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The Nutcracker Suite

The Nutcracker Suite

Hello, and Happy Thanksgiving!

As December approaches, I wanted to take a moment to blog about my Nutcracker series, because so many people have expressed their love for these themed drawings.

To be honest, when I came up with the idea for nutcracker drawings, I wondered if anyone would be interested in them…because I don’t know the general consensus on nutcrackers. Are they classic? Nostalgic? Creepy? However, the response I’ve had on the nutcrackers makes me so happy to have made this Christmas series, so I hope you’ll enjoy reading about them and seeing more process photos.

The Idea

My family has never really collected nutcrackers, but a few years ago my mom found the most amazing themed nutcrackers that we use every year. One is a Baker, one is a Winter King (think Jack Frost), and one is a Circus Master with a lion at this feet (that’s my personal favorite!)

Back in September when I was deciding what to do about Christmas card designs, I thought about the Circus Master and how cool it would be to create my own themed nutcrackers. (Eventually, I would love to have some of my designs produced in the form of a real nutcracker…but that’s another