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05 November 2009 @ 11:24 am
machines of freedom: illustrator's notes  
Illustrator's notes for amalnahurriyeh's Machines of Freedom, done for the xf_bigbang 2009.








Little Sadie is based on a real life niece of Amal's, the photos of which she kindly (and proudly) supplied. Having zero recent experience with children under 8 (or with kids' Cinderella dresses, for that matter), I still had to look for reference on Getty. ("How big exactly is a three-year-old, dammit" "Oh man they can be big" "Oh lol, look at the teeth" "Haha CHILDREN ARE FUNNY.") Yes, I do fail that much.

Poor Scully is so troubled in all these drawings of mine, haha! But what can I do! Amal wrote it that way.
On a more serious note, I couldn’t even start to imagine how hard it was for Scully to have another baby, how guilty and broken she felt about her son every time she saw her new daughter. I found the flashback fragment heartbreaking.

William was a pretty easy job. I drew him more Scully-like (freckles, eyes, Pilot hair) but I fear the nose is definitely going to be “unfortunate” when he grows some more. Sorry, kid.

Drawing Casey earlier in the story was a pretty tough case. She had to look like her parents, but not be too identical to either of them – after all, no one recognized her. (In both these early drawings I put her hair on her face to further obscure her true identity to the viewer – cheap, I know. But it works!)

This was one of the things I knew instantly I’d draw right after I read them. I’ve always really wanted to draw a photo like this, and was happy to do it as an illustration for a fic. Of course, making it broke my heart, just like the Mulder/baby William sketch I’d done for Amal’s earlier fic from the same universe as “Machines of Freedom” (“Five Times Mosely Drummy Wishes He’d Never Met Fox Mulder”). I just never got over the OH SOB HE NEVER REALLY GOT TO BE A DADDY phase, I think.

Little detail no one cares about: the baby book is open on the sink bath photo and the pumpkin costume photo that are mentioned in the fic.
In real/non-fandom life I make comics, so I thought it would be fun to put parts of dialogue in some of the illustrations, too. I generally dislike word balloons when I make comics, and tend to make words flow around the character, hence the format you can see in this project.

The tank in the background is an M1 Abrams. Not that anyone cares. But they’re kind of awesome.
I probably had even less knowledge about sports with bats in them than Amal, so again Getty came helpful, bearing baseball gloves. You and your sports, America!

(MULDER DESTROY! Hilarious author trivia: yes, I am one of those people who act out the faces their characters make while drawing them. It is 1. apparently artistically helpful for my stupid brain, 2. subconscious, 3. unmanageable, and 4. the main reason why I avoid drawing in public places.)
And now about the drawing itself. Well, it was pretty problematic for me; Mulder blindly attacks a woman, which is a big no-no by my standards. Drawing this was harder than I’d imagined, quite unpleasant, and therefore challenging. I’m happy with how it came out. I think I managed to convey the drama and the discomfort.
About Casey’s tattoo. Snickering like the mad scientists that we are, Amal and I agreed on an Easter egg snake motif. I proposed the design to be something vaguely Celtic (another Easter egg – hello, ancestry), after some talk Amal agreed, and then I went on to design it. We did want it to be tacky (in Amal’s words, “celtic snake works well for ‘walked into tattoo place, decided to pick up tattoo girl, um this one here, sure, what's your name, mine's Casey’”), but it came out SO ostentatiously lame that we agreed on covering it partially with a sleeve. There are limits, you know.

As it often happens, my favorite illustration is the one I spent the least time on: Mo, Mulder and Sadie in the bunker. I like its atmosphere, especially the colors (PSSST: it’s the old trick with the navy blue layer set on Exclusion!). I like things that are messy and sketchy, probably because I lack the patience and skill to make the lineart neat, pretty and easily colorable.

I modeled Casey after Scully, which is probably pretty noticeable. She has her mom’s mimics and face shape, but her dad’s hair and mouth.
Casey was Amal’s favorite, while I initially rooted for William; for me, 2012 was always about the magic supersoldier canon kid saving the day. But I’m a kind person and I wanted to make Amal happy and give her at least two drawings of adult Casey. And so, as I started modeling the character and then inked and colored her portraits for several hours (days!), I found that once I gave her a face and spent so much time with her, I grew to like her very much. She’s insanely brave and crazy and smart and awesome; I understand why Amal loves her so much. (Also, she’s a linguist like me, so, come on, what’s not to love?)
I love how history repeats itself in the universe Amal created. About thirty years of Mulder’s life was a tragic quest to find and save his sister; his loss, her absence, determined a huge part of who he was. And then his absence, his daughter’s loss, made his daughter repeat his life, spend almost all her time and energy to bring back a loved one she’d lost. And I think she was even braver than Mulder back in the day; unlike him, she knew for certain the one she was looking for was already dead. She went to him like Orpheus went to Euridice. Drawing the moment when she blurts out “I don’t remember you,” the one-sentence essence of why saving him is such an important thing in her life, I tried to show the emotions she kept hidden during her whole stay in 2012 (and if she’s anything like her mom, probably during her whole life). And what finally breaks my heart is that Casey goes all that way to save her dad for an AU version of herself, so practically for someone else.

