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Category Archives: beautiful children’s books

retold by Leontyne Price, based on the opera by Giuseppe Verdi, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
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Aida is the story of the beautiful Nubian (Ethiopian) princess who is captured by Egyptian soldiers and made a slave in the palace.

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She keeps her identity a secret, but her nobility, gentleness, and beauty shine so brightly that the Egyptian warrior, Radames falls in love with her. However, the Egyptian princess Amneris loves Radames as well.

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imageAida’s father, King Amonasro, invades Egypt to free his daughter, but is captured by Radames and his army.

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Aida and her father are determined to escape and Aida begs Radames to come with them.

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But Amneris was watching and calls the guards. 

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Radames is sentenced to be buried alive for treason.

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But Aida has hidden in the tomb. She has resolved to die with her beloved.

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The princess Amneris prays to the gods of Egypt that they forgive her and grant rest to Radames.

I have quite a few books by Leo and Diane Dillon- one of which, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” you can see here. The illustrations were done in acrylics, on acetate and marbleized paper. The metal frame was created by their son, Lee Dillon.
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The Dillons are primarily famous for their sci-fi/fantasy covers, which are spectacular. They also often portrayed black/african looking people in their art, which is a rarity on book covers, even when the characters are specifically written as darker skinned (such as in Le Guin’s Earthsea books). -Note, an illustrator is usually given the briefest synopsis to work with, or something even worse like, “a young woman in a futuristic setting.”
But, the Dillons initially flourished during a time when there was an interest in African culture and black beauty, which enabled their work to break out of the common stereotypes of sci-fi/fantasy art. I’d like to do a post soon on Afro-futurism, which is one of my favorite genres, where I go into this in a little more depth.
In the meantime, please enjoy the Dillons magnificent art.

And, the story was retold by the famous soprano, Leontyne Price. Here is a video of her, singing “O Patria Mia” from Aida~


Retold by M. Charlotte Craft. Illustrated by Kinuko Craft.
I know everyone hates Valentines Day because it makes them feel horribly alone, but I can’t help but love it. Not because I’m married either.  I’ve always loved it,  even when I was single.  There’s so much candy! And, to be perfectly honest,  I love when others are happily in in love. Valentine’s is also about showing love to your family and friends.  People hate holidays,  but as long as you don’t go totally fucking insane trying to create perfect moments,  they’re actually just nice reminders to reach out to the people in your life, whether those relationships are romantic or platonic.

I first read “Cupid and Psyche” as a chid. I immediately recognized it as “Beauty and Beast”, which is one of my two favorite fairy tales ever. I’ve had plans to illustrate it for 20 years, but until then we can gaze at the beautiful paintings of Kinuko Craft.

A note inside tells us that the art is oil over a watercolor base.
imageRoughly, “Cupid” means “desire” and “Psyche” means “soul”. These are the names by which the characters are best known, however, Cupid is Roman and Psyche is Greek. In Greek, Cupid is Eros and in Roman, Psyche is Anima. Together they form the ultimate in love. Note the Morning Glory flowers on the left. According to Victorian tradition, Morning Glory meant a love that never dies. And of course we have Psyche holding a butterfly- psyche also meant butterfly in ancient greek. 

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Beautiful embossed cover. You rarely see covers like this anymore.

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A King and Queen have 3 daughters. All are lovely, but Psyche is so beautiful the people believe her to be the Goddess Venus come to Earth. Her sisters marry, but Psyche, prized her her beauty, remains unloved.

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Venus sends her son, Cupid to shoot Psyche with one of his arrows of desire and make her fall in love with a monster.

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He gleefully goes to do her bidding, but upon seeing Psyche accidentally pricks himself with the arrow meant for her. The Oracle of Delphi proclaims that a monster so fearsome that even the Gods fear him has fallen in love with Psyche and wants her as his bride. They are to take her to a mountaintop where the West Wind will spirit her away to her Bridegroom.

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But once there, Psyche finds a beautiful palace filled with invisible servants. Every night, in complete darkness her husband comes to her. He is so kind and gentle that she forgets that he is supposed to be a monster. But still, she is lonely and persuades him to allow her sisters to visit her.

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The West Wind brings them, but even though they are both married to rich and handsome kings, they become consumed with jealously at their sister’s good fortune. When they discover she has never seen her monstrous husband, they convince her to break her promise to him and light a lamp to see what he looks like.

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After they leave, Psyche decides to follow their advice. but instead of an ugly monster, she discovers that her husband is the beautiful God of Love. She is so shocked she drips hot oil on Cupid.

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Heartbroken that she has broken her promise and wounded from the burning oil, Cupid leaves her.

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Bitches get stitches.

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Psyche beseeches Venus to have pity on her. The Goddess tells Psyche that all the stress that Psyche has put her through has dulled her own beauty. She sends the girl to the Underworld to borrow some of Persephone’s beauty. This painting reminds me of Kay Nielsen’s amazing illustration from “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”.  That fairy tale is another variant of this story.

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The beautiful and dreaded Persephone, queen of the Underworld. Persephone gives her a box containing a bit of her beauty, but warns Psyche to not open it. Note the pomegranate from Persephone’s own myth.

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Psyche is really bad at following instructions. Like, really, really bad. She worries that her travels have made her look terrible. She wants to Cupid to see her in all her beauty and so she opens the box to take just a pinch of Persephone’s beauty for herself. But Persephone’s beauty delivers only deep, deathly sleep. Luckily, Cupid had been watching for her. Healed from his wound, he flies to her side and puts the sleep back in the box.

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Psyche delivers the box to Venus. Cupid entreats Jupiter, king of the Gods to grant Psyche immortality. Jupiter and the other gods are happy to do so, thinking that Cupid will be so busy with his lovely wife that he will cause far less trouble for both gods and men. Even Venus is happy. With Psyche in Olympus instead of on Earth, mortals once again resume their worship of her.
As for Cupid and Psyche, they have a beautiful daughter they name, “Joy” and they all live happily ever after.


The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, published 1993. I was and am a big fan of the husband and wife illustrating team, Leo and Diane Dillon. I have a number of their books and would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. Nancy Willard crafts a sweet rhyming tale of the lovely apprentice Sylvia who apprentices with the magician Tottibo.

