Monday, February 3, 2014

The Red Shoes

I'll admit, The Red Shoes was a bit of a road block for me.  You'd probably think I would leap at the chance to illustrate such a singularly dark and gory tale, but I sort of balked at this one; reading it OVER and OVER before putting pencil to paper.  Aside from the fact that I tend to avoid drawing humans whenever possible - and here it was inevitable, with no non-human characters save the shoes themselves, (and I refuse to commit such a grievous  cop-out as drawing a still life of a pair of shoes) - I've long struggled to visualize Karen's incessantly dancing feet.  What would it look like, really, for someone to have no control over their feet; yet to remain upright and dancing all through the day and night?*  I even went so far as to do a Google image search to see what other illustrators have done with the concept (something I try not to do here).  I found that conveying it with a static image seems to be a problem for other artists, too.  Not that they all failed utterly, but to me, a drawing of a girl dancing seems to always look like a drawing of a girl dancing of her own accord.  How to portray her feeling of imprisonment and helplessness?  The only solution I could come up with was to depict her legs as being bent at odd, unnatural angles.  Still, I wasn't happy with the sketches that this approach was yielding.  Eventually, I chose to compromise by drawing a seated Karen, her legs flailing wildly and in ways not humanly possible.  I think that her body language from the waist up helps to communicate her despair, as her feet do what they please.  She is attended by the executioner (who I suppose I've depicted as more of a woodsman-type figure), just before removing her offending feet in a brutal act of compassion.

"Do not cut off my head," begged Karen, "for then I should not be able to repent. But cut off my feet!"
Watercolor on paper.

*Note: No, I've never seen the film, The Red Shoes, which could possibly be helpful here visually.  I don't think it's a direct adaptation of Andersen, but it's about ballet, so I'll probably watch it one day.

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