What happens to your household items when they go missing? Why do hairpins and spools of thread vanish? Where did your pencil go when you know you set it on the table? What about the heirloom pocket-watch you kept so carefully in a dresser drawer? You’ve looked everywhere for one of the knights in your favorite chess set. And, why do Lego pieces regularly disappear? Mary Norton proposed a solution to these mysteries in her Borrowers series, which first came out in 1952. The Borrowers are tiny people who live within the walls of our homes. They believe that the only true purpose for “Human Beans”…as they call us…is to provide the basic necessities for their lifestyle. They have no qualms about taking everything from potatoes to pins to pieces of cloth or paper. According to Mary Norton, their rooms are papered with letters rescued from a trash can. The handwritten script runs as vertical stripes up each wall. A chess piece becomes the marble bust on a column in their living room. Bits of pencil may look like rolling-pins in their hands but are still useful for writing. A Borrower’s main goal, besides living comfortably, is to NEVER be seen by a human. Their fear is that (if seen) the humans may buy a cat or some other deadly pet who would force them out onto the streets, looking for a new home.
Today’s artwork was inspired by the SCBWI prompt – Borrow. While brainstorming ideas, I remembered stories I’d heard as a child. I also remembered a TV cartoon series called The Littles, which I’m guessing was based on The Borrowers. So, I borrowed (no pun intended) my mom’s copy of the book and began researching this month’s illustration. Most aspects of my illustration come from the book…including the wall paper, chess piece, sofa, pencil, diary, wall art, and spool of thread. The girl is based on the main character, Arrietty, age 14. And the boy is a human she meets, age 10. These roles were played by my niece and nephew. While mine is a more modern version of the setting, it remains true to the heart of a Borrowers scene. My aim was to capture the very moment Arrietty is seen (and no, this setting is not true to the book…they first meet outside). It’s that frozen second of calm before the storm, where she’s been writing in her diary and hasn’t even had time to think of escape. I hope you enjoy it! And, if you’re looking for a good book for young readers, check out Mary Norton’s stories!
Tips and tricks connected with this illustration:
Obviously, when compiling photo references for an illustration like this one, you can’t get everything in one shot. First, I made a rough sketch of the poses, expressions and setting needed. I took photos of my nephew looking through a cardboard cut-out hole. He quickly learned that acting surprised while trying not to turn your face (lest you cast shadows in the wrong place) and peering through a hole in cardboard is…tricky! Thankfully, he has a dramatic flair and was up for the challenge. Then, I set my niece up in the pose I’d sketched and took her photos. We placed a chess knight on top of a Lego column for that particular reference, and I took close-up shots from the angle needed. Other items were found online. All images were pieced together in Photoshop. Here I could use the skew and perspective tools to tweak angles. I could play with filters, lighting, layer-effects, and brushes to bring a consistency to the scene as a whole. Once finished, I printed out the compiled reference, projected it onto watercolor paper, and went from there!