Lorena on creating the Herensuge in The Magic Gifts

I was thrilled when Sophie sent me the story The Magic Gifts, as it included the Herensuge, a mythical dragon from the Basque region. It often appears with seven heads (though not always), so I was somewhat relieved to see that Sophie had given hers just the one!

Dragons are so much fun to create, and I wanted our Herensuge to be huge and terrifying, but also ephemeral. Something as dangerous and smoke and fire, but like them, just as likely to dissipate into the air.

When thinking about this blog post, I decided it would be a good time to show you how I tweak photographs of ‘ordinary’ things into the magical forms I need. Happily I had already photographed the flames of a small bonfire we had in our back yard a few years ago. You can see below how I darkened the background to separate the flames. I do this mostly by exposure  and shadow/highlight changes in Photoshop RAW, then by painting out any remaining stubborn areas of background. Here is the final plume of fire, and the original photo it came from:

Similarly, the ‘smoke’ is lifted out from its background. The difference being that the ‘smoke’ is actually steam. I find it easier to get interesting shapes in a studio setting, and less likely to set off the fire alarm! Below, you can see the plume of steam/smoke ready to use in an illustration, and next to it, the original photo. The saucepan of water is bubbling away on a portable cooktop, and it’s all lit from behind to make the steam glow.

I tend to edit the photos I need as I go, fixing and adding them to the illustration as I got. Here’s a brief snippet of the Herensuge coming together.

And here he is in all his glory!

Bonus behind-the-scenes detail: The green sheep-covered hill was actually photographed in Ireland, not France (shh!), so I toned down the lurid Irish green grass a little… Until Sophie told me that the Basque region in France is actually just as emerald green as Ireland. So I bumped up the vibrance again! (And removed the blue smit marks from all the sheep…)

Video on the inspirations and sources of French Fairy Tales

I’ve made a video presentation featuring slides and narration, to talk about the inspirations and sources behind my retellings in French Fairy Tales. These include personal and family connections, as well as information about the tales themselves. Hope you enjoy!

And by the way, on November 7, I’m running an online two-hour workshop on how to retell fairy tales, and how to use them in your fiction: you can check it out here.

Lorena on creating one of the illustrations for Beauty and the Beast

I wrote, in my first post for this blog, a little about my stay in the town of Azay-le-Rideau to photograph the chateau there for French Fairy Tales. I shared a detail from an illustration for Beauty and the Beast, and described collecting leaves and bits of plants to create the Beast himself, so I thought today I’d show you a little more of the architecture of the illustration, and share it in full.

The main room in which it’s set, is actually an in-between space. Almost a horizontal hallway between rooms, with an arched window at either end.

The chandelier hangs in the dining hall off the kitchen, a rather grand fixture for a sparse looking room. One assumes it was once full of warmth and people, and a dog or two under a much larger table.

The painting on the left was important for me to include. It depicts a stag, its antlers mirrored with Beast’s, being brought down by hunters and their dogs, reflecting the vilification wrought upon the Beast. Or perhaps, while he may be a powerful creature, he can be brought down by love….

And any Disney fan will know why I had to include the clock and gold candlesticks on that mantelpiece! They actually sit in the formal dining room, opposite the painting of the stag.

I would have liked to have included an illustration of Beauty and the Beast feasting at the very dining table at Azay, but it felt too bright with that white cloth; the chairs too modern.

And if you look closely you’ll see these little beasts holding up the ceiling’s stone arches. One thing I loved about the Azay-le-Rideau, where Sophie set the tale, is that it’s absolutely riddled with beasts large and small: carved into stone, woven into tapestries, painted above fireplaces… It is truly a fairy tale castle populated with wild creatures.

So, by weaving together the images above, along with a few secret ingredients, I created the scene in which Beauty and Beast meet and come to a wary agreement:

(Quote text, from the story.)

