Friday, 14 September 2012

Big Announcement!!!

  The Enchanted Alphabet book is now for sale on Amazon    

I completed the submission process a couple of weeks ago and received my proof copy through the post last week. I can't tell you how exciting, and weird, it was to be holding a proper copy of it in my hands. First thing to do was take it straight to show my mum. She was almost more excited than me. Then she saw that I'd dedicated it to my great uncle, Bill, who died earlier this year, and we both had a little cry.

So, here it is, as a proper book at last:

It's available from and .uk already, as well as CreateSpace's own e-store and should be available from the other European Amazon sites soon too.

US  -

UK  -

To celebrate, I've created a little bookplate featuring artwork from the book that

you can download from DeviantArt.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

O is for...


The Oakmen have had a hard life here in England over the centuries. As their name suggests, they like to live in and around oak trees but so many of our native oak forests have been cut down in ages past, to build the great fleets of the British Navy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries among other things, that these little guys have struggled to find homes for themselves. Understandably they do not like us humans very much, and use their Faery magic to disguise poisonous toadstools as human food in the hope that visitors to their realm will be tempted to eat and suffer the consequences. Who can blame them when so many of them have to make do with living in the stumps of once great oaks.

© Shona M MacDonald 2012. All Rights Reserved.

I've been delayed in posting this latest letter of the Alphabet because I've been busy-busy these last few weeks. All the letters of the alphabet are now finished!!!Yay!! And, after much humming and hawing, searching for suitable publishers and tweaking of images I've finally decided to publish the Alphabet as a little book. So my time has been taken up reformatting the pages, re-painting a couple of letters that I wasn't entirely happy with and wading through the info on CreateSpace's pages. I have a few bits of paperwork to finish (the American tax system :-O  scary stuff!) then I'll be ready to go. And the good news is that it'll be available not just on but on the UK and European sites too which means that the postage costs for those of you not in the US won't be more than the cost of the book. :) I'll post more details as I get them over the next couple of months.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

N is for...


I'd never heard of these little guys until I started researching for this project. Living in Northern Italy they haven't made it into very many English books about Faeries. I think it's kind of odd that Faeries/nature Spirits can be found in virtually every culture in the world yet most of the books are full of those that come from Ireland, Scandinavia, Germany and the British Isles. Perhaps it has something to do with the literature of these lands and the many writers from these places who have kept the stories alive. But it's also good to see today's writers searching farther afield and bringing the stories and the creatures from other cultures to wider attention. I'm a big fan of 'Urban Fantasy' and love the novels of Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman in particular, some of which feature Native American folklore and raise the interesting issue of how the Faerie Folk cope with human immigration as their histories and stories are transported around the world.

As you can probably tell, I don't have a lot to say about Norggen that I haven't put in the pages of the book, having only brief details to work from, but what I can say it that I really enjoyed painting him in his smart little jacket and hat. I'd been beginning to feel a bit bogged down with the last few letters, taking so long to decide which creatures to depict, getting side-tracked by other projects and really not feeling 'in the right mood' to paint but I'm pleased with the way he worked out...

© Shona M MacDonald 2012. All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

M is for ...


I guess most people are familiar with the tale of the Little Mermaid who gives up her fish tail and her beautiful singing voice to walk on the land in the hopes of winning the love of a prince. When she fails, in the original story at least, she becomes foam on the water. It's a sad story with numerous life lessons and you can't help but feel sorry for her, but the mermaids of folklore are very different creatures. Yes, they are beautiful, yes, they have beautiful singing voices but there the similarity ends. Rather than pay a price for magic to enable them to walk on land, they mostly prefer to lure their would-be lovers into the sea.

© Shona M MacDonald 2012. All Rights Reserved

There have been stories of Mermaids marrying human men and raising a family but these marriages rarely lasted and the Mermaids, unable to resist their true natures, would return to the sea.

The name Mermaid is thought to come from the French for sea, 'Mer', but the idea of a half human, half fish creature has been around in mythology throughout the ages. These fish tailed goddesses are found in many mythological stories, usually connected with fertility, love and the Moon. Even Aphrodite of Greek legend was born from the foam on the sea.

