The Art of Faerie


Welcome to ‘The Forgotten and the Fantastical’ Carnival

This post was written especially for inclusion in ‘The Forgotten and the Fantastical’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of their latest collection of fairy tales for an adult audience: The Forgotten and the Fantastical. Today our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘Fairy tales’.

Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.
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When Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales was published I remember reading snippets of arguments/discussions online as to whether there should have been illustrations within it.

In an interview, Philip Pullman stated:

“I don’t think illustrations tell the right kind of story or add the right kind of atmosphere.

Illustrators typically turn them (the characters) into people – I don’t think they are people, I think they’re masks.

There’s no psychology in a fairytale. You don’t need to go into people’s back stories and talk about motives. Looking at other people’s adaptations, I realised what I’d like is a very swift telling that doesn’t clutter it up with description.”

Well… being a big fan of Women Who Run With The Wolves I think there’s a strong case for there being a huge amount of psychology in a fairy tale – but I guess that what Philip Pullman means is that, in general, the characters of fairy tales are stereotypes. They need to be pretty ‘flat’ so that the pacing of the story isn’t hindered by time spent exploring the character’s history or thoughts or feelings. They merely act so that the story can rattle along and impart its truths to us. Important things like:

Forests can be dangerous places if you’re in them all alone.

Never trust a stranger who is that little bit too interested in you.

Trust in your own gut instinct.

Another reason, I think, that the characters have little depth to them is so that we, as a reader, can add our own personalities to them. We give the characters our own feelings and thoughts and histories… and if we’re lucky, and not constantly immersed in the saccharine sweet reinterpretations of some of the tales, we can take away powerful emotional truths and find comfort therein.

But, but, but…

I have to (in part) disagree with Philip Pullman! Because, for me, the illustrations of some of these tales have absolutely bedded themselves deep in my memory, and I think that the best artists, the best illustrators absolutely DO “tell the right kind of story” and “add the right kind of atmosphere.” (Arthur Rackham surely being one of the best fairy tale illustrators ever.)

Grimms' Tales, illustration by Arthur Rackham

Grimms’ Tales, illustration by Arthur Rackham

Many of the Grimms’ tales are so very well-known and well-loved, and yet who can actually reliably remember and quote from the Grimms’ tales word for word? My point is that the actual words don’t matter so much, (these tales aren’t considered to be great literary works), they are simply ABOUT THE STORY. Stories take root in our minds… as do images.

I still have very fond memories of reading these books as a child. Now, I read them to my children and I’ve noticed that my daughter, in particular, loves the pictures, just as I did.

My old fairy tale books

My old fairy tale books

The pictures within these books really are somehow magical. I particularly love the quirky style of the Russian version of Cinderella. I was clearly so impressed by it as a little girl that I drew my own version of the Russian Cinderella (I found it only the other day still tucked into the book!).

Russian Cinderella

Russian Cinderella

I have always loved art, and I believe that these fairy tale images imparted in me a love of art and fine illustration. They inspired me to draw, to paint… and then of course I became all grown up and started putting up hurdles to creating (although, admittedly I wasn’t particularly encouraged by teachers). I remember walking around Tate Britain with my future husband years ago and being deeply moved by the amazing paintings of faeries and knights and other fantastical beings on show in their special pre-Raphaelite exhibition. I understood that I could never, ever, do anything as good as them. It just wasn’t a possibility.

The Dead Knight, by Robert Bateman

The Dead Knight, by Robert Bateman

Spirit of the Night by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Spirit of the Night, by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Many, many years later though, my children helped me to reawaken my passion for creating with paint and pencil. Being that bit older (and surely, wiser) I realized that I had to put in the time to make my art better. And so I began to put in the time.

One of the best things about learning to draw and paint nowadays is that students of art have the amazing resource that is YouTube. A while ago I was searching for a tutorial on how to paint a face in watercolour and I found something I was blown away by…

The music, by the way, is by the amazing Green Children. I watched this video so often that I asked for their CD ‘Strange Encounter’ for Christmas. It’s now a firm family favourite.

We were all intrigued by the name of the band and my husband discovered that it was from an old English folk tale ‘The Green Children of Woolpit’. It does have a rather sad ending, but it’s maybe something that I may put my own spin on one day…

As I practised my art I realized that some of my paintings had become successful enough to be put “out there” and my ‘Lady Seaweed’ on the front cover of The Forgotten and the Fantastical was one of those more “successful” pictures. As I wrote in the book about my story ‘Lady Seaweed’ or ‘Tristesse’:

“I painted the woman who graces the front cover of this book in one of those subconsciously-driven moments of creativity.”

Basically, I was doodling and having fun while listening to music and there was no pressure to create something perfect. Surely that’s where all art has to start from — the idea of creating as a joyful process.

So nowadays, one of my favourite family activities is listening to The Green Children’s ‘Strange Encounter’ while we either paint or doodle or draw. (I simply ignore the fact that the dishwasher needs unloading!)