One of the best things about older children’s books is that in the copyright information they frequently include information about the illustrations:
“The full page illustrations were in watercolor, on Arches hot press watercolor paper mounted on board. The spot illustrations were in watercolor on Strathmore three-ply kid finish bristol board.
The geometric symbol worn by the sorcerer was devised by the artists bc of its meaning: the triangle stands for creative intellect, and the circle represents eternity- combined, they signify endless creativity.”

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“Mount Dragon Eye’s? It’s very near,
yet no one travels it for fear
of beasts that mutter, huff, and blow,
round the magician Tottibo.
Beyond his house the earth looks dead.
‘Take heart, you beasts and bugs,’ he said.
‘Let spiders sing and panthers play.
My new apprentice comes today!'”

IMG_3164underneath the dust jacket, the front cover is embossed (I love details like this).IMG_3181Sylvia’s three wheeled trike. In the past women when women wore heavy skirts it was easier for them to ride bikes like this.
IMG_3165Sylvia’s clogs are on point.
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and every day not far from here,
round a high stool with silver feet,
those who would study magic meet
at Tottibo’s…
The gryphons dance, the dragons doze;
they all admire each other’s clothes
while Sylvia teaches them to say
the spell she worked out yesterday
for turning pencils into pails
and failures into fairy tales.”


“Gordon Laite’s breathtaking artwork for a Little Golden Book edition of the Andersen fairy tale was found recently in the Golden Books archive. Planned for a 1970 release but never published, this Little Golden Book is finally making its debut for today’s fairy tale fans! And it couldn’t be a lovelier retelling of the story of a determined princess whose loyalty saves her brothers from being turned into swans by an evil queen.” ~Random House

What the what? Yes, you read that right. This is all the more valuable bc Laite died at such a young age, before he had the time to illustrate many books. I’ve already reviewed some of his other stories- like Cinderella, Diamonds and Toads in the Blue Fairy Book, and More Tales to Tremble By.
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Based on Hans Christian Anderson’s story, the adaptor, Robin Davies does a wonderful job changing Anderson’s story (of which I’m not a fan) into something nearly identical to the Grimms’ fairy tale, “The Six Swans.”  The Late Medieval 15th century setting is amazing. Check out the evil step mother’s bizarre hennin. I also love that she’s nearly green with envy. FYI- if I’d had thirteen kids, I probably would have died too.  IMG_2530 The beautiful raven haired Elisa meets a fairy woman. I love the little details like mushroom gathering, leaf crown, and blue stockings. IMG_2531

Autumnal colors characterize all the illustrations. IMG_2532 IMG_2533 IMG_2534 IMG_2535

Those ladies are throwing some serious shade Elisa’s way. IMG_2536 But not as much as this guy! I almost forgive him bc his fur hat is all kinds of amazing. IMG_2537 Can these illustrations get anymore awesomely gothic?IMG_2538Why yes they can- I love that Laite ditched Elisa’s amazing truncated butterfly hennin so he could illustrate her gorgeous hair in the remaining pictures.
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This little book is a dream come true for me. Not only is set during one of my absolute favorite time periods for fairy tales, it’s by Gordon Laite, the most influential of my childhood art heroes.


“All in the golden afternoon…”

For me, Alice in Wonderland is the quintessential summer book. I have a number of editions. Rackham’s glorious version- so hard to believe it was ever controversial. A Norton Critical Edition with Tennial’s original drawings. And Camille Rose Garcia’s delightful psychedelia. But Moser’s is not often seen and that it really deserves its moment in the sun. Copiously illustrated with his strange and detailed woodcuts, you really get a sense that Alice’s adventure is less dream and more nightmare…

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Moser’s Cheshire Cat is a hairless Sphynx.

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The text is annotated throughout in red

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The Cook and Duchess. Moser really needs to illustrate Gormenghast. IMG_2381 IMG_2382 IMG_2383 IMG_2384


With the movie “Maleficent” due to be released May 30th, I got into a discussion about the different ways the “wicked” fairy has been portrayed in the fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty and it reminded me of this book floating around on my book shelf, “Behind the Scenes at the Ballet: Rehearsing and Performing The Sleeping Beauty.”. It combines two of my favorite things, fairy tales and ballet. The ballet, with a score by Tchaikovsky, was based on Perrault’s version of the story, “La Belle au Boise Dormant.” But, instead of being completely faithful, it takes off in a rather brilliant direction and embraces its fairy tale-ness with an almost meta quality.

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The wicked fairy, Carabosse

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The benevolent and powerful Lilac fairy

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On the Princess Aurora’s 16th birthday there is a grand party.

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She receives gifts from many people, including (while her parents are distracted) a bouquet of flowers. The old woman is the fairy Carabosse in disguise. Hidden in the bouquet is a spindle, which Princess Aurora pricks her finger on, fulfilling the curse. This is also one of the best explanations for how Aurora manages to prick her finger. The versons where her parents are away on a trip didn’t make sense to me even as a child. Come on! They knew the curse was supposed to happen on her 16th birthday and they’re not watching her like a hawk?

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100 years later Prince Florimund is dancing with his fiance, the Countess at a hunting party. He does not love her and finds her cold. He wanders off into the forest.

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The Lilac fairy appears and shows him a vision of the Princess Aurora.

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The Prince and Princess dance and the Lilac fairy explains the curse.

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Prince Florimund is guided to the castle by the Lilac fairy, finds Aurora, and kisses her, breaking the enchantment.

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The wedding guests include many fairy tale charcaters

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The White Cat dances with Puss in Boots

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Princess Florine and the Bluebird

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Red Riding Hood and the Wolf

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And finally Aurora and Florimund dance their pas de deaux.

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The book also has behind the scenes photos. There are people sewing the ballet costumes. Dancers practicing. Ballet stage makeup being applied. And at the end a couple of photos of famous dancers such as Robert Helpmann as Carabosse (who can be played by either a man or a woman)-

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and Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nurevev

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I love the costuming of the Birmingham Royal Ballet production of Sleeping Beauty. The costumes are incredibly detailed and baroque.


