Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Darcy in Wonderland...Alexa Adams, Katy Wiedemann

Available at Amazon
Ever since Alexa Adams mentioned the idea of doing a post with her sister, I have been looking forward to today. I am fortunate to have two extremely talented sisters, Alexa Adams and Katy Wiedemann, talk about their work. As you know, Alexa Adams is an author and her sister, Katy, is an illustrator. She drew the pictures and covers for the latest release by Alexa Adams, Darcy in Wonderland. I love that these two sisters were able to work together and create such a neat book. I knew Alexa to be an excellent writer and now I know her sister to be just as excellent of an illustrator. 

Alexa and Katy share some of their conversations during the process of developing pictures for the book. It is interesting to read their interactions, their thought processes and how they worked together. Thanks, ladies, for sharing your talents and your conversations with me and my readers. It is such a privilege to have you both visiting More Agreeably Engaged. Welcome!

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Thank you so much, Janet, for hosting not just me today, but also my incredible little sister, Katy Wiedemann, who illustrated my new book, Darcy in Wonderland. As you too are an artist and illustrator, it seemed intuitive to focus this post on the development of the images used in the book. The following is a conversation conducted over email between my sister and I reflecting on the process of illustrating the book. She is currently living in Australia, while I live in Switzerland, so it is always good to have an excuse to catch up. I miss her dearly.

Alexa: I've been begging you to illustrate my books for years. With such a talented sister, how could I not? You always had a good excuse not to: school, travel, or other projects that kept you busy. Yet I suspect there were alternative reasons for your reluctance, in particular a lack of interest in Jane Austen. I was much more confident of your acceptance with this project, knowing Alice is a passion we share. Am I right about Austen just not being in your "zone," maybe even intimidating?

Katy: That is definitely true. There were several factors that made a book illustration project intimidating to me, and the fact that the subject was Jane Austen was only one of them. One of the most important things with a series of book illustrations is designing a group of characters that need to be unique as well as consistent, which is something I definitely struggle with. It's one of those skills that I have always coveted in other artists, but haven't really pushed myself to develop, so I'm quite glad I got the chance to work on it with this project.

Another thing that made me a bit nervous going into a project for one of your books is knowing how important historical accuracy is for you. I didn't want to disappoint my big sister! I found myself calling you very frequently while drawing to ask questions about certain details, such as "Would Mr. Darcy wear a hat to dinner in his own home?" or "How should the architecture for the musician's gallery look?" But you had an answer for every one of my questions, so as long as you weren't bothered with the constant questions, it didn't turn out to be much of an issue. 

There was also the fact that there is a very distinctive style of illustration from the Regency period, which is quite different to how I draw. Having this story be a crossover with Alice gave me more options stylistically. I tried to reference the linear quality of Sir John Tenniel's original illustrations for Alice while maintaining my own style. 

As you were writing, did you envision the scenes and characters very differently? How did you feel seeing a visualization of your work through my eyes?

Alexa: I actually don't often have a clear image of the scenes that I write. My characters are pretty much always faceless in my mind (the one big exception being Sir James Stratton of Second Glances, who came to me in a dream). I think you got all the visual genes. As we discussed possible illustrations for the book, I might have formulated some preconception of how they might appear, but as soon as I saw your drawings they became the predominate images. I think the only issues I had when reviewing them involved perspective (I remember discussing how Alice looked uncomfortable sleeping behind the musician’s gallery).

I really enjoyed looking for period pictures to guide your work. Especially those involving clothing, which is always a subject of fascination. It was a bit tricky, as the book doesn't have a definite time period, straddling the time between when Carroll published Alice in Wonderland (1865) and the years in which the Darcys would still be raising their family (post-1813 to the late 1830s). Fortunately, fashions didn't change quite as quickly back then as they do now, though the late Regency to early Victorian Era is kind of an exception. I also really enjoyed researching illustrations of Mrs. Bennet for you to morph into her pigeon self. I think the hardest "assignment" you gave me was finding children's beds from the period, as such furniture was rarely preserved, and also pictures of musician’s galleries, as there are such an infinite variety, almost always viewed from the ball room, while we needed the back of the gallery, where Alice sneaks down from bed in order to watch the action. 


As a scientific illustrator, it makes sense that you would feel most comfortable working from concrete sources, rather than letting your imagination take over. Though I said earlier that you have the visual genes, I don't think this is actually all that different from how I approach writing. Yes, the story lines are completely invented, but I am a stickler for historical accuracy, and I am always considering what is possible, both for the period and also in regards to human reactions and responses. I always need a reason for someone to do something. It made working in the highly bizarre space of Wonderland rather tricky, and is probably why I stuck so close to the original story. 


