On the table above on the left are all the different pictures I used as reference when composing this illustration, which is one of the double-page illustrations in the story as well as a wrap-around cover.
In the mid- 1800’s the Paris Horse Fair took place twice a week on a certain street that had rows of stalls lining each side and a fence up the middle, so people wanting to sell horses could trot up one side and down the other for potential buyers. I was fortunate in my research to find an old photo of that street, shown above, and I used that for the base of my design.
I found horses to “populate” the scene from various sources, and put my model for Rosa in the middle of the “storm” of horses. Below is my reference “montage” of the scene, which I always create in Photoshop for each scene in a book. That way I can enlarge, reduce, move around the reference pictures like puzzle pieces until I am happy with the design. Above is my photo reference montage, which includes paintings, engravings, and photos.
Above is my sketch for the scene. The two horses in the foreground were inspired by a painting of Rosa’s called “Return from the Horse Fair.” The rest of the horses and handlers were referenced from various paintings, old engravings and photos I found that fit the angles and action I needed to create a scene of horses thundering around, barely in control, with Rosa in the midst of them, drawing.
I used an opaque projector to enlarge and trace my sketch onto a masonite gessoed board. It took a few more days to refine the drawing before I started to add oil paint.
To get the fine details in oils you need to work in layers that are transparent, especially the first layer. This is what is called a “block in” layer. This is a few days’ work, and I started adding a second layer on the cobble stone ground, the building on the right, and the hill in the background. I gave Rosa a blue shirt so she would stand out in the center of the warmer horse and background colors. I decided to set the scene in the fall, to indicate the passage of time, as she drew there every week for over a year, and the previous picture in the book shows green leaves.
The trees are well along in this layer above. I also painted some of the background, and the figure of Rosa, the most important focus of the painting.
Here is the finished painting, which took about three weeks to compose, draw, and paint. It is 24×36 inches. To echo the theme of a storm, and to help indicate movement, I added swirling fall leaves blowing around.