Thanks to Karl, I’ve discovered Jon Klassen’s delightful art. After checking out, “I Want My Hat Back” and “This is Not My Hat,” I found this series written by Maryrose Wood and illustrated by Klassen. I wish wholeheartedly these books had been written when I was a child. They combine so many of my favorite themes: Victoriana, orphans, wolves, curses, explorers, and intelligent, well mannered people  making the best of difficult situations.

Miss Penelope Lumley, recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, is engaged as a governess for three children. These children, Alexander, Beowulf, and Casseopeia, are a special case. “Of  especially naughty children, it is sometimes said: “They must have been raised by wolves. The Incorrigible children actually were.” Miss Penelope has her hands full  teaching them not only History, Poetry, and Mathematics, but also how to sit at a table and not howl at the moon.

The series is enchanting and the the forth volume is due out in December!

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Here is the last installment of Dare Wright’s “Lona.” I hope you enjoyed it and it inspires you to seek out her charming work. I can only hope to one day produced such lovely, subdued work.
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I remember this book in the library when I was little. I’ve searched for it for years, but couldn’t find it for a price I was comfortable with. About a year ago my husband and I came across a copy in a little bookstore for $25 and snatched it up.

Dare Wright was the author and photographer of the “Lonely Doll” series. They’re utterly charming, but for me, “Lona” is her triumph. Publishes in 1963, its dreamy black and white photographs transport you to Once Upon a Time and Princess Lona could have stepped from Cocteau’s La Belle et Le Bete. The story concerns an evil wizard determined to enchant a princess. He finally succeeds in shrinking Lona. And this is where it gets interesting- she goes on an epic quest to save her own land as well as two other kingdoms, with the knowledge that she will eventually have to allow the Wizard to enchant her again and bring a curse down on his own head, destroying him forever. She succeeds, and in the process breaks the spell keeping a Prince in the form of a toad. At the end, she whispers the Wizard’s name three times and feels the enchantment shrinking her to a toad. The wizard is destroyed, and the Prince picks her up and vows to find a way to break the spell. They depart from the kingdoms she saved. Years go by they are seen returning to her kingdom, hand in hand, all spells finally broken.

In case you’re wondering, the full sized Lona is played by Dare Wright herself. And yes, she was very,very beautiful in a 50s way. She’s almost a dead ringer for Disney’s Aurora.

Part 1~

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The Headless Horseman in his Hessian uniform.
“The more spectral elements of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” were likely based on German folktales concerning “The Wild Huntsman”, a ghoulish phantom that would chase interlopers through the woods at maddening speeds.”~Wikipeadia
Interestingly, the Wild Huntsman is what’s left of the scandinavian/germanic Odin (Wotan), king of the gods and god of victory, magic, and poetry and his Valkyries after Christianity became the primary religion.

The beautiful cloth cover


the endpapers showing Rackham’s unparalleled grasp of nature’s witchery.


The plump and pretty Katrina van Tassel


Bonjour l’Automne! It’s Fall and that means it’s time for my favorite Autumn themed fairy tale: CInderella. I’ve posted other versions here and here but this one is particularly charming. Set in the 1920s, it stars a brunette bobbed Cinderella, fabulously dumb step-sisters, an alcoholic step-mother, and a very english looking prince. Illustrated by Roberto Innocenti, it’s chock full of amusing and slightly shocking details! Check out some of the illustrations and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do~ 


this is another cinderella i remember from childhood. While i didn’t like it as much as gordon laite’s, i did like it better than the standard disney version of cindrella. for one thing, i liked the dress here much better. while i appreciate the animated cinderella’s dress now, when i was a child i found it a little plain for my taste. {right click to enlarge}

her hair is pretty spectacular. in many ways i prefer the animated cindrella’s strawberry blonde hair, but the yellow hair here is charming.
yellow dress? adorable!
i love the slivery beauty of her gown and the tiny roses. 

the moon and clouds are amazing!
wow, could she get any cuter? in your face mean stepmother and ugly stepsisters!
i love that she’s short! they kind of remind my of my brother and his wife. not to mention, the post war domesticity illustrated here is funny. this could be my grandma and grandpa in front of their house in the 50s.
retta scott? she’s really pretty! she looks like her cinderella! check out her shoes!

{photo via michael sporn animation. check out the link for more information on Retta Scott!}
according to wikipedia: “She was hired in 1938 and assigned to the Story Department, where the ambitiousBambi project was being developed. Her stunning sketches caught the eye of Disney himself,[3] so when the film went into production she was assigned[4] to animate scenes of hunting dogs chasingFaline. This was a significant coup for the young woman, since at the 1930s-era Disney studio, women were considered only for routine tasks: “Ink and paint art was a laborious part of the animation process, and was solely the domain of women . .” [5] She worked under the film’s supervising director, David D. Hand,[6] and was tutored by Disney animator Eric Larson.[7]


I’ve always heard of this story as “diamonds and toads,” instead of the other way around. it’s the familiar poor girl with mean stepmother/stepsister scenario.

i think you can guess who’s who from this scene. i love her think black wavy hair and the expression of her face is some of Gordon Laite’s best work. The fabulous 16th century tudor outfits aren’t usually seen in many fairy tales. 
and old ragged beggar {with the most righteous beggar’s rags i’ve ever seen!} asks for a drink of water. Our lovely heroine obliges and wouldn’t you know it, the beggar’s actually a fairy. Gifts are given.
The mean sister decides she wants some of that action and waits by the fountain. A beautiful lady appears and asks for a drink of water. The haughty sister, expecting the beggar woman at any moment, tells the lady to get bent. Bad move! Fairies aren’t stupid. She wasn’t going to wear the same disguise twice. Sheesh. Oh and by the way, she “gifts” the mean sister with snakes and toads falling out of her mouth with every word. Nice.
I would like to say, i think the fairy’s outfit is one of the most beautiful i’ve seen. This time period can be hard to reproduce without making the ladies look like lovely boxes, but Mr. Laite translates the styles wonderfully.

The nice daughter gets picked up by a smart prince who not only figured out she was lovely under her dirty house dress, but also realized she had, you know, diamonds and other precious stones falling out of her mouth. Good for you pal. I just sincerely hope he’s not Henry the VIII bc diamonds or no, if a son doesn’t fall out of her, she’s finished.

