Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Adapting the Brothers Grimm

I'm excessively fond of fairytales, folktales, and fables.  I love the dark, troubled and murky waters you land in when reading them.  They rarely have a fully happy ending; even if there is love, there is usually death.  The stories start with heartbreak, deceit, or loss and don't always resolve into something that sits gently in the corners of your mind.  But there is magic, too, made by animals who speak and bestow gifts, fairies and sprites who heal and kill, goblins who steal secrets and babies, and trolls who live under bridges and in the rocky fabric of the mountains of the cold, bleak subarctic lands. The rich stories, passed on by mouth until they were finally transcribed in numerous sources, speak to our shared cultural past.

One of my favorite fairy tales, as you now know, is Hans-My-Hedgehog.  The Brothers Grimm version is unrelentingly harsh.  The poor hedgehog boy is unwanted, untended, and unloved.  He finally flees and becomes a sort of king of the forest. He eventually, though his own cleverness, wins a princess, but is forced to have his skin of quills burned, turning his own human skin underneath charcoal-black, to be freed from his enchantment.

Anthony Minghella later retold several fairy stories when he penned them for Jim Henson's undertaking, The Storyteller.  In his rendition of Hans, he infused the characters with life, feeling, and love: we get glimpses of the pain of barrenness in a woman, the heartbreaking longing for a child, a wish and a wish answered.  A baby boy is born, part boy and part hedgehog, but the mother cherishes her baby.  But the father remained unmoved at the sight of his strange child:

“For every quill that he had on his body, Hans had an animal for a friend, as many friends as he had quills. He had a special way with these creatures and they loved him. He could talk to them. If his mother was looking for him, she would always go first to the place where the rooster strutted, a proud soldier of hens. Hans tended to this bird, polished his beak, combed his comb, and fed and fattened him, and it wasn’t long before the rooster was the biggest rooster you could imagine, a hugeness, a vast red rooster all plump and flush-feathered.  Whenever the sadness came, whenever he caught his reflection in a pool, and saw his strange beast-boy face, Hans would run to these friends and be among them, for they found him neither strange nor odd but magnificent.  “Father," he said in his flute voice, ”I want you to do some things for me. I want you to go to the village and have a saddle made for my rooster so I can ride him.  And I want some sheep and some cattle and some pigs. They would be happy to come with me where I go. Which is away. Which is to somewhere.  Where I can’t hurt no one and no one can hurt me.”

The boy grows to be the king of a fine sylvan castle, and does indeed win a princess.  In true fairytale fashion, it's not that easy.  She betrays him, he flees again.  The second winning will be done by her, proving her love for her wedded husband. 

I've made a self-portrait that weaves in two elements of my favorite fairytale: the rooster and the hedgehog.  In the background is text from the story.
"Self Portrait with Fairytale" Pencil.  Copyright 2012 Jessica Boehman

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Good First Year

Today marks the end of the first year of my little illustration shop (www.hansmyhedgehog.etsy.com).  What a year! A year ago, I knew nothing...I was researching backing boards, archival plastic sleeves, giclĂ©e printers, colored envelopes and papers, business card printers, you name it!  A year later, I did better than expected.  I met lots of new friends from two Etsy teams, I not only had my first show but had five of them!,  and I found a way to work color into my work that prints beautifully and doesn't compromise the integrity of my pencilwork.  I finally have a workspace in my home, and still more ideas than I have time to draw.  It's been a year of creativity and wonder, of lots of hours at the sketchpad, and even more trimming prints, assembling notecards, lining envelopes and stuffing packages. Lots of hours spent at Books of Wonder and the zoo becoming inspired by the natural world and by the work of amazing illustrators.

There's plans of expanding the line to include stuffed pillows, ornaments (currently in beta testing), and maybe even puppets (I still have to learn the latter, but look what can happen in a year!). 

Considering that this all took place after my teaching duties at two universities, I'm proud of what I've accomplished. I worried that I wouldn't persevere, or that I would fizzle out.  But it's been a gift that unwraps itself inside of my imagination bit by bit.  It speaks to me when I am not attending to it and grows when I work.  Hearing feedback online and seeing customers' faces in person lets me know I'm on the right track.  After many years of discontent in my worklife, this has brought me equilibrium. 

A year of thanks...

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Cold of Winter

Winter is still a pretty great time to visit the zoo.  There are no crowds, and though many of the animals are taking it easy, you can still enjoy yourself at the petting zoo.  There, the llamas, alpacas, cows, horses, pigs, sheep and goats still vie for your attention unabashedly.  My husband and I visited the Queens Zoo for the first time on New Year's Eve.  What better way to end the year than hanging with the animals?  We met some new friends.

Me and the alpaca at the Queens Zoo.  He only wants me for my pellets.

Seeing all of these animals wearing their winter coats, I was grateful for how their wool keeps me warm in the winter as well.  My favorite winter hat is a Peruvian style alpaca wool hat, died bright colors.  You won't miss me in a snow storm.  Some of my favorite pictures of my husband and I are in our Peruvian hats.  

Indeed, this basically served as our engagement photo, as we never had any taken. My little sister did a photo shoot with us in our hats on Black Friday 2009.

In our Peruvian hats.
Here I am again in my hat at Cromwell Manor Inn in Cornwall, NY for my birthday weekend this past November.  They had a hammock, cool fall air, a petting zoo next door at Jones Farm, and crisp blue skies.  Bliss.  

In the hammock in my hat.
So I made a drawing to show how animals may keep warm, too.  Here are many friends I've met recently: the alpaca and the sheep from Queens Zoo, the rooster and spotted pig from Jones Farm, and a winter goose from the Brooklyn Zoo.  May you all be warm, safe, happy and healthy in this New Year.

"Staying Warm" Pencil and digital color.  Copyright 2012 Jessica Boehman

It's amazing how much it looks like the hasty sketch I made on a yellow post-it note.

Initial sketch for "Staying warm"

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Hedgehog in Love

There was a long...really too long hiatus in new drawings over the last three months.  We moved, and by the time I was done unpacking, the semester was in full-swing mode.  There was simply no time to draw, though my idea book is chock-full.  This week, after a few days of delightful and much needed relaxation (reading a novel...gasp!), my new studio desk came.  It's large and luxurious and demanded to be broken in immediately.  How could I refuse?

The resulting drawing is the second in my series of hedgehog holiday illustrations.  I imagine little hedgie as a Cupid in a school play...because we all know that hedgehogs don't fly!  Happy Valentine's Day, Hedgehog!

"Happy Valentine's Day, Hedgehog!" Pencil and Digital color. Copyright 2012 Jessica Boehman