May 10, 2019

American Folktales Process Blog

AMERICAN FOLKTALES

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.


Day 2 (spell) - Rip Van Winkle
Day 1 (forest) - Paul Bunyan
Day 3 (witch) - The Catskill Witch

Big Dreams

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.

Well, any creature raised in Paul Bunyan's camp tended to grow to massive proportions, and Babe was no exception. He grew so big that 42 axe handles plus a plug of tobacco could fit between his eyes and it took a murder of crows a whole day to fly from one horn to the other. The laundryman used his horns to hang up all the camp laundry, which would dry lickety-split because of all the wind blowing around at that height. Whenever he got an itch, Babe the Blue Ox had to find a cliff to rub against, 'cause whenever he tried to rub against a tree it fell over and begged for mercy. To whet his appetite, Babe would chew up thirty bales of hay, wire and all.

It was on a September evening, during a jaunt on South Mountain, that Rip Van Winkle met a stubby, silent man, of goodly girth, his round head topped with a steeple hat, and the face—ugh!—green and ghastly, with unmoving eyes that glimmered in the twilight like phosphorus. The dwarf carried a keg that he wanted Rip to relieve him of, that cheerful vagabond shouldered it and marched on up the mountain. At nightfall they emerged on a little plateau where a score of men in the garb of long ago, with faces like that of Rip’s guide, were playing bowls with great solemnity, the balls sometimes rolling over the plateau’s edge and rumbling down the rocks with a boom like thunder. Rip at first planned to make off, but he was not displeased when they signed to him to tap the keg and join in a draught of the ripest schnapps that ever he had tasted,—and he knew the flavor of every brand in Catskill. While these strange men grew no more genial with passing of the flagons, Rip was pervaded by a satisfying glow; then, overcome by sleepiness and resting his head on a stone, he stretched his tired legs out and fell to dreaming.

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.

These peaks were the home of an Indian witch, who adjusted the weather for the Hudson Valley with the certainty of a signal service bureau. It was she who let out the day and night in blessed alternation, holding back the one when the other was at large, for fear of conflict. Old moons she cut into stars as soon as she had hung new ones in the sky, and she was often seen perched on Round Top and North Mountain, spinning clouds and flinging them to the winds. Woe betide the valley residents if they showed irreverence, for then the clouds were black and heavy, and through them she poured floods of rain and launched the lightnings, causing disastrous freshets in the streams and blasting the wigwams of the mockers. In a frolic humor she would take the form of a bear or deer and lead the Indian hunters anything but a merry dance, exposing them to tire and peril, and vanishing or assuming some terrible shape when they had overtaken her. Sometimes she would lead them to the cloves and would leap into the air with a mocking "Ho, ho!" just as they stopped with a shudder at the brink of an abyss.

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.

From that day to this, Blackbeard's ghost has haunted Teach's Hole, forever searching for his missing head. Sometimes, the headless ghost floats on the surface of the water, or swims around and around and around Teach's Hole, glowing just underneath the water. Sometimes, folks see a strange light coming from the shore on the Pamlico Sound side of Ocracoke Island and know that it is "Teach's light". On night's that the ghost light appears, if the wind is blowing inland, you can still hear Blackbeard's ghost tramping up and down and roaring: 'Where's my head?

Then one day a family of crickets moved into a new house near the armadillo, and he was amazed to hear them chirp and sing as merrily as the frogs. He would creep next to their house and listen and listen all day, all night for their musical sounds. "Oh," sighed the armadillo, "Oh how I wish I could sing." "Don't be ridiculous," sang the crickets in their dulcet tones. "Armadillos can't sing." But the armadillo could not understand their language, and so he just sighed with longing and listened to their beautiful voices laughing at him.

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 stuff to read:

The Bird Couple Illustration Process

I created this sketch of an older couple as part of an assignment for a backgrounds class I took through SVSLearn. Around the time that I started the class I began to stream my art on twitch so i was able to capture a lot of the process as I worked through this illustration. Here's a little behind-the-scenes look at my illustration

Read More

Howl's Moving Castle

I created a series of three illustrations inspired by the book Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. For these illustrations I focused on creating dynamic compositions and a strong style that would unite the pieces visually. The final results convey the whimsy and magic that I felt when reading the story while still staying accurate to the text.

Read More

Finding Critiques

I had my work critiqued on Art Prof's YouTube channel, here my thoughts on how it went and critiques in general.

Read More