I have Dean’s A Book of Fairy Tales illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone. Unlike their fellow British children’s illustrators they’re not well known here in the U.S. which is a shame considering the high quality of their work. They generally worked on small to medium sized artist board in watercolor and gouache. Right click to enlarge.

Sleeping Beauty, or La Belle au bois dormant, always seems best served by a high medieval setting. And whenever the tudoresque prince comes, in his slashed doublet and round toed shoes, he makes the best example of 100 years gone by just  with his fashion. 
the lovely but doomed princess.
the beautiful kind-hearted fairy.
lords and ladies in their particolored hose, gowns, and  hennins. 
keep an eye on everyone here~
the prince in his radically different and decidedly un-medieval fashion.
note the page boy running after the cat with the fish in it’s mouth. Janet and Anne set up this little bit of storytelling father up, when they all fall into the hundred year sleep. i love little details like this!


i found “the Royal Book of Ballet” in a used book store. published in 1962, the illustrations are by Libico Maraja. he worked and was well known in post war europe. here is his website, which you’ll need babelfish for unless you read italian.

a sampling of paintings from “Giselle…” his page layouts are bold and innovative. figures are constantly breaking free from the backgrounds. i love the typical late 50s/early 60s beauty of the women in his paintings. their lovely “la dolce vita” style is one of my favorites. any one of them could have sprung from a fellini or rossellini film, although “Giselle’s” supernatural plot is more suited to “suspiria” great, dario argento. 

Giselle, falls in love with Duke Albrecht who has disguised himself as a peasant. his secret is betrayed by Hilarion who also loves Giselle. Knowing she can never wed her noble lover, Giselle commits suicide.

The region is haunted by the wilis, vengeful ghostly women who destroy any man unfortunate enough to cross their paths at midnight. sure enough, the queen of the ghostly wilis claims Giselle’s soul and they drown the mournful Hilarion.
When the grieving Albrecht visits Giselle’s grave the wilis appear and attempt to kill him. Giselle tries save him but is under the queen’s power. Only the 4 o’clock morning bell, heralding dawn, saves Albrecht. The wilis return to their graves, except for Giselle. Her love for Albrecht has released her from their control and she is able to rest in peace.

published in 1972 nancy ekholm burkert’s “Snow White” is a marvel. inspired by medieval manuscripts and a pre-raphaelite obsession with detail, she used colored inks and tiny lines to create intricately detailed art. {right click and open in new page to enjoy in a much larger format.}
there was a medieval revival in the 70s. from Rush to Led Zeppelin to Stevie Nicks, people suddenly became enamored with witches, nature, religeous fervor, purity and transgression. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings enjoyed renewed widespread success and Star Wars served up knights, farm boys, pirates and princesses on an epic quest. even the 70s beauty standards were reminicent of the medieval ideal- fitted, yet flowing garments, center parted hair, pencil thin eyebrows, and ornate braids ornamented women everywhere in the western world.

even the areas which appear solid, like Snow White’s dress and blushing cheeks are made up of tiny lines.

Snow White’s mother wishes for a child with skin as white as snow, lips {or cheeks} as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony. their family crest is shown in the windows and will reappear on the map later.

Snow White flees through the forest.

The seven dwarves welcome the industrious Snow White.

map of the three kingdoms and seven mountains the jealous queen must traverse in order to destroy Snow White.

Having failed, the Queen creates the apple of life and death. we never see her supposedly beautiful face, only her workroom. poisoned mushrooms, mandrake roots, and tarot cards representing change and death lay on her table.

The young prince from one of the three kingdoms shown on the map asks to take Snow White to his home. on the journey, one of her carriers stumble, causing the piece of poisoned apple to be expelled. the stories are pretty vague about exactly what happens. it’s safe to say she vomits. and for all the twittering about how the prince loves her static beauty, he apparently is still totally in love with her once she’s awake with puke-face.

here’s where the story just completely cements its awesomeness: the evil queen gets an invite to the neighboring prince’s wedding. according to her mirror his bride is the new “fairest.” upon arriving, she discovers- “surprise!” it’s Snow White, who she’s tried to kill three times. but Snow White is finally older and wiser. the queen is clapped in a pair of heated iron shoes and forced to dance until she dies. Snow White ceases to be a victim, destroys her enemy, and moves from a world of darkness into light. no more forgiveness. wow.
Snow White, along with mercer mayer’s Beauty and the Beast was one of favorite fairy tales and it has continued to inform my life.

please check out we too were children for an excellent nancy ekholm burkert biography and more art.


i recently reread the “Madeline” books. they were just as adorable as i remember. as i studied ludwig bemelman’s charming color sketches of paris, i couldn’t help but daydream about visiting the city. some of the sites i was familiar with from films and novels, but others i’d never heard of. armed with a list kindly provided on the last page of the book, i decided to look up the sites. join me on a tour of Madeline’s Paris~

the eiffel tower
Named after its designer, engineer Gustave Eiffel, the tower was built as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair. The tower stands 324 metres (1,063 ft) tall, about the same height as an 81-storey building. 
The tower was much criticised by the public when it was built, with many calling it an eyesore. Guy de Maupassant—who claimed to hate the tower—supposedly ate lunch in the Tower’s restaurant every day. When asked why, he answered that it was the one place in Paris where one could not see the structure. Today, the Tower is widely considered to be a striking piece of structural art.” ~wikipedia
 

{via visiting dc }

the paris opera
The Palais Garnier is an elegant 1,979-seat opera house, which was built from 1861 to 1875 for the Paris Opera. It was the setting for Gaston Leroux’s 1911 novel The Phantom of the Opera.” ~wikipedia

{i can’t remember.}

the place vendome
Napoleon erected the original column, modelled after Trajan’s Column, to celebrate the victory of Austerlitz; its veneer of 425 spiraling bas-relief bronze plates were made out of cannon taken from the combined armies of Europe, according to his propaganda (the usual figure given is hugely exaggerated: 133 cannon were actually captured at Austerlitz). A statue of Napoleon, bare-headed, crowned with laurels and holding a sword in his right hand and a globe surmounted with a statue of Victory(as in Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker) in his left hand, was placed atop the column. ~wikipedia

the hotel des invalides
“a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building’s original purpose. The buildings house the Musée de l’Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the burial site for some of France’s war heroes, notably Napoleon Bonaparte.” ~wikipedia
{via planetware }

notre dame
Notre Dame de Paris is widely considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in France and in Europe, and the naturalism of its sculptures and stained glass are in contrast with earlier Romanesque architecture. Notre Dame de Paris was among the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress (arched exterior supports). Victor Hugo used it as the primary setting of his novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame” ~wikipedia
church of the sacre coeur

