Figure 1.

 Figure 2.

 Figure 3.

 Figure 4.

 Figure 5.

 Figure 6. "The fingers were nothing short of  mummified; withered black twigs, brittle and  twisted beyond use."

 Figure 7.

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by Duane Spurlock, © November 2006

FROM THE BEGINNING of our work together on The Swan River Press chapbooks, Brian and I have agreed to avoid using human figures in the illustrations. Doing so means I depend on settings and scenery mentioned in the stories. Instead of human figures, I sometimes include evidence of human involvement with the environment--such as footprints in The Snow Came Softly Down or a strand of hair caught on a stone wall in Tigh An Bhreithimh. The lack of human features in the illustrations perhaps adds a bit more of a haunted atmosphere to a reader's experience of the story while reading it.

However, in No. 70 Merrion Square, we have slightly relaxed our prohibition on including human figures. For example, in the drawing of the two chairs and table before Andrew Hampton's fireplace, in the background is visible a mirror with the silhouette of a human form. In the scene depicting Hampton's wrecked writing room, a hand holding a lamp is just visible at the illustration's left edge. And in the final illustration of Part One of the story, I've depicted a rather grisly hand in close up.

For the benefit of the curious, I've provided a brief, step-by-step narrative about creating this last drawing. I started with some rough pencil sketches. The first, Figure 1, shows a hand quite similar to the final illustration. However, this hand is shown resting in a direction opposite that of the hand in the final inked drawing. Also, the tucked-in shirt and trousers of the hand's owner are in the background. This drawing relies on impressions derived perhaps from reading too many E.C. Comics and Mike Mignola's Hellboy comic books.

For Figure 2 I relied on an old illustrator's trick, drawing what I saw in the mirror. The hand is now upright, looks a little less grotesque, and the rest of its owner is absent from the background.

The eventual pencils for the illustration, shown in Figure 3, combines elements from both preliminary sketches. The hand is upright, as in Figure 2, but is withered as in Figure 1. Further, no part of the hand's owner is depicted in the background; other than the wrist extending from the sleeve at the lower-left corner of the drawing, the hand seems almost disembodied, floating against an empty background that I knew--but did not so mark in the pencils--I would fill with cross-hatching. To further isolate the ghastly hand from the rest of its human element, I surrounded it with a sort of smoking frame.

Those who have read Brian's story know there is no description of smoke emanating from the hand. However, this bit of artistic license arises from a couple of things. First, the smoky frames adds a bit of weirdness to the image of the withered hand arrayed against an empty background. Second, I was stealing an image from a motion picture I saw many years ago.

This film was Jean Cocteau's La Belle et le BÍte (1946), a beautifully filmed version of Beauty and the Beast. In this black-and-white film by the surrealist director, the Beast is frequently shown in interior scenes against a dark or black background. The creature's savagery, his sexual energy, and his otherworldliness are enhanced throughout these scenes by the curling tendrils of smoke that rise from his form. Thus the smoky frame in my hand drawing for No. 70 Merrion Square, Part One relies on Cocteau's vision of the Beast for its origin.

After playing around with the shape of the smoky frame, I began adding ink with a crow-quill pen. I inked the hand, then added sketchy ink lines to the background to lend some shape to the smoky frame without actually outlining it, as Figure 4 illustrates.

In Figure 5, you can see I've added some horizontal lines to the vertical lines of the background, to add some "body" to the background and enhance the main figure of the hand.

I didn't want to leave the smoky frame empty--doing so would look a bit too stark, I thought. So I added some smaller, horizontal squiggly lines--shown in Figure 6--to give the smoke a bit of substance that wouldn't be so dark as the background, and would help to make the withered hand "pop" or stand out a bit against that background. Further, the hand's diagonal position in the vertical rectangle formed by the drawing plays against the horizontal and vertical lines of the background and the smoky frame. The illustration was finished, and the scratchy line work lends an "old fashioned" air to the drawing-an aged feeling Brian has wanted for The Swan River Press chapbooks to date.

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