Day 95: The Falcon’s Eye

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I wrote a book once called The Falcon’s Eye. It’s a high fantasy coming-of-age novel about a girl who discovers a past she didn’t know she had, finds herself in a world that she fought all her life to avoid, and faces difficult choices where her decision could alter the fate of an entire realm, and she must choose between what is right and what is easy.

(Yes, I’m being vague on purpose. Where’s the fun otherwise?)

The official back cover blurb, however is below.

The queen of Aundour is assassinated. The Falcon’s Eye, a talisman of great power, is sealed within the infant heir to the throne, who is exiled for her own safety.

Sixteen years later, land pirate Ava is rescued from execution by a stranger who reveals that she’s being hunted for more than her crimes. Aundour’s sworn enemy seeks the amulet hidden beneath her birthmark, and the only place where she will be safe is with her real father, the king who sent her away.

A dormant power now awakens within her, a destructive force too strong for an untrained mind to handle. But Ava never asked for magic, wealth, or even a father. All she wants is to escape the lords and liars trying to control her. When the web of evil closes in, and Aundour’s fate hangs by a thread, Ava must make a choice: her need for freedom, or the kingdom doomed to fall without her?

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I first started writing this as a pet project when I was fifteen, and it grew and grew along with me until I published it three years ago. That was seven years of immersion in a vast world with a complex history, for which there were maps drawn, family trees marked up, and piles of research done.

It’s been a while since I returned to Ava’s story and her world, since I’ve been traversing other fictional ones of my making, but I definitely will come back and learn more about what happens with her after the end of The Falcon’s Eye.

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A few fun facts:

  • I’ve sketched Ava a thousand times over while testing character designs, but frankly, this is the first time I’m seeing her in color.
  • Ava is a Firechild and when she puts her mind to it, the flames that come from her tend to be white, but she works just as well with regular ones.
  • It’s one thing to design a castle to write, and quite another to draw it out. I’ve described the castle in Veïlas from the outside and inside, with its rooms, courtyards, open areas, and passageways, and it was a delight to paint.I would have detailed it a lot more, but my tiny brush stopped cooperating and I had to ice my hand, so I only got this much out of it. Still, this was one of the places where a degree in architecture came in handy.
  • There’s a wolf. The wolf is a character and was a delight to write. Note that he’s not always a wolf.
  • My favorite characters to write were Garon (“Wayfarer, my dear. New shore, new name. You of all people should understand that.”), who is the bard in the purple cap and cape, and Arne Rannhain, the noble knight in white who is stiff-backed, judgmental as hell, and delightfully complex.
  • There are a lot more characters in this and I would have loved to include a few more, but I do only have so much space and not nearly enough time.

Day 94: Vasilisa the Beautiful

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So, we’ve done a collection (Scheherazade and One Thousand and One Nights), a childhood favorite (Anne of Green Gables), and an epic which was also a dance drama (Meghaduta). Now, let’s do a folktale!

There is much to be learned about a culture through their folklore, and I’ve read a good many of a number of origins, including Persian, Native American, West African, Mesoamerican, Aborigine, German, Assyrian, Egyptian, and Slavic, to name a few. For this, I picked a Russian story that I’ve read a thousand times over. It features Baba Yaga, a witch-like crone who features in a number of Slavic and Germanic tales, both as foe and friend. The general crone archetype in folktales could work both ways. They’re either horrifically ugly witches who will eat you for supper or they’re grandmotherly old ladies who will give you a blessing if you do them a good turn. Baba Yaga has been both, and is known by a number of names in different countries and cultures. These (could) include Ježibaba of the western Slavic people, Baba Roga in Croatia and Bosnia (where she’s a scary old lady), the Bulgarian Gorska Majka, Muma Padurii of Romania, Mother Holle of Northern Germany, Baba Korizma of Serbia. She has appeared in a number of well-known Russian folktales, the most famous of which are this one and that of Ivan and the Firebird.