“the basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. Crowning its most rebellious neighborhood, and publicly dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was an increasingly popular vision of a loving and sympathetic Christ.” ~wikipedia

the gardens at the luxembourg
The garden is largely devoted to a green parterre of gravel and lawn populated with statues and centred on a large octagonal basin of water, with a central jet of water; in it children sail model boats. The garden is famed for its calm atmosphere. The garden contains just over a hundred statues, monuments, and fountains, scattered throughout the grounds. Surrounding the central green space are about twenty figures of historical French queens and female saints standing on pedestals, including statues of Jeanne III of NavarreBlanche of CastileAnne of AustriaLouise of Savoy, and Anne of France.” ~wikipedia
the tuileries gardens facing the louvre
Created by Catherine de Medicis as the garden of the Tuileries Palace in 1564, it was first opened to the public in 1667, and became a public park after the French Revolution.” ~wikipedia
{via etraveltrips}

but it gets even better! while searching for information and photos i came across “onoloa”. The site is dedicated to enabling you to tour the places shown in “Madeline” in person. it includes information for children, information for adults, and hours of operation for each site. it also has links to public transport and the batobus for a view of the city from the seine!
Have a lovely weekend!


lisbeth zwerger’s Swan Lake {2002} is beautifully strange. delicate watercolors shift between impermanence and reality.
from odette’s* swan headed glove to the impenetrable mists, we float in a world where dream logic reigns.
i love the awkward transformation of the swan maidens. it’s ideas like this that set zwerger apart from her peers. never content to make a picture merely pretty, instead she uses her skill and tender painting style to infuse the picture with delicate beauty while showing us an unconventional scene.
the swan queen flees. the excellent use of white paper gives the whites in this picture a brilliant glowing quality. the hybrid statues provide quiet nods to the theme.
while we know swan lake as one of the great tragedies of ballet, according to zwerger’s epilogue, tchaikovsky originally wanted a happy ending, so that’s what she gives us. her touch is never saccharine and the happy ending for the characters feels welcome. while not a book for everyone, it will no doubt please introspective visual children with strong imaginations.*zwerger refrains from referring to the characters as siegfried, odette, and odile.

on a side note: i love well done happy endings. it’s one of my pet peeves when sad endings are tacked to give a false sense of importance to the subject matter or rendering of the story. “city of angels” anyone? first of all, why remake “wings of desire?” and when you do, you give it a sad ending? way to completely miss the entire theme of the film.


mercer mayer’s “sleeping beauty” {1984} is more than a little convoluted and while beautiful, one of his lesser works. the subtle pencil shading is gone and the colors appears straight out the the pan with next to no mixing. his solid draftsmanship has weakened and characters are often put together in unconvincing ways. still, some of the pages spark with his old brilliance and beauty. set in a framework of celtic myth, the story opens with the king’s wedding to his peasant queen. through a mishap the blue faery is given a cup of gold painted lead instead of one of solid gold. she curses them with barrenness.

the childless queen is visited by a silver owl (Jareth from Labyrinth?) and finally conceives.
unfortunately, the king gets jealous and kills the owl. needless to say, that’s probably going to bite him in the ass.
faeries {yes, faEries. mayer is aiming toward myth rather than fairy tale} appear and give their blessings. mayer’s obsession with hair reaches it’s apogee. not only do the ladies have hair, they have celtic knot hair.

and yes, the blue faery crashes the party and she’s pretty mad about not getting an invite, but that’s not all~ turns out the silver owl was her brother. the same silver owl the king killed. seriously, this royal family can’t get a break. so the blue faery curses the baby. luckily the star faery {shown at left} modifies the curse.

sleeping beauty still pricks her finger and falls asleep. 80 years later a prince searches for her. he happens to be the blue faery’s half human son. you know what that means? trouble! 
i try to ignore the prince’s arm bc the waves of auburn hair and beautiful green dress make up for it.
worst. mother. in. law. possible.

yeah, she’s really angry her son married sleeping beauty and so she curses everyone there. unfortunately that includes her son and since he’s half faery {sigh} that means she’s cursing all faeries which is illegal or something so she’s screwed. like i said, it’s convoluted. it also suffers from essentially making the story about the blue faery and her son. we never even get to know sleeping beauty. she’s practically a “macguffin” in this retelling. not to mention, the queen in the beginning only conceives after she gets really cozy with the silver owl. blameless? well the king was jealous enough to kill the owl. anyway, i couldn’t help but wonder if sleeping beauty and the prince are actually cousins which adds an unintentional dimension of both ick and hilarity. despite the gaping plot holes, mercer mayer’s “sleeping beauty” is still worth owning for the amazing celtic motif and phenomenal hair.


i love ivan bilibin’s art. the stark outlines and gentle colors are lovely. 
“my white, bright day.”
“the red sun”
“that is my servant, the dark night.”
baba yaga
and yes, mike mignola has spent the last decade paying “homage” to bilibin. i’m not being catty, i like mignola’s art.

so vassilissa takes this flaming skull home to her bitchy step-mother and horrible step-sisters where it burns them to death, leaving vassilissa unharmed. BOOM! and that’s how they do cinderella in russia! {kind of.}

so then an old woman takes her in and vassilissa makes some really amazing shirts. the tsar loves the shirts and wants to meet vassilissa. she’s totally gorgeous so the tsar wants to marry her and presumably never wear subpar shirts again. 
one of the reoccurring funny things in his art is how ugly the tsar always is unless he’s specifically a young hero, then he looks quite a bit like the artist himself- which is not ugly! see below.

so the biggest surprise is, in addition to being an exceptional artist, ivan bilibin was a stone cold fox. i’m not kidding. look at that guy. really hot- like anton chekhov hot. {trust me, google it.} i don’t know why i’m always surprised when people from the past were good looking, but i am. i’m pretty sure i would have minced over to him {have you ever tried to run in a corset?} and tried to make small talk. he would have babbled in russian and i would have cried “whatever! kiss me you fool!”


not coincidentally, he totally looks like my husband.


