For most of the past four years I’ve been working in collaboration with writer Ursula K. Le Guin on producing the first illustrated collection of all six of her Earthsea novels. Sadly Ursula passed away a few short weeks before I completed my work. However, via e-mail, she was able to view each drawing as I drew them and I welcomed her comments on every one of my images that will be in the book.
This is the title page design for the overall collection. Here I tried to keep my color flatter, more decorative than usual, and allow my love of Alphonse Mucha and other turn-of-the-last-century book illustrators to come to the fore. This is really a combination of 3 separate files: the painted Earthsea logo, the actual lettering and the painted art.
I developed six full color images to serve as frontispieces for each book. This is the first, ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’. Early on in the novel its protagonist, Ged, has arrived on the island of Gont where he has been told to enter the School of Wizardry located there. I thought that a warped perspective (You are looking down at the bottom of the image and up at the large building that houses the school at the top. Its art after all, NOT a portrait of reality) would best show the scene. I used simple school pencils (the ones with erasers on the end) and bond paper to work out my cityscape (well, village rather).
I then refined the pencil art and used a brown-black ink to outline most of the piece (leaving open the sky, etc.) erasing what was left.
Before applying my multiple washes of FW colored inks I re-read the passage in the book and noticed that the scene took place just as the sun begins to light the island so that affected what colors I was going to use. I was especially happy with the lighting on the roof and chimney tops as well as the extended shadow across the hill in the background.
Book Two: The Tombs of Atuan is a very different story and I wanted a very different color pallet. So after working up this scene showing Arha, the young girl who is about to be initiated into an arcane religion by stripping away her name and past I inked it.
Then I soaked my paper (Strathmore, Series 400, Bristol Vellum, 4 ply) with a wet sponge and using a wide brush I stroked a wash of yellow, then brown, then green over the entire surface, Immediately afterward (before my washes had a chance to dry) I used a clean white paper towel to pick up any highlights that I wanted.
For the third book: ‘The Farthest Shore” I wanted to show the conversation between the dragon, Orm Embar and the wizard Ged which takes place out on the open sea. When Ursula first saw this drawing she commented favorably on the Hokusai like waves and the wings of the dragon but wondered at first about the rumpled sail of the boat. Then she realized that it was being whipped by the back draft from the wings of the hovering dragon and was delighted. This is something I always like to pursue in my picture making: I don’t want to make a still portrait of whatever I’m drawing or painting but a quick snap shot of whatever is in a particular scene in mid-movement. I think that that way of conceptualizing a scene provides life and color.
This was my initial drawing for the frontispiece of the last book, ‘The Other Wind’. The idea came to me at home and so I grabbed a sheet of the only surface available to me, copy paper and worked this up.
After several comments from Ursula we arrived at a completed concept drawing showing the dismantling of the wall that entombs the dead of Earthsea in a dry, dusty land of endless night under the Mountains of Pain. Humans and dragons working together begin to right a great wrong and restore balance to this world.
‘The Books of Earthsea’ will be published this October by Saga Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, and will feature 54 illustrations by myself both in color and black & white. Readers will then be able to judge whether I was able to slip into Ursula’s mind and see her extraordinary world through her eyes.