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…)

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.’