Cinderella is an autumn tale. Don’t believe me? Pumpkins. Okay, occasionally it’s a winter tale and the ball is actually a yule ball. Cinderella comes in decked in flowers which makes the party-goers believe she’s a fairy bc it’s the dead of winter. i.e.- “rashin’ coatie” (“coat of rushes” a scottish cinderella variant). But usually, it’s an autumn tale.

The most influential book of my childhood was Gordon Laite’s “Cinderella.” I owned the little golden book with paper dolls. It ignited in me a passion for drawing, clothes, and paper dolls~ for everything. I made supplentary dresses for my doll from other Cinderella movies. Not only disney’s “Cinderella” but “Cinderella” with Leslie Caron as well as “the Slipper and the Rose” both of which had gorgeous costumes.
I discovered something: aside from the pleasure of drawing, I was good at it. It was revelatory. I wasn’t good at anything. But suddenly I was good at this.

“Cinderella”-illustrated by Gordon Laite
a couple of stone. cold. bitches.
check out Cinderella’s fabulous dress with sunflowers. Who said everything for a girl must be pepto bismol pink?

and how beautiful is her fairy godmother with her autumn leaf dress and golden butterfly wings?
the footman has literally “flipped his wig.”












enter dress #2! a lovely ermine trimmed blue velvet number. just don’t google what ermine look like or you may not like Cinderella as much.

too late! run little guy!

a white and green wedding dress! does it get any better? have i mentioned that as a little girl my favorite color was green? trust me, not a popular little girl color, even in the groovy and awesome late 70s of my childhood. So yes, i was validated by Cinderella’s dress. 

I understand it’s very popular to denigrate Cinderella and her virtues. But there is a place for somewhat passive heroines as well as alpha females. As a shy bookish little artist i delighted in Cinderella, Snow White, and Beauty- where good was rewarded and evil cosmically punished. i also enjoyed “east of the sun and west of the moon,” with it’s plucky heroine who saves her prince from a fate worse than death (a wedding night with the troll princess). There’s room for everyone. Wallflowers and alpha-females, scullery maids and brave girls with wanderlust alike.  

And so while i understand the inherent problems Cinderella poses for a modern audience, i love her anyway. She’s nice and industrious. She’s good at sewing, cooking, and patient with the assholes around her. She loves animals and misses her mother. And in the versions i read and watched as a kid, my imagination filled in the blanks. Cinderella wasn’t just a pretty face. No way! She and the prince were so busy talking about all the things they both liked to do and read that he forgot to ask her name. 
She was just that amazing. 


ps- i have the dolls and clothing as well. i’ll scan and post them soon.

Monsieur Bibot is a terrible man. a petty, cruel tyrant who relishes his work as a dentist and abuses his lovely little dog, Marcel.







sweet marcel is too small to walk down the stairs but his master drags him down anyway.













bibot is given two figs as payment by a poor woman. She tells him they are magic figs and will make all your dreams come true. not believing her in the least, he sends her away and eats one that night. in the morning his dream from the night before indeed has come true. {nice Eiffel Tower! paging dr. freud!} determined not to waste the last fig he attempts to program himself to dream that he is a rich man with expensive possessions.

but that night, marcel eats the last fig from off the kitchen table. bibot chases marcel under the bed and promises grave reprocussions in the morning.
indeed, there are grave reprocussions come daylight, but not for marcel. bibot finds himself under the bed. marcel has dreamt that they have changed places and now marcel is the master…

Up until i read this book i’d never had a fig. They seemed far too exotic for me and i had no idea how to cook them.

i found an amazing recipe here

Ingredients

4 large fresh Black Mission or Calimyrna figs 
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 
2 to 3 teaspoons dark brown sugar 
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 
2 to 3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice 
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard 
Sea salt, to taste 
Ground pepper, to taste 
8 cups mixed salad greens
*small container feta cheese
* handful of chopped walnuts

Method

Snip the tiny stem end off each fig and cut in half lengthwise. Mix vinegar, brown sugar and cinnamon together in a medium bowl. Add figs and gently toss to coat. Let marinate.

Place figs face down in a hot pan with olive oil. cook face down on medium heat for 4 min, reserving all of the marinade in the bowl. Do not overcook as the figs will become too mushy. Remove figs to a plate. 

To the reserved marinade, add olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper, whisking well to completely incorporate. 

Place greens in a large salad bowl. Toss with dressing, then divide among 4 individual serving plates. Place 2 fig halves on each plate of greens and serve.
i diced the figs and added feta and walnuts. it was one of the most delicious things i’ve ever eaten!

published in 1968, “more tales to tremble by,” illustrated by gordan laite, is full of surprising creeps. although a children’s book, the selection of stories are anything but childike. 

boasting stories such as, “the red lodge,” by h. russell wakefield and “the extra passenger,” by weird luminary august derluth, the stories are sure to frighten children and most likely frighten adults even more.

“sredni vashtar,” by saki is my favorite in the collection. 10 year old conradin lives with his oppressive cousine and guardian, “mrs. de ropp.” a sickly boy, his every possible joy and excitement is suppressed by his guardian, whom he feels is hastening him to his death. secretly he obtains a large polecat-ferret. as the embodiment of life, he imagines it a vengeful god and he its faithful supplicant. eventually mrs. de ropp discovers the animal and enters the shed where it’s hidden to dispose of it. conradin, from the window above, watches helplessly.
“and in the sting and misery of his defeat he began to chant loudly and defiantly the hymn of his threatened idol: ‘srendi vashtar went forth; his thoughts were red and his teeth were white. his enemies called for peace, but he brought them death. sredni vashtar the beautiful.’
“… and presently his eyes were rewarded: out through that doorway came a long, low yellow and brown beast, with eyes a-blink at the waning daylight and dark wet stains around the fur of his jaws and throat.”
contentedly, conradin proceeds to eat toast and drink his afternoon tea with enjoyment.