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Anyway, Vasilisa was the beautiful daughter of a Russian merchant, whose wife died when she was around eight years old. On her deathbed, the mother gave Vasilisa a little wooden doll and told her that if she is ever sad or in need of help, give the doll a little food and some water, and it would help her. So, after a time, the merchant remarried and the new wife was a spiteful woman with two daughters of her own, and naturally – because this is a traditional folktale with archetypal characters – the stepmother and stepsisters were ugly and mean and hated Vasilisa, who was beautiful and good and kind. Thus, she made the girl do all the work in the house and the fields, and never let her marry. Every time Vasilisa was sad, she gave the doll a little food and water, and it comforted her.

So, one day, the merchant had to take off on a long journey. During this time, the stepmother hatched a plot to get rid of Vasilisa for good. She sold the house and moved her and the girls to a little hut near the edge of the woods. One day, she gave each of the girls a job to do and put out all the candles except one. When one of the stepsisters surreptitiously blew out the candle, they sent Vasilisa into the woods, where the fearsome Baba Yaga lived, and told her to get some light from her for them. On the doll’s quiet advice, she went.

As Vasilisa walked through the woods, she came upon three riders (one at a time, not all at once). One came as dawn was breaking, dressed completely in white and astride a white horse. The second came soon after, attired in red upon a red horse. It was nearly nighttime when Vasilisa reached Baba Yaga’s house on giant chicken legs behind a fence of human bones, and a rider in all black upon a black horse passed by her. Baba Yaga arrived in her flying mortar and pestle, and tells Vasilisa that she has to work for the light she wants, and if she doesn’t perform, she’ll be eaten. Not much of a choice there.

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So, Vasilisa was put to work. She had to clean the house, clean the yard, do the laundry, cook the food. She also had to separate chaff from grain, poppy seeds from soil, and squeeze oil from the corn kernels. Vasilisa gave the doll a little food and water, and the doll told her to rest before finishing up the work for her. When Baba Yaga returned, she could find nothing to complain about and no excuse to eat Vasilisa. All the work was done, except from the squeezing oil from the corn. Baba Yaga clicked her fingers and three disembodied hands appeared to do the work. She then asked Vasilisa if she has any questions.

Vasilisa asked Baba Yaga about the three riders, and Baba Yaga explained that they were Day (white rider), the Sun (red), and Night (black). She thought to ask about the disembodied hands, but the doll trembled in her pocket and Vasilisa decided not to. Baba Yaga then asked Vasilisa how she got all that work done. It should have been impossible. Vasilisa replied that it was by the grace of her mother’s blessing, and Baba Yaga went nuts. She wanted none of that blessing business in her house, so she threw Vasilisa out and sent her away with the light she came for, in the form of a skull with glowing eyes.

When Vasilisa brought the light back to her stepmother and stepsisters, who had been bathed in unforgiving darkness the whole time, the skull’s eyes glowed bright, so bright that it blinds them all. In other versions, it burned them to ash. You can pick which one you like better. Anyway, they weren’t going to be hurting Vasilisa anymore and she buried the skull so that it wouldn’t hurt anyone else. After that, she went to the capital where she became an assistant to a clothmaker, stitched beautiful shirts which found their way to the czar, who was so enamored by them that he found Vasilisa, fell in love with her, and married her.

(Somehow, all Russian stories seem to involve a wedding with a czar. Or a prince who becomes a czar.)

The End.

A few fun facts:

  • The entire aesthetic and design of this piece was based off the illustrations of Ivan Biblin, a 20th Century Russian illustrator and stage designer. Most of his works were inspired by Slavic folklore and his illustrations are the most well-known when it comes to the stories.
  • I haven’t mentioned it before, but all of these are done on A4 300 GSM Montval watercolor paper and the circles are 18cm in diameter.
  • The title calligraphy was borrowed from the font Voyage.

