Bring a dark fairy tale to life
Rovina Cai illustrates a fairy tale with a dark twist, experimenting with mixed media techniques, while using fashion and nature as her inspirations
For this workshop I’m creating an illustration based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Thousandfurs. One of the key elements in the story is a cloak made of different kinds of fur and feathers. When I first read the story, I knew right away that I wanted to draw the cloak. There’s a lot of potential here for creating something just a little creepy and unusual with all those different animals.
I want the figure to be surrounded by an almost abstract mass made up of animals and textures. My aim is to create a strong silhouette shape, filled with smaller details when you look closer. Although the fairy tale describes the cloak as being made of different kinds of fur, I want to take it a step further and include subtle hints of recognisable animal parts as well, such as an eye or ear poking out here and there. I love adding these details for viewers to find; they’re like secrets hidden in plain sight.
For inspiration, I’m looking at fashion designers like Alexander McQueen and July 2016 Iris van Herpen. These designers create work with unique silhouettes, and often use textures inspired by nature. Their work is also slightly dark and creepy, which is just the kind of tone I’m looking to achieve in my own illustration. I’m not copying specific designs, but rather taking note of the silhouettes and materials they use. For actual reference, I’m using a collection of photos I’ve taken at various museums, giving me a wide range of animal patterns to refer to as I draw.
I’ll be using a combination of watercolour and pencil to create a monochromatic image, with highlights using gouache. The watercolour textures establish the mood and tone of the illustration, while the drawn lines create movement and details. My focus is on being experimental and letting the process inform my creative decisions.
This experimental approach means that the results can be unpredictable, and I never know exactly what textures or shapes I’ll produce when laying down the watercolour. Because this is a personal piece and not for a client or commission, it enables me to improvise and play with media without worrying about what the final will look like. Though I love working with the constraints of an illustration assignment, it’s fun to ‘ let loose’ on these personal pieces. I often stumble across new techniques along the way that I can then take into commissioned work.