One image that did surprise me was that of the White Rabbit, probably because you based it on your roommate's pet rabbit, whom I have never had the pleasure of meeting. I know you've done portraits of live animals before, namely the family dogs, and I think you used pictures of them for your work, but does having a live model change the end result? To me, it feels like such portraits have more personality. Do you think knowing and living with the animals makes a big difference in the finished product? 

Katy: Having a live model absolutely helps, predominantly because I can pose them however I need to. It was rather convenient that I had a white rabbit jumping around my house at the very moment I needed one, and all I needed was a carrot to get the him to stand up on his hind legs for the pose that I wanted. I think because of this, that particular illustration came the most naturally to me. I agree that the illustrations I do from live models always have more character. I think when I know a person or animal well it gives me more of the ability to capture their personality in the illustration. 

One of the other aspects of this project that was difficult was the fact that I know the illustrations from the original Alice books so well. There were a few of the scenes we wanted to be in the book, but I just couldn't get the originals out of my head. For example, I really wanted to have the Griffin and the Mock Turtle dancing the Lobster Quadrille with Alice and Mr. Darcy, but every sketch I did ended up looking too much like the original illustration. So we ended up scratching that scene and choosing another one instead. 

You mentioned that you struggled with some of the absurdities in the Wonderland part of the book, do you think some of that was due to the fact that you are also so familiar with it?

Alexa: No, I don't think it was the familiarity that made it difficult. After all, I'm super familiar with Austen's novels and have not the slightest difficulty in bending them to my whims. Knowing Carroll's work so well allowed me to feel comfortable working within it, certainly, but my safe zone was having Darcy trying to impose reality upon it. The struggle was in creating new preposterous elements. So there are no new talking animal characters, just Carroll's originals, and there aren't any additional growth or shrinking spurts. I played a little with trying to create new opportunities to bend the laws of the natural world, but in all honesty, poor Darcy was already being subjected to plenty of physical challenges. Carroll provides an ample supply.   

It's actually a bit strange that I feel so comfortable manipulating Austen's worlds but not Carroll's. One would think that the fantastic nature of Wonderland would readily lend itself to adaptation. Tim Burton certainly had no difficulty altering it (then again, I believe I read that he was totally unfamiliar with the actual text when he began his series of films, which kind of shows in his total disregard for it - interesting how familiarity can actually hamper your imagination). But as I said before, I need reasons for something to happen. I can get into Austen's characters’ heads and figure out what motivates them and how they would react to different stimuli, but Carroll's characters have no rhyme nor reason to their behavior, so it's a lot harder for me. I suppose I'm too rigid: a lot like Darcy, actually. I would probably be just as disconcerted by Wonderland as he is. 

Speaking of Darcy, I was very interested in how you came to portray him. As previously stated, your scientific illustration background makes you want to have a concrete model from which to work. Probably because of my influence and all the years of Colin Firth worship, you first tried to use him as a model for your depiction, but in the end I believe you went with David Rintoul from the 1980 version of Pride and Prejudice (who does look so very Darcy). Will you explain why Firth was difficult to draw and the process through which we arrived at Rintoul as a better model? Could Matthew Macfadyen have worked?

Katy: The issue I found with using either Colin Firth or Matthew Macfadyen is that they both have very soft features. They look lovely in person, however, sharper features tend to look more appealing when simplified to a line drawing. I did want Darcy to look similar to how your audience knows and loves him, but I also wanted the character to be unique. I ended up deciding that the perfect reference for Mr. Darcy would be James Dean, but with David Rintoul's nose (which I love). I chose James Dean both because he is so classically beautiful and he has the sharp features to work as a line based drawing. I did find that as I was sketching his nose was so perfectly sloped that it looked unrealistic, so I threw in a bit of a bump to connect it more to David Rintoul's profile and add a bit of character. I do remember our phone conversation when I asked you if you thought this reference would be appropriate and you found it quite hilarious but also agreed that it worked. 

We also discussed the potential of giving Mr. Darcy a beard since different facial hair styles came into fashion during the Victorian Era. You seemed quite divided on this matter and ended up turning to your fans for advice. Most of them responded with strong opposition to him having a beard, so we stuck with his usual sideburns. 

Because Darcy is such a beloved character, I am interested to know how your fans are reacting to how we have both portrayed him in such a foreign environment. I know you initially had doubts about using the image of Darcy's neck stretched high above the tree tops as the cover illustration because you thought it might freak people out. What made you change your mind? And how have the early reactions been?

