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  • J.A. Willoughby

Spilling My Blood for a Photograph - Creating the Illustration for "A Beautiful Day for an Exec

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a book illustration ought to count for a few hundred. I will begin this blog series to give you the backstory on some of the illustrations I used or created for my new book."This Side of Center", beginning with this one.

If you are not familiar with the historical account of Lady Margaret Pole's controversial execution in 1541 England, look her up. It's a fascinating tale and one that I parodied in my story, "A Beautiful Day for an Execution". In short, she was a cousin to Henry VIII and he sentenced her to death. But even at 68 years of age, she was a "modern" woman, not wanting to accept her fate and did not go the route of acceptance and complacency, quietly laying her head on the block, as others of royal blood did at the time. Like I said, look it up. And then read my story for a 21st century spin on that history.

The image I used was created to represent a bloodstained chopping block. Since I didn't have one in the back yard with a line of condemned victims leading up to it, I made a facscimile of one. The wooden block you see here is actually a 6" x 4" piece of weathered oak from a palette that once held hundreds of pounds of steel. (Thanks, Matt Day!) With a vision of the final image in my head, I sharpened my hatchet and started chopping. When I was satisfied with the results, the real fun began...

I stuck my fingers (on my strumming hand) with a pin, bled on the piece of wood, then smeared it into the grain, finger painting with my hemoglobin. On a small piece of primed (white) masonite, I dripped the blood from a height of about two or three feet, resulting in a spatter.

I photographed both "canvases" in the atmospherically filtered rich, autumn evening light and transferred them into my computer. From there, in Photoshop, after making the white background transparent on the masonite image, I turned the blood drops to blue* (as in: royalty). That result was made into a layer which was placed over the image of the wood block. I moved the spatters around to get a desirable composition and balance in the frame, and then tweaked the colors and contrast. A little blur was added to the background and my vision had become reality.

A simple but effective and productive fun project for a summer's evening for sure. The only problem I encountered was that I couldn't keep the blood flowing. It kept clotting and the drips stopped almost immediately. I needed about five or six tries to get the desired amount to paint with. Live and learn. The next time I put my life's blood into my work I'll take some aspirin beforehand to keep the creative juices flowing. JW

*According to my family's genealogical records, my 28th Great Grandfather was Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn, Prince of Powys, North Wales in 1063. And on Henry's side of things, my 26th Great Grandmother was Nest(a) Verch Rhys Ap Tewdwr (Tudor), Lady of Pembroke Castle and wife of the Duke of Windsor (and mistress to Henry I). Despite those far-reaching ancient genes flowing through my veins, and a long line of other "blue bloods" roaming around and procreating in the British Isles for centuries, my blood still had to be colored digitally.

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