February 15, 2019

Train of thought - developing the Rainer Maria Rilke illustration

Often, people see the finished art and ignore how much time an artist puts in its creation. Time is needed for studying, experimenting, researching, looking for inspiration, solving problems, testing color and composition, etc. 

As I am always thrilled to see how an artist develops his ideas in his sketchbook, I decided to share my process of painting the Rainer Maria Rilke book illustration (https://mardatha.com/bookarttales/rainermariarilke/).  

I read the book “Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke” in early 2018 and felt immersed in it. I was totally inspired by this passage which is very motivating and captures Rilke’s philosophy about a writer’s inner need to express. 

February 17, 1903
Dear Sir, 
Ask yourself in the most silent hour of your NIGHT: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. 
Yours very truly,
Rainer Maria Rilke

I remember that I was asking myself the exact same question at night, “must I paint?”. The voice in my head would say “You must, you must!”. But, just when I was about to get up from my bed the other voice in my head would say “nahhhhh, don’t bother, stay in bed! It is warm here! You can watch silly YouTube videos here all night long!!!”. And I had these two voices arguing in my head for a while, and guess who was winning

Then I decided to make something out of this thriller. Book illustration seemed as a fun task to work on in order to silent the voices of the evil gnomes. I share below my train of thought for developing the Rainer Maria Rilke illustration.

Initially, I picked the words that stroke my mind from Rilke’s sayings and brainstormed how I could illustrate them.

I picked the words that stroke my mind from Rilke’s sayings and brainstormed how I could illustrate them

I wanted to paint a main motif related to the art of writing, since Rilke was a writer advising another aspiring writer, albeit his advice seems applicable to all artists. So I started searching online for images of vintage and antique accessories that could represent the archetypical symbols of writing such as feather quill pens, ink wells, vellum papers, wax seals and typewriters.

Then, I painted images of these accessories and their combinations and concluded to paint a typewriter with a paper/letter. At that point, I had not yet decided what I would write on the illustrated paper (the whole quote or just part of it). 

I searched online and drafted vintage and antique writing accessories and their combinations

Next, I wrote down some of my ideas like yellow vintage typewriter, blue night, stars on my watercolor sketchbook and made the first draft using my pen and my two newly bought watercolor inks – oriental blue and lemon yellow – in order to test them.

Then, I wrote the quote/ question using a black pen in the background above and below the typewriter and painted pink stars around the quote. I also thought of two versions of the answer (I must) on the draft. My first idea was to write it on the paper but as I kept working on it, I thought of hiding the answer using the typewriter keys.

I made the first draft of the Rainer Maria Rilke illustration (with 2 versions of the answer "I must")

At that point, I came to the idea to hide other symbols in the painting too. So after the first draft, I waited for my idea to sink in and kept thinking how I could paint the other symbols.

I wanted to include the author’s name and the date and salutation of the letter. I searched online for vintage typewriters of famous brands and saw that they had a brand label on them, so I replaced this in my illustration with the author’s initials (RMR). The date and salutation of the letter could easily be shown on the paper of the typewriter.

A couple of days later, I made the final illustration. I used the stars and moon to decorate the typewriter. I painted the image with a pen, oriental blue, lemon yellow and added also bougainville color. The purple in the painting is made from blue and bougainville color when blended together.

I thought of additional symbols and made the final illustration