Wednesday, March 5, 2014


Sabriel, originally uploaded by margotwood.

In the early 1990s, Garth Nix went to a flea market in Sydney, Australia and looked through a box of old, early 1900s photographs that were being sold for a dollar a piece. As he flipped through the photos he came across a photograph of a young woman in a military style coat wearing a belt made out of bells and holding a sword. He studied the photo, wondering who this mysterious woman was. He purchased the photo, took it home and promptly wrote the draft for his young adult high-fantasy novel, Sabriel.

THIS DID NOT ACTUALLY HAPPEN. But what if it did? And that, my beautiful friends, is the idea behind this fauxto.

I wanted to do something different for my Young Adults fauxto series. I've recently been doing character portraits and knew I wanted to do one for Sabriel, but to give it a twist, I wanted to take a fauxto of a real person that would serve as the inspiration for the fictional character. Does that make any sense?

Basically, in my imagination, Garth Nix based Sabriel off a real person and I wanted to explore what that woman would look like and voila, you have the image before you.

I was really inspired by those old early 1900s portraits of the last Japanese Samurai warriors and wanted to emulate those a bit. I shoot digitally, so I was never going to achieve that old, grainy, blurry effect and I tried faking it in Photoshop and it seemed really forced, so I did some minimal "aging" techniques, but for the most part left the photo as is.

The stoic model in this shot is my good friend, former coworker and YA reading pal Christina Ku (follow her on Tumblr or Twitter.) Chris was featured in another fauxto but it was just her hands and I was eager to feature her pretty face. It was pretty easy to convince her because Sabriel is one of her all-time favorite books.

We were originally going to include a cat in this photo (Mogget!) but I don't have any pets (yet) and the only cat we could track down was this really cool white one that would have been perfect for this fauxto but would have made things complicated in terms of locations, lighting, ect, ect, ect so the cat got left behind. (True story though: we did take a couple of shots of Christina holding a football that would serve as a place holder in case I wanted to go back and Photoshop the cat in.)

Let's start with the bells, because BELLS. When you think of Sabriel, bells should be the first thing that comes to mind. Luckily for me, I have collector parents who have a very eclectic collection of antique oddities. The bell belt you see here is actually part of an antique bridle (for horsies) that originally belonged to my maternal great-great-grandmother. We have no idea how she got it so it could very well be even older than that. But those are real brass bells increasing in size all the way up her shoulder.

What you don't see, because of the way I edited the photo, is this patterned sash underneath the bells. It's blue and looks as close to the original Sabriel cover illustration as I could possibly find. I ended up editing it out because it was sort of distracting and I didn't want to many things happening in the shot. The sword is real, although not for fighting purposes. It's actually a tai chi sword that belongs to Christina's brother, thanks dude!

So there you have it! My realistic fauxto that definitely did not inspire Garth Nix to write Sabriel, but maybe will inspire you.


  1. This is an amazing portrait, even without the multiple layers of interesting stories behind it!

  2. Oh I love this! Sabriel is one of my favorite books with one of my favorite covers. I love how you translated it to photo and I love the context you put the photo in. Great faux-backstory! :)

  3. I do want to point out that Christina did express concern that since she's Korean, some people may disagree with my use of a POC to represent Sabriel. I didn't even think about that until she brought it up and I still don't think much of it. To me, Christina is more than just pale skin and dark hair (which is what I told her why I chose her) but it is also the way Christina holds herself and carries herself. To me, she has the poise, seriousness and stoic attitude that Sabriel embodies and the fact that she is Korean was never and will never be a concern for me. I don't care that most people might think of Sabriel as white. I never think of Sabriel as white. I think of her as Sabriel.

  4. I really love this photo! It's incredible. And I really love your follow-up comment -- that makes a lot of sense to me, honestly. Beautiful, as always, Margot!

  5. Gorgeous - love the photo and the idea behind it. Kinda like Chris Van Allsburg and The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (If you haven't read/seen this, Margot, you're welcome:

    I LOVE that horse bridle belt and would seriously try to find a way to work it into my everyday wardrobe.

    And I hope you do the cat photo someday - you know how I feel about cats...I haven't read Sabriel yet, but the horse bridle + cat = on my list now.

  6. So thanks to the perpetual page turner - I found your awesome blog! I love that you combine your favorite books with photos that you take! Nice work! I've also followed you on twitter so I can get the lastest updates from you. Great work! And I seriously need to read Sabriel! It's been on my kindle forever now!