Saturday, October 13, 2007


This post is a little overdue - it's a few weeks now since I promised Paul Macdonald (of The Children's Bookshop in Sydney) a few pictures of Daisy Buchanan as I first drew her... eight years ago, as a dirty, dirty bird. So, apologies, and here is the story of Daisy's evolution.

Daisy Buchanan, as she appears in my adaptation of The Great Gatsby, looks like this (on the left). She's fluffy, gleamingly gold-and-white, delicately - maybe even precariously - balanced and full of charm:
Of course she's also selfish, careless, and morally bereft. Which is why my original idea was to draw Daisy and her cohorts as dirty creatures, showing the prickles, the grot and corruption underneath their glittering surfaces. My first character drawing for Daisy looked like this:
As I played around (obsessively) with my needle-fine crow quill nibs, Daisy got more and more elaborate:
...and also less wire-haired and dirty-looking. Her feather-fuzz acquired a more sparkly feel, and her head became rounder and more coiffed. A dirty Daisy just didn't seem quite... right. The more I thought about the book as a whole, the more wrong my original idea felt. A character like Daisy had to look beautiful, I realised, because allure, glamour and the glittering surface of things are so central to the world that Fitzgerald immerses us in. We need to experience that world and its privileged stars as gorgeously alluring, even as we see the emptiness, callousness and corruption beneath the polished skin. Making Daisy a dirty bird was not only going to be heavy-handed and obvious, but it would destroy the gossamer cloak of glamour that Fitzgerald spreads out for us over his Jazz Age tragedy.

So Daisy got even whiter, even more soft-and-sparkly...
...and her accessories got excruciatingly detailed. The motif on that armchair took forever to draw!

The problem with this incarnation was the face. It didn't have the scope for the subtle expression, suggestion, flirtation and emotion that is so important in Daisy's character. Daisy has to be able to seduce you with a tilt of her eyelashes, ensnare your sympathy against your will with a shy bite of her underlip, and betray you with a smirk. This strange creature's face, with its feather-rimmed eyes couldn't do that. I decided that Daisy's face had to be drawn with fewer lines, and with features far more capable of a range of subtle expression.

It was in the process of drawing the roughs for the book that Daisy really assumed her current form. I was drawing the characters very simply to plan the book out, and these lightly-cast forms and faces just appeared so much more lively and expressive than the extremely laboured original character drawings. Here's an example from right at the start of the roughs:
And as you can see, Daisy ended up looking very little like all those painstaking preliminary drawings, but instead took her final form from the quickly-pencilled roughs. I ended up doing the final drawings with a much sturdier steel nib than the little crow quills, and simplifying the characters a lot. The result, I think, is much more inviting to the eye.

So, could I have skipped all the bother (and the many, many hours!) of the original drawings and gone straight to the simpler forms? I don't think so. My inky gut tells me that all that initial extravagance was necessary, even though much of it was ultimately discarded. A couple of weeks ago, Shaun Tan and I got to discussing this very thing - and it turns out that he does something similar when developing an idea. Shaun explained that his initial drawings are often wildly "out there", detailed and extravagant, but that as he develops the idea, the visual elements are wound back to a less extreme form, one which works better, with greater possibility for engaging/communicating with the reader.

And hey - if it's good enough for Shaun Tan, it's sure as hell good enough for me!


spacedlaw said...

Thanks for the insight on Daisy's evolution, Nicky.
I do prefer her as she is now too. Somehow, having her too much like some type of bird would have reminded readers too much of Donald Duck's Daisy.
This way, she is and will remain truly yours.

Nicki Greenberg said...

Thanks Nathalie! I never thought of the Daisy Duck connection before... and imagine the Litigious Wrath of Disney if I'd inadvertantly made my Daisy at all like theirs!

Anonymous said...

The picture of daisy and Jordan is perfect. It is like the raw form of what you imagine them to be.