 

Day 93: Meghaduta

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I studied the Sanskrit language in school. It was a pretty easy language with a straightforward grammar system and vocabulary that one can make quick parallels with. Also, the tests were easy to score marks on, so I took it on as a second language (in most Indian schools, it’s compulsory to be at least trilingual.) I ended up taking a personal interest in the language and took to its literature, most of which is in the poetic format. Among them, Kalidasa’s works were my favorite. He used simple meters, intense descriptions, and lovely – almost purple – imagery mostly derived from nature. He was a great inspiration for many poets who came after him, including Goethe, who is famous for Faust. Kalidasa has written four famous poetic epics, and one among them is Meghaduta.

Meghaduta means ‘cloud messenger’. In this story, a yaksha is living in exile as a punishment for having neglected his duties to Kubera, the god of wealth. He laments being separated from his beloved wife, who is waiting for him in their home at Alaka, up in the Himalayas. A passing cloud hears him and agrees to take a message to her. The rest of the story is that message, where the yaksha speaks of his love for his wife as well all the sights that the cloud will see on its journey from his place of exile in Central India all the way to Alaka.

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Now, I’ve never actually read the whole of Meghaduta, though I have studied excerpts from it. This story, however, is particularly close to my heart because I once attended a dance drama performance of it. I’m a fan of bharatnatyam and delight in dance dramas. I have the good fortune of living close to a very famous dance school as well, so I manage to attend at least a few performances every year. None had ever affected me as much as this one did.

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The dance drama was choreographed by Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon, danced by them and students of their school of dance, and music arranged by Bombay Jayashri. It was done in alliance with Aim for Seva, a service organization with a focus on education and healthcare for rural children. I was lucky enough to have a second row seat for their performance, right in the middle. Shijith Nambiar played the cloud, and in this interpretation, he took a creative departure from the original, and embodied the cloud as more than just a messenger. In this, not only did he carry the yaksha‘s words, he carried his soul as well, and felt the pangs of separation and heartache and wonder at the world as much as he did. Tears, I tell you. That never happens, but tears, and it was seared into my memory.

A few fun facts:

  • The cloud in this may or may not bear a slight resemblance to the dancer Shijith Nambiar, who played the cloud in the dance drama.
  • In the dance drama, a gauzy white scarf is used as an allegorical prop to signify the yaksha‘s message, soul, and feelings. The cloud takes this from him in the beginning, wears it all through his journey, and delivers it to the yakshi at the end. In the illustration, it’s only a scarf, but also doubles as a reference.
  • I tried to base the yakshi on Parvathy Menon, though it wasn’t perfect and she didn’t actually play the yakshi in the performance I attended.
  • Despite the yakshi‘s location being Alaka which is in the Himalayas (yes, that is Mount Kailash in the background), the designs of her balcony are more Rajasthani.
  • The clothing color schemes for the yaksha and yakshi are matched.

 

Day 92: Anne of Green Gables

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Anne Shirley was one of my closest companions growing up, and probably the first book series I ever got my hands on. I started reading L.M. Montgomery’s books when I was about seven or eight and formed an instant connection with young Anne, who was imaginative and whimsical and had her own personal way of seeing the world. In a sort of way, I wanted to be her, considering that she was far more extroverted than I was (am, rather.) Compared to Anne, I was a lot quieter, a bit shy, with not as many friends, but she and I had the same eyes with which we saw the world, similar minds that conjured things and liked to find something beautiful in the everyday, though she was more dramatic than I was.

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Set predominantly in the fictional town of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Anne was a sprightly, redheaded orphan with a wild imagination adopted by a middle-aged pair of siblings who wanted a boy. The story goes about how she won over them as well as the rest of the town with the sheer force of her personality, without ever changing herself if not for the better. She forms close friendships, strong rivalries, and eventually finds love and family.

