I have talked a little bit about concept and reference gathering, but for this week, I wanted to share the refinement process.
Creating an accurate final drawing is typical for most of my illustrations, but I’m getting more patient with the level of detail. Not only will this show me where different objects are in the composition, but it is also an opportunity for me to work out the lighting. I made pretty polished drawings this time around for the upcoming Triptych illustrations:
From here, it’s mostly downhill. I’m starting with the Moth Lady on the far left, which will be the most detailed. For your viewing pleasure, I made a little animated gif composed of different stages of rendering:
Four eons ago, a writer and a composer huddled over a table in the vestibule of Armacost Library at the University of Redlands, two cups of chai steaming in their hands, a collection of papers with typed print and handwritten notes scattered between them: the birth of an opera.
Okay, maybe that was four years ago.
And if you haven’t guessed by now, those two collaborators were Holly and I, on the brink of finishing our respective programs of creative writing and music composition, ready to plunge into a whirlwind of new post-undergraduate adventures. I’d wanted to work with Holly ever since meeting her a few semesters earlier in a fiction workshop, and our musical drama Lepidoptera grew out of our shared passion for storytelling.
The re-spinning of two ancient folktales, Lepidoptera is the story of a young noblewoman who must hide her love of the natural world from society’s condemning gaze. When a betrothal announcement unravels her web of secrets and threatens her only friendship, she struggles to restore the fragile balance of her public and private identities.
Holly finished the beautiful fifteen-page libretto by the end of our senior year, but it wasn’t until I was partway through my Master’s degree at the University of Michigan that I was really able to dig into the musical side of our drama. I am forever grateful to my undergraduate professor, Anthony Suter, for believing in me and encouraging me to embark on that journey to begin with; and to my graduate professor, Kristin Kuster, for also not only believing in me but for offering unwavering guidance as I pursued this project for my thesis. And for the occasional cookie lesson, which helped keep me sane as I batted away questions like what on earth was I thinking and how am I ever going to finish this on time?!
It’s funny how sometimes a character essential to a story doesn’t always appear at the story’s conception. In “The Last Sun Sage,” this character was Bekthe, the Sun Sage’s daughter. AKA. the main character. She did not even exist in the original ideas for the narrative. Then how did she come to be? How was she ever “not a thing” in this story? Well, sometimes the “hints” creators unknowingly or subconsciously leave for themselves help them discover their creation’s missing ingredient in due course. And sometimes it takes a little while to pick up on those hints, which seem so obvious in hindsight.
“The Last Sun Sage” will be the first Triptych we’ve ever created with a “Part 2.” Natalie, our composer, introduced the idea of two fictional figures, one having to do with the sun and one having to do with the moon. The idea is to have one Triptych focus on the “sun figure” and a corresponding Triptych focus on the “moon figure.” For the Sun Sage, I believe Natalie had envisioned something apocalyptic, in which the Sun Sage needs to make some kind of holy sacrifice for the greater good. The three of us took this idea and ran with it, building a world around it in the process.
Inspiration for the dying jungle.
I spent a lot of time focusing on the Sun Sage himself (or herself—I wasn’t sure for the longest time…), brainstorming about who and what he was, his world and his place in it, and his role in whatever would take place in the narrative. I played around with point-of-view, unsure if I should write from the first person or third person and how far the action would go. I’d dabbled with it in first person initially, but if this Sun Sage sacrificed himself, could I really write that convincingly from the first person? How in the world would he even be able to tell the story if he died at the end of it? That would imply that he’s either resurrected, reincarnated, a ghost, or a Jedi. And if a character can simply be “brought back” in some form or another after they die, their death has no real drama or consequences. Therefore, (my) logic dictated that the story should be told from third person in order to be more compelling in this instance.