer should vanish, according to rule, in a flash of fire and brimstone. Just then he saw the goblin rising in this stirrups and in the very act of hurling his head at him.

So what am I doing with this bad boy? Well I’m trying to get it on a Threadless t-shirt and I’ll need your help. I’ll post a head’s up when the shirt is open for voting, but in the meantime I welcome you to view my design on the Threadless website, and “like” the beegeezus out of it! The background is slightly altered so to stays within the color budget for printing. You can check it out here.


Oh oh, Little Ramona

Another screen print! This is the most complex print I’ve done so far. It’s wrought with imperfections, but making it taught me a lot about how to (and how not to) prepare my transparencies in the future.

I wanted to make something that felt more like a show poster, but I’m way more of a dork for books than I am music or movies, so I went for a mock book cover. Having recently watched the surprisingly good Ramona & Beezus movie, and then rereading the book for the first time since elementary school, I was feeling like Ramona Quimby was worthy of my fandom. Plus I’m pretty disgusted with their current covers. Bleh. For me, Ramona Quimby, Age 8 has always been the quintessential Beverly Cleary title. If you only read one, make it that one, I say. That book is completely entwined in my experience of the third grade. Ramona was 8, and so was I. We were mastering cursive at the same time.

Curious and looking for inspiration, I found old Ramona covers. While there have been several illustrators (Louis Darling, Alan Tiegreen, and most recently Tracy Dockray), I grew up with the Dell Yearling Norman Rockwell-esque covers by Louis Darling, and those are still the illustrations I favor, though Tiegreen’s stick-figure-like Ramonas, particularly on the Age 8 cover, is nicely designed.

Initially, I drew my image in Photoshop, saved each color/layer as a PDF, and had transparencies printed. I treated my layers like puzzle pieces, with very little overlap. With each color being it’s own very distinct shape, that meant, for the image to come out “right”, everything would need to be perfectly aligned. Which didn’t happen. For one thing, my registration just isn’t that good, and for another, the second layer I pulled had very little detail, which made finding the proper placement for it pretty difficult. So I learned a lot about sequence with this project; what layers and colors to do first. And to overlap. Overlap, Nicole!

Here’s what my transparencies looked like:

And here’s how they came out:

Shhh… I found the Secret Garden

Oh hi, Internet. I’m real sorry for being such a rotten pen pal, but here’s a thing for you to look at with your eyeballs:

Shhh: I Found the Secret Garden, painted book cover in acrylic

Many moons ago I found it in my sweet angel heart to rescue this beat down ‘n battered hardcover edition of the Secret Garden from the damaged bin at work. I took it home, taped up the spine, and painted on my own cover. And I didn’t like it. So I let it sit. For months. Then, yesterday, I decided to give it another crack and I’m happier with these results, though the faint flower background is a little TOO faint in this scan, unfortunately. In person (in the FLESH) I think it’s nice ‘n subtle, though. I’ve got a comic strip back cover summary in mind for it as well, but I’m contemplating going digital for that.

you just wait and see (tra la la la la) she’s quite a girl

I guess in some really roundabout way this could work for this week’s Illustration Friday topic (“adapt”), but it seems like a stretch. Forgive me. Really, when I think about the word “adapt” I picture a human with wings, Darwin and Nicholas Cage. All separately. Maybe Darwin or Nicholas Cage with wings? I don’t think it’s worth my while to illustrate the later, in particular, though. ANYWAY, WHO LIKES PIPPI? OH, RIGHT. EVERYONE.

So this is my proposed Pippi Longstocking cover. Wouldn’t that be lovely? There is a very nice version illustrated by my dream girl, Lauren Child (of Charlie & Lola fame), that you should look into if you haven’t seen it and don’t find it worth your while to employ me to create one JUST FOR YOU (though really you should).

Anyway, here’s what I was aiming to illustrate to begin with before I realized I was makin’ a “P” (and also before I realized that the text read “shoe” not “toe”… despite having read over it at least three times. WTF, brain?)

From Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, Chapter 7, Pippi Goes to the Circus:

In the meantime, the next act had started. It was Miss Elvira, who was going to walk the tightrope. SHe wore a pink tulle dress, and she had a pink parasol in her hand. Taking dainty little steps, she ran along the tightrope. She swung her legs and did all sorts of acrobatics. It looked so sweet. She even showed that she could walk backward on the slender rope. But when she came back to the small platform at one end of the tightrope and turned around, there stood Pippi.

“Quite a surprise, isn’t it?” said Pippi with delight when she saw Miss Elvira’s astonished expression.

Miss Elvira didn’t say a word. Instead she jumped down from the tightrope and threw her arms around the neck of the ringmaster, who happened to be her father. And the ringmaster once again sent his attendants to throw Pippi out. This time he sent five of them.

But then all the spectators in the circus started shouting, “Leave her alone! We want to see the red-headed girl!”

And they all stmamped their feet and clapped their hands. Pippi leaped onto the tightrope. And Miss Elvira’s acrobatics were nothing compared to what Pippi could do. When she reached the middle of the tightrope, she stretched one leg high in the air, and her big shoe spread out like a roof over her head. She bent her foot forward slightly so that she could tickle herself behind on ear.

P.S. Wouldn’t the Adventures of Pippi Longstocking logo make a sweet tattoo? I mean, if you knew nobody would mistake it for a Wendy’s icon?