I wanted to re-imagine a fairy tale that Disney hadn’t laded their hands, and since The Wild Swans has come to be one of favorites I decided to go with it. In order to further differentiate myself from Disney, I decided to use anthropomorphic plants instead of the anthropomorphic animals they’re so recognized for. To represent the characters’ personalities better I chose to use chalk pastels to represent their inner self, and highlight the exterior with oil pastels.
The main reason why I love The Wild Swans so much is because I consider Elisa to be a very beautiful idea; a fair maiden who’s own goodness and purity make her immune to the queen’s dark magic. Since it’s that goodness and purity that sees her through all the ordeals she must face, I figured that was the most important thing to represent. The most reasonable choices of plant and color to represent this were the Lily and the color white, as they’re both symbols of purity.
What I first tried to do was really to “flowerize” a human (Elisa 1), but since this was too obvious and predictable, I decided to instead “humanize” a flower (Elisa 2). Working on Elisa helped me establish the style for the entire drawing. I’m really pleased with it because it’s exotic and rather unique (if I say so myself).
The young King is the archetypal “perfect man” of fairy tales; he’s handsome, kind, caring, brave, intelligent and unselfish. Although this would probably make him an unoriginal character in modern day, it was exactly this that made him the most interesting to develop; the way in which I had to balance all these different sides to him. I mean, when people look at the King the first (and possibly main) thing they see is that he is handsome and a king, but it is his kindness and unselfishness which wins him Elisa’s heart and allows him to blindly believe in her goodness even when everyone else can’t. And, I feel that that love and passion is his core, what makes him who he is in the fairy tale.
After researching, I learned that roses and the color red are both symbols for passion. I figured that they were the perfect choice since the rose is a particularly beautiful flower, thus ideal to represent the King’s good looks. To render the King’s luxury and nobility, I used the color that symbolizes royalty: purple. And I went with blue for his intelligence and good nature. It was really fun to build the King by playing around with the rose’s petals, leaves, stem, and roots. For example, you’ll notice that leaves make his cape, and the leaves are his hands.
An important feature about the King in the drawing is how his “hands” are partially white. This is my way to show that the King has been “touched” by Elisa’s purity, that he truly loves her for who she is.
Elisa’s brothers were arguably the easiest characters to design due to how it’s their predicament that which defines them the most. Since it’s their curse that makes Elisa endure so much pain, I felt that their appearance should reflect their curse. So I thought “which plant do I know that really changes their appearance even after having fully grown?” The answer was simple, dandelions. And they really were the perfect choice due to how they change from yellow to white (obviously the white is the “swan side” since it’s this one the one that “flies away”.
I also figured that the leaves were long enough to be seen as ether “swan wings” or “human extensions” (arms and legs). Withal, yellow and green were ideal for the princes since yellow is associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy (the human side of the brothers), and green is the color of nature (the animal side of the brothers).
A distinctive attribute of the final piece is that one of dandelions still has dandelion seeds along with petals. This is for two reasons 1) so that viewers could get an idea what princes looked like in both forms, and 2) in the original fairy tale, Elisa wasn’t able to finish the last sleeve of the final coat, ipso facto the youngest brother still retained one swan wing instead of an arm.
Do you look at the final piece differently now that you know what lies behind the character’s surface?