A follow-up piece, a kind of a visual epilogue from me, with the lyrics of one of my fav singers/songwriters Joanna Newsom. “Sadie” (listen to it @ Youtube!), a piece which Amal didn’t know but which is so eerily in alignment with the universe she created. Mulder would like that.
Here are the full lyrics:

White coat
You carry me home
And bury this bone
And take this pinecone

Bury this bone
To gnaw on it later, gnawing on the telephone
And 'till then, we pray and suspend
The notion that these lives do never end

And all day long we talk about mercy
Lead me to water Lord, I sure am thirsty
Down in the ditch where I nearly served you
Up in the clouds where he almost heard you

And all that we built
And all that we breathed
And all that we spilt
Or pulled up like weeds
Is piled up in back
And it burns irrevocably

And we spoke up in turns
'Till the silence crept over me

And bless you
And I deeply do
No longer resolute
Oh, and I call to you

But the water go so cold
And you do lose
What you don't hold

This is an old song
These are old blues
And this is not my tune
But it's mine to use
And the seabirds
Where the fear once grew
Will flock with a fury
And they will bury
What'd come for you

And down where I darn with the milk-eyed mender
You and I, and a love so tender
Stretched on the hoop where I stitch this addage
"Bless our house and its heart so savage."

And all that I want
And all that I need
And all that I got
Is scattered like seed
And all that I knew
Is moving away from me

And all that I know
Is blowing like tumbleweed

And the mealy worms
In the brine will burn
In a salty pyre
Among the fauns and ferns

And the love we hold
And the love we spurn
Will never grow cold
Oh, only taciturn

And I'll tell you tomorrow
Oh Sadie, go on home now
And bless those who've sickened below
And bless us who have chosen so

And all that I got
And all that I need
I tie in a knot
And I lay at your feet
And I have not forgot
But a silence crept over me

So dig up your bone
Exhume your pinecone, Sadie


To sum up: this was the biggest fandom project I’ve drawn so far – I’ve never made any fic more than one illustration – and I was really happy to have the opportunity. Working on this with Amal was a blast. She readily provided me with supplementary material and backstories, answered any additional questions, and generally seemed as excited (and anal, which is a very, very good thing in Scoolyland) about it as I was. We exchanged like five thousand emails and I probably drove her insane with changing and correcting the drawing all the time and sending her new URLs every ten seconds (“No wait, this one’s final!”). But as I said, I had a blast.

And on a final ending note, if anyone cares for stuff like that, my playlist for the illustration process was: massive amounts of Regina Spektor, Zbigniew Preisner’s soundtrack for “Trois Couleurs: Bleu”, and Mark Snow’s soundtrack for “I Want to Believe”. And Joanna Newsom of course, with “Sadie” practically on loop most of the time.
Amal Nahurriyeh: mof: csm!amalnahurriyeh on November 6th, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC)
OK, going through this (the notes, not the pictures--Imma talk about them later):

1) Cinderella dresses: You know, the first time I looked at it, I was like, ha, she didn't draw The Cinderella Dress, but that's okay, maybe Scully's got a Disney Princesses hate-on too just like me. But, upon looking closer, you did, you just drew it a less atrocious color, which, by god, makes it less terrible to look at. So thank you, lol. My real niece wore the dress in question one Halloween, and rode around on her dad's shoulders the whole time while he wore a skeleton mask. It was a little hilarious.

4) I don't think the hair thing is cheap at all--I also think it really adds to the mystery of this piece. Plus, um, MY FAVORITE PICTURE EVER EVER EVER FOR ENTIRELY SELFISH REASONS. AAAAHHHH I LOVE IT.

5) I thought of the Mulder/William pic when I wrote this in--and then I thought of how few photos they would have of all three of them, and how few photos of Mulder and William at all, and if they'd lost any of them while they were on the run and BAAAAWWWWWWWW.

6) Little detail no one cares about: WAIT I CARE ABOUT THIS A LOT. And then blew the picture up to full size to see the photos on the page. OMG I love you.

8) I talked about this too--it's a really hard scene to handle, and only gets worse when you know that she knows something he doesn't. Um, also I totally take the baby for stroller walks and realized that I'm acting out with my face the scenes I'm writing in my head. Embarassing.

LOL, the tattoo story pretty much perfectly sums up why I liked working with you. Also if I'd thought about that sentence going in your notes, it would have had some punctuation, y/n?

9) I love this one too. Part of it is HI MO, MULDER'S NEW BFF, but a lot of it is the Mulder/Sadie dynamic in it--the way she's collapsed over his shoulder is just so telling about how she feels about him, and that he looks happy for the first time in all the illustrations--and the contrast between this picture and the last one. It's just a beautiful picture, and also it makes all my mom instincts go awwwwwwww.

Also my real niece has a coat just that color.

10/11) I'm pretty sure I've already told you how I feel about these pictures. But I really like the way you put it here--about her struggle to go back and find what's lost, even when she knows it's actually impossible. Sigh.

