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“the circus arrives without warning.”

like millions of us around the world, i absolutely am in love with erin morgenstern’s book the night circus.

full of magic, romance, mystery, and a “circus that arrives without warning.” all in black & white and shades of grey, none the less. and those who are hopelessly devoted (and even travel wherever the circus appears next) attend the circus in the same colour scheme, but with a wardrobe accessory of red. call me a rêveur. i’m there, “like stepping into a fairy tale under a curtain of stars.”

have a peak at the painting and research process below, and then i’ll tell you all i included within the painting to allude to details and characters from erin’s marvelous tale.

(i started my re-read and research of this novel on the day i spoke to a local elementary school art class about my career as an artist; so that’s me in the teacher’s lounge trying to pretend i’m the world’s best public speaker and kids don’t scare me. it actually went quite well.) ;)

after i read the book (you can see all my post it flags sticking out at important passages), compiled my story notes in my mini  moleskin, and sketched out some icon drawings in my sketchbook, i begin to assemble the final drawing for my painting.

after i read the book (you can see all my postit flags sticking out at important passages), compiled my story notes in my mini moleskin, and sketched out some icon drawings in my sketchbook, i begin to assemble the final drawing for my painting.

on of my favorite things about this piece? my drawing for celia’s dress. (compiled from a few different outfit descriptions in the book as well as some vintage dior & valentino references.)

on of my favorite things about this piece? my drawing for celia’s dress. (compiled from a few different outfit descriptions in the book as well as some vintage dior & valentino references.)

after i’ve settled on which drawings i’m going to use from important elements or characters in the tale, i’ll copy them out of my sketchbook and retrace them to fill in the background pattern.

after i’ve settled on which drawings i’m going to use from important elements or characters in the tale, i’ll copy them out of my sketchbook and retrace them to fill in the background pattern.

here’s the final drawing with figures, background elements, and scroll-y detail work included. next up is to transfer it to illustration board.

here’s the final drawing with figures, background elements, and scroll-y detail work included. next up is to transfer it to illustration board.

i’ll use a piece of graphite transfer paper between my finished drawing (created on tracing paper) and the illustration board i’ll paint on. every icon, every figure, every line is traced so that…..

i’ll use a piece of graphite transfer paper between my finished drawing (created on tracing paper) and the illustration board i’ll paint on. every icon, every figure, every line is traced so that…..

…it leaves a grey outline so i can colour inside the lines, as it were.

…it leaves a grey outline so i can colour inside the lines, as it were.

after the entire drawing has been re-traced and transferred onto illustration board, i’ll spend the next 60 or so hours peering through my magnifying lamp to paint the days away!  the first thing i do is paint my background colour around ALL those shapes. yes, it takes forever. about 6 or 7 hours in one sitting so my gouache stays wet and consistent.

after the entire drawing has been re-traced and transferred onto illustration board, i’ll spend the next 60 or so hours peering through my magnifying lamp to paint the days away!
the first thing i do is paint my background colour around ALL those shapes. yes, it takes forever. about 6 or 7 hours in one sitting so my gouache stays wet and consistent.

for the night circus piece, i wanted a subtle ombre effect in the background. so my deepest black (of course with some other paint pigments thrown in; one never uses black straight out of the paint tube!) is at the bottom, and i slowly lightened it towards the top so our figures would be even more resplendent against the background.

for the night circus piece, i wanted a subtle ombre effect in the background. so my deepest black (of course with some other paint pigments thrown in; one never uses black straight out of the paint tube!) is at the bottom, and i slowly lightened it towards the top so our figures would be even more resplendent against the background.

once the background is in, i’ll start filling in the story icon pattern. soooooo many mixed greys to fill them in!! the other fun thing about the ombre background behind them is how the hippos up top look darker than the ones lower in the painting because of the visual effect of the paint shade behind it. ooooh, colour theory, how i love thee.

once the background is in, i’ll start filling in the story icon pattern. soooooo many mixed greys to fill them in!! the other fun thing about the ombre background behind them is how the hippos up top look darker than the ones lower in the painting because of the visual effect of the paint shade behind it. ooooh, colour theory, how i love thee.