A while ago I became a fan of The Green Children on Facebook, and I discovered that they’re working on another album (their third I think) and they posted that they were keeping themselves inspired in the studio by surrounding themselves with beautiful works of art. This was one of those pieces:

Arthur Rackham illustration of 'The Old Woman of the Forest' from the original book of Grimms' fairy tales

Arthur Rackham illustration of ‘The Old Woman of the Forest’ from the Grimms’ fairy tales

And so we have come full circle to the Brothers Grimm and Arthur Rackham, and the power of images (as well as story) to capture our imaginations.


***

The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2015 book cover

The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2015 book cover

The Forgotten and the Fantastical is now available to buy from The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) and as a paperback from Amazon.

It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.

Any comments on the following fab posts would be much appreciated:

In ‘Imagination is quantum ergo fairies are real’, Ana, at Colouring Outside the Lines, explains why we should all believe in fairies and encourage our children to do the same.

‘Wings’ — Rebecca at Growing a Girl Against the Grain shares a poem about her daughter and explains the fairy tale-esque way in which her name was chosen.

In ‘Red Riding Hood Reimagined’ author Rebecca Ann Smith shares her poem ‘Grandma’.

Writer Clare Cooper explores the messages the hit movie Frozen offers to our daughters about women’s experiences of love and power in her Beautiful Beginnings blog post ‘Frozen: Princesses, power and exploring the sacred feminine.’

‘Changing Fairy Tales’ — Helen at Young Middle Age explains how having young children has given her a new caution about fairy tales.

In ‘The Art of Faerie’ Marija Smits waxes lyrical about fairy tale illustrations.

‘The Origins of The Forgotten and the Fantastical — Teika Bellamy shares her introduction from the latest collection of fairy tales for an adult audience published by Mother’s Milk Books.

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11 comments on “The Art of Faerie

  1. […] because they felt so full of love, so familiar, so comforting. And really, what more can a reader (especially one who loves fairy tales) ask for from a book? Thank you […]

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  2. Wonderful post, Marija. Brought back memories of childhood books…oh, how I loved the illustrations and the stories, of course! I remember, in particular, a copy of Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, the illustrations were magical. Enid Blyton always took me to wonderful place too! Such a thought provoking post, thank you xx

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    • Marija Smits says:

      S0 glad you liked the post 🙂 It’s been really lovely finding out that fairy tale illustrations really do hold a special place in many people’s hearts. And I’d love to see your copy of Just So Stories. Bet the illustrations were gorgeous. Sending you best wishes xx

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  3. Helen says:

    So much to ponder there – thank you. How wonderful to stumble upon your own art after all this time – finding things in books is always a joy, even bus tickets and shopping receipts that remind you of where you’ve been and what you had or were hoping for.
    And look at you know, an artist, a writer, and a facilitator of others’ doing it too.
    (I was hoping when I started reading this that you would turn out to have the same illustrated book as I talked about in my post, as I’d love to see it again. But those pictures are an integral part of the stories for me – they’re a neat way of filing them, so I can access it all just by bringing the images to mind)

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Yes, it was rather lovely to stumble upon my old picture. And I AM glad to still be creating years later…

      Do let me know about the illustrated book you had as a child. Maybe I’ve got one stashed away that I haven’t mentioned, Maybe it IS the same one!

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  4. I love this post, fairy tale illustrations are so magical, and so evocative of childhood. I grew up with the Ladybird fairy tale books and just loved the illustrations. I bought some copies for my daughter but the pictures had been updated which I couldn’t help but feel was a real shame, they just weren’t as magical. Illustrations are definitely just as important as words when it comes to fairy tales, if not more so.

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Glad you enjoyed my post – and I’m glad to have found a kindred spirit when it comes to thinking that illustrations are definitely just as important as words when it comes to fairy tales. Hooray! (And I know what you mean about updated illustrations just not being quite right. But I wonder if they’ll hold the same magic for our children though?) Thanks for stopping by. Best wishes, M x

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  5. Ana Salote says:

    Totally agree about the immense charm of children’s book illustrations. Arthur Rackham – swoon, Beatrix Potter – beyond adorable. M.A. Peart – squeak. And of course, Emma Howitt – wonderful rising talent.

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  6. Becky says:

    Thanks for sharing these words and images, Marija, your post brought back memories of magical illustrations I used to stare at for hours as a small child. Have you come across this amazing illustrator, Jessica Shirley? (http://jessicashirley.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/selkie-girl.html) While I was writing Seal Skin I had this picture up on my desktop and it helped get me into the right frame of mind.

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    • Marija Smits says:

      You’re welcome Becky – and I’m glad that my post brought back memories of magical illustrations. Job done 😉 And yes, I know Jessica Shirley; I think I actually found her via your like of her page on Facebook (I’m always on the lookout for fab illustrators, as you know!). I ache with joy whenever I see them. Now I want to know more about Seal Skin… 🙂

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