First Light, First Life

Hot off the presses- here is First Light,First Life: A Worldwide Creation Story, written by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by me, and published by Henry Holt.
Paul wove together creation stories from 24 different countries. My job was to connect these stories visually. I did that with form and with color.
The book/ the world begins in darkness.
The story moves from land to land (and sea) as the world begins and becomes populated with people and animals. On each page I looked for the visual connections between the cultures. The paintings become lighter as the book progresses, and there are also gradations of light within each painting.
This book took a lot of research. Every page took me down a different path, and every page was worthy of a lifetime of study. These are not merely stories from different cultures: they are often sacred stories. I treated them with care, and I hope I did not blunder.
first-light-14-15 I drew on the folk art of the various cultures – including textiles, sculpture and painting. I tried to be as true and respectful to each culture as possible, while interpreting that inspiration and making the pictures my own.
For every page I gathered books; they piled up in my studio. I visited museums when it was possible. I also collected images from the internet  and compiled several pages of images for each painting. For example, this is one of the pages of reference for Peru.
peru research
I read about Peru and it seemed that Paul was referring to Inti, the sun god, along with Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo.  Reading Greek myths, I realized that Paul was referring to Prometheus and Epimetheus, and I looked at Greek vases to figure out the style.
first-light-22-23 greek vase

There are parts of the creation story that are joyful as life unfolds, and there are parts that are scary. The devastation reaches across cultures and takes many forms.

The style of the page from Mozambique is based on batiks and on Shetani carvings found there. The spider refers to the myth of Mulungu climbing to the moon on a spider web to escape the rampaging humans.The idea of faces in the lightning bolts was from a mask from the Kwele people of Gabon. The faces in the bolts are Kwele and Fang masks.

Here Coxcoxtli and Xochiquetzal are being warned by Titlacahuan (Tlaloc), and on the other side is Noah’s ark. The flood pours from one culture to another.
Redemption and rebirth also take many forms. Here is the aftermath of the flood in California and in Iraq.
I couldn’t tell if Condor was a person or a condor (bird) in the myth, so I contacted the Wiyot tribe and they told me that both ideas are true: Condor was a man but also a bird. So I drew Condor and his sister/wife with bird heads, but sitting like people. I referred to traditional Wiyot basket patterns and echoed them in the water. While researching Condor I also learned of the true and terrible massacre of many members of the Wiyot tribe in 1860.
Here are some images from Iraq.
flood utnapishtim

As I delved into the research I was amazed by the richness in the stories, and the peculiarity of the details. I was impressed by Paul’s ability to create one unified tale out of so many sources, and by the way he compressed the myths without flattening them. I hope I was able to honor his text and the myriad stories within it. Just like the creation myths, life contains light and dark. This book celebrates the way those strands are woven together, within and between various cultures. I hope that when you look at this book you will be inspired to look further into all of the myths, stories and history that are included. I hope that we have planted some seeds.
firstlight-31 firstlight-32

…the back cover sums it up.

You can buy First Light, First Life at your local bookstore, or click here to order it from BooksInc., or here to order it from Amazon.

8 responses to “First Light, First Life

  1. Fantastic!! Congratulations!!

  2. Deirdre O'Sullivan from Australia

    Wow, Julie! Such superb illustrations – your vibrant paintings make the pages sing! I’ll definitely be buying a copy. Could I ask how long it took you to finish all the pictures for the book? Must have been a herculean effort – well done!
    P.S: Your Australian aboriginal dot paintings and x-ray paintings of animals are perfect – and it’s a labour intensive process, all those dots – I know!

    • Thanks for your message, and dot approbation.The Seattle Art Museum has a large and beautiful collection of aboriginal dot paintings which I found inspiring and exhilerating.
      I think it took about 4 months to do the paintings, not including the time for research and sketching.

  3. Oh, Julie. Julie! Gorgeous and informative. Wow.

  4. Awesome undertaking and know the research must have been so fascinating. Colors are so alive!

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