Almost four years ago, in the midst of our collaboration on the illustrated Earthsea project, the writer, Ursula le Guin, asked if I wanted to partner with her on a one-off project that would be part of a book benefiting the New York Public Library. This painting and the poem that she wrote were based on an idea I had: Once there was a dragon that horded books instead of gold but because he was near-sighted he couldn’t read any of them. The child here took pity and would come every day to read to him. Both Ursula and I loved the concept and ran with it.
Unfortunately the book has never been published so when a local to me Library came to me to commission two large paintings for their children’s room I knew just what I was going to develop for them.
Since this original drawing measured only 12 x 18 inches and the first of the new pieces was to be quite large at 2 x 3ft some modifications were necessary. I took my initial drawing and enlarged it via my copy machine to the new proportions, then traced it off onto a large sheet of Arches cold press Watercolor Paper that had been dry-mounted and then stapled to a sheet of plywood.
At this new scale the piece really needed the presence of more kids so I drew them onto a sheet of bond paper and when I was satisfied with the drawing I traced them onto the Arches board.
When I begin my applications of FW colored ink washes over these inks I’ll have this smaller version to serve as a loose color guide and, despite the size, it should go quickly. Right, guys?
But, there was still the second piece to figure out. I knew I wanted both images to be parts of the same story as well as share some of the same characters (the dragon of course but the girl reading the book too) but how? This was my first attempt showing the dragon with a load of kids all flying over a map of Bookland.
I knew right away that the point of view in my sketch was wrong if I wanted have that map spread out below them all.
And I think the new drawing works pretty well. So did the Kingsport Library as they loved both ideas.
Everything is more refined here in this drawing and I’ve worked out a system of identifying each book in the landscape below without using their actual titles. I’m hoping that there will be enough excitement generated by the painting to motivate more than one child to seek out some of the stories on display.
Working this large is a challenge in many different ways but once these images are framed and on the wall all that momentary turmoil will just fade away.
And besides, I’ve already got another job to think about. You know, one of those offers that you should have said ‘No” to, but couldn’t help yourself. I’ve 5 color illustrations and this cover art to finish by the first of July. Wish me luck!
Duncton Wood! Wow, you included Duncton Wood, one of my all time forgotten favourites! As a Librarian, I am smiling SO much Charles! Thanks for sharing that. You have captured magic and put it on paper THANKS
That’s my kind of dragon !
I’m no longer a child, and am nearsighted myself, but I would gladly read to this (and any other) gentle dragon!
In the “What happens next?” realm to things, I think there needs to be some geekish kid who says, “The dragon needs new glasses so it can read books by self.” Expecting that dragon eyes have unique qualities, this kid explores the universe of non-fiction/history type books, including Franklin and re-fraction of light and the inner eye of dragons, etc. All a part of Book World. BTW, what’s the best part of dragon on which to fly, as a kid?
The little child in front is holding Totoro!!! What a lovely picture, Charles. All my favourite books in there! Will there be prints available?
Princess Bride is next? My daughters’ (now all grown up) favorite film. Can’t wait to get my hands on copies of the new Blue Ray edition. . . and we look forward to the charming near-sighted dragon moving to Kingsport!