Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Wolf and the Wedding

Story Time, my pets.
This story first appeared in Cricket magazine in 2004. The author, Rachelle DeSimone, has kindly allowed me to publish it on my blog. IT is one of my favorite stories that I have illustrated.(Click on the images to see a larger version). It is so appropriately chilly for a cold snowy evening by the fire. I hope you have one, and are sitting by it while the wind howls outside your windows.

The Wolf and the

by Svetlana Ilyinykh and
Rachelle DeSimone

IN KSUSHA’S VILLAGE of Chudovo, everyone knew the
wolf. He appeared at the edge of the forest whenever
there was a wedding feast. He’d sit on his haunches and
watch the dancing, singing, and eating, his eyes alert and eager
and fixed on the bride.
So when it was time for Ksusha Prekrasnaya to marry, she
told her funny, beloved, strong Alyosha that they must wed in
Budogoshch, a town with a proper church that was some miles
away, too far for the lone world to travel.
The wedding was elegant and fine. The feast afterward was
even better. Ksusha’s parents and her grandparents, Babushka
and Dedushka, had filled the hall with fragrant dishes of stuffed
fish and grilled quail with kissel and scalded spice cakes for
dessert. Alyosha ate and drank, ate and drank, and then drank
and drank.
Ksusha reminded him, gently and lovingly as a good wife
should, that he must stop drinking and take her and the rest of
the wedding party home to Chudovo.
Alyosha turned to his friends Ivan, Roma, Dima, Stas, and
Valya, who were refilling their glasses. “My wife wants to go
home!” the bridegroom yelled. “A good sign for a prosperous
marriage, is it no?”
Ivan, Roma, Dima, Stas, and Valya laughed, and Ksusha
Prekrasnaya, red-faced, stared at her plate.
At midnight, Alyosha staggered up from the table. “Come,
my little chicken,” he said, gathering Ksusha and her family
into his beautiful troika. His three fine horses snorted nervously
at his touch.
“We go!” the bridegroom called, and the horses took off,
trotting fast on the road through the forest that led to Chudovo.
The wedding party wasn’t yet deep into the woods when
the wolves appeared. They stood by trees, silent and watching,
as the sleigh moved on the icy path. A lone wolf under a mas-
sive cedar howled a greeting, and the wolves began loping
behind the sleigh.

Ksusha and her family watched as the path filled with ten
wolves, then twenty, then thirty. Soon one hundred wolves
followed the sleigh.
Alyosha snapped the whip to hurry his horses. The wolves
began to howl.
Ksusha had heard wolves howl before, but never this many
and this close. The sound was terrifying, and the bride huddled
next to her funny, beloved, strong Alyosha.
“We must stop this pursuit, my little chicken,” Alyosha said.
“They will tire my poor horses. Hold the reins and keep driving.”
And with those words, he reached back, pulled Ksusha’s
grandmother from her seat, and threw her out of the sleigh.

Immediately there was a yipping and squealing, and twenty
of the wolves dropped back, surrounding the fallen babushka.
Alyosha took the reins from his Ksusha, who could not
speak. Still eighty or more wolves followed the sleigh, now
leaping at the wedding party, their teeth gleaming in the moonlit
“Hold the reins again, my little chicken,” Alyosha said, this
time reaching back and pulling Ksusha’s grandfather from his
seat and throwing him out of the sleigh.
Again there was a yipping and squealing, and twenty of the
wolves dropped back, surrounding the fallen dedushka.
Alyosha took the reins from his Ksusha, who could not
move. Still sixty or more wolves followed the sleigh, jumping
and twisting in the air and snapping their teeth at the wedding
party. Alyosha cracked his whip over each horse three times,
and the horses galloped faster.
Still the wolves pursued the party. Alyosha handed the reins
to Ksusha. He reached back and pulled Ksusha’s father from
his seat and threw him out of the sleigh. A great yipping and
squealing followed, and twenty more wolves dropped back.
Now the wolves began nipping at the horses’ legs. Alyosha
threw out Ksusha’s mother. Twenty more wolves dropped off,
but still a small group remained, leaping higher and biting at
the horses’ flanks.
Alyosha threw out Ksusha’s young sister, and at first, it
seemed that would be the last of the wolves, for the small group
surrounded the sister with a yipping and a squealing. But a
lone wolf remained, chasing the sleigh and leaping at the two
remaining passengers.
Alyosha tucked the reins between his legs. Ksusha couldn’t
breathe. As the lone wolf leaped, the not-so-funny, not-so-beloved,
but still strong Alyosha pulled Ksusha from her seat
and threw her out of the sleigh.
She landed, rolling across the ice in her taffeta wedding
gown until she was soaked and dirty. When she stopped
rolling, she slowly sat up and found herself staring into the
eyes of the lone wolf.
A howl came from the wolf. Then he bit her.
It wasn’t a big bite, but it broke the skin on her leg. A few
drops of blood appeared, and Ksusha screamed.

