Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Narrative Arcs: Part 3.2 Light and Dark


When I first read the text to The Dream Stair, it beckoned me both ways. Go up the stair to your attic room. Go down the stair to your cellar room. Think about that.

Betsy James, herself an illustrator, set aside her paint brush and wrote this spare, dreamlike text, then sent it out into the evening light. Her publisher gave it to me to illustrate.

On these "stairs" we exchanged many letters. Betsy and I explored both light and heavy ideas, which infused my approach to the illustrations. She wrote that she "read Jung and realized that deep fantasy is universal and the root of spirituality."

As I began my work on the book, she sent the following note:

"Richard--I wanted to send you something by way of blessing for the beginnings of this work; puzzled over it; then found it pinned to my studio wall. So blessings, Betsy

A cow gave birth to a fire.
She tried to lick it, but it burned;
She wanted to leave it but she could not,
For it was her child.
--Etheopia

From another letter she sent (as therapist):

"No, I'm not in the least worried 'what some clod will do to my lovely creation.' What collaboration teaches us is that we own, and manifest, the world in common: when I can let go of my hoarded image of it to join with another's image, it grows and I grow. All light (and dark) and joy to you!"


A lovely slice of this book's story arc was inspired by our editor, Linda Zuckerman's request to make the protagonist Hispanic. I gave art classes at an elementary school in Hollister, California, in exchange for choosing one of the students to be the model for The Dream Stair.

Betsy reminded me, "All of us transplanted "U.S.ians", regardless of our origin, half want to remember and half to forget. It's the abuelitas who remind us, and hold the memories."

Con cariƱo

10 comments:

Protege said...

I am completely infatuated with your style. If I was ever to make a living on my art, I wish to be able to paint the way you do. What I love most about your work are the colours, but I also love the feeling of reality mixed with fantasy and the freedom you take in depicting an atmosphere.
When I was young, I drew ethereal looking females with flowing hair and dreamy eyes. They were a hit among my peers and to this day I often wonder what would have happened if the art academy would have accepted me.;)
I love the sentence;"...deep fantasy is universal and the root of spirituality..."
Sorry for this long -a bit off subject- comment.;)
xo
Zuzana

Claire Rudolf Murphy said...

What a beautiful and so apt for this time of year. So enjoyed your deep communications with Betsy and her comment about how we own the world together. That is one good thing about growing older - we trust the collaborative process more. The vibrancy of your colors, Richard, jump off the page and invite me in. Wonderful.

steven said...

wow: "What collaboration teaches us is that we own, and manifest, the world in common". i spend my days with children and this is entirely what i believe, speak, and experience! your inights into the experience of illustration are feeling something like a book in themselves. it's there. right there. steven

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Thanks so much for you comment, Zuzana. Would be fun to see your early drawings. I want to be even more "atmospheric" if I can find a way...

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Thanks a lot, Claire. I agree about that benefit of growing older, and trusting the collaborative process. Like in life, we start out dependent, move to independence, then realize it's all about interdependence.

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Steven, for sure, working with children reveals our interconnectedness--the treasure of community and mentorship, and watching the future take sprout right before our eyes.

MollyMom103 said...

Hi, there, wow, this stuff takes my breath away.

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Thank you Molly, dear.

Kat_RN said...

I love it! Are you familiar with the Pre-Raphaelites? Your style is very different, but has some of the same feeling. Congratulations on a job Well Done.
Kat

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Thanks Kat. I do love the different Pre-Raphaelite painters, with their rich detail and the surreality of their realism. I guess I mean that there is such a crispness and atmosphere to their work that it becomes ultra real or hyper-scintillating, (as in the Latin for flashes of light).