THE UNICORN SONATA
(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.
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.
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.