…the Beast appeared, and she screamed. Just once, and just because his appearance was so sudden, and because all her father’s descriptions of the Beast had not quite prepared her for the living breathing reality who now stood beside her. But she soon recovered herself, and while her father scrambled to his feet, muttering frightened greetings, she walked to the Beast with a firm step, and keeping her eyes on his face, but not saying a word, she curtseyed gracefully.

The Beast seemed pleased by this gesture. ‘Good evening, Beauty,’ he said in his deep, harsh voice. Not expressing any surprise that he knew her name, Beauty replied, ‘Good evening Beast,’ not adding a ‘sir’ or ‘lord’ because her father had told her the Beast did not like titles. 

‘Have you come here of your own free will and will you consent to stay?’ the Beast asked.

‘I have and I do,’ she answered.

He looked at her with his tiger’s eyes narrowed. ‘What will become of you, do you think?’

Beauty swallowed. ‘I do not know.’

Lorena writes about creating the visual world of Puss in Boots

Today I’m going to talk a little about an illustration I did for Puss in Boots. While in France (exactly a year ago, as I write this) I spent much of my time in various Chateaus. The first I visited was Chateau d’Oiron. After staggering off the plane into Charles de Gaulle airport, I caught a train to Poitiers and fell into the care of our friends Jim and Yvonne. They bundled my hiking pack into their hire car, took me out for lunch and a fortifying glass of wine, then endeavoured to keep me awake for the rest of the day. It turns out the best cure for jet lag is grandeur. After 30 wakeful hours of travelling, I trailed around the rooms of Chateau d’Oiron, camera in hand, babbling deliriously, and in true Australian-in-Europe form, ‘It’s so old!’… ‘It’s so beautiful!’ Thankfully they brought me back the next day so I could photograph it properly.

Chateau d’Oiron was built in the 15th Century, and to my (at that point slightly feverish) delight, served as the inspiration for the castle in Charles Perrault’s version of Puss in Boots. Claude Gouffier, who was born and died at Chateau d’Oiron, served as the model for his “Marquis de Carabas”. It felt too good to be true. I photographed vaulted stone ceilings and gilded walls with both Sophie’s and Perrault’s versions in mind.

The final Chateau I visited in France was Chateau de Saché, now a museum dedicated to the writer Honoré de Balzac. Sophie’s version of Puss in Boots is set in a homely manor house in Perigold, similar in size and style to Saché, so it’s here that I found myself sitting on a wooden bench, eating a stolen apple, and thinking of her Marquis de Carabas.

At home, weeks later, I pulled together the stone arches from Chateau d’Oiron and the stairs from Chateau de Saché. The checkered floor came from Chateau Chenonceau, and the carved wooden chest from Chateau Azay-le-Rideau. The cat belongs to a friend, and the mouse is a stuffed shrew in disguise (shh) from Melbourne Museum. The boots and hat are my own. It really is an amalgam of places, like most of my illustrations, but it holds – I hope – the spirit of both Sophie’s and Perrault’s Puss in Boots.

 

French fairy tale travelling, by Lorena Carrington

Today I’m welcoming my wonderful co-creator, Lorena Carrington, to this blog, to write about the travels in France that helped to inspire her glorious illustrations in French Fairy Tales. All photographs in this post are by Lorena.

French fairy tale travelling, by Lorena Carrington

In late September last year, I touched down in France with a backpack, camera bag, and a draft manuscript of Sophie’s fairy tales. I was so thrilled to get the chance to work with Sophie, and happily circumstances (and the support of my family) aligned in such a way that I was able to travel to France to photograph the landscapes and chateaux in which her retellings are set.

My time there seemed to be peppered with the most wonderful and delightful book related coincidences. Our friends happened to be staying an hour’s drive away from Azay-le-Rideau, so I had a friendly welcome and enthusiastic tour guides for the first few days. The first chateau they took me to was once owned by the man who was said to have inspired the Marquis de Carabas from Charles Perrault’s Puss in Boots. The hotel I booked in the town of Azay-le-Rideau turned out to be the same one Sophie stayed when she visited, and from which you can see the chateau peeking out from between trees at the end of the curved cobble stone street. Crows followed me, through both France and Ireland, and allowed me to create the flock that surround Crow Castle with birds from almost every place I visited.

