Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Leaving the NEST on Illustration Friday

     Yay! It's Friday!... Illustration Friday, and everyone's energy is high and hopeful for the delights of the weekend.  This week's topic was NEST and once I read it the word for the week, I thought of this illustration almost immediately.  I love it when the ideas come quickly... It makes me excited and burning with passion to work on them. lol

     I had previously mentioned, I have decided for this next year to take half of the Illustration Friday Topic Words and create my own personal Mini-Challenge.  The challenge is to illustrate just children form all over the world and celebrate the diversity of us all, but also to do a little creative writing about each one just to brush up on those rusty-dusty writing story writing skills. (p.s. I have been working on developing the story for a Picture Book I plan to work on in 2017 and Self-Publish by the end of that year.... Ah my ambitious Pre-New-Year's Resolutions. lol)

...But before I get get into the who's, the what's, and the why's of the art, this week, as promised:
a story first...

Eiko Sato and the 3 Cranes
-Lewis W. Porter-

     Little Eiko Sato was a young girl like any other in her small rural village in Japan.  She worked hard at her studies in school and to understand and follow the lessons her family taught her.  She also loved to play in the small woods at the foot of the mountains where she lived and she did so as much as she could.

     She always thought how beautiful the leaves on the trees were as they danced in the gentle breeze outside her window every morning.  It was like music to her. Sometimes she would join the leaves in their dance. Eiko would whirl and twirl around her room many mornings before it was time to help her mother begin the chores of that day.

     One special morning she woke, not to the familiar sound of the dancing leaves, but to a new one she had never heard.  It was a chirping and very shrill chirping.  Little Eiko was quite curious about the sound.  Since it was quite early, too early yet for daily chores, she decided that she would go outside and investigate the curious noise that had disrupted what would have been a morning like an other.

     Eiko slid open her bedroom door slowly and tiptoed across the house as quietly as she could.  She didn't want to wake her family.  She knew she was probably not allowed to leave the house if no one else without telling her mother, but she was so very curious about this chirping; she just had to know what it was.  As she quietly slipped outside, she made her way across to the woods.  As she approached the trees, the chirping became louder and louder.

     She was not afraid.  Eiko was a brave girl.  She wove in and out through some of the trees following the chirping.  They seemed to dance around her as if they were happy she had returned to play with them.  She approached a tree, not far from the edge of the wood, that seemed to be where the chirping was coming from.  She was a bit confused as she had never heard of a chirping tree, at least she had never encountered one in the woods before.  Surely a tree could not be making this sound.  She inspected it closer.  As she made her way around the tree, she discovered what was chirping so loudly.

     It was a baby crane.  It was in the shambled remains of it's nest that must had fallen from the tree above and the shell of the egg it must have just hatched from.  The poor thing was not alone.  There were  2 more eggs in the broken nest.

     Eiko quickly looked around for the baby crane's mother or father.  Surely they would be close by, but she couldn't see a sign of them anywhere.  She leaned down to calm the baby crane.  She petted them on the head until the chirping stopped.  The began to coo softly, happy that Eiko was there.

     "Don't worry little bird." she said to it. "You are not alone. You don't have to be afraid any more."

      Eiko waited a little longer for the crane's parents to come, but they did not come.  She was beginning to worry, but then she had an idea.  If no one was able to help these baby cranes, then she would.  She knew it was her job to help them if she could... But how?  How could she help them?

      How? How? How?

     Then Eiko jumped!  She knew exactly what she could do!

     She ran back to her house and quietly slipped back inside.  She wasn't gone long before she was back with some hair clips and pins.  She told herself that if the cranes needed a nest to live in, then she would make one for them... out of her own hair.  She decided it was up to her to help raise them until they were big enough to fly off on their own. And that is exactly what she did.

      Little Eiko stayed in her bed for a few days after.  She told both of her parents that it was her job to help those that could not help themselves.  She had to stay in bed with the covers over he head until the the other two had hatched. She slept sitting upright every night, so that they would not fall once more from their nest. Her mother was glad that it didn't take but a week for the eggs to hatch.  Now, Eiko had 3 baby birds in her hair-nest, but they were all still too young to go out on their own... So Eiko decided that they would come with her, every where she went.  They went to school. They came home. They enjoyed the village when it was time to do the food shopping.  To her parents dismay, they even joined her for supper every night.

     Her parents were both concerned for her.  They were not happy about the three birds, but knew that it was very important to Eiko to raise them.

     It began to seem that the entire village had come to love these three birds.  They began feeding the birds and calling to them every morning as Eiko would walk to school.  The word began to spread to neighboring villages, as many would come to Eikos village just to catch a glimpse of them and the young girl that made a nest for them in her hair.

     A few seasons passed, and the 3 cranes began to spread their wings and fly from Eiko's head to the close by trees or the rooftops to close-by buildings and then back to their nest as Eiko would go on her daily walk through the village.  She was so excited to see that the three cranes were doing so well.  It made her happy, but this also made her sad.  She knew it was soon time to say goodbye to her three friends.

     One morning, not long after the cranes began to fly on their own,  Eiko woke up and noticed that her head felt much lighter.  She reached up into her hair-nest and felt... nothing. She felt nothing!  Eiko began to panic and she looked all around for the three cranes.  She looked under her bed.  She checked under the covers.  She even looked in her closet.  She could not find them....

     Eiko then heard chirping, faint chirping.  She turned and saw outside her bedroom window, the three cranes perched in the tree outside.  She woke both her parents and they all went outside to see them.  The three cranes all looked down and chirped three happy chirps at the family below before they spread their wings and each flew off of the branches and up into the sky toward the mountains.

     Both Eiko's parents leaned down and gave Eiko a hug.  They each reminded her, in their own way that it was just time for her baby birds to go out and live on their own.  Eiko shed three small tears, one for each of the baby cranes she had raised and set free.  She was sad that they had to go, but happy that it was she who helped them, when they had no one else.

     That night, Eiko brushed the nest out of her hair.  As she did, she pulled out of her hair exactly three crane feathers.  She smiled, hugged them ,and placed them under her pillow as she lied down for the first time in many many nights to dream once more.

     Little Eiko never forgot those three baby cranes.  Even as the years went to on, and Little Eiko became not so little anymore, she still held on to those three crane feathers.  She grew up, married a very kind man and had three little babies of her own.  She tells them all the story of the three baby cranes that grew up in a nest of hair on top of her head and she tells them that they should always help others, especially when they can not help themselves.  Eiko then would go to sleep and tuck three very old crane feathers underneath her pillow before sleep.

     As is every night, when Eiko closes her eyes to dream, she can often hear the fain soft chirping of three cranes in the tree outside her window.

The End.

...and now, we talk about the art.

     The image in my head was of a young girl with a nest of birds in her hair, but I'm not quite sure why I chose Japan as the setting and nationality of this week's character.  Sometimes you just decide things as an artist, and not even know exactly why you choose them.  Among the regular reference research I did for the the young Japanese girl, the crane and the kimono, I also sought out a variety of Japanese paper paintings.
I studied them and just fell in love with the light and faint quality of the color work and strong elegant line.  I loved how it was "stained" on to the surface and really wanted to bring that element into my illustration.  I worked several layers into the skin tone sort of melted the layers together to give it a pale, stained and almost watercolor, look to the piece.  I juxtaposed this technique with the other visual element i wanted to include in the illustration as well: Origami printed papers.  I was excited about the idea of including this thousands of years old tradition into my piece as well.

     This sort of visually paralleled one of the themes that I wrote about in the story; traditions and life-lessons being passed down from generation to generation.  Origami seems that way to me, when I think about it.  You find yourself with a perfectly uniform start in life then by the events and lessons you are bent and folded this way and that, often not knowing what, where or why you are going that way.  The form seems chaotic and without a logical shape... and then you find that you are a beautiful crane of elegant form with many many colors and patterns.  So, it was very important for me to include the ancient tradition of origami in my piece.  You see the printed paper in her kimono (a traditional garment of Japan.)  You may notice, if you look closely, that the design on the printed origami paper is that of cranes taking flight. ;0)

     As there are many birds that are native to Japan that I could have chosen from, I was "drawn" to the crane.  The crane is one of the creatures that are sacred to the culture and also one of mystery.  I liked adding this conceptual element to the piece as well as it rounded off including 3 cultural traditions into the illustration and the story is about three birds nested in Eiko's hair.  I like to think that they represent all the creative thoughts and dreams that make a person what they are... at least that's what I imagine when I thought about these particularly beautiful birds.  As an after thought, I liked their long elegant necks which added a nice touch to the work.  I enjoy the curve of the bird's neck as it "crane's" down to look at Eiko and the curve of her arm as she reaches to pet the bird.  Conceptually representing your connection to the before mentioned meaning behind what the birds and the eggs represent to me: dreams and creative thought.

     A few words behind the short story:  I wanted to write a short parable that captured the essence of some of Japan's cultural and family values.  Though there are many, I have listed the values I used to write Eiko's tale below:

-Showing compassion to those in need.
-Working hard for success.
-Being generous with what you have.
-Not hurting others and also standing up for those who can't stand up for themselves.

     There is also meaning in Eiko's name that contributes to the theme of her story.  Her surname, Sato, means "to aid."  Also, it just happens to be the most common surname in Japan.  That fact did not weigh in at all in the context of the writing process.  I just thought it was an interesting fact.  Her given name, Eiko, means prosperous child.  Even though, Eiko does prosper always in her endeavors because of all her hard work and effort, I honestly chose the name because of the song Iko Iko, which I adore.  I was looking through a list of Baby Names for Japanese girls and "Eiko" showed up. I immediately began singing the song in my head and knew that THIS was definitely the right name for her.  Though, it is of Native American origin and popularized in New Orleans as a parade song.  The song is actually about the clash of two tribes and I thought this quite appropriate to the story I wanted to tell.  It is the clash of two tribes, Eiko's and The Cranes.

     Another theme that I wanted to include in the story, since the topic for this week was Nest, was the Empty Nest.  I decided the story was not only about helping others in need but also about what family really is.  To me, family isn't just about blood. Sometimes family are strangers that come into your life for periods of time and then they go, but it's that connection, that bond that you make with them that makes them family.  I really liked the idea of these birds enter Eiko's life as a mere cry for help, but they leave her life as parts of her. She is forever changed by this experience and to me that is what is very human and universal about her story.  The story is also about how we leave nests, constantly, throughout all our lives and move onward to whatever comes next in life or even death.

     The feathers that she passes on to her children later on also have meaning in this story.  They represent these parts of us that connect and change us that we give to the generations to follow.  I originally had more in the story with the imagery of the feathers: molting of the feathers the grown of them etc.  I edited most of it out because the story needed to be a short one so only tidbits of the feathers imagery is left in... just the most important ones.  lol.

     Well, I hope you all enjoyed Eiko's story and the story behind the story and the illustration.  I wish all a very happy rest of your Friday's and hope your weekends find you among strange new people to make new connections with.  I leave you all with the fun song that influenced Eiko's name and that I sang to myself through much of the creative process of this week's project: Iko Iko.  Enjoy.

Until next time, friends,
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, 
keep making art.

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