Our assignment this week was to illustrate a Brothers Grimm tale within several visual constraints (only 4x4in artboards; only combinations of circles, triangles, and squares for shapes; only three colors plus black and white; and the possibility but not requirement to use a line of text for each artboard). The two readings were perfect preparations for this assignment — both articulating the basic principles of shapes, color, and perspective that we all internalize, and then also providing concrete examples in action. I found myself going through the same thought process that Burns details in Picture This, and was able to take her advice to improve my own piece.
I immediately knew I wanted to illustrate Rumpelstiltskin, because it was the most memorable Grimm tale from my childhood. While doing research for the assignment, I was elated to find pictures of the exact box set I owned — so much so that decided to go with this version’s ending (where Rumpel falls into a hole, instead of tearing himself in two). Beyond my personal investment, I knew this story was full of contrast between characters and elements that would lend itself to interesting visuals: innocent delicate maiden vs. greedy imposing king vs. wicked little imp, small bodies vs. huge rooms full of straw, and so on.
My first step was deciding on color, since I felt that was the most restrictive element. Gold was an obvious choice, being such a prominent element in the story. Green felt integral to Rumpel’s character, and even if I didn’t use it in many other elements, it would help make him stand out. For the last color, I played around with some oranges and pinks and reds — I wanted something that could both be soft as the maiden’s main color, but also rich and striking when combined with black for the king. I ended up using a coral that doubled as Rumpel’s skintone, and was really satisfied with the way it clashed with the green of his clothes (since the values are too similar, as I believe The New Basics mentioned at some point); I think it captures the unsettling feeling that Rumpel is supposed to evoke.
I then outlined my artboards with ideas for the visuals and the lines I’d pick for each; I really wanted the spread to be fully understood as the entire story, so I got a bit lenient with “a line of text” and considered it to be one full sentence. From the outline, I went straight into Illustrator to figure out the shapes of the main characters. I wanted them to be very distinct: the maiden is made of circles and a softened triangle, with a white band on her dress to show delicateness. The king should be square, but the coral rectangle wasn’t enough; the black triangle gives him his menacing feel, both through the color and sharp edges. Rumpel is triangular, with the color cash already mentioned; his head is a circle to give him some softness (he does help the maiden, after all), but with the hint of a pointy chin to stay true to his wickedness.
With the main characters done, I dove right into the artboards, without sketching them at all. I had to improvise at points, when the idea for the visual didn’t actually work in practice. Another leniency I quickly felt would be necessary was to use gradients between the allowed colors, both to help the legibility of elements with similar colors (how do you differentiate straw and gold if you only have one yellow?) and also to help set the mood in the limited environment in terms of shape. Playing with scale and positioning (tilting a character one way, moving their head closer or further from the body) was also vital in conveying their emotions. Figuring all of this out took a lot longer than I’d anticipated, but it was a really interesting challenge. If I had more time to work on the assignment, I think texture would be a great avenue to explore and help differentiate elements even further (but it would be a hefty investment of time, especially in Illustrator where layers and clipping masks can be so finicky). Overall, I feel very satisfied with the end result — I think it does succeed in telling the story, in a consistent style and with interesting visuals.