Crista Alejandre

Digital illustrator



Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

I'll be working on a drop cap "C" for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. (Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't read the book.)

There is SO MUCH information in this book that brainstorming a page of notes took about five seconds. 

Here is one page of brainstorms and the beginnings of some sketches. I began by looking in a Gothic direction--though the book takes place during the Regency era at the very beginning of the 19th century, looking back to earlier times and practices is a major part of the book.

In particular, the Gothic cathedral in York is an important setting toward the beginning. The way Clarke writes, too, is reminiscent of this style--highly detailed with exposed structural elements (i.e. a ton of footnotes explaining the fictional magical history of England). this led, more or less, to my first full-fledged idea (sketch at left, below):

Explanation of Sketch #1: The curve of the C will look like (or at least have the texture of) the rose window of York Minster. Then, thinking of vertical components, I included Stephen's sceptre which is combined with a thistle as a reference to the Gentleman with Thistle-Down Hair. A raven, the symbol of the ancient magician king John Uskglass, sits on top of a stack of books--magical texts in this universe are the source of all magical knowledge and also the reason for a lot of tension and conflict in the plot. 

After sleeping on sketch number 1 overnight I came back to it and start to doubt my ability to pull off a cool-looking raven. I also wasn't sure about that stack of books. An earlier version of this sketch had a leg emerging from a mirror in its place, and I'm still considering that... anyway I tried a totally different idea. 

I poked around on Google and found that Copperplate script is period-appropriate for this book's setting. It's a totally different direction from sketch 1, but why not?

Explanation of Sketch #2: The shape of the letter C is fluid and flowing. It consists of natural elements, which is where the older, mystical, and more powerful branch of English magic comes from in the book. The raven feathers and the thistles represent two of the most magical beings mentioned: the raven king John Uskglass and the faerie Gentleman with the Thistle-Down Hair. Their powers, philosophies, and actions are the extreme opposite of Mr. Norrell's orderly, strict, logical, book-derived way of performing magic. 

So at this point I think I like sketch 2 better--it does tell a story and frankly it is probably easier to execute than sketch 1. What do you think? Which sketch do you prefer? 

I gave sketch 2 a shot. Here are some earlier working versions. Here I am figuring out color issues--the thistle down color needed to be white/silver; that was non negotiable. But that left the raven feathers and thistle leaves/stem. Green was a natural first attempt, and the purple background probably has something to do with living among Raven fans for five or so years.

Unfortunately, green made the feathers look like leaves...

So I reversed the colors.

The purple plus the thorny leaves (all rough "sketches" at this point) was really working for me. I can picture sickly, purple plants growing in Lost Hope, the enchanted kingdom where people waste away because they're being forced to dance forever.

Final version: lightened the background up for more contrast and played up the sickly feeling with a muddy greenish yellow. Texture added to leaves and feathers.



Please sign in or sign up to comment.