At the beginning of this year I did an illustration for Nelson Education, a Canadian publishing company. They asked for "a creative illustration of Mohawk longhouse scene around 1780." This illustration was to span the bottom half of two pages, and they had a very specific list of details it needed to include. Their requirements:
- Scene of river and forest in background
- Longhouse prominent on one side, with a cross-section showing the interior.
- A palisade
- Mohawk men fishing or walking home with fish
- Mohawk women in garden weeding, growing corn, beans and squash together.
- Various people in longhouse, including children helping their parents and a few playing (girl holding a cornhusk doll and a boy making a net for his lacrosse stick).
- Show First Nations-made goods, such as a canoe, a bow and arrow, leather clothing.
- Also show European goods that they acquired via trading, eg., rifles, pots, metal traps, hatchets, Hudson Bay blanket
- Chickens wandering around
- A woman pounding corn.
- Mohawk man trading fur with a European trader.
- Show skin being stretched on a rack (if illustration is too busy, leave this out).
- Lots of hustle and bustle.
- Also show a log cabin in the distance, as people also lived in log cabins.
Trying to fit all these elements into a scene that looked natural was an interesting challenge. I literally was checking off all the requirements as I drew. I went through some sketches that looked awkward, lopsided or boring. Finally I settled on a layout that I liked, with a hill in the foreground allowing me to show some figures in detail while still overlooking the entire village.
Since the details were so important in this illustration, I cleaned up the sketch before sending it in to the client. Here's what I sent them:
They asked me to make a few changes. They had me add a church into the background, and ditched the cross-section cutaway of the longhouse. They also asked me to add in a guy weaving some snowshoes, and to change the outfit of the Western fur trader. I made the requested changes and added some rough color.
They told me that the longhouse needed to be much longer, and the villagers needed to be wearing colors other than white. But otherwise I was free to go ahead with the final painting.
Here are some of the details of the scene.
Here is the illustration used in the textbook. The curriculum is called "Many Gifts" and you can see some samples of it on Nelson's website.