In a Minor Key

It’s November. The rain has come to Seattle.  I’ve been inside a lot, working on a new book of poems and paintings.crows  Paschkis

While painting I often listen to music,  especially music in a minor key. A sad song can make me quite happy.
Here are some thoughts on illustration in a minor key.

The subject matter in this painting by Bilibin ( a visit to Baba Yaga) fits the somber palette.


And this elegant painting by Arthur Rackham for Grimm is as grim as the story.

rackham grimm

But I remember being scared by all of the illustrations in the book A Holiday for Edith, by Dare Wright, even the ones that were supposed to be happy. The whole book was suffused with melancholy. I think that an artist brings many things to a book and some of them might not be brought there on purpose.HOLIDAY-for-EDITH-and-the-BEARS_large

Divica Landrova’s  illustration for Little Red Riding Hood is in a minor key, even though Redcap has not yet met the wolf.

divica landrova

Compare that to the same subject matter by Watty Piper.

Watty Piper

I always wanted a seat at the table in Barbara Cooney’s Chanticleer, even though the illustration is dark. It feels cosy, like being inside when rain is falling on the roof.


Yuri Vasnetsov’s style and colors are similar here, but the room is lonely and frightening.

vasnetsov dining room

In this illustration by Lisbeth Zwerger, the text says that the feast is merry, but it feels desolate. Maybe the robbers are sad that their iPad fell on the floor.

zwerger robbers

This feast by Edgar and Ingri D’Aulaire describes a happy mayhem. It is in a major key.

daulaire valhalla

I will end with my favorite feast of all, by Yuri Vasnetsov. The cockroaches put it firmly in a minor key. This is from the Magpie, shown on this blog before.


Enjoy the rain and sad songs!

p.s. If you would like to curl up under a quilt, please check out my new blog Mooshka – a Patchwork.

12 responses to “In a Minor Key

  1. Brad Chodos-Irvine

    The photo of Edith and the bears is very strange. No wonder you were frightened of the book!

  2. Julie, I like those minor key songs too. I just listened to, am listening to, lady gaga singing dope at the music award show. (I posted it on facebook) I can’t stop watching it. also regina specktor singing the genius next door. I tend to listen to one song over and over.

  3. I’m beginning to understand that sometimes I write in a minor key, and that’s okay. Thanks for this post.

  4. You must know the Woody Guthrie song, “Way Over Yonder in a Minor Key.” The Billy Bragg version is singing in my head as I look at your minor-key illustrations. Here are the lyrics, but they don’t entirely capture the feel:

    I lived in a place called Okfuskee
    And I had a little girl in a holler tree
    I said, little girl, it’s plain to see,
    There ain’t nobody that can sing like me

    She said it’s hard for me to see
    How one little boy got so ugly
    Yes, my luttle girly, that might be
    But there ain’t nobody that can sing like me

    Ain’t nobody that can sing like me
    Way over yonder in the minor key
    Way over yonder in the minor key
    There ain’t nobody that can sing like me

    We walked down by the Buckeye Creek
    To see the frog eat the goggle eye bee
    To hear that west wind whistle to the east
    There ain’t nobody that can sing like me

    Oh my little girly will you let me see
    Way over yonder where the wind blows free
    Nobody can see in our holler tree
    And there ain’t nobody that can sing like me

    Her mama cut a switch from a cherry tree
    And laid it on the she and me
    It stung lots worse than a hive of bees
    But there ain’t nobody that can sing like me

    Now I have walked a long long ways
    And I still look back to my tanglewood days
    I’ve led lots of girls since then to stray
    Saying, ain’t nobody that can sing like me.

    • This is one of my favorite songs of all time. I wasn’t thinking of it when I wrote the post, but I’m going to play Mermaid Avenue right now – the whole album is filled with good songs.

  5. I absolutely love the the look of this photo!

  6. I am so excited for the book you’re working on, Julie! This post resonates with me–I am quite fond of the minor key as well.

  7. I’m with you here too. Love this, thank you, Julie. Your crows pulled me in, oh you are so talented!

  8. do you know that Watty Piper is not an actual person, but the made up name for all the house artists at one of the publishing houses, maybe Random Books? I forget which one. I love the paper cut girl in the red helmet hat. genius.

    • That is so interesting! I didn’t know that. I had wondered why the illustration didn’t look like the art from The Little Engine that Could, but I just figured that Watty had a range of styles. I wonder how they came up with that name.

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