Alexa: Oh yes! I'd forgotten reaching out on the beard issue. Most fans were strongly opposed to the idea of a bearded Darcy. We can stick him in the Victorian Era, but I suppose we can't take away the Regency trappings. It's a bit sad really. Reminds me of people who still dress like they did in college twenty or thirty years later: stuck in their heyday.

I was concerned about the cover freaking people out a bit. I've been fairly sensitive about my covers ever since Christmas at Pemberley was declared "creepy" by several readers. I loved it and was totally shocked by this reaction. The experience has made me cautious, but as I didn't receive any negative feedback upon first revealing this cover, I thought we were safe, and now that it is released people seem to truly love it. It's such a fabulous illustration. I think it's my favorite that you did. Do you have a favorite from the book?

If I go on to write Lizzy Through the Looking Glass, which I'm seriously contemplating, are you on board for the illustrations?

Katy: I think the cover illustration is my favorite as well. I had so much fun drawing it. The white rabbit is a close second though, mostly because of how much it looks like the rabbit who lives in my house.

Even though this project was so different from what I typically do, I had a great time working on it with you. I would love to do another Wonderland series, so I really hope you write the sequel! I would love to draw the Jabberwock.

Alexa: I can't even begin to imagine how you would portray the Jabberwock, except that I doubt it would bear much resemblance to Tim Burton's. 

This has been so much fun, Katy - both working with you and chatting about it. I do hope we get to do it again. Thank you so much for your participation. 

Katy: No problem! I’ve enjoyed it.















Thanks again, Janet! We’ve had a lovely visit.

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For more of Katy’s work, please visit her at www.wiedemannillustrations.com and www.katywiedemann.com.

Catch up with Alexa at one of the following:

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I enjoyed so much reading your conversations. It was neat to see how you decided on certain things, the inspirations for Katy's drawings, and the way you discussed what each of you thought. I bet this was a fun project. It certainly is a unique one that deserves much attention. I hope you will decide to do Lizzy Through the Looking Glass. That sounds just as fascinating.

Ladies, thank you so much, for taking time to tell me and my readers a little about your process and the fun you had across the miles creating this novel! Congratulations to you both for a wonderfully crafted project! 

Readers, it's giveaway time! Yes, one of you lucky fans, will be the happy recipient of this lovely book. There is one Paperback or eBook of Darcy in Wonderland, winner's choice, to giveaway and the giveaway is international. All you need to do to enter, is leave us a comment. Tell us your thoughts. Be sure I can reach you should you be the winner. Giveaway will end at 11:59 PM on the 21st of August. Good luck everyone!

36 comments:

  1. Great interview. I especially enjoyed knowing what inspired the cover. I never would have guessed James Dean was your inspiration. I think it was a great decision as the cover is wonderful. jadseah4 (at) yahoo (dot) com

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    1. So glad you enjoyed it! I was hysterical when Katy told me she was using James Dean as a model. Never would have thought of it.

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    2. Thanks for stopping by. I would never have guessed James Dean either. He did work out great, didn't he!

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  2. What a great post. I love the way your sister worked on the drawings Alexa. I was a little worried to hear that David Rintoul was going to be the inspiration for Darcy as I really didn't like his portrayal but James Dean?? ��.
    Whoever he is based on I do like the drawing and am ok with the neck ����.
    I really look forward to seeing all the other illustrations and am so impressed that they are included in the e-book.
    Such a talented family and yes I do look forward to the Jabberwock.

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    1. Wasn't it an enjoyable conversation between these two! I loved reading about their thoughts and Katy's inspirations. Good luck!

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  3. Thanks so much, Glynis! I'm glad you like the cover, despite the Rintoul association. We'll keep you posted on the Lizzy Through The Looking Glass possibilities.

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  4. Lovely interview. Very interesting about the Darcy illustration, never would of thought of James Dean as the image. Lookong forward to seeing all the illustrations.

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    1. So pleased you enjoyed it, Lynn.

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    2. I think many of us were surprised about the James Dean connection. It was a good one! I'm looking forward to seeing the other illustrations too. I know they will be great!

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  5. Thanks so much for hosting us today, Janet! It's always a pleasure to visit your lovely blog.

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    1. It was such a pleasure having you visit today, and especially so with your sister. That is such a neat thing that you shared this experience. That will forever be a special memory for both of you. Congratulations on a wonderful and lovely project!

