This is a series of illustrations I created based on the Folktale Week prompt list put out in November of 2018. The idea was to create and post one illustration based on a folktale every day for a week. Instead of picturing the more popular European folk and fairytales, I wanted to make pieces based on North American folktales. In American folktales, subjects are rugged and wild; cowboys, lumberjacks, pirates, and outlaws. At the time the Americas were being settled, the world had a very negative association with witches and magic. Because of this you see much less of a focus on witches and spells. Instead, American folk tales portray people with larger than life personalities and great senses of adventure.
In the midst of my first Inktober challenge, someone that I follow on Instagram put out a post that in mid November they were going to organize a week-long prompt list centered around folktales. I though to myself "if I can handle a whole month, a week should be no problem. Sign me up!" Not only did I commit to participating in the challenge but I also decided that I didn't just want to doodle something and post it. I was really focused on trying to develop my ability to form composition and create backgrounds so I declared that I was going to create 7 finished pieces with full backgrounds. Also, instead of picturing the more popular European folk and fairytales, I wanted to make pieces based on North American folktales.
Folktales are stories that exist only through word of mouth for a long period of time before being recorded. Since most of the people who came to settle North America were literate, there are far fewer folk tales that originate here compared to Europe. In America, if you had a story to tell, you wrote it down and sold it to people. In Europe, there was a period of time where the majority of the population could not read and write. People listened to stories told by family or friends and retold them, thus creating the folktale. Folktales that have there beginnings in the americas often originate from places where schooling, paper, and ink were inconvenient or not available which gives them a unique, rough-and-tumble tone of voice. These people often made up stories about the things around them so subjects are rugged and wild; cowboys, lumberjacks, pirates, and outlaws. At the time the Americas were being settled, the world had a very negative association with witches and magic. Because of this you see much less of a focus on witches and spells. Instead, american folk tales portray people with larger than life personalities and great senses of adventure.
A Solid Start
I researched different stories and selected one for each day: Day 1 (forest) - Paul Bunyan Day 2 (spell) - Rip Van Winkle Day 3 (witch) - The Catskill Witch Day 4 (ghost) - Blackbeard's Ghost Day 5 (insect) - The Armadillo's Song Day 6 (mirror) - The Bear Prince Day 7 (animal) - Pecos Bill
Then I got to work on creating thumbnails for each day's prompts:
The next step was to create a rough sketch based on the thumbnails I'd created:
I was only able to get through three sketches before Folktale week began and I had to start finishing out things to post. Over the first three days I was able to create two more sketches.
Final Line and Color
I scanned in the sketches, drew over them in photoshop, and added color digitally. This worked well for days one and two.
On day three I had burnt out on drawing trees. I adjusted my composition so I could practice drawing something new; clouds. I had a lot of fun rendering the swirling vortex of storm clouds and it provided a strong frame for the witch hovering in the center.
On day 4 I had to adjust my composition due to time restraints. I liked the composition of the initial sketch but I didn't have enough time to finish all the elements in the background of the sketch. I decided to go back to another thumbnail I had done with a simpler background.
Measurement of Success
Ultimately, I ran out of time and was unable to finish folktale week. Even though I couldn't finish out the last two days, I consider the week a success. Five illustrations with full backgrounds in 7 days is still a ton of work! I tried my hardest and was happy with how the art turned out. I learned a lot about illustration and discovered some new stories in my research. I had so much fun drawing so in the end, I got everything out of folktale week that I'd hoped for.
If you liked this story, here's some more you could try:
A Study of White Space
I have always admired full-page children's book illustrations where the illustrator is able to cleverly incorporate the white of the page into the picture. I feel like sometimes I tend to over-illustrate, filling every square inch of the page with color and line so, recently, while I was working up ideas for the Prairie Writer's and Illustrator's Day illustration prompt, I challenged myself to try and incorporate more white space into my illustration.
I haven't been posting much in the past 18 months. This silence is not due to me throwing in the towel on my goal to become a children's book writer and illustrator. In fact, quite the opposite is true. This update is a little peek behind the curtain of what I've been up to and where I'm headed.