Azay-le-Rideau was the main reason I was in France. It is the chateau in which Sophie set her retelling of Beauty and the Beast, so it was extraordinary to have the chance to create illustrations from the very place the tale is set. The town is popular with tourists – cobbled-stoned and romantic – but I was there at the very tail end of the season so, while waiters and shopkeepers looked tired, it never felt crushed with holiday makers.

It’s a strange and marvellous experience to spend a week on one’s own in a place where you can manage to order coffee and a croissant (barely) but have no other opportunities for conversation. I was alone with my camera in hand and Sophie’s tales in my head. Free to roam as I wished, I spent a full day exploring the Azay-le-Rideau chateau and gardens. I had explored for a brief couple of hours with friends Jim and Yvonne the day before, but now I had the place to myself (and a hundred or so other tourists). The wonderful thing about exploring on your own, surrounded by a language you can only pick the odd word from, is that you feel a bit like a ghost. I could wander from room to room, doubling back when I wanted, pausing to spend ten minute photographing the way a spotlight falls on velvet brocade and feathers, counting the gold stitches on red wall paper. I tucked myself into corners, waiting for a room to clear to I could get a clear shot of a painted fresco that covered the opposite wall, lingered on staircases to catch soft window light grazing across rough stone. I stood in the rain photographing ripples in the moat, and crouched awkwardly in wet grass to peer under hanging branches. It also gave me the chance to notice so many small details that I may not have if I hadn’t been alone: the still-fresh hay smell from the plaited straw wall coverings, the feel of carved hand rails worn smooth by thousands of hands over hundreds of years, and all the tiny beasties carved into stone and wood.

While at Azay, I collected dead leaves and twigs, and took them back to my hotel bathroom later to photograph on a makeshift lightbox (my iPad). These small pieces of detritus from the grounds made up the Beast who lived there. I’m always conscious of the origins of objects that go into the creatures I make. They are made of the landscapes they inhabit, and none have ever been as specific as the creation of the Beast.

In the lead up to the release of French Fairy Tales I’ll share some stories about the specific illustrations, but for now I’ll leave you with a detail of the Beast in his castle.

 

My favourite French castle, an inspirational fairy tale setting

Today I want to write  a bit about the castle that for me, since childhood, has represented the absolute epitome of the classic French fairy tale setting: and that is the gorgeous small chateau of  Azay-le-Rideau, in the Loire Valley.  Of course the Loire Valley is full of beautiful castles; but this one is my favourite of them, indeed it’s my top favourite in all of France. Not only does this absolute jewel of a chateau represent for me that epitome of fairy tale magic and charm, but it’s also the setting for the Beast’s castle in my retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which is the longest story in French Fairy Tales.

Chateau d’Azay le Rideau, September 2018. Photo by Sophie Masson.

Built in the early 16th century on the ruins of the previous fortress suited there, the castle of Azay-le-Rideau has a tumultuous history. It’s situated  within the charming little village of the same name, down a small road away from the main highway, amongst green fields and little woods. The castle is set on a small lake, in superb parkland, and I’ve visited it a number of times, the most recent being in September 2018. That time, in a glorious early autumn with blue skies and trees still green but starting to turn gold, we stayed in a lovely little hotel in the village, a few steps away from the castle. At the time we were there, an extraordinary, eerily beautiful art installation called ‘Les enchantements d’Azay‘, by artists Piet.sO  and Peter Keene, was displayed in the castle. Together, the castle, the parkland gardens, the art installation, and the amazing, magical feel of the whole place, were just the most perfect elements to help create the Beast’s world.

It isn’t just in Beauty and the Beast, however, that you will see the enchanting influence of Azay-le-Rideau; for in the next post, Lorena will be writing about how her own stay there and her visits to other places in the Loire Valley, became the source for her glorious illustrations in French Fairy Tales.