gordon laite’s art is beautiful. all of his art i’ve seen prior to this has been full color so it was a delight to see his linework. sadly, due to the wonderful painted cover, this book is often “reused” to make journals so pick one up while you can.  


i have a confession: i wasn’t always a chris van allsburg fan. “polar express” was my introduction to him and it left me as cold as the frozen snow on the cover. i found his art dull, heavy, too still. 

and then i came across, “the garden of abdul gasazi.” the story was wonderfully weird and thought provoking- an island of imagination in the doldrums of most modern children’s books. what i once found heavy became sculptural, what was too still became life magically paused.  

the title page invites us along with allen as he trails fritz, the renegade bull terrier he’s dog-sitting. a sign declares, “ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY NO DOGS ALLOWED IN THIS GARDEN,” signed, “ABDUL GASAZI, RETIRED MAGICIAN.”

echoing “snoopy come home”‘s famous refrain, “nooo dogs allowed!” which every child knows to mean where dogs aren’t allowed children are usually not welcome either. {except for san francisco, where dogs are allowed everywhere and children are the intruders- mostly due to their narcissistic and bullying parents who don’t care if their golden genius screams through your meal.}

the {retired} magician, abdul gasazi is both modern and timeless. with his fez, dressing gown, and cigar, he is faintly amusing and vaguely sinister. 
with an obvious love of ambiguity, the reader is left to decide whether gasazi is a skilled illusionist or a reality bending magician.






van allsburg’s art is subtle, intriguing, and perfectly still. his work as a sculptor shows through on every page. his scenes are frozen in time as if a magic spell has been cast on the players. each page is so three dimensional you feel as though you may fall into them if you lean forward too far. 


published in 1979 it was his first book.




from his official website: The first story that I wrote, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, had a dog in it named Fritz. When I thought about the kind of dog I wanted Fritz to be, I decided he should be a bull terrier. Unfortunately, I didn’t know any bull terriers that could be my model for drawing pictures. I found some photographs, but they were not what I needed. What I needed was a real dog. My brother-in-law, David, visited one day, and told me he was thinking of getting a dog, possibly a golden retriever. I told him he should get himself something more interesting. Something really unusual. I showed him photos of bull terriers and he agreed that it was a most unusual and appealing dog. 

Not long after that, he acquired a bull terrier puppy, and named him Winston. Winston became the model for Fritz, and because he was my brother-in-law’s dog, I thought of Winston as a kind of nephew. Sadly, Winston had an accident that sent him to the big dog kennel in the sky at a young age. I decided to commemorate the contribution he made to my first book by including him (or at least a tiny part of him) in all of my books. “



i look for winston in each book ;D


as i’ve posted before, mercer mayer is one of my earliest and most lasting influences. with the beginning of autumn, now seems a fitting time to post his illustrations from “favorite tales from grimm.” this was his third and last book before his artistic decline began to set in. the pictures are highly detailed, exquisitely shaded, and colored. his model appears to once again be his first wife, the regally beautiful marianna mayer. 
the themes are befitting the brothers grimm. many of the pictures are slightly frightening or adult in nature. they also appear to be painted on a heavier paper but unfortunately, unlike, “beauty and the beast” there is no art information given in the copyright info. btw~ this book is out of print.
~snow white
“rumpelstiltskin”
not only is her semi-profile masterfully done, the soft pencil shading of her cheekbones is amazing. her hair, her hands, and the soft realistic baby make this my favorite in the book.
“allerleirauh”
“thousandfurs” is a deeply disturbing tale, better known by it’s french varient, “donkeyskin,” which was made into an incredibly strange, wondrous, and popular film starring catherine deneuve. the princess escapes her incestuous father by disguising herself as an animal & getting a job in another castle. after some cinderella-like parties everything turns out happily ever after.
the expression in her lamp-like eyes is so ambiguous. is it wistful? hopeful? the soft modeling of her nose and mouth and, as always, mayer’s dipiction of the swirling organic trees, leaves, and nature are some of his best. 

starting in 7th grade i ordered time-life’s enchanted world series. instead of starting “witches and wizards” they started me with “the fall of camelot”. 
my knights/arthurian craze had begun!


in my mid teens i discovered trina schart hyman’s beautiful, “st. george and the dragon”. 









taking it’s details from spencer’s “faerie queen” we are plunged into an england not seen since arthur rackham. an england {or eden} where every tree, every root is populated by gnomes, fauns, & beautiful fairies with gossamer wings. 





in the book, only fairies, angels, animals, and children stare out from the pages to make eye contact with the reader. the adults are unaware of their audience.















the great dragon looking like a medieval satan!

















i love how his tail curls through the opposing page! 


there is also another story told in the decorated margins of sailors trying to get home which parallels st george’s journey. 









una comforts st. george.











gorgeous medieval manuscript like details. witches, fairies, mandrake roots!

















an epic battle. there’s also a fair amount of blood for a children’s book.




i love the clouds through these illustrations. they’re like scenery in a mystery play!









lovely angels with crimson wings pray for st. george.















the death of the dragon. again, a bit of blood, but this was 1984 and we were less sensitive about these things. although i’d certainly rather my son was exposed to violence in this manner, with evil being clearly vanquished.









una and st. george. notice the cat looking at you. 


trina used india ink outlines and washes of acrylic. 


















mercer’s mayer‘s “east of the sun & west of the moon” is a curious book. an amalgam of the scandinavian tale of the title & “the frog prince” plus some elemental mythology. i’m still confused why he didn’t call it “the frog prince” instead of “eswm“. it certainly offers a more satisfying telling of “fp” than the conventional grimms’ tale. it bears a close resemblance to the slavic fairy tale, “finist the falcon” {itself a sister to eswm}

our beautiful but haughty heroine in lovely slavic costume wooed by some very ivan bilibinesque young men. her family suffers a reversal of fortune.


the colors in this tale are brighter that “beauty” perhaps to reflect russian aesthetics.






her father can be cured by a drink from this pool. however she loses the cup. a friendly frog offers to retrieve it, with certain conditions. she agrees.
















she throws her frog against the wall & he turns into a prince. but instead of scoring big time for her rudeness he is whisked away by trolls. our lady goes to the guardians of each element to find her way to the castle east of the sun & west of the moon to rescue the prince. here she talks with the fire salamander who knows everything in the heart of the world except…










she climbs the stair to the castle. i wonder if that’s cyrillic on the steps?
that sky is amazing.
















the troll princess. i’ve been to clubs with creatures like this wandering around. mayer demonstrates his growing fascination with hair which will reach its apogee in his version of “sleeping beauty”. i love that her hair is slightly frizzy throughout the story. before straighteners were de rigueur  this was considered quite charming.


