Moving pictures on glass

Rusalka, from an animation painting by Aleksandr Petrov

Alexander Petrov creates his animations the home-made way, scribbling on layered panes of glass with oil pastels.

He paints with his fingers, small brushes, rags — anything handy to help him push and smear his pigments — and wipe them away when it’s time to re-paint for the next shot

In a process evocative of sand-painting

He prefers transparent colors so as not to block the light shining up through his glass ‘canvases.’  So that his scenes glow.

Right up there with Petrov’s bravura brush (and pastel work) are his director’s storytelling chops. He keeps us guessing, startling us with rude, fascinating surprises — as life often does.

The Mermaid is based on a story by Alexander Pushkin. With its themes of sexual love, betrayal, guilt and murderous vengeance, it’s not a children’s animation. Oh, wait — I forgot about Snow White and the other Grimm Brothers’ tales.

In Slavic folklore the rusalki were the ghosts of young women who had drowned themselves after being abandoned by their lovers. They haunted glades and lakes and sometimes lured young men to their deaths.

The only dialogue are he prayers and blessings uttered in Russian by the older monk and the nonsense singing and laughter of the rusalka. The film is basically wordless.

But oh, what sounds! Water and wind, the bell of a village church,  ice cracking on the frozen river and a flute’s sad song that underscores the wildness of the woods and the loneliness of the shores.

Petrov uses plenty of reference — still and video — for his pictures, as you’ll see in the Russian documentary on him  (in the following post.) He taps friends and neighbors to play the story characters, in the time honored tradition of illustrators from Howard Pyle to Norman Rockwell.

He immerses us in characters, setting and ‘telling’ physical details and puts his art squarely in the service of a suspenseful narrative.

Although he’s worked some in Canada and for Japanese producers, he likes to stay close to his home in Yarsoslavl, northeast of Moscow. Alexander Petrov has twice won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short in 1990 for The Cow from a story by Andrei Platonov and in 1999 for his IMAX adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

Don’t go near the water in June

Yes, the rusalki reflect the mermaids of Celtic mythology and the Mediterranean-based sirens. But the Russians might take their legends more seriously. Early June was Rusalka Week in the old country.

“At this time they were supposed to have left their watery depths in order to swing on branches of birch and willow trees by night. Swimming during this week was strictly forbidden, lest mermaids would drag a swimmer down to the river floor.”Wikipedia

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Marks and splashes course modules

Paint your own spooky stories, folk fables and tall tales

Is it time to spin your own mermaid yarn?

The online Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! course can help you craft better illustrations for your story.  Learn more about the  great self-paced lessons and learning community here.

Discover a powerful secret to help you improve your drawing here.

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Mark Mitchell, the writer of this post runs this and other blogs, including How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator.

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