07 December 2009
 Illustration: Sable Quean Plates 

Traditionally, Redwall novels are divided into three smaller "books." The Sable Quean is divided into four. Full-page illustrations, or plates, accompany the beginning of each sub-book.

I began and completed artwork for The Sable Quean on Bentley Farm in Dutchess County, New York. For the plates I had planned a rather elaborate set of illustrations featuring Buckler, one of the novel's protagonists. Jacob, one of my hosts, drove me up to the farm's highest point so I could sketch him posing as a hare in front of the Catskill mountains. Predictably, these compositions refused to work.

I was  buried in a pile of my family's Medieval art books during Christmas when it suddenly seemed very obvious that the plates should resemble the carpet pages of Celtic manuscripts. Convinced this was a briliant idea, I furiously designed two plates- one featured a series of running hares, the next an entwined pair of sables:

The design was sketched on a sheet of graphing paper and scanned into Photoshop. I have a way of using Photoshop that sends me on long walks for short drinks of water. In this case, I inverted the image, then used the brush tool to rough out the outlines of the design, cleaned it up, printed it, and traced it. I added the knotwork and sables as I went.

The entwined sables were borrowed from a shield device I made years ago, working with my friend Leslie Brown. She graciously gave me permission to use the idea for this project. The final product, the plate for Book II, is at right.

Around here I started questioning the idea's brilliance. After completing two and one-half of these things, I both burned out and chickened out. I sent the batch to the publisher unfinished, apologizing for my nerve and promising replacements. Instead, my friends at Philomel encouraged me to finish the set, and these plates became my favorite part of the project.

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