Clockwork Fairies



Last month, Tor.com explored the themes of steampunk for the second year with their Steampunk Fortnight, and this piece, Clockwork Fairies, was included as a short story. Irene Gallo asked me to illustrate it.
I started with a couple of thumbnail sketches to try to capture a formal portrait of the main character, a black woman mechanic-tinkerer. She’s built the tiny fairies in the story that flutter around house guests. They are made of intricate clock parts with glassine wings, and carry tiny swords.
Here are the only thumbnails. I drew the portrait first, then drew the fairies on a tissue overlay to test the composition.


And a page of mechanical fairy sketches.



I quickly captured the essence of the piece, but most of the fun would come in the paint.

The trick was figuring out how to paint around a squadron of fairies in front of the character’s face. Irene and I spent some time on the phone talking over the process. I hadn’t tried this before, but I knew that the only way to get a good face without having to paint around each fairy, and still have some freedom with painting the little machines, would be to paint the portrait first, let the paint dry, then paint over the top.
It worked fine, but there were changes. Irene needed to have her look more like a genteel woman, so I painted a grey vest over the top of her leather work vest. This softened the feeling.
After the fairies were dry, I knocked a few of them back in value with some glazing...something I hardly ever do, but it worked for this. Here's the sequence of the work.