…of course she saves him & they live happily ever after.




working on some new paintings which will be offered on etsy as well as two private commissions. in the meantime i wanted to share one of my favorite books when i was a kid, mercer & marianna mayer’s “beauty & the beast”.
they were husband & wife at the time~ i believe they were married throughout the pinnacle of mercer’s art. i’ve found 2 photos of marianna & not coincidentally she bears a striking resemblance to “beauty” as well as his other fairy tale heroines.

clearly a homage to durer’s “st. jerome in his study”, it depicts the moment the merchant must tell his family that they are financially ruined. of his 6 children only one son lays a comforting hand on his father’s arm as well as, of course, beauty herself. the others seem annoyed &/or stunned.

durer’s “st. jerome in his study”, conventionally thought to represent a life of contemplation.

beauty, at the beast’s castle, bidding goodbye to her father. i could chat endlessly about how beautiful each of these paintings is, but instead i’ll tell you what they mean to me. i learned to draw profiles from this picture, in particular the iris. i learned to paint skin as well from mayer. i still find his heavily blushed cheeks wonderful. in my own work i overemphasize them to create an artificial doll-like beauty. her hands also are particularly well drawn.

a difficult semi profile well executed. notice beauty’s hand on her book, how tense the fingers are. the beast’s castle is loaded with egyptian artifacts while beauty wears egyptian sandals. note the rose motif in the curtain & the castle’s stonework.

italian clothing & decor with egyptian details. each painting is outlined in india ink. the pencils are left as shadows & over-painted in watercolor. the sheer amount of detail in this picture is staggering. i used to day dream about wandering up the stairs in the background.

the text reads, “the beast was a magician as well. often while telling a story he would wave his arm & a picture would unfold before their eyes.”

i would die if someone made beauty’s jewellery. look at that gorgeous butterfly headdress!

the beast, alone & crying bc beauty has left. of course she returns & they live happily ever after.

taking a break from getting my paintings scanned in & printed for my etsy store. yes, it’s driving me crazy. painting i love, the digital fiddling to color correct them for print i don’t.


now that I have a child I’ve been thinking a lot about the books that shaped my life. “D’Aulairie’s Book of Greek Myths” is one of these. a large heavily illustrated book full of adventure, it captured my imagination & retains it to this day.
growing up in southern California, to say that the dominant aesthetic was blonde & tan is an understatement. to be anything else was to be outside, an alien. the D’Aulairie’s illustrations appealed to me precisely bc they were alien. mediterranean culture was world’s away from the homogeneous suburbia surrounding me. they opened a door into dreams of cobalt seas, fields of golden grain, & monsters lurking in the hills… click on pictures to make bigger.


Iris, the rainbow messenger in her dress of dew. Her bright black eyes caught my attention. Finally, i had seen someone like myself represented in a book.



Aphrodite, goddess of love. This picture was one of my favorites. I held this page up to our living room window & placing paper over it traced her outline. Her pose was perfect. In my world she became Cinderella coming down the stairs in her ball gown, her black eyes shining.
The D’Aulaire’s created their images using acetate sheets to approximate the look of stone lithography. Look closely & you can see where the colors overlap to create their beautiful color harmonies.


Artemis, goddess of the hunt. 1 of my 2 favorite childhood goddesses. There’s so much going on in this picture to delight. The night creatures abound~ the owl, the squirrels, the tree nymphs, the dancing circle of mosquitoes. The idea that everything is alive & sentient spoke to me & seemed self-evident. The moon lies reflected in the still pool while Artemis walks away, completely unconcerned, after punishing the hunter Actaeon. The text reads, “Artemis was a cold & pitiless goddess.” Those words thrilled me as a child. I loved & aspired to her self-possession.

Persephone, goddess of the spring & queen of the dead. My other favorite goddess & the one psychologically I was most like. As a shy child I dreamed of being swept away by a dark handsome man. My 2 favorite movies at this time of my life were: “Wuthering heights” & “Rebecca”. I proudly proclaimed that I was going to marry Lawrence Olivier when I grew up. I was 6.

Persephone in the underworld. The poplars, the roots growing through the sky, & the silence of the land of the dead.
 
persephone was originally named “kore” {koree or koreh} which means, maiden, young girl, & bride. she became “persephone” when she fulfilled her destiny as the queen of the dead. persephone means, “bringer of destruction, bringer of holy sacrifice, & ineffable maiden. she, along with her mother, presided over the eleusinian mysteries.

Surreal in its details. Demeter & Persephone reunite amid giant flowers. Again the owl of the night appears as well as a moth. I had already decided that Persephone had deliberately eaten 6 pomegranate seeds in order to spend part of the year with Hades bc she had fallen in love with him. I loathed undeserved unhappy endings.

Selene, goddess of the moon. The night as a curtain from behind which Selene watches the beautiful shepherd Endymion sleep. She petitions Zeus to grant him eternal sleep so that he may stay young forever. Again, it’s the tiny details like the satyr chasing the nymph in the background that add to the story.

The great god pan. A beautiful 2 page spread showing the Grecian countryside at night. The text reads, “In Selene’s magic light, river-gods rose from silvery streams to inspect their river beds, & hills trembled under the hoofs of wild centaurs. Laughing nymphs & bleating satyrs danced to the music of Pan, god of nature, master of them all.” Even now these words fill me with secret delight.

Ariadne asleep on Naxos. She wears a Cretan gown (slightly modified for modesty). Dionysus presents her with a crown he will later place in the sky as the constellation, “corona borealis”.
 

Orpheus. Again, everything is alive & capable of feeling. The bluebells cry, carrots rise from the earth to weep, & rocks roll closer, tears streaming down their faces. Not that any of that will save poor doomed Orpheus.

Helen. The most arresting image in the book. As troy burns & heroes die, witless Helen combs her hair & gazes inward.

All things must pass~