Your epilogue picture is amazing, and I love those lyrics more and more every time I read them.


agent scully's childhood fear of clowns: oh my god it smells like fanartscooly42 on November 11th, 2009 12:55 pm (UTC)
1) hah! i knew i should asked you about the dress. i googled "kids' cinderella dress" and got stuff that looked like that so i just drew something vaguely resembling what i found. and i did change the color, yes.
i imagined real cinderella sadie and her skeleton dad and i must say it's one of the best things ever and i kinda wanna draw fanfic sadie and her dad like that now.


8) yeah, i know, reading what you wrote about this being hard, comparing it with my reasons, was rly interesting.
MAKING FACES IS SO EMBARASSING OH MY GOD. you know how you write shit in your head? well i plan drawings sometimes. on the subway and stuff. if i let my mind wander... well, you can imagine it.
lol punctuation.

9) I LIKE MO BEING MULDER'S NEW BFF. he was pretty badass/hardass in the movie already, and i really liked the background/personality you gave him in your universe. he seems loyal and stubborn and... moral? and idk, i can totally see him as mulder's new bff. mo ftmfw.
yes i feel that color is pretty popular among little girls. or their parents, anyway.

my epilogue pics has giant heads, lol. maybe i'll correct that someday.
those lyrics oh man. i hope you don't mind me being all 'OMG THOSE LYRICS ARE SO PERFECT I'LL MAKE A PICTURE WITH THEM NOW' all the time, it's prolly just your stuff all this should be based on, but it was stronger than me, they just fit so well for me, it's insane.

IN SUMMARY yes i liked working with you too we should do that again someday.
god help the girl: M/S rarer than radiumsixpences on November 6th, 2009 04:11 pm (UTC)
I love, love, love your art, always; the quirkiness and yet realism of it, the detail and delicacy. I think my favourite illustrations are the ones of William- the one of him in front of the tank is so perfectly expressive, and he manages to look familiar but also convey the sense that he's someone else's son, too. Casey is perfect. And this might sound a bit strange but I like that you've drawn M&S looking quite old- they're bearing the weight of their years, it looks right.

Also, Joanna Newsom is love. I hadn't heard that song before, but listening to it (and thinking about the fic, and looking at these pictures) made me want to cry.

Anyway, you rock. A lot. Thanks so much for these.
agent scully's childhood fear of clowns: oh my god it smells like fanartscooly42 on November 11th, 2009 01:27 pm (UTC)

i enjoyed drawing william, constructing him, thinking how i want him to look, what he should wear, what his mimics should be. wanna do more of that in the future.

the m&s looking quite old is a thing amal told me she liked, too. she specifically meant the mulder/casey end scene, but i made them look pretty old in all the pics, older than i should probably. 2012 makes scully 48 and mulder 51; it's 3-5 years younger than my parents right now. some people look pretty old around 50, some don't; i went for showing what they've been through, how the battle and the stress, the emotions, made them older rather than actual age.

and yes joanna is massive love.
Yen: [M&S] Familyriddledfate on November 10th, 2009 05:35 am (UTC)
Oh, Anka.. I love you so hard, you know this already, and I've always been in awe with your art because it's freaking amazing, but this time you've outdone yourself, bb. I'm in freaking love with every single one of your drawings for this story. I think my favorite is the one with Mulder and Casey in the end, when he's brushing her hair from her forehead. You captured the emotions of that moment incredibly well in that one, so angsty and heartbreaking and still somewhat hopefull (and omg, I was thinking about how sad it was that Casey had pretty much saved her dad for an AU version of herself too! Bwaaaa ;_;). The one with Mo, Mulder and Sadie in the bunker is so pretty--you know I'm a sucker for Mulder with kids, so.. yeah *melts*. And the picture of them with baby!William just about breaks my heart.

agent scully's childhood fear of clowns: oh my god it smells like fanartscooly42 on November 11th, 2009 01:35 pm (UTC)
oh, and who isn't a sucker for mulder with kids. it's the best thing ever, man.
the casey/mulder piece was the first one i made, so it's pretty different from the next ones, it has different coloring (much more time consuming). i like it too. mulder looks super old and tired in it, and i think it has that cloudy but bright winter day feel that amal wanted... yeah, i'm happy with that drawing.
in conclusion: muchisimas gracias, como siempre me alegra que te ha gustado, hija.
memories_childmemories_child on November 10th, 2009 07:35 pm (UTC)
You've done such an amazing job illustrating this. I love how you've made the characters so real and how your style fits the story so well. It's kinda comic-y and sparse and that works so well with the apocalyse scenario. I knew it'd be good when I saw one of my favourite writers and one of my favourite illustrators would be working together.
agent scully's childhood fear of clowns: oh my god it smells like fanartscooly42 on November 11th, 2009 03:59 pm (UTC)
thanks so much, b. saying that my stuff is comic-y is one of the best compliments. ;)
memories_childmemories_child on November 16th, 2009 10:06 am (UTC)
I'm glad about that - I realised after posting it that some artists might not like their work being called comic-y!