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Saturday, March 30, 2013

In the Realm of Faerie

A Faerie Rade

This was the first adult book dedicated to fairies that I owned.  It was published in 1978 so I would have been 19 or 20 at the time it was given to me.  It is not a book of cute and cuddly images for children.  I will possibly put together another post of the fairies themselves another day.  I'll pick the most innocuous of them as I like to think my posts are for everyone and some of the creatures contained in the book are quite malevolent and disturbing.

Instead what I wanted to concentrate on in this post is the type of landscape the book presents and to include a few of images from the first section called 'The Realm of Faerie'.  Much of the book is presented in the style of an Edwardian naturalist's journal.  There are pencil sketches and watercolours - done the in the way a botanist would record the world of nature by jotting down observations on site.  This impression is emphasised by the addition of notes and comments (mainly handwritten) that accompany the pictures.

I love the style of these illustrations. The detailed perfection of the pencil drawings, the wash of colour and the wonderful characterisation.  The book is very informative as well, providing a background of fairy history and tradition across the whole of the British Isles with a fair amount of reference to the part of the world I live in (The Republic of Ireland - I'm not in the UK.)  I like the way some of the illustrations combine artistic techniques - like the illustration below where the fairy realm glimpsed through the secret door is in brilliant colour, but the 'real world' is merely sketched in pencil.

I especially enjoy paintings done with a wash of watercolour producing a delicate misty effect.  My spirit has always thrilled to images like these and ever since I first saw them as a child and young adult I dreamt of escaping to this magical, mystical world.

Why have I chosen to put together this post now?  Well - my new surroundings made me think of this book again and the fairy realms portrayed within it.  For the past few weeks I have been grieving for the mountains I lost my heart to, but I have also been conscious that I now reside in a landscape just as magical in its own way.  What makes it all the more remarkable is that when I first read this book I lived a long way away, in another hemisphere, at the other end of the word.  I longed to experience these landscapes but had no expectation I would ever see them, let alone live in surroundings like this.  My little family has been in Ireland for 12 years now and I still find it incredible that I reside in countryside that produced the inspiration for so many stories and images like these.

The stream at the bottom of the garden

It is a bit dull and gloomy at the moment.  Winter will not release its grip and the garden still needs to spring to life and colour.  The tree in front of the patio in the picture below is a magnolia.  I can't wait for it to burst into colour - I know the flowers don't last all that long but are a beautiful sight when they are in bloom.

I'm surrounded by fairy forests in this pretty little vale.  The trees behind us make me think of the Sulamith Wulfing prints I posted last year, another long time favourite of mine.

Some more photos of the garden.  I love all the trees and of course the bird life is fabulous and there are even pheasants down here in the valley just as there were in the mountains.

In this misty landscape its easy to imagine castles like this one rising up in the distance.  Sometimes if I scrunch my eyes up (and I am going slowly blind anyway!) I can almost imagine I am able to see one.

This is another lovely illustration from the book of the Lady of the Lake.  According to the notes accompanying this illustration the surface of the lake was an illusion created by magic to disguise her palace.

The Lady of the Lake

King Arthur in his court at Gwyn-ap-Nudd.  This double page illustration is backed by a thorn tree.  Glastonbury Tor and its association with Avalon has an interesting connection with thorn trees.  The Holy Tree said to have grown from the staff of Joseph of Aramathea at Glastonbury was a thorn.  Thorn trees are sacred to the realm of faerie - thorn trees on a hillside are always a strong indication that fairies live there.

These pages on the Tuatha de Danann in Ireland also reminded me that their homes in the hollow hills are called 'raths'.  My new commute by train (into Dublin where I work) now starts at Rathdrum.  In Irish it is called Ráth Droma (the Rath part is pronounced phonetically like 'Raah') and means 'Ringfort of the Ridge'.  The scenery I get to enjoy every day is spectacular and it is still a new enough experience that I look forward to savouring it as I travel to and from work. 

All illustrations taken from:

Described and illustrated by Brian Froud and Alan Lee
Edited and designed by David Larkin
Copyright 1978 by Rufus Publication Inc, printed by Pan Books (London and Sydney)

I can't put together a post this weekend without another update on the swans in St Stephen's Green.  All indications are that there are going to be babies again this year!!

Last week I saw the two adult swans swimming around the base of the island in the lake looking very cosy.  I thought that might mean they were getting ready to nest and I was correct!  This week the female has started sitting on her eggs.

The nest is in the one place that people can't get to in the park.  They really are very clever birds.  It is sheltered by a weeping willow tree and so she sits there like an enchanted princess in a story.

I had to zoom in to get these photos so they are not brilliant but you can see how lovely she looks tucked away there.

Only two of the last brood are left in the park now.  I believe they head off by themselves to find a territory of their own.  I don't know if that is true or if the park officials give them a helping hand - but I do know that the park is not big enough to support more than two adult birds and one brood so it is part of the natural scheme of things that last years offspring have to go.

My new commute means that I can't go to the park in the early morning, only at lunchtime.  The last morning I was there one if the swans dropped this feather for me.  I keep it next to my bed - its a special reminder of the peaceful time I used to spend with them!  

I found an especially informative and interesting site about swans hosted by The Swan Sanctuary in the UK.  This page is of FAQ.  In my case I wanted to know how long the eggs took to hatch - besides finding the answer to this I discovered a wealth of other facts that are absolutely fascinating.

