by Jessica Chrysler
Fall brings fond memories for me. Even though I grew up in sunny Southern California, there were a few special trees in the neighborhood that would change color and drop their leaves. I’d dreamt about how endless forests of these trees would look and had read fairytales about how spirits would change the colors of the leaves. I’d wonder how they’d lived with all the other creatures in the wood, and if they would all gather into little caves, sleeping together through the long, cold winters. For a kid that never experienced the seasons, this magic seemed so real, even if just beyond my reach. But I was able to capture some of that magic when it came time for Halloween.
When the days began to grow cold and the leaves fell from our neighbor’s trees, I’d collect them and scatter them around our house. I’d stuff scarecrows and make zombies out of old clothes and masks that were hidden in the bottom of the costume bin. My brother and I would cut headstones out of cardboard and hang cotton spider webs in every corner.
But the most fun was creating a costume—the more creepy, or fanciful, the better. We’d take something old, something used, and create something entirely new.
The best part about making those costumes was trying on the craziest combinations and seeing what worked. A hockey mask and a tutu made for a terrifying ballerina. A long sheet and a long, black wig would make an amazing vampire or living specter, depending on the makeup. What I didn’t know then, was that this was an exercise in juxtaposition. Taking two seemingly disparate concepts and smashing them together. A skill I now lean on for all my creative projects.
You can juxtapose themes, colors, genres, characters, mediums—anything and everything that could serve as an idea to get your project going. And if you’re having trouble with finding things to juxtapose with your initial idea, try applying some prompts from other sources. My favorites are themed lists like the ones for #Inktober, or weekly words from Illustration Friday, or sometimes I even scroll through my Pinterest feed until I find something that catches my eye.
If you’re having a harder time just coming up with ideas, think about what sparked joy for you as a kid. What inspired fear? What was the one thing that you wanted most in the world? What did you lose? What part of that feeling, or event, stuck with you the most? Illustrate that.
But don’t try to combine too many ideas at once! You need a core, the central feeling or narrative you want to show, and the juxtaposition is the flavor that you infuse into that core. If you have too many flavors, the core will get lost. And end up a little like mud soup.
Now, I would like to challenge you to a prompt for #KTIllustrates and see what you can come up with! You can try juxtaposing or you can simply be inspired by the vision the words make for you. Maybe something you remember feeling as a kid.
The prompt is A Night in the Woods.
Don’t forget to share your images with us on Twitter and Instagram using #KTIllustrates!
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Jessica Chrysler is a writer, illustrator, and student at Hamline University’s MFAC program. She has earned the T. A. Barron Fellowship Award for Excellence in Fantasy Writing and honors from the NIEA for her work on Your Greatest Adventure. She’s currently working on a MG fairy story set in the southwest. Follow @jesschrysler or find out more at JessChrysler.com.