after my story icons were mostly filled in (went in with even more detail later, because i can’t help myself), i used india ink for the night sky above the circus tents. i wanted it to have a slightly different texture and sheen than the gouache paint i was using on the rest of it. and i think it turned out great.

after my story icons were mostly filled in (went in with even more detail later, because i can’t help myself), i used india ink for the night sky above the circus tents. i wanted it to have a slightly different texture and sheen than the gouache paint i was using on the rest of it. and i think it turned out great.

here’s the background mostly filled in and back to right-side-up. there was still ooooodles of work left to do. but i’d filled in enough to know how i wanted to keep the piece under control and not too visually overwhelming. (*chuckle* you know i can’t help that, either. but i still wanted it to look good. and consistent. and magical.)

here’s the background mostly filled in and back to right-side-up. there was still ooooodles of work left to do. but i’d filled in enough to know how i wanted to keep the piece under control and not too visually overwhelming. (*chuckle* you know i can’t help that, either. but i still wanted it to look good. and consistent. and magical.)

my hero for this painting was my encoda brush size 2. it’s smaller than it looks. but i got in some TIGHT detail. particularly on the dragons inside the clock faces. and all that smoke/lace/fire at the bottom…

my hero for this painting was my encoda brush size 2. it’s smaller than it looks. but i got in some TIGHT detail. particularly on the dragons inside the clock faces. and all that smoke/lace/fire at the bottom…

i also used india ink on the circus canvases. (but the flags i painted in grey gouaches.)

i also used india ink on the circus canvases. (but the flags i painted in grey gouaches.)

a view of my workspace. my sketchbook (with original concept layout), final drawing, tins of gouache paints, and all the other artsy ephemera in my living room/library studio corner. :)

a view of my workspace. my sketchbook (with original concept layout), final drawing, tins of gouache paints, and all the other artsy ephemera in my living room/library studio corner. :)

no, this isn’t an advertisement for how often i paint my nails in various shades of glitter. (or just how many weeks it took me to finish this piece!)  but i wanted to show you the tiny tiny stars i added in the night sky above the circus tents. i told you that encoda-2 brush helped me get some tiny details!! (normal-sized pencil for scale reference.)

no, this isn’t an advertisement for how often i paint my nails in various shades of glitter. (or just how many weeks it took me to finish this piece!)

but i wanted to show you the tiny tiny stars i added in the night sky above the circus tents. i told you that encoda-2 brush helped me get some tiny details!! (normal-sized pencil for scale reference.)

i always paint the figures and the faerie tale FEET last. it might be the best part. but i need to see the cohesive piece first so i can make sure they stand out. still obsessed with celia’s dress and shoes. ugh. i love it so much. ;D

i always paint the figures and the faerie tale FEET last. it might be the best part. but i need to see the cohesive piece first so i can make sure they stand out. still obsessed with celia’s dress and shoes. ugh. i love it so much. ;D

here’s another look at some of my research and inspirational materials on top of my sketchbook (& self-annotated copy of  the night circus !)

here’s another look at some of my research and inspirational materials on top of my sketchbook (& self-annotated copy of the night circus!)

and here’s a clean look at the final background drawing before i transferred it and turned it into a painting.

and here’s a clean look at the final background drawing before i transferred it and turned it into a painting.

and here’s a bad photo of the final painting. (but at least the green edge tape is off!! (ha!) limited edition signed reproductions now available in my  etsy shoppe ! and  contact me  if interested in the original (now framed!) painting!

and here’s a bad photo of the final painting. (but at least the green edge tape is off!! (ha!) limited edition signed reproductions now available in my etsy shoppe! and contact me if interested in the original (now framed!) painting!

so THAT was a process, no?

here’s all the story icons and illusions you’ll find in my finished painting. (yes, i edited down my ideas, as usual. but i still crammed quite a bit in there.)

