THE UNICORN SONATA

by rodriguezfineartprintsca

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(A friend scanned some of the images from the book and emailed them off to me.  And some I got off the internet.  Sorry things aren’t better quality.)

Peter S. Beagle wrote a novel in 1968 called The Last Unicorn.  It was ranked one of the all-time best fantasy novels, and in 1982 it was made into an animated film as well.  Due to popular demand, he wrote The Unicorn Sonata about 1996 and I was asked to illustrate the book and the cover art.  We started with a phone conversation so I could learn about the world that Peter had created.  He had very definite ideas of what Unicorns were not, but I had a little harder time figuring out what they actually were.  I remember that they were not goats and not horses, but a little of both.  Very delicate horses maybe?

I was fascinated by Peter Beagle.  He called himself the black sheep of his family.  His uncles were Moses, Raphael and Issac Soyer, three noted painters of the Social Realist school.  I thought it was funny because when I mentioned I was doing the book, everyone knew The Last Unicorn and said it was one of their favorite books.  But when I told a lot of people who his uncles were, they didn’t recognize the names.  I always liked Raphael Soyer’s work in particular, but I guess no one ever made an animated movie from his paintings, so he didn’t have the name recognition.  Anyway, Peter S. Beagle, hardly a blacksheep.

It has been a long time since I read The Unicorn Sonata, so my memory is a little hazy, but it concerns a thirteen year old girl from L.A. who follows some enchanting music across an invisible border by the mailbox on the corner, into Shi’rah, a land that is inhabited by satyrs, unicorns, phoenixes and other mystical creatures.  Eventually she brings her grandmother across with her to help save the Unicorns and their music.

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There were a total of eleven illustrations plus the cover art.  I remember being inspired by old medieval tapestries with some of the pieces.  The project paid decently, so I was able to spend a fair amount of time on each piece, and I did some in oils and some in acrylics.  It was one of the last projects I did traditionally, before I switched to digital art.  I still show the cover art in my illustration portfolio.

I remember that the art director had always planned the title to go right in the center.  We had been talking about the cover as a border design, so that was where my thinking was focused, and what I was doing for them.  I did three designs for borders, and they all were pretty decent.  But two hours before FedEx arrived, I realized I wasn’t completely happy, and maybe I could do a cover design that just had the title dropped in over the artwork.  I quickly did a rough layout, basically I visualized it exactly the way I finished it, right from the start.  But it was odd, I presented three very tight comps of borders, and one very loose pencil sketch of the cover as it was eventually done, with a note explaining what I had in mind. It was so nice that they could interpret my scribbles and give me permission to finish that version.  So often when a client has something specific in mind, like a border design in this case, they can’t open themselves up to a different direction.  But the whole project went like that.  I made notes of the scenes that I felt would call for illustrations, and they did as well.  I think we agreed on almost every illustration.
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In the end, I don’t believe Peter Beagle was completely in love with my illustrations, but the art director was.  I can’t find his name, but if I do, I will post it later with an apology.
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