No chicks or bunnies on my blog for Easter - but the promise of some baby cygnets in a month or so!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Marilyn Sotto - The Art of Costume Design

When I wasn't plotting how to get to Sadlers Wells (no small feat in my case as I lived at the other end of the world), my childhood ambition was to be a costume designer.  I must have been fairly vocal about my aspirations as my mother bought me this book - The Art of Costume Design - with content by the Hollywood designer Marilyn Sotto, edited by Fabian Dean and published by Walter T Foster.

I spent many hours studying this book, copying both Marilyn Sotto's designs and techniques and trying to emulate her style.  My original copy is long gone and must have been so worn with use that it was eventually tossed out.  Last year I searched fror a replacement for quite a long time.  They are always available on Amazon but I felt most on offer were way too overpriced.  Eventually I was able to purchase this book on eBay and when it arrived I was thrilled to find it is in absolutely mint condition.  I bought if from a seller called Stoolshed and was very impressed with the whole transaction.   .

The two designs I spent the most time trying to emulate were the Tudor Woman and the Louis XV1 Woman.  I loved way in which the book provided a step by step guide and can remember being particularly impressed with the concept of 8 heads providing the height dimensions for the figure.  In the case of the taller, sleeker 'modern' woman (the illustration I chose to introduce the post), the number of heads used to produce her silhouette is increased to 10.

Don't you just love the opulence and sumptuous material of this dress.  The design is actually quite simple so the rich effect is quite clever.

Of course as a child I loved the gaudy, slightly kitschy images.  I still enjoy them today.  I think these showgirls are lovely as they perfectly convey the glitz and glamour of vintage Hollywood musical productions.

And I can still thrill to the pantomime excitement of the Kismet designs.  I've always loved the warm, sunny colours of the figure on the left, made more effective by the simple kaftan style design.


As an adult some of my favourite designs in the book are the monochrome sketches - I love the lightness of her technique and the fact that the colours and some of the detail are left to the imagination.

Two pages of dance costumes for children (both in black and white) are included in the book.  They are deliberately intended to be simple designs that are both easy to produce and move in.  All use a leotard as the base of the garment with different embellishments producing a variety of effects.

Marilyn Sotto was born in 1931.  that makes her a year younger than my own mother and in some photographs where her hair is highlighted blonde she reminds me quite a lot of her.  At the time this book was published she was a Hollywood designer and had worked on a number of high profile productions - there is a design signed by Yul Brynner from the King and I for example, along with a number of other well known stars from the time.  She later moved to Disney and for a time was based at Disneyland Paris, working on the costume designs for the parades.  The last reference I could find online for her is an interview she gave in 2001.  At the time she was still as enthusiastic about her work as ever and had no intention of quitting.

Marilyn Sotto at work in 1957

This book is one in a series of 'how to' books published by Walter T Foster.  I can remember owning or looking at a few others on different topics, but none of them resonated with me in quite the way this one did.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

More Little Ballerina Paper Dolls (Saalfield)


I wasn't intending to return to blogging for at least another month - and then two things happened. First I received a lovely comment from my sweet friend Diane at Always Crave Cute, making me realise how much I miss everyone in the blogging community.  Then I was sent a wonderful email from Patricia in California -a fellow paper doll enthusiast. Together they have prompted me to put together this post.  


One of the first paper doll books I posted in my blog was a set by Saalfield I called Little Ballerina Paper Dolls. This was back in January 2011 - the post has remained a popular one and is currently one of my top 10 most viewed posts of the month.  When I bought the book I realised some of the ballet costumes were missing that I remembered playing with as a child. I kept searching and found this book. It has some of the additional outfits, but there are still 3 more dresses to be accounted for. Both these books are originals, not laser reproductions or recent compilations so there must be at least one more bumper version out there - the book I originally played with!  

As I haven't been blogging for a while I thought I'd also give an update on my swan family.  They are still in the park and I'm hoping they have become such a feature of the place and favourite of everyone who visits that they will be allowed to stay.  At Christmas there were seven - now there are six.  I have no idea where the missing juvenile swan could have gone - the day before this happened another adult appeared in the park unexpectedly so perhaps they flew off into the sunset together.

I'm not anticipating any new baby swans this year - but if these 6 stay I'll be happy!

I took these photos the last morning I was able to go to the park.  I now have a much longer commute into work I used to complain that it was bad before - now I have an extra half an hour each way! One of the things I have had to give up is my early morning stroll and this time spent with the swans.  I can still go there at lunchtime but I miss these quiet moments in the morning tremendously.

I no longer live in the mountains that in a short year had come to mean so much to me.  The move was sudden and unexpected and I'm still feeling a bit bruised around the edges.  Instead I now live in a vale - it is a magical enchanting place in its own right - and has made me find life quite baffling. If I had come here a year ago I would have been thrilled.  For reasons I'll give on another occasion the fact that I am in this particular place is actually quite remarkable - in my lifetime I've travelled a long way and it has been quite an adventure.  I don't always feel I'm controlling events but I usually recognise the pattern that emerges - I hope in time I will detect it here. I will just need a bit of time to get past the sensation of dislocation - I miss the atmosphere of isolation, the absolute silence and darkness at night and the sweeping vistas.  My heart and my spirit are still wandering in the mountains - in time I'm hoping they will join me in the valley.

Before we left we were snowed in and could not move from the house for about a week.  This was one of the last photographs I took - it is my favourite!

Please forgive me if I don't visit or comment with any regularity for a while and if my posting is a bit erratic.  I still have a lot of things to straighten out and organise and I feel about 100 years older than I did this time last year!

But I've put my big toe back in the water - with any luck before long I'll wade right back in.


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