On Art and Faerie (repost)


I like fairies, in the larger and darker sense of the term. Last month I joined in the JuneFae artist challenge to create a new and original fairy artwork every day of June; I could draw, paint, work traditionally or digitally, but every day I’d post a new work to my social media pages before noon.  Counting up my sketches, I posted a fairy, fae or spirit on 30 of June’s 31 days.

I started June drawing in pencil.  I’m familiar with pencil, and that meant I had standards to worry about – technique and theme and the technical side of my daily post.  I began thinking as I worked about what I would draw next, and whether today’s fairy was appropriately fairy compared to yesterday’s fairy, or other people’s fairies, and whether my finish was impressive enough, and my fairies became hard-edged and staid.

So, I began to experiment.  I let myself sketch lightly if I wanted.  My favorite fairy artists – John Bauer, Arthur Rackham – used water color?  I broke out my starter set and began to mess around.  I was experimenting in public, and the world did not end.

Here’s what I learned about my own fairies and fairy art.

The most magical fairies, to me, were the ones with lost edges.  The more I polished the drawing and firmly penciled the edges and details, the more an emerging fairy turned into a prosaic insect-alien.  The most magical fairies were the ones that skittered lightly onto the paper, some aspects detailed but others barely suggested or merging back into the paper.  They gained magic from simplicity.

I’ve seen this before in cartoons — a simple, abstracted face lets the viewer project onto the character,  while a detailed portrait of someone specific blocks off projection.  I think this works for the magic of fairies, too.  A loose or gentle rendering can let the viewer project their own magic into the picture.

(A longer version of this post can be read in my July 2016 newsletter. Artwork from the Junefae challenge can still be seen on Instagram and Facebook.)