“Don’t yell so,” the wolf said. “I won’t bite you again.”
Ksusha looked up and saw the wolf changing shape. Pointed
ears became flat circular flaps, the long nose receded, the sharp
teeth shortened, and the fur shrank into fine soft hair.
Standing before Ksusha was a handsome young man. “I
am Sergei,” he said, bowing low before her.” “Let me take you
to my castle where I can fix your wound.”
Ksusha held onto his arm and limped through the forest.
She glanced anxiously around her.
“What is your worry?” the man said.
“The wolves may return.”
He smiled. “I am great friends with the wolves. You will
never have to fear them again. You see, an enchantress who
inhabits this forest changed me into a wolf some years ago
after I refused to marry her. Her spell could only be lifted it I,
a wolf, would bite the leg of a bride on her wedding day. Since
then, I have lived with the wolves and waited to meet my perfect
They arrived at the man’s castle. Ksusha trembled as she
saw dozens of wolves lying under the trees, licking their paws.
“Don’t be frightened, my dear,” Sergei said, his arm around
“But they killed my parents, my grandparents, and my

At that moment the door to the castle opened, and out
rushed Ksusha’s family, completely unharmed and quite happy
to see her.
Her father explained how the wolves had surrounded each
family member who was thrown from the sleigh, and how the
wolves had escorted each to the castle for a joyous reunion.
Sergei asked Ksusha’s father for her hand in marriage.
“I’d be most honored to have you for a son-in-law, but it’s
not possible,” Ksusha’s father explained. “Ksusha Prekrasnaya
is married to Alyosha.”
A wolf howled. Sergei tilted his head to listen.
“My friend tells me Alyosha’s horse have finally tired, and
he is stopped on the path ahead of us. At this very moment, he
is engaged in conversation with the enchantress who lives in
the forest.”
“The one who changed you into a wolf?” Ksusha asked.
“The very same. But she no longer has any power over me.
Let us ride to Alyosha’s troika.”
The wedding party found Alyosha’s troika and his three
exhausted horses on the road, but the enchantress had
disappeared. There was no sign of Alyosha either, although
Ksusha did find a bedraggled chicken hiding under the
seat. Ksusha picked up the little chicken that smelled strangely
of strong drink and tucked it under her arm. She took the
chicken home with her, and one fine evening, sometime later,
Ksusha popped it into a pot and cooked it as dinner for her
new husband, Sergei, the man who once was a wolf.

I do so love a good story.
Note to all the
Alyosha's in the world: I also love chicken pot pie.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Dagger Quick

So it turns out, 10 years into the business, that job opportunities to paint pirates come around about as often as those to paint Hobbits or Fairies. Thanks a lot Howard Pyle, Edmund Dulac and N.C. Wyeth... liars...
BUT WAIT!! (You were about to give up weren't you?) Land AHoy! A pirate job on the horizon?

The Dagger Quick

I had a great time reading this book. It was a rollicking voyage. Its about pirates chasing other pirates. If you have ever wondered about my process, here is a sort of sketching process.

Step 1
read the book AND take notes on character description

Step 2
start sketching characters and have lots of fun. These are the first images in my head I just want to get them on paper.

this is the first sketch and though similar to the final, the main character is totally off

Since this is the cover obviously it has to represent the whole of the book. Different age groups publishers and genres have different looks and styles. MY cover has to stand out but also fit into its genre. SHould it be a scene from the book, a portrait, a montage- that kind of thing.

Step 4
My main character is a twelve year old boy. He is a tough kid who protects his brother. He is the son of a blacksmith and works hard therefore must be strong. He is in WAY over his head and a tiny bit scared, but also isn't going to back down for love or money.
All those things I think about while trying to get the right expression and gesture in his figure. TO me, the MOST IMPORTANT thing in my work is Body Language, also called gesture. That is the body's ability to communicate emotion and expression without words.

I start doing some research on ships (in this case Frigates and Sloops). Or whatever details that appear such as, in this case, costume, rigging, daggers etc.

Step 5
Put all this together into a sketch and send to art Director. Then follows a dialogue which I use to find the best solution.

Step 6
SO after the cover sketch has approval, THEN I take some photos of a model. I never "copy" the photo, because for me the result ends up being very stagnant and disappointing. The photo reference is for achieving better light, correct drapery and more precise anatomy.

I think the exact emotions I was going for were " I am going to stab you and then I am going to punch you."

Upon approval I transfer the image to paper and paint the damn thing.

Here is the final cover with type designed by Laurent Linn- the art director