Anne was one of those turn-of-the-century feminist characters in popular literature, and was wonderfully well-written. Not only was she strong, outspoken, individualistic, ambitious, intelligent, and educated, she was also dramatic, a bit vain, and occasionally lived more in her fantasy than her reality. (Gilbert Blythe got the wrong end of that stick for a long time.)  In other words, she wasn’t perfect. She had flaws and failings, and through the series, we get to watch her grow the same way we would ourselves. She formed a number of beautiful, nuanced friendships with other girls, the best of them being with Diana Barry, who is standing next to Anne here. Her romance with Gilbert Blythe (who was possibly the first great fictional love of my life) grew from a rivalry between two intelligent, stubborn people, to a strong friendship with mutual respect, to love.

In a time when women are often being written as flawless unrelatable goddesses who are more cardboard cutouts than nuanced people, all for the sake of the ‘strong female character’, Anne Shirley is an example to remember.

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A good number of my childhood friends were of the fictional sort, and I’m forever glad that she was among them. And that is why I stoutly refuse to watch the new Netflix series. I saw some clips from that, and they have ruined everything about this book and this character, and have completely missed the point of her. Dishonor, I say! Dishonor on you, dishonor on your family, dishonor on your cow!

A few fun facts:

  • Yes, the clothes are all based off the costumes from the 1985 miniseries.
  • Behold the carrots pigtails, before the green hair incident that turned it a “true auburn”.
  • The faces, however, are a bit more based on how I personally visualized the characters. I mean, I glanced at Megan Follows, Jonathon Crombie, Schuyler Grant, Amybeth McNulty, and Dalila Bela, but I didn’t really depend on them too much.
  • How obvious is my adoration for Gilbert Blythe in this?
  • The reference image for the Green Gables house in the background (with tiny Marilla and Matthew) is the actual 19th Century farm in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. In 1985, it was declared a National Historic Site.

 

Day 91: Scheherazade

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And the countdown begins.

For the last ten days, I’ve picked ten stories and am illustrating them in circular windows. I can tell you, choosing them was hell and painting these are going to be a wonderful nightmare. Wonderful because I love doing this, and nightmare because it is driving me batshit crazy. I spent about seven hours on this one, around five of which were spent on itsy-bitsy details with the paper about three inches from my face, but worth it. So worth it.

Anyhoo, that aside, I figured the best way to begin a series of story windows is with a tale of a famed storyteller. Schereherazade was the narrator of the famous One Thousand and One Nights. Her father was the grand vizier to King Shahrayar, whose wife had been unfaithful to him. Thus, the king resolved to marry a new virgin everyday and behead the previous day’s wife so that she could never be unfaithful. I know, completely insane. Anyway, nearly a thousand young women died until the turn of the vizier’s daughter came.

Now, the vizier was terrified for his daughter, but she was a clever and resourceful woman. She hatched a plan with her younger sister, Dunyazade, and once she had married the king and was in his chambers, she asked if she might ask for a final wish and bid farewell to her sister. The king agreed, the sisters met, and Dunyazade begged Scheherazade for one final story.

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Scheherazade, who was well-read in history, folklore, poetry, and scholarly works, began telling Dunyazade a story. The hours of night passed and both the king and Dunyazade listened with rapt attention. Scheherazade always stopped in the middle though, saying that dawn was breaking and it was time for her to die. The king, wanting to know how the story ended, decided to spare her life for another day. The next night, Scheherazade finished that story and began another one, and on and on for a thousand and one nights. These stories included the well-known ones of Aladdin and his magic lamp, the adventures of Sinbad, and Ali Baba and the forty thieves, the three of which are illustrated here.

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Anyway, at the end of the thousand and one nights, the king realized that he had fallen in love with Scheherazade, and made her his queen. I notice they gloss over the fact that he killed over a thousand innocent virgins before meeting Scheherazade and being won over by stories, but it’s a folktale set in a completely different day and age, so let’s move along.

This story has been adapted a number of times, in books, plays, movies, even a ballet.

A few fun facts:

  • The screen pattern on the title and the window are made to match. One is meant to be a window, the other a tile pattern.
  • Scheherazade’s and Dunyazade’s jewelry is based off Afghan traditional styles rather than Persian. I just really like Afghan jewelry.
  • Sinbad’s ship is based off the one in Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas by Dreamworks Animation. I think that movie is terribly underrated.
  • Yes, Aladdin is based off the design in Disney, but I’ve made him younger. In the original story, he was just a boy when he found the lamp. It was only after he used the genie to make himself and his mother wealthy merchants did he come across the princess Badroulbadour.

Day 90: Lewis Carroll

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I loved the whimsy associated with Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass long before I read either of them. Reading them felt like a very surreal roller coaster through a hazy colorful dreamscape full of oddly sensible nonsense. It’s easy to understand why people compare it to a drug trip. All you need is an odd book, atmospheric sounds, and a rampant imagination let loose.

Anyhoo, The Jabberwocky is wonderful fun whenever I’m in the mood for a spot of nonsense and delightfully coined words. I’m particularly proud of this piece. Composing it took a fair while in itself and then, there was designing the Jabberwock. I didn’t want to use the John Tenniel illustration, though I did refer it a bit for the pose. I wasn’t going full nonsense for the picture, so the rabbit teeth with the vest and spats weren’t doing it for me. At the same time, I’m not fond of the design from the Alice in Wonderland movie. The art design in that movie is a thing of wonder, despite the CGI rendering it a bit flat, but the Jabberwock just didn’t match up to expectations. Thus, I have a blue-black toothy snarly whuffling draconian creature with eyes of flame that, according to a friend, resembles Gyrados.

I’ll take it.

Anyhoo, with this, we conclude fifteen days of poetry illustration, and move on to the last leg of this marathon. Just ten more!

Day 89: Catullus

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Gaius Valerius Catullus was one of the great poets of the late Roman Republic, well known for being one of the few early western poets who wrote about personal life rather than epics of the great heroes. He was a bit of a scandal for the time, what with the explicit nature of his verses and the openly unabashed passion with which he wrote. It’s no surprise that he was an inspiration for the great poets who came after him, like Ovid, Horace, and Virgil, nor that he’s not often read in schools.

A good number of his poems are odes to his lover whom he calls by the pseudonym Lesbia. It is thought that he might have been referring to Clodia, the wife of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer, who was a consul in the Roman Senate. Like I said, scandal.

Anyway, this poem, Catullus Five or Da Mi Basia Mille is one of his more famous pieces, were Catullus encourages lovers to scorn what others think of them and live only for each other. (If this was a direct message to Lesbia, then he was getting her in more trouble than she was already dealing with.) I first came across the English version written in the 17th Century by Richard Crashaw, when I was reading Dragonfly in Amber. In that, Jamie Fraser inscribes the titular lines in Claire’s wedding ring, which she discovers around two hundred years later when she’s showing the ring to Brianna and Roger. I like both versions of the poem – Latin and English – and decided to go with the original for this.

The picture (rather fittingly, though I say it myself) is The Kiss by Gustav Klimt, who is an art nouveau champion.

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Full Poem (Latin): Da Mi Basia Mille by Catullus (84 – 54? BC)

Vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus,
rumoreque senum seueriorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis!
Soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit breuis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
Da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.
Dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
aut ne quis malus inuidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.

 

Full Poem (English): Out of Catullus by Richard Crashaw (1612 – 1649)

Come and let us live my Deare,
Let us love and never feare,
What the sowrest Fathers say:
Brightest Sol that dies to day
Lives againe as blithe to morrow,
But if we darke sons of sorrow
Set; o then, how long a Night
Shuts the Eyes of our short light!
Then let amorous kisses dwell
On our lips, begin and tell
A Thousand, and a Hundred, score
An Hundred, and a Thousand more,
Till another Thousand smother
That, and that wipe of another.
Thus at last when we have numbered
Many a Thousand, many a Hundred;
Wee’l confound the reckoning quite,
And lose our selves in wild delight:
While our joyes so multiply,
As shall mocke the envious eye.