We’re currently waiting on our interior designer to send back the second revision of our manuscript. It’s really exciting to see Sinxay so close to its finished form. I recently priced what it would cost to reformat the pdf manuscript to epub format, and one of the questions asked in the automated form before giving an approximate price is the number of illustrations in our book. Well, I counted them up and we have 160+ illustrations! The illustrations are extremely important to us and to the book. We have put a lot of energy/money making sure they are the best they can be. Luckily I’m a pretty good photographer with some skills at Photoshop, and since 99% of the photos are our own that’s made the process a lot more convenient.
I have taken extensive photos at the three wats in Isan, Wat Chaisi, Wat Sanuan Wari and Wat Photaram and have always planned on using photos of mural details in the book. Both in the retelling and in the contextual chapters. Unfortunately many of the murals are degraded, some more severely than others, because of how old they are (approximately 100 years old, some maybe a little less). The wear and tear of wind, rain, sun, birds, etc. has made many of the murals difficult to discern what the painter was intending to illustrate. Nonetheless they are very powerful, evoking strong emotions in most people viewing them in person.
We wanted to create the same emotional feeling with our illustrations and photos in the entire book, both in the retelling and four contextual chapters, and in our preface we write about the importance of the illustrations in our book,
In Appleton, Shaw, and Unebe’s book, Illuminating the Life of the Buddha: An Illustrated Chanting Book from Eighteenth-Century Siam, the authors write:
“In temple art jātaka depictions can be far more varied and full of incident than those in manuscripts. There is simply more room on a wall for extensive depiction of a number of scenes from a single, often intricate story, sometimes arranged chronologically, but often in a non-linear succession . . . Their presence [in a manuscript], however, is like bringing a sense of the temple to the space of a manuscript.”
We have tried to convey this same sensibility of “bringing a sense of the temple” into this volume with the illustrations and photos we have chosen to use.
 Appleton, Naomi, Shaw, Sarah, and Unebe, Toshiya. 2013. Illuminating the Life of the Buddha: An Illustrated Chanting Book from Eighteenth-Century Siam. The Bodleian Library.
Although I was able to retouch many of the mural details, I still realized that readers, seeing the mural details out of context (looking at them in a book vs seeing them in person), might not see through the degradation and create in their imaginations what the original murals might have been like. Luckily, we have been working with an amazing artist who has digitally painted key illustrations for our retelling, including one that has been modified to become our cover that you can see on our home page. About three months ago I asked him (we’ve only communicated through email) if he would try redrawing a mural detail for me. I wasn’t surprised when Nick said sure, and what he came up with was so good it has spurred me into asking him to redraw other mural details, seemingly each one better than the next.
In this website I’ll be featuring many of his illustrations in posts, and in this post you can see the redrawing he did of a scene at Wat Chaisi that shows Loun, the mother of Sinxay and Sangthong, and another wife of the king, Chanta, with her son Siho (body of a lion and head of an elephant). I think he really captured the fear they were feeling, plus I think he allows the viewer to better appreciate and think about the original mural detail. All the artists at the three wats we feature in the book must have really thought hard about how they wanted to portray Sangthong with his conch shell body and Siho. Not easy. It’s interesting in this illustration Siho seems to be floating on the hand of Chanta, or jumping away. What was the artist trying to express?
The illustration supports the following text,
The five of them were ceaselessly wandering through the forest to search for food, staying longer where there was plentiful fruit but never too long in any one place. Even if it was raining hard, they kept walking, shivering from the cold. Hearing the sounds of the owls and other birds chilled them to the bone, especially the shrieking cry of the spider monkey. Even though they were obliged to pass many frightening things and were afraid, they always kept walking.
Below is the original mural detail untouched. For most of the mural details that Nick has worked on, we have added (redrawn) at the end of the image description. For this one we asked him to “creatively redraw” the mural detail, adding some animals that weren’t in the original mural detail. We think it couldn’t be better and works perfectly in helping the reader imagine the scene. What do you think. And we will add (creatively redrawn) to those mural details where Nick has been allowed a little more creativity.