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  6. Loved this post and hearing from the illustrator! The rabbit is SO wonderful and definitely my favorite (am a big animal lover) and then the cover illustration.

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    1. He is excellent, isn't he? Katy's talent with animals is exceptional.

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    2. Isn't the rabbit neat! I loved it too. All are good drawings but I have a special place in my heart for little rabbits.

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  7. Glad to know it was David Rintoul (my favourite Darcy), and James Dean that was the inspiration, though I would have gone with the beard.

    meikleblog(at)gmail(dot)com

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    1. We kind of wanted the beard too, Vesper, but the response online was definitely negative. I guess it's just not how people imagine Darcy.

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    2. Thanks for visiting, Susan. Interesting combination for inspiration and that combo made an excellent Darcy.

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  8. Lol, I thought that profile reminded me of some actor, but I couldn't put my finger on. I agree David Rintoul's was perfect.
    Thanks for this great post and a giveaway.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Kate! Good you now know who you were reminded of! :)

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  9. Fascinating interview and enjoyed the process of how the artwork came to be. Love the illustrations! They are a definite departure from Katy's incredible scientific artwork!

    Thank you for hosting Janet and thank you Alexa for giveaway!

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    1. I'm so glad you checked out Katy's website. Isn't she incredible? I'm particularly fond of her oil paintings, myself, but it's much harder to make a living in fine art. Besides, she has a passion for critters and skeletons. Always has.

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    2. You are welcome, Carole. I always enjoy having Alexa Adams visit. Wasn't this an especially interesting post explaining the artwork. I loved it!

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  10. Loved, loved this interview with the sisters and I LOVE the illustrations. Actually, I'm partial to Darcy reading to Alice in the bed but all of them are so good. I have the e-book and had such fun reading. Thanks Janet for sharing the sisters with us here on the blog. Jen Red

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    1. So excited you enjoyed it, Jen! It was great having this opportunity to chat with Katy. I miss her so much.

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    2. I did too, Jen, on both counts! It was neat to see Darcy reading to Alice wasn't it! So glad you popped in, Jen, and you are welcome. It was my pleasure.

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  11. I was so glad to get this lovely interview, ladies, because I was so curious about the cover and drawings inside. They are captivating and suited the story so well. Neat getting the down-lo on them and I do like the sound of another book to follow.

    Please do not enter me, Janet. :)

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    1. We'll keep you informed of Lizzy Through The Looking Glass developments, Sophia, though it might be a year or two. I'm overloaded on projects and have the baby coming, while Katy is moving back to the US this fall and planning a wedding.

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    2. Thanks for visiting and commenting, Sophia Rose. I always enjoy your 'take' on things.

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  12. A fabulous post thank you. The cover does not freak me out, but it certainly caught my interest & make me curiouser and curiouser.

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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    1. Then it did it's job perfectly, Mary!

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    2. The cover caught my interest too, Mary. Yes, it did its job perfectly! :)

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  13. Wow, what an amzing post, ladies! I'm a bit late to these latter stages of the tour - busy working week and also not feeling too well with a horrible summer cold, so I'm playing catch up now. Expect a blizzard of comments!

    Of the illustrations above, I adore the one of Darcy reading a story, or certainly looking at books, with his daughter. Katy is certainly a talented artist and I've been meaning to check out her website, particularly as my background is a scientific one. Personally, I wouldn't have minded a Darcy beard. My husband of 40 years has always had one, for as long as I've known him (43 years) and I've no idea what he'd look like without it!

    Lizzy Through the Looking Glass sounds like a prefect follow up to Darcy in Wonderland. Pretty please? When you have time, of course!

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    1. So sorry to hear you had a summer cold. I'm getting over one myself! No fun!

      Isn't Katy a talented artist! I love that one too. I hope you get to check out her website soon.

      I guess you wouldn't mind a bearded Darcy, would you. lol I don't think I would either. Since CF is the Darcy I envision, and having seen him with a beard, don't think I would mind at all! :)

      Good luck and I hope you feel better soon.

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  14. Thank you for providing a wonderful insight to the illustrations, Alexa and Katy. To be able to collaborate and work together must be a dream come true for both of you. Darcy with a beard? Nah, it wouldn't work for me either.

    I really hope you write Lizzy Through the Looking Glass, Alexa. Would love to read Elizabeth's experience and adventures in Wonderland.

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    1. I think it sounds like a dream come true, as well, Sylvia. That would be so much fun working with your sister.

      Thanks for stopping by. Good luck with the giveaway.

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