In celebration of the 150-year publishing anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I was invited to develop a series of illustrations derived from the original work and its later companion, Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There.
The project served as a personal introduction to the source material, which I realized while reading for this project that I had never directly experienced before. It also allowed me a chance to form my own take on the relationship between Carroll and the real-life Alice: Alice Liddell, whose likeness I drew from for my illustrations (and for what felt like a refreshing change of pace from the tradition, from Carroll’s time through Disney’s and today’s). No matter what one may think of Carroll’s motivations regarding the actual Alice, both books carry a deep and genuine reverence for her. I was able to get a taste of that reverence by reading the books and reimagining Alice in my art.
As my work progressed, I began to see parallels between Carroll’s two Alice stories and Carl Jung’s Red Book. C G Jung was one of the foreparents of modern psychology and developed the concept of the unconscious. His Red Book resulted from attempts to exorcise his own personal demons following World War I. Over a number of years he would lock himself in his study at the end of the day and allow himself to slip into a trance, during which time he would write whatever came to mind.
This private writing of Jung’s took form as fantastical narratives with bizarre creatures and otherworldly locales, which he eventually collected into a single work with ornately crafted illustrations. The book stayed locked away for years, and it was long after his death that the work was released for publication. Based on comments Jung made to patients about creatively documenting their own psychological states, it’s likely that his Red Book was meant as a container for his unconscious impulses and passions at that time in his life. In a way, it held his very soul.
It’s my belief that Carroll, whether he intended it or not, gave material existence to his own soul through his Alice books, and in so doing he revealed a soul deeply touched and tirelessly committed to a young girl and the adult woman she became. While I didn’t take on a fixation for another living person, working on this series did make me more aware of the powerful focus and almost (actual?) obsession that I adopt throughout my time with a project. While developing these illustrations—from reading, to sketching, drawing, inking, and digitally painting—my life fell away, and all that mattered were Alice’s surreal adventures. I skipped meals. I lost sleep. I missed work.
In what ways does this kind of obsessive fixation relate to our unconscious and creative energies? Is it necessary for making art? By working this way, can the creator instill some part of his or her soul into the work?
What I feel certain of is that creating these illustrations gave me the chance to form a new and deep relationship with the Alice books, one that overshadows anything I had held previously thanks to Disney and other filmmakers. And it’s become clearer to me how the impulse to actualize feelings from the farthest reaches of our psyches can serve as a powerful creative drive.