Illustration Basics: Part 2

“Illustration Basics” was a two-day workshop offered at the Vancouver Island School of Art and taught by Heather Caldwell. For a description of Day 1 of this workshop see Illustration Basics: Part 1.

Workshop students spent the week between classes developing ideas and draft versions of the letters in their names. The second (and last) day of the workshop began with a presentation by each student of his or her letters, accompanied by a description of the meanings or personal associations for each letter. The week’s efforts had paid off in terms of the legibility of the letters and the thought that had gone into expressing individual interests, ideas and feelings. Still, it seemed like a lot of effort was still ahead before we could turn our draft versions into final products.

The Letter “e”

I chose the bee to represent the letter  “e”. This image was meaningful to me for a number of reasons:

  • it is an image from nature and the garden and I have included the bee in paintings and in my blog posts (see The Birds and the Bees)
  • my daughter is a (Mason) beekeeper
  • the bee is a symbol for industry, harmonious living and courage, among other things. These are all admirable qualities, but “courage” speaks to me as an artist: it is an admonition to take risks, which isn’t an easy thing to do.

The letter "e"

During the review of my week’s work, Heather asked me whether the bee could occupy the entire top of the “e”, rather than being confined within the loop of the “e”. This might convey the idea of the imagination flying free, rather than being imprisoned. This might be a more positive symbol for the imagination. By the way, the colour blue is a symbol for imagination.

The rest of the morning flew by while I worked in pen and ink to come up with a “free flying” bee. We were encouraged to work with several media: watercolour, pen & ink and coloured pencils were my choices. At the end of the day, the other students thought that the yellow and black bee was the most recognizable from a distance, but most people liked my original version best (bee confined within loop of “e”).

The Letter “t”

"t-puppet" negative space

I was also working on the letter “t”: a magician with stars on his gown and his peaked cap. I liked the colour scheme, especially the gold stars, since this letter was supposed to represent my feelings for my grandchildren. Gold is a symbol for treasure, and my children and grandchildren are certainly a great treasure to me. Heather suggested that gold leaf would work well for a future version, and I thought this was a spectacular idea. However, I wasn’t very happy with my draft magician: it didn’t have much pizzazz and didn’t read well as a “t”. One of Heather’s general suggestions for this exercise was that we could place the letter inside a rectangle and use negative space to define the shape of the letter. I worked on this idea using watercolour and pen & ink. This last version is my favourite “t” at this point, but I’ve had so much fun making picture alphabets that I might just keep on forever!

Redbird watercolour

The Letter “r”

I was also working on the image of a bird for the letter “r”. Birds are symbolic of the imagination and were thought to be messengers from the gods bringing inspiration to earthbound men. Plato called the mind “a cage of birds”. My first drafts depicted a blue bird (happiness or contentment) angled across a straightforward orange “r”. Sometime during the afternoon, Heather suggested that I could add a serif to the “r” to represent the other (back) wing of the bird. This led to a series of drawings that attempted to morph the letter “r” into the bird image.

One of the most amazing thing that happened during my research on symbolic meanings for blue bird and red bird was the discovery of a Cherokee creation myth in which the red bird, or Cardinal, plays a key role. Red Bird is the daughter of the Sun. She was lost by some men who were carrying her from one place to another, causing the Sun to weep until her tears made a flood upon the earth. This story can be found here, along with a description of Cherokee kinship, which is matrilineal.

In listing my interests on Day 1 of this workshop, one item on my list was “finding out more about my mother’s family”. My mother’s mother was one-eighth Cherokee, and while this inheritance was pretty thin by the time it got to me, it was also a great interest for my mother’s youngest sister, Marie. She sent me a book: The Trail of Tears: The Story of the American Indian Removals 1813 – 1855 by Gloria Jahoda. Although it was a heartbreaking story, it gave me a much better understanding of what really happened during the “settlement” of America. For more information on the Trail of Tears, see this site.


6 thoughts on “Illustration Basics: Part 2

  1. Hello Mrs. Daffodil. You make such interesting posts. The ones I’ve read so far have a lovely richness; reaching out to include all sorts of things.
    My favourite letter that you’ve illustrated is the ‘e’ with the bee inside the top of the ‘e’.


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