Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The 12 Dancing Princesses: Process

Wanted to show a little bit of my process of creating my scratchboard illustration of the classic German tale of the 12 Dancing Princesses.

Story goes that these Princesses (who, in my adult years I recognize to be not as nice as I once thought) dance all night until they wear holes in their shoes, and no one can figure out where they go. So their father, the King, decides that if any man can figure out the mystery, he can marry one of his daughters. But if he should fail, the King would behead him (makes total sense). A bunch of dudes get their heads chopped off, because the Princesses drug the poor saps while they escape through their secret trapdoor. Meanwhile, an old humble soldier comes through the forest around the castle and meets an old hag who tells him not to drink the wine that the Princesses have poisoned, and pulls out an invisibility cloak that she just happens to have, you know, just in case. The soldier accepts, goes to the castle, dumps out the wine, pretends to snore, and then follows the Princesses through their trapdoor. He creeps after them as they pass through 3 groves of trees with silver, gold, and diamond-encrusted leaves, and then finally gets into a boat that sails them across a sea to a castle, where the Princesses dance with 12 Brad-Pitt-like Princes until dawn. When he returns, he brings a goblet from the castle and a branch from each of the trees as evidence and presents them to the King. And wham bam, he marries the oldest daughter.

If you'd like the more poetic version, I'd suggest reading the original story.

Here's some of my process:

For those who don't know, this method uses white claybord covered with india ink, and then utilizes scratching into the surface and adding marks with ink.

1. I worked on some comps in graphite, blocking out my main blacks, whites, and values.
2. From there I transferred my comp to the claybord and worked with the final sketch to finesse some of the marks and details.
3. Blacked in the blacks with india ink!
4. A shot of my humble little studio set up, and some mini claybords I was practicing mark making on (since I've never really used scratchboard before).
5. A close-up of some of the marks I had laid in, using a G-nib pen and ink, and then scratched away carefully to created the value.
6. Working in the final details! The black instrument is the G-nib pen, and the red instrument is the scratching tool ;)

The Final Work, 
with hand-drawn type/title, and text added using Photoshop.

"Then down they all went, and at the bottom they found themselves in a most delightful grove of trees; and the leaves were all of silver, and glittered and sparkled beautifully. The soldier wished to take away some token of the place, so he broke off a little branch.

Then they came to another grove of trees, where all the leaves were of gold; and afterwards to a third, where the leaves were all glittering diamonds. And the soldier broke a branch from each."

And yes, those are severed heads hiding in the folds of her skirt ;) 
Thanks for reading!

(If you're interested in seeing more process work, follow me on instagram at mirilittlebird)


  1. This is amazing!! I love your work!!

  2. What a cool process! I really enjoy seeing how your work comes together. I have to ask: why the severed heads? Did I just forget part of the story, or is that an Erin addition?

  3. GREAT work and a cool story. So many of the German fairy tales are gruesome. TFS!

  4. very cool! I like the scratchboard effect, especially around the edges of her skirt, the shadows are great. I used a different variation of scratchboard once in college, it was like card stock with black already covering it and you had to scratch away all the white areas that you wanted. I really enjoyed it, though most people found it painstaking :)

  5. that was a pretty interesting story, except for the beheading hehe

    and your work is fantastic, erin! :-)

  6. Wonderful artwork as ever. I'm so jealous of your skill.

    Also I've nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. I've tagged you in my post and given you a set of 11 questions to answer that you can find here;
    It also explains all about the Liebster Blog Award, at least what I could find out. I'd love to read your answers to my questions but no pressure.


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