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“The Caterpillar”

By Kristen Smith

For the creative project, I chose to combine linocut and text to create an illustrated poem. I chose to pair linocut illustrations with Christina Rossetti’s “The Caterpillar.” I was intrigued by this little poem. Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” has been widely adapted for different audiences, including children’s literature. Due to the accessibility and succinct nature of “The Caterpillar,” it is easily categorized in a children’s literature genre. However, I find that great poetry can cross the divide between generations and subsequently subvert specific audience-genre labels. As such, I wanted my illustrations to be able to function cross-audience. In a sense, I wanted this project to resist an audience label in the same way that Rossetti’s poetry defies specific audience labels.

Inspired by Aubrey Beardsley’s minimalism, I used simple lines for my linocuts. This process was complicated for the lino, because the negative space needs to be removed. It was an involved engraving process. I chose recognizable images that were described in Rossetti’s text (plant, caterpillar, cocoon, and butterfly). I surrounded the poem with a frame, which is broken by various images. The frame itself tells the story of the poem: the bottom left corner has the caterpillar, the bottom right is the cocoon, and the top right is the butterfly breaking through the frame.

The butterfly is the most ornate image. It was created through a layering of lino blocks. Its shape and appearance is based on the Morpho butterfly. Rossetti’s text describes the caterpillar as “brown and fuzzy.” This description is most likely of a wooly bear or a similar brown caterpillar which actually becomes a moth in metamorphosis. I was much more intrigued by the Morpho butterfly, whose name implies “changed” or “altered.” The blue or green appearance of the Morpho butterfly is in fact due to microscopic scales on the butterfly’s wings that reflect light. I find it fascinating that a butterfly itself can be a reflecting surface.

In terms of the organization of text, the body of the poem is separated from its title. Aside from that small division, the text remains in a conventional block formation. The font is a combination between Foundational and Uncial Hand calligraphy; the calligraphy “font” in this project is my own fusion. The text is small and competes with the images in terms of presence on the page. The placement of the words could be read as the shadow of the plant, a chosen spot for a cocoon. The words, because of their size, almost read as being small enough to be creatures which would easily assimilate into this naturalistic world. These words could just as easily be little caterpillars waiting to find the “chosen spot” to spin themselves into butterflies.