Note: This post contains minor spoilers to Nancy Drew and the Mystery at Lilac Inn. Not that’s it’s probably at the top of your “No-Spoilers-Please” list, but you’ve been warned regardless. 😉
Growing up, some of my favorite books were the Nancy Drew Mystery stories—specifically the original editions printed in the thirties or fourties, with dilapidated covers and thick, yellowing pages. Unlike the newer publications, these old editions transported me back into a by-gone era where one would “motor over” to have luncheon with a friend, or “telephone” a local business. And in the center of it was Nancy herself, who was an amalgamation of all things a young girl dreams to be: clever and caring, daring yet classy. Basically perfect. (And sometimes a little too nauseatingly perfect.) But hey—when you’re eleven, you tend to overlook those things. After all, it wasn’t Nancy who was solving those mysteries, it was you in her shoes, working out the clues and tracking down the suspects.
So every now and then when I need a fun diversion and quick read, I’ll pick up an old Nancy Drew book and remember what it was like to be eleven again, brimming with limitless possibilities and a carefree naiveté. And as a homage to the stories that shaped my youth, I’ll occasionally do a vintage illustration to accompany that story. It’s my way of re-imagining what an alternate cover or frontispiece would look like in my style, and serves as a fun challenge to create antiquated illustrations.
When choosing a scene to illustrate, I like to select a scene that has not been previously illustrated by other artists. This challenges me to try something different than what’s already out there, and—I feel—helps broaden the pool of imagery associated with Nancy Drew. For Nancy Drew and The Mystery At Lilac Inn, I chose a scene near the end of the story where Nancy furtively enters a house of several known suspects to an effort to spy on their conversation. Yet upon entering the storeroom through a window, she hears one of the suspects approaching her location, and so conceals herself in a crate to evade detection. The scene goes as follows:
Tom made a response which Nancy did not catch, but the next moment she was startled to hear Mary say:
“Oh! What a vivid flash of lightning! That must have come close. I wonder if all the windows are down?”
Nancy glanced guiltily toward the storeroom window. In the excitement of entering the house she had forgotten to close it. Before she could make a move she heard Mary say:
“I can hear water dripping somewhere. I think the storeroom window must be open. Wait a minute and I’ll shut it.”
Desperately, Nancy glanced about for a hiding place. She was convinced that her own carelessness had trapped her. Had there been time she would have vaulted out the window, but it was too late for that. Her only hope was an empty packing case. Hastily climbing into it, she flattened herself against the bottom just as Mary Mason opened the door.
Carrying an oil lamp, Mary Mason entered the storeroom and with only a casual glance about went directly to the window. As she passed the packing box, Nancy held her breath, fearful lest she be discovered.
“I don’t remember leaving a window open,” the girl muttered to herself. “Why, the floor is sopping wet.”
I wanted to capture the dark, looming tension of being on the brink of discovery, and focused on emphasizing the values to do the storytelling. Below, you can see a snapshots of my process.
Since I wanted to capture how Nancy may have been uncomfortably seated in the packing box, I snapped some reference shots to give me a better visual on how that would look.
I drew the lines digitally, since it made it easier to rework any trouble areas.
Since I had planned the finished piece to be inked, I needed to transfer the drawing to my inking board. I printed out a copy of the lines, and carbon-transferred them onto my paper.
After transferred, I went over them again to reinstate the final lines into a tight pencil drawing.
I used a combination of croquil pen and brush to ink the final drawing. I also used white acrylic and white colored pencil to help punch up any highlights that got lost in the inking process. I liked how the final illustration turned out, and I hope you enjoy it as well! 🙂