Ghost Horse Hollow ... because a Fantasy should last a lifetime!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Watercolor Art of the Fairy Folk!

This Bing Fairy Image brings to mind the powerful blend of
reality and fantasy in Ghost Horse Hollow

Some of the happiest moments from my childhood included pouring over magical illustrations in picture books in the local libraries. I fell in love with fairy watercolors and delicate drawings by artists such as Arthur Rackham, Tasha Tudor, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Beatrix Potter. Their renderings inspired me to take up pencil and brush during my elementary school days and begin a  life-long pursuit of illustrating children's books. Today's artists combine photographic realism with enchanting scenes of make-believe. Computer technology has certainly enhanced the book covers of contemporary fantasies. Still, I deeply appreciate the elegant and simple beauty of watercolors and the subtle tones of yesteryear.

This Bing Fairy Image reminds me of  the character of Luka-shen,
 Lady Titrimia's Eldest Green Maiden in The Fairy Lore of Ghost Horse Hollow

Painting with watercolor requires overlapping transparent layers of color, usually starting with pale, pastel tones and working toward darker hues. With oil painting, sometimes the opposite process is employed. Darker shades are applied to the canvas first, and lighter touches are dabbed on during the final stages of composition. Watercolors, especially those involving detailed facial expressions, demand the best possible brushes that pull downward to a tiny tip. Working with water frustrates many artists, because this slippery medium is unpredictable and difficult to control. My best advice is to develop a sense of the "beading" process in which the medium forms droplets that can be shifted along the surface of very absorbent paper. Watercolor paper is listed as "cold" pressed or "hot" pressed. I usually work with the 140lb cold pressed.

This Bing Fairy Image calls to mind the Fairylands that surround Ghost Horse Hollow

It is best to use quality paper with a nice "toothy" texture and the finest paints available. The better the watercolors, the more brilliant your finished product will be. Inexpensive paints often result in a pale or faded design. Raising your desk by two inches in the back and mounting your paper at a slight slant will also enable you to control the "beads" of water flowing from the tip of your brushes. I also work with a special acid-free masking tape to secure the entire perimeter of a single sheet of watercolor paper to my desk, so that the edges of the paper remain smooth and flat while the layers of color are drying. When working away from my art desk, I travel with a sturdy acrylic board that will hold one drawing at a time in order to keep the paper wrinkle free. Many artists lay out their paints in a specific order, grouping the "cool" and "hot" colors together before they begin. My favorite technique is to start with pen & ink and then apply the watercolors.

Miss Genevieve "Panther" MacKennon and Elestial's Opal Moon by Artist Steve Lillegard

When combining ink with this challenging medium, be sure to select a water-proof variety; otherwise, your base drawing will blend into your washes. Sometimes using non-waterproof India ink will result in a rich, dark mass that will dramatically contrast with your pure white paper. I have also used gold, silver, and pearl ink for special highlights. The trick to watercolor illustration is to experiment with your medium until you feel confident of your ability to control a water droplet or a splash of paint. Water will form a molecular edge that can be manipulated accurately with a little concentration and patience. Practice pencil drawing frequently, and purchase professional materials whenever possible. It's also good to keep in mind that accidents always happen with watercolor, but sometimes the results are glorious! Meanwhile, I hope you will enjoy browsing through these wonderful illustrations and books that are available through                                   


  1. Wonderful post! I love these magical illustrations.Especially rare now that most cover artists use stock photos. I just heard Jules Feiffer speak at the SCBWI winter conference in NYC--he's such a legend too, with his illustrations for The Phantom Tollbooth.

    I'm an illustrator as well as being a writer. I use opaque gouache. Transparent watercolor for me, is too scary--you really can't retouch your mistakes with TW! Although, I use it as a wash under the occasional colored pencil drawing I do. So, I applaud your bravery in using transparent watercolor!

  2. So nice to read your comment about this blog! Your artistry sounds beautiful. Glad to meet you on!