Tutorial: Arthur Rackham's A Night Before Christmas in Miniature

Christmas in July is a thing, right?  That's lucky, because this tutorial is all about Arthur Rackham's A Night Before Christmas.










Follow the links below to see other tutorials in this series:






Arthur Rackham 

Arthur Rackham was born in Lewisham, Kent, on the 19th of September 1867. Drawing was a passion from an early age but he was not from a wealthy family so in order to support himself through the Lambeth School of Art, he worked full time in an insurance office and studied in the evenings. He did not become a full time artist until 1892 when he joined a London newspaper as an artist, and then began to take on other newspaper, magazine and book illustration commissions.  

Development of photo-mechanical printing techniques in the early twentieth century enabled Rackham to illustrate books without needing an engraver to translate his work for the printing press, and this allowed Rackham’s tremendous gift for line drawings to be accurately reproduced.  By 1896 he found that he was successful enough to leave the newspaper job to concentrate on book illustrations.  

Rackham competently illustrated over 20 books during the 1890’s before achieving significant success with his illustrations of The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, 1900.  In 1905 he received huge acclaim for his illustrations for Rip Van Winkle, followed quickly by Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens in 1906, and thus he was established as one of the top illustrators of the early 20th century.
In 1931 a book featuring Rackham’s illustrations for The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore was published and it is a series of these line drawings that we are going to reproduce here.

Rackham died of cancer on the 6th September 1936 at home.

You will need

  • Smooth white cartridge paper
  • Sharp craft knife, cutting mat and steel ruler
  • Sharp pencil and an eraser
  • Black ink and a very fine dip pen

I’ve been unable to ascertain how big the original illustrations are for this book. Rackham did not have a standard size for working, however in general his illustrations tended to be around 10 x 7.5 inches, or 254mm x 190.5mm, so this is what I’m working to here.

To find how big our miniature versions need to be we simply divide these measurements by the scale we’re working in. On a 1:12th scale, dividing by 12 will give us 21 x 16mm; for 1:16th we need to divide by 16 to get 16 x 12mm and for 1:24th divide by 24 giving 12 x 8mm.

I'm working at a 1:12th scale, which is smaller than a British postage stamp.


Elf Step 1

Draw a rectangle of the size required for your scale and then divide this into 4 x 4 equally spaced sections (you will need your ruler for this bit). They will not be squares since your canvas is rectangular, but I will call them squares for simplicity’s sake. Please draw your grid lines very faintly so that you can erase them later on.

Starting in one of the corners, copy the black lines into your chosen square. Methodically moving from one square to its adjoining square, continue to copy the drawing until yours is complete. Try not to be tempted to jump around the grid – it is all too easy to make a mistake when counting squares and very frustrating to find that the drawing doesn’t meet in the middle!




Elf Step 2

Load your pen with two drops of ink using the pipette or a small brush. Loading ink in this way will save you a lot of heart ache by preventing excess ink from blobbing onto your drawing. Alternatively you can dip the pen into the ink and then remove the excess ink from the nib top, sides and the reservoir using the edge of a piece of kitchen towel.



Practice drawing both straight and squiggly lines of different widths by applying different amounts of pressure to the nib. Note that you can get a very fine line as the ink is running out. Try turning the nib upside down and very gently drawing with it to see if this will give you an even finer line. Wipe the nib clean every time you refill the nib to prevent a build up of ink.



Replace the cap on the ink and thoroughly clean and dry your nib whenever you leave your work for more than a minute or two as dried waterproof ink can be very difficult to clean off the nib.



Elf Step 3

When you’re happy with your lines you can begin to ink your drawing, starting with the hat and a fine line.



Elf Step 4

Move on to the face and hand, again with a fine line. Try the pen on a scrap of paper each time you refill the nib and blot off some of the ink from the reservoir if the line is too thick.



Elf Step 5

Continue with the same fine lines to complete the arms, ruff, and the hand on the right.



Elf Step 6

Practice drawing a thicker line and draw over the horizontal wavy lines of the elf’s skirt, the tips of both shoes and the tip of the hat.



Elf Step 7

Return to the thick lines and complete the skirt, legs and shoes, including the ruffs on the feet.




Moon Step 1

Moving on to the smiling moon, use the grid method to draw the outlines in pencil.



Moon Step 2 

All the lines in this piece are the same thickness, so practice creating a thin line and then ink the moon face. 



Moon Step 3

Complete the inking in the same way, noting that there are two lines of smoke coming out of the left hand chimney.



Flying Reindeer Step 1

Draw out another grid and copy the reindeer flying over the buildings. Draw the reindeer themselves as stick figures, don’t worry about detail shapes as we will build those up with ink.



Flying Reindeer Step 2

Take your time inking in the outlines. You might find it easier to rotate the paper when you are faced with long straight lines to help steady your hand. Left-handed people tend to find drawing from right to left is easier than left to right, and vice-versa.




Flying Reindeer Step 3

When you get to the church in the background, use dots to represent the gothic spire. Note the direction of the bricks on the chimney on the left and don’t try to get them all in as they won’t fit in the available space. Just an approximation is all we need here.



Flying Reindeer Step 4

Next, carefully block in the buildings in the background using gentle strokes of the pen. Build up the bodies of the reindeer one stroke at a time. Do not rush this step!




Four Silhouettes Step 1

Following the grid method draw stick versions of the silhouetted figures in pencil.



Four Silhouettes Step 2

Carefully build up the first figure, watching the curve of the back and the angles of the legs and arms. Use dots for the tiny features such as the heels of the shoes and the nose and chin.



Four Silhouettes Step 3

Moving on to the second figure, begin by going over your stick figure then build up the bottom, legs and tail. Add in the head gradually building up the shape sideways.



Four Silhouettes Step 4

The third figure is wearing a cap and is looking to the left.  To achieve the slightly disjointed dancing arms and legs, lift your pen off the paper at the elbow and the knee. Use dots for the hands.



Four Silhouettes Step 5

Build up the fourth figure, the dancing rabbit, in the same way. Leave tiny white spaces for the eyes.




Dancers Step 1

Use the grid method to draw the dancers in pencil



Dancers Step 2

Starting with the ballet dancer, ink in the skirt followed by the legs and feet. The tips of the feet are filled in with ink. Move on to the body. When you get to the head start with the two or three circles to represent the flowers in her hair, then ink in the solid hair and finally add a face. On this scale there is no room to add her facial features so just leave the face blank.



Dancers Step 3

Ink the skipping circus dancer starting under the arm on the left hand side as you look at the paper and use one sweeping line right down to the bottom of the foot on the opposite side. Ink in the rest of that leg and then do the same for the other leg, with one sweeping pen line from the bottom of the foot to the opposite arm pit, only lifting the pen when you meet the first leg. Continue to ink the rest of the dancer, leaving 2 tiny white spaces in the mask for eyes.




 

To Finish

Leave your drawings to dry for at least 2 days before gently rubbing out the pencil lines with a soft eraser.

Finally, using your steel rule and craft knife, cut out the cartridge paper to the correct size. If you are going to mount and frame your drawings leave a 5mm edge around the outside. I have mounted mine by cutting apertures into 300gsm card and made a frame out of wooden beading which I have then painted white so as not to detract from the simplicity of the drawings.


If you have a go at any of my painting tutorials I’d love to see your artwork, you can share it on my facebook page or email it to me.

You can see Rackham’s illustrations in Clement Clarke Moore’s book The Night Before Christmas in good bookshops or you can view a copy online at the Michigan Digital Library Production Service