Monday, 11 May 2015

Shakespeare in Colour

So I have had this chunky book of the works of Shakespeare for a while now, it was only 20p at a car boot sale. the cover is shiny and plasticky and not appealing at all…

but the insides… oh swoon, be still my beating heart. The pages are super thin, beautifully delicate and not too ‘new’ looking , though this book is only about 30yrs old. There are illustrations on a lot of the pages, which just made me a bit giddy. I am amazed the lady didn’t spot my excitement and charge me a whole lot more.


Apart from the cover, it would have been a nice edition just to keep as is… but that wouldn’t be me. I do already have a much older complete works, that is special to me and I would never consider altering.
but this one was just asking to be coloured in.

For some time now I have been seeing people do ‘bible art’. I believe it is called Bible Journalling and you can see lots of examples online, HERE are a few on Pinterest.  This involves creating art in the margins of a treasured bible. I had no idea that some bibles come with very large margins specifically for taking notes I guess, but these areas work just as well for doing artwork. The ones I have seen have all been inspired by the verses on that page.

Anyhoo, back to Shakespeare. I loved the idea of creating art in a treasured book, while still being able to read the book and not completely cover up the text. not being religious, when I spotted this book I knew it would be perfect.

So before I even started I deconstructed the book, taking off the cover. That will become an entirely separate project. I am thinking of making a linen cover and embroidering it with some stumpwork. This would fit in nicely with the whole Elizabethan era…. but I digress..

As the book is so chunky, to use the pages on the left I found they needed to be propped up. So I popped a stack of books under this side. This gives me a stable surface on which to work.


The first play is The Tempest, and begins with a scene set on a ship on a stormy sea. Now I did at first think I would like to decorate the pages with images that directly relate to the text, but came to the conclusion that was putting too many restrictions upon myself. So I plan to make some kind of art that is inspired by the text, it could be realistic or abstract, whatever I feel like at the time. 

So I found myself searching for inspirational images of waves, and as often happens, one image leads to another, that leads to youtube, that leads to pinterest, and so on… eventually I wasn’t looking at real waves at all, and I ended up on THIS PAGE A very eyecatching pattern you will agree. I loved the simplicity of the illusion and in a way it still did look like the clashing of waves.

So, not wanting to copy exactly, I read the instructions once and began in my book. These pages are super thin, and I knew any kind of pen ,in or marker would bleed through. So I added a very thin coat of gel medium first.
Adding some wavy lines with a pencil.

I then went over these with a black fineliner, and added the cross lines to each column.

Next I added a water wash of colour to each column, using Fresco paints in China, Blueberry, Lavender, Eggplant, Glass Blue and Smurf.

I then went over the paint, adding shading with Faber-Castell Pitt pens .

My next layer of colour was with Derwent Coloursoft pencils.

Once all the colouring was done I added further highlights with a white Posca pen.

On the site where I found the pattern, the artist used more coloured shading to achieve his optical illusion. This wasn’t really what I was after, so I only went back in with more black. I wanted the columns to be much stronger , and almost fighting against each other. I used a Mitsubishi uniball eye pen.

This is how the page has ended up, and I quite like it. It does have the feeling of tempestuous colums of water, churning and turning in a storm.

Here it is next to the page of text. i do not plan to work my way through the book, rather I am going to dip in and out, creating on pages as I feel like it. I don’t think every page will have colour… but who knows. On the pages that already have illustrations perhaps I will just colour those in.


Next year sees the 400th anniversary of ShaKespeare's death, there are going to be celebrations all over the world. See some of the details HERE. 

Also next year, as part of the celebrations there will be a full sized 'pop up' replica of the globe theatre built in New Zealand. Once built it will then go on a world tour. See the details HERE. 

Darcy x


  1. I have the very same copy of that book, and agree about the cover... I have been ripping pages out to use in various projects but love what you've done with this first page, and the waves look fabulous! Can't wait to see more from this altered book.

  2. I've got that book too! It's been a great source of reference over the years for me and both my sons. I bought it new and I can confirm it's a good 35 years old... Ahem... I will say no more on the subject for fear of revealing my great age... The cover IS hideous; SO dull! Love your rolling waves and I'm really looking forward to seeing what you do with it going forward. Lx

  3. AMAZING Optical Art Darcy, like how your mind races, follows links and then finds more Pinspiration and then settles on a way to express your own ideas...

    Glad to share your process and your optical illusion waves, very tempestuous:-) xxx

  4. Well I have to say, when I saw the post title I thought...bit mediocre for our Gobsmacked!!...AGAIN! XXX

  5. You have given yourself a huge but rewarding challenge!

  6. Those waves are truly 3 dimensional. Love them.

  7. Nice one, I'd probably be like Helen, ripping the pages out. Pity we really only have one source of secondhand books here, no real charity shops