Susanna Plotnick

Painter, Illustrator & Doll-maker


Illustrating The Snow Queen, Part 3 - What I have learned from The Snow Queen, Then and Now

2 February 2015

This is what I have learned from The Snow Queen, when I was a child, and as an adult:

1) Hans Christian Andersen broke all the rules. He did not hold back on writing about horror and the heart-wrenching sides of life. Yet his stories live on in multiple retellings and interpretations, to the present day. This inspires me as an artist.

2) Most of the heroic characters in The Snow Queen are female. Instead of the usual fairy tale scenario of a prince rescuing a princess, we have a girl rescuing a boy. This gave me a new perspective, as a girl growing up in the 50’s.

3) The emotional range from the delicate, pretty, and religious, to the brutal, heartless and sadistic is all there. it is all part of life, and art.

4) Love, and courage, and perseverance can overcome the cold and melt a heart of ice.

The attached video is Aepril Schaile, a gothic belly dancer, interpreting The Snow Queen.

Aepril Schaile dances The Snow Queen

Illustrating The Snow Queen, Part 2 - Emotional Content

3 January 2015

The Snow Queen is a heart-wrenching story. Yes, it is pretty, beautiful, and ultimately uplifting. But we also find the evil and insidious pieces of glass that enter people’s eyes and hearts, a cruel and sadistic main character (the robber girl), and an overwhelming feeling of coldness, detachment and lifelessness.

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illustrating The Snow Queen, part 1

27 November 2014

Let me say before I start that I consider Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” possibly the most difficult fairy tale to illustrate. It is an exceptional story, unlike any other.

There is a wildness and flow to the story which is incomparable. But also there is a sweetness, prettiness and religiosity in the original story. And I would never dare to “retell” this story.

Then there is the amount of white – the snow, the Snow Queen, the endless travels over snow-covered continents in a white sled. Quite a challenge for a painter.

And who is the Snow Queen, this beautiful woman whose eyes “have neither rest nor peace” in them? Who will give Kay his freedom only if he can spell “eternity” in letters of ice?

I am featuring in this first installment Vladyslav Yerko’s daring portrayal of the Snow Queen as a very frightening mechanized robot. This 2006 edition amazed me because so many of the images are in bright color. Note the skillful combination of color with white in this image.

I will continue to explore this fairy tale and its emotional impact in subsequent blogs.

painting a graphic novel in oils

2 April 2013

I am a storyteller and an oil painter. I originally painted narrative paintings (cityscapes and still lifes with unusual subject matter), and showed them in solo and group shows.

When I became an illustrator of mass-market paperback covers some years later, I continued to paint in oils, as did all the artists I knew. I couldn’t imagine using any other color medium. The rich, buttery texture, the forgiving nature of the medium, and the ability to glaze and scumble, creating rich, transparent surfaces, had no match.

So, when I created my first children’s book dummy, I naturally did oil painting for my color pages. Then my interest in sequential art turned to the graphic novel form, a form which generally depends on highly developed drawing, inking and coloring skills, and an ability to work with speed.

I began a series of books about witches, born in Celtic Britain, who flee the witch hunts and must learn to live in the world of mortals. My first two books, Genevieve, My Familiar, A Gothic Fairy Tale, and Ceridwen’s Tale, were drawn in graphite. But I missed color and painting. So, when I started Exile, the sequel to Ceridwen’s Tale, I developed a format of images in rectangles set on a landscape background. I was inspired by the lush landscape paintings of Maria Henle.

When I returned to using oils, I found myself allergic to the traditional mediums I had always used (turpentine, stand oil, and damar varnish). My friend Mimi Weisbord, an oil painter I admired greatly, had turned to water soluble oils, and her paintings looked rich and full-bodied.

My first adventures with Winsor Newton water soluble oils were problem-ridden. The paint didn’t dry. When I used drying mediums, I felt like I was working with molasses, and felt allergic to those. Then I saw an article in an art magazine (can’t remember which!) about a painter who used the combination of Holbein Duo Water Soluble Oils, and, as a medium. Golden Open Acrylic Gloss Medium. This combination proved perfect. My paintings dry within a day or two, the combination of water and medium is completely non-toxic, and the paints handle beautifully.

I depend on Pixel Preserve in Rochester, New York for excellent color printing of my books.