This blog posting represents a new resurgence in me posting articles on this blog. I was using Twitter for this purpose, but it seems they are falling into the bad habits of Facebook, not even allowing all of my followers to see my posts. So this is my attempt to jump past their limitations and appear directly to the search engines.
This illustration above is the first one I have done in a long time. I started it while on break waiting for a major professional edit of this book, "Stefan's Owl from Oblivion," to be performed. Like all things associated with this book, it was not just a learning experience but a true journey. If you can illustrate at all, I recommend illustrating your characters. You will find that you learn a tremendous number of things about them in the simple of act of illustrating them.
This illustration is of a Saeshell Female in general and specifically the Saeshell, Neshalia. Neshalia is known as the Saeshell Nanny because she takes care of young Saeshells, teaching them what they need to know to survive and to become part of the Saeshell's culture. This can prove rather interesting because one way in which Saeshells propagate is by partially rewriting the genes of the race dominating the planet they wish to take over. But there is quite a lot more to it than that. They are also scientifically mixing the genes of races available in their current environment with their own to assimilate the good properties of the target races into their own genome. The Saeshells are the most dominate life-form in the known universe and they wish to remain that way.
In the case of a large, resource rich planet such as Earth, it inevitably ends up being contested by multiple advanced races all vying for dominance over the resources. But rather than these advanced races warring with each other in a hot war, raising the possibility of destroying the very planet they seek to conquer, conquest by the advanced races is via genetic assimilation. This assimilation also leads to a race being created embodying a mixture of the genes of the attacking races. In a sense, it is a natural process in that these hybrids by their very nature gain the trust of all the races, becoming the trusted arbitrator of all disputes.
These hybrids are known as the "Children of Sophista," named after the first extraterrestrial race to perform genetic experiments on the humans. The Saeshells try to gain advantage by sending Neshalia to guide and as much as possible, protect the Children of Sophista from the violent, exploitative humans. Because Neshalia is so alien, she remains invisible through much of the children's early childhood, remaining a comforting and wise whisper guiding the children. Only after she feels the children have matured enough, does she visually reveal her form. The characters in the book have a slang name for the Saeshells, referring to them as "the bugs."
Traditionally in fantasy literature, fairies have pointed ears and they either have beautiful, almost child-like faces or in some scarier fairy tales, they have a more triangular face. In "Stefan's Owl from Oblivion," the fairies are an engineered race made by the Saeshells as a combination of Saeshell and human genetics. The fairies' purpose is to be the human face of the Saeshells, responsible for influencing the humans in ways that the Saeshells deem necessary to allow them to succeed in their conquest. The fairies are kind, gentle, like a humanitarian aid organization that the humans could become addicted to. The Saeshells are much more cynical and sinister -- the form the fairies are derived from. So I needed to take the traditional fairy form and make it more alien, more sinister.
The Saeshells needed to be serious looking, being a cross between human attributes and insect attributes. So I used the flesh of humans and the segmented, multiple joint nature of insects to create Neshalia. Rather than fingers, which are very unique to primates, I used pincers/feelers, which are common to uncountable numbers of bug species. For flight to be remotely feasible, I made the body small and the head over-sized large to contain a large, very intelligent brain. The larger legs not only support the Saeshell at rest, but serve like a kite tail to give the overall body stability. Neshalia is not a pretty sight compared to characters in more traditional fantasies.
I struggled for a long time with this illustration. Instinctively, I wanted to illustrate something beautiful. That would have been difficult since I don't think my illustration skills are not far enough along yet that I could have illustrated a beautiful, whimsical form. But more importantly, it would have violated the realism of the book and looked cartoonish in this context. To test that theory, I had a fairy illustration illustrated by an illustrator for one of my previous books. Sure enough, when you drop that illustration into this book, it removes the whole seriousness, the realism, of this book. As shocking as it is, this illustration is what fits best with the actual story of the book. And more importantly, it is the natural revulsion to the figure that demonstrates why it is so difficult for human beings to accept one another's differences. And it is this revulsion to differences that drives the misery of the Children of Sophista's lives.