  • the striped tents of le cirque des rêves

  • prosper the enchanter (hector bowen)’s top hat

  • ^often found alongside the man in the grey suit’s top hat

  • the teacup, flowered porcelain that celia would break and repair as a child as she learned

  • the binding rings: celia’s silver & marco’s gold, interlocked and inseparable as their fates

  • the dove that celia couldn’t save is also reflected at the end of the book, next to a book of shakespeare’s sonnets, which is why my doves are literally cut out of a book of the same.

  • marco alisdair (le bateleur, the magician)’s bowler hat

  • ^and i made his suit deep green because of his remarkable (mesmerizingly green) eyes

  • isobel martin’s glove doubled in meaning with poppet’s tiny white glove she gave to bailey in proof of his dare to sneak into the circus during the daytime

  • there was a butterfly suspended in glass at the first planning meeting for the circus at la maison de fèvre

  • the plain grey envelope containing the proclamation “your move.”

  • the ravens from celia’s audition

  • herr thiessen’s intricate and huge detailed clock i condensed down into the twinkling stars, the silver dragon, the curls of steam from the teapots, and the clouds

  • tsukiko’s folded paper cranes for the twins’ birth

  • the wide black cauldron with clawed feet with dancing white flames from the entrance to the circus

  • the black & white striped bag of popcorn (who doesn’t go to the circus for the junk food?)

  • the black umbrella (swoon; the revelation)

  • the flying hippopotamus is a reference to pg. 368 ;)

  • the two of hearts playing card (the stabbing, but more happily, the ending of the book)

  • the twins’ black & white kittens

  • and the scroll-y pattern at the bottom is all an allusion to ghost hector’s lace cuffs, the shawl celia left behind, the ice garden, and the white flames of the circus cauldron fire.

  • and yes, i put my own (imaginary wardrobe) red shoe there next to my signature as a proper rêveur would.

limited edition signed reproductions of my painting “the circus arrives without warning” now available HERE on my halthegal etsy shoppe!

coming soon: bookmarks (in time for beaulitfulcon!)

and valentines are here. the best holiday of all. ;)

i hope my painting inspires you to step back into the tale.

(i also listened to the audiobook narrated by in the incomparable jim dale while i painted; recommended story time!!)

and if you’re interested in the original painting, it’s framed in a soft black wooden frame (and comes with my annotated edition of the book with all my post*its & margin notes of ideas!) and available for $560 +$40 for safe US shipping. contact me if interested.

painting itself is 11 x 14”, total framed size with mat and wooden black frame is 19 x 22.”

painting itself is 11 x 14”, total framed size with mat and wooden black frame is 19 x 22.”

and to wrap it up, here are a few of my favourite quotes from this remarkable book:

“People see what they wish to see. And in most cases, what they are told that they see.”

“Once [the Burgess sisters] were librarians, but that is a subject they will only discuss if heavily intoxicated.”

“If we do things properly, it will undoubtedly take on a life of its own.”

“I was distracted by the size of the library. I did not think anyone would notice I was missing.”

“I am certain that they would,” Marco says. “Though I have been distracted by the library, myself, many times.”

“The world is a more interesting place than I had ever imagined…”

By the time he reaches the farm, he is sure that the Bailey he is now is closer to the Bailey he is supposed to be than the Bailey he had been the day before. He may not be certain what any of it means, but for now he does not think that it much matters.

In his dreams, he is a knight on horseback, carrying a silver sword, and it does not really seem that strange after all.

We add our own stories, each visitor, each visit, each night spent at the circus. I suppose there will never be a lack of things to say, of stories to be told and shared.

“Who doesn’t like a good cake analogy?”

“I would have written you, myself, if I could put down in words everything I want to say to you. A see of ink would not be enough.”

“I feel like one of those girls in fairy tales, the ones who don’t even have shoes and then somehow get to attend a ball at the castle.”

“Did it work?” he asks. “Please tell me that it worked.”

In response, she kisses him the way he once kissed her in the middle of a crowded ballroom.

As though they were the only two people in the world.

you can also visit my instagram page. i’ve put together a highlight reel of the whole painting journey!