So, we've reached the halfway point in the Alphabet. Thank you for sticking with it this far. :) As I've been working on the book I've also been adding each new letter's illustration to a poster design that I'm hoping to make available. I'd be very interested to know if that's something any of you might like, so please let me know what you think. I'm also looking into the possibility of publishing the whole project in real book form so if you know of any publishers (or you are a publisher!!!) who produce books on this subject, please let me know.

Finally, a little plug for my other blog - Tales From the Wild Wood. It's a general art blog where I post stuff about my latest work, sketches, works in progress and witter away about whatever arty stuff is grabbing my attention at the time. I'm currently wrestling with the creation of a rather wobbly troll!!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

L is for...


There can be few people in the Western world who haven't heard of Leprechauns. Along with the shamrock they have become something of a national symbol in Ireland. St. Patrick's day celebrations are awash with people in green costumes and red beards. Their pots of gold are also legendary. To win one you have to catch the Leprechaun first which is no easy feat as they will disappear as soon as they see you unless you've seen them first. Once spied and 'caught' in your gaze, the Leprechaun will likely bargain his treasure to secure his release. But be warned - many Faery Folk are able to cast glamours and you may well find that the pot of gold becomes nothing more than a pot of dead leaves by morning!

© Shona M MacDonald 2012 All Rights Reserved

As promised, the rest of this post is a brief walkthrough of how I've created the pages of the Enchanted Alphabet.

The illustrations themselves are created traditionally. So, I started with a couple of sketches. One was of a Leprechaun making a shoe, the other dancing with his pot of gold. I wasn't completely happy with the first one so it was the second sketch that I used.

Next I drew out the border and the letter L onto a 5"x7" piece of hot-pressed watercolour paper. I prefer using hot-pressed paper to cold-pressed as it's smoother so you can add small details more easily. Once this was done, I transferred the sketch to the paper using a sheet of graphite paper. A tip taught to me by my tutor on the botanical illustration course I did a couple of years ago was to use the tip of a dart or, in my case, the point of a pair of compasses to trace the outline of the image so that you get nice, clean, narrow lines. Once this was done I added a pale wash of watercolour to the border and the letter. As you can see, the lines created by the tracing are so faint that didn't even show up in the scan:

I continued to work on the letter and the border, darkening down the areas, adding some definition to the shamrock leaves and shading to the letter:

Then I started working on the Leprechaun and his gold in the same way. I used light washes first to define the different areas, then began to add shading and more detail:
Until finally the image was complete:

Next came the digital bit. If you know all about digital art then please bear with me on this as I'm just learning to find my way around the most basic bits of Photoshop Elements :)

To create the book pages I scanned the cover and pages of a real book that I bought at a local flea market then removed the text and illustrations before replacing them with my own.

After scanning a page I used the clone brush tool to get rid of the text and illustrations. In the pic below you can see that I've started to do this:

And here it is when I finished:

Typical me, I decided that I wanted the book to have a green cover (green is a good faery colour) so I had to carefully 'select' all the visible areas of the cover and adjust the hue and saturation of the selected area to make it green, then I used the background eraser tool to make the area around the book transparent (it shows up white in the jpeg below, but in Photoshop, as a .psd it's transparent):

So my page is ready for its new text and illustration. The illustration was added on a separate layer, reduced to the right size and moved into place. I chose a 'blend mode' of 'multiply' for this layer so that the book page underneath would show through:

Then I added the text using the text tool. Finally, I added a background behind the whole thing and created a shadow behind the book to make it look more real:

So, there it is from start to finish. I've only had to do this 24 times 8-|

M is next, then I better get painting again as N is one of the letters I've yet to complete!!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

K is for...


These little folk who live in mines are known throughout Europe by various different names: in Germany they are 'mountain monks' or 'master hammerlings', in Wales Coblynau, in Scotland Black Dwarfs, and in Denmark and Sweden Kobolds. But it is in the tin mines of Devon and Cornwall that they are known as Knockers. Like so many Faery Folk, if they are treated respectfully, they are happy to help the miners to find the richest veins of ore in return for food. They have also been known to warn miners of imminent dangers.

© Shona M MacDonald 2012. All Rights Reserved

My next post will be a walkthrough of the illustration for the letter L, followed by the digital process I use to create the 'pages' (nothing very techincal - I'm only just starting to learn to use Photoshop) :)

Thursday, 10 May 2012

J is for...


I love this little guy and the whole Jack-in-the-Green/Green Man idea in general. I've painted the Green Man several times and will no doubt do so again but this is the first time I've illustrated a Jack-in-the-Green. They are such a strong image, those foliate heads. There is not doubt as to what they are about, unlike other Faeries who often like to hide their true natures. The Jack-in-the-Green is nature personified, the renewing, seasonal cycle of growth, fruition, death and re-birth. No wonder the character has played such a prominant role, allbeit in differing disguises, in May Day festivals for centuries.

© Shona M MacDonald 2012. All Rights Reserved

There has been a vast amount written about the symbolism, history and imagry of the Green Man - I could wiffle on for ages about the books and articles I've read, the theories and the treelore but really, in the end, I think the best way to understand the Green Man, to connect with a Jack-in-the-Green, is to go out into your garden, or into the countryside on a bright, fresh Spring day and take a few moments to sit in silence and feel the atmosphere and the energy in the air.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

I is for...


A tricky one this. Some people list Imps along with Faeries while others don't. It's hard to say whether 'Imp' is a name specifically created to identify an actual type of small demon or an example of the demonisation of the Little People in general. Either way an Imp tends to be very small in size and show many of the characteristics of a naughty Faery; and as their name has its roots in German Folklore I'd like to think that they are Faery Folk.

© Shona M MacDonald 2012. All Rights Reserved

Sunday, 22 April 2012

H is for...


I'm not really sure what to say about Hobgoblins. It's a name that gets mentioned quite frequently yet I suspect a lot of time it's used as a generalisation. Hobgoblins are really hearth spirits, like Brownies, who live in kitchens, near either a fireplace, or in more modern times near the cooker or hob. I suppose anything with the term 'goblin' as part of its name is going to get some bad press, not least because the Puritans used the term to refer to Satanic forces, which is a shame I think, as all they want is a warm place to sleep and a little bit of cake now and then. Like Brownies they are small creatures who tend to be seen wearing tattered clothing. It is uncertain if they have the same attitude to new clothes as Brownies as so very little has been written about them. But they certainly don't have the same attitude to work. They are more like unpaying lodgers.

© Shona M MacDonald 2012. All Rights Reserved.

However, despite the lack of tales about them, their name has been associated with and used for all kinds of things from beer to computer games and comics, folk music to pubs and, most weirdly a Marxist journal (?).

I hadn't realised it had been so long since my last post. I have I, J, and K ready to post over the next couple of weeks, hopefully followed by a little peek at my painting techniques with the letter L :)

Thursday, 5 April 2012

G is for ...


Every good garden should have one!! Given their popularity I find it quite odd that there aren't really any good stories or old folk-tales about Gnomes. You see statues of them in gardens all over Britain and yet there are virtually no detailed accounts of encounters with them. I suspect that a lot of people mix them up with Dwarves, as I've seen several Disney Dwarf statues being sold alongside Gnomes. I'm sure this would annoy both the Dwarves and the Gnomes as they are different creatures altogether.

© Shona M MacDonald 2012. All Rights Reserved.

 It was the 16th Century alchemist Paracelsus who is credited with first using the name Gnome to describe Earth Elementals who lived within the earth itself. I wonder if, perhaps, his perceived superior knowledge about them made other people shy away from writing about them in anything other than more modern children's stories. Yet despite this they have earned their place within Faerie mythology. Ask most people what they think a Kelpie or a Spriggan look like and they will probably stare at you blankly, but everyone knows what a Gnome looks like and that they are connected with gardening and the earth.

When I did a google search for Gnome, once I'd got past all the GUI computer speak (which took a few pages I can tell you!) I found that there is now even a Garden Gnome Liberation group fighting to free Gnomes from garden oppression!! This put me in mind of a story that featured on several news programmes here in the UK when I was a child. Someone had their Gnome stolen from their garden and a short while afterwards starting receiving postcards from his Gnome from all over the world. If my memory serves me right, the was Gnome eventually returned to his garden complete with a little suitcase covered in travel stickers. I'm not sure if that says more about people's fondness for Gnomes or the eccentricities of my fellow countrymen!

As we're talking Gnomes I'd also like to add a quick shameless plug for a company in the US, called Gnomeworks Puzzles, who make the most exquisite wooden jigsaw puzzles (I know because I've got one), including ones featuring some of my artwork.

H, I and J will be following soon and I've created a bit of 'walkthrough' for L to let you see how I put these pages together.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

F is for...


Well, what else could it be? Even though the word 'Faery' is used to describe so many different types of creature, I thought it best to stick with the obvious for this one and drew a little Faery girl with delicate wings.

I must admit that, on the whole, I prefer to draw and paint Fae creatures that are a little more unusual or challenging than this. I love the idea of shape-shifters - that Faeries can take any form they want, or any form we want for that matter. I remember reading Geoffrey Hodson's book 'The Kingdom of Fairy' and being intrigued by the idea that the house Brownie he had observed over several weeks began to appear with clothes similar to his own. I also like the idea that some of these nature spirits incorporate elements of vegetation, insects or animals into their physical forms. Water Faeries with frogs legs, Meadow Tuft Faeries (like my profile pic) with grass for hair, Twig Men and Thorn Sprites.

But, as this Alphabet has been designed in the style of a children's book, I wanted to keep it quite simple and keep those more complex creatures for my Herbarium Intermundia project (new blog coming soon :0) ).

© Shona M MacDonald 2012. All Rights Reserved

Thursday, 22 March 2012

E is for...


Choosing which kind of Elf to draw for this letter was a little tricky. There seems to be several definitions and descriptions of this particular Fae depending on where in Europe you happen to live. In some cases they are the same size as us humans, seen as the 'royal line' of the Fae Folk and this was certainly the kind of Elves Tolkien portrayed in his books. But it appears that the name 'Elf' has often become interchangable with 'Faery' and so they come in all shapes and sizes. Light Elves, who are much like the benevolent 'trooping Faeries' or Seelie Court in Scotland; and the Dark Elves who live underground, attack humans and animals with 'Elf-Shot' and the equivalent of the Unseelie Court.

So which to choose? In the end, having looked at the diminutive nature of most of the other creatures in the Alphabet, I decided to go with the English folklore which describes Elves as mischievous 'fairy boys', perhaps like Puck or Robin Goodfellow, or Honeythorn Gump from the film Legend.

© Shona M MacDonald 2012. All Rights Reserved

With only a few letters left to paint, I'm planning a walkthrough of one letter - from sketch to finished page - very soon but in the meantime I've scanned a few of my sketches:

A and B:-

© Shona M MacDonald 2012. All Rights Reserved

And a sneek preview of two future letters, H and J :-

© Shona M MacDonald 2012. All Rights Reserved

Monday, 19 March 2012

D is for...


I love the idea that trees have resident spirits. There's something right about that - that these beings live in the forests for hundreds of years watching the world, passing on their stories to one another. I usually imagine them to be old and wise, like Tolkien's Ents, all gnarly-faced and mossy, keeping the secrets of the first Forest. But Dryads are something different, taking the form of beautiful women when they leave their trees at night. I can't really imagine one wanting to make it's home in a twisted old Oak or a Yew but it is quite easy to imagine one living in a Willow or a Silver Birch -  delicate, thin-limbed trees.

© Shona M MacDonald 2012. All Rights Reserved

I'm getting closer to completing the Enchanted Alphabet - I've only six letter left to paint - but as I mentioned in my first post, I've been struggling with choosing creatures for one or two of the letters. Q and V have been particularly annoying. There are some Faerie creatures for these letters listed in the various books I have but none of them are British/Irish/Western European and I feel it would be a little odd to be staying within those mythologies for most of the pieces then suddenly throw in something from Japan or South America. So if any of you reading this have any suggestions, particularly for Q and V but also for N, I'd be very interested, and grateful, to hear them.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

C is for...


After a couple of helpful and benign Faeries in A and B, it's time for a little bit of the other side of Faerie, the Unseelie Court as they are called in Scotland. It was believed that some Faerie Folk liked to steal children and take them away into the Hollow Hills. In their place they would leave a Faery child, a Changeling, so that their theft would go unnoticed long enough for them to make their escape back to their own world.

© Shona M MacDonald 2012. All Rights Reserved

Friday, 2 March 2012

B is for...


There were a whole host of Faery Folk to choose from for the letter B, from Banshees to Boggarts, Blue Men to Bucca but by far the most famous is the Brownie. As House Faeries they like to do various chores around the home or farm at night, cleaning, threshing corn, churning butter. It was thought that they would only stop work when a cockerel crowed in the morning, some people even believing that they turned into cockerels during the day.

© Shona M MacDonald 2012 All Rights Reserved

They seem to be particularly common in Scotland where there are many stories of them serving local lairds and their families, one even going out to get a midwife when the lady of the house went into labour.

While generally benign, Brownies do become angry with people who make a mess or are lazy and can injure people they've taken a dislike to for this reason. In extreme circumstances they have been known to turn into Boggarts, destroying property, stealing food and terrorizing the family. However, if they are looked after, given bread and warm milk or cream, they remain content and will stay loyal to a family for generations.

By far the most famous 'Brownie' today is Dobby the House Elf who appears throughout J K Rowling's Harry Potter books, closely followed by Thimbletack in Holly Black's Spiderwick Chronicles.

On the subject of Brownies and clothes, stories vary. In some cases giving a Brownie clothing as a gift is extremely offensive and he will refuse to do any more work. In other cases is seems that this was the Brownie's goal all along and when he finally receives this coveted gift he will skip away happily, never to be seen again.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A is for....

Apple-Tree Man.

There is a huge amount of mythology surrounding apple trees. They were possibly the first tree to be cultivated for their fruit in Europe and have played their part in in several of the mythologies and religions of the world. From Eve's eating of the apple in Genesis, to the mystical apple groves said to grow on the Isle of Avalon, to the US's Johnny Appleseed, the apple tree has played its part in human history and myth all over the world.

© Shona M MacDonald 2012
All Rights Reserved

 The apple appears in the classic faery tale 'Snow White'; apples were fed to the Norse Gods and Goddesses to maintain their immortality; Hera's apple-tree in the Garden of the Hesperides played its part in Heracles' labours in Greek mythology.

Many folklore traditions exist, and some prevail today, involving the apple tree and its fruits. We 'bob' for apples at Halloween and a prophesy ritual can be performed that same night by peeling an apple - making sure to keep the peel in one piece - and throwing it over your left shoulder. When it lands it will form the initial of the person you will marry. It was once believed that if you could see the sun shining through the branches of an apple tree on Christmas Day then a good harvest the following year would be assured. And in the West Country in Britain, in particular, 'Wassailing the Apple' has been an annual tradition, sometimes performed at Yuletide, sometimes on the 6th of January or on the 17th of January (Twelfth Night by the old calendar). Traditions vary from hitting the apples trees with sticks to wake them up after the winter, to pouring the last of the harvest's cider on the tree roots, to soaking toast in cider and hanging it in the apple-trees for the robins who are believed to be the apples-trees' spirits, but all involve singing Wassailing songs in the orchard. These ceremonies would often conclude at the oldest tree in the orchard where the spirit of the Apple-Tree Man is believed to dwell.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

How it all began...

One day at work I was reading the Endicott Studio blog. This is a blog guaranteed to to take you down all manner of strange Faerie pathways and on this particular day I followed a link to the website of the artist Rima Staines. I was entranced by her gorgeous artwork and the wonderful muted colours of her illustrations. One picture in particular stuck in my little brain and would not leave:

© Rima Staines
This little alphabet niggled at me for a long time, sitting in the back of my mind until one day I decided that I would quite like to create an alphabet of my own - a Faerie Alphabet. In fact, why not a whole series of Alphabets, I thought optimistically. And I began to write a list - I love a good list, me. I write hundreds of  'em. For everything. They keep me right and I LOVE crossing things off them...because that means I've done stuff! So I wrote my first list of Faerie creatures, or tried to anyway. Finding a Fae creature beginnig with X proved difficult. Finding Fae creatures that I was inspired to paint starting with several other letters proved rather tricky too. But, undeterred by the uncomplete-ness of the list, I started sketching the letter A full of enthusiasm for my new project!

That was 3 years ago. Letter A's sketch was a success but letter B's wasn't so hot and the project was put aside while I worked on other things. Quite what prompted me to pick it up again, I'm not really sure, but as with so many initially simple ideas that I have, they get expanded, extended, changed in my head the more I think about them. And the idea of making what was going to be a small series of little paintings into a virtual book suddenly appeared.

I plan to explain some more about the digital process that made this possible in later posts but now it's time for a couple of pictures. All books start with the front cover:

© Shona M MacDonald 2012. All Rights Reserved.
And the title pages:

© Shona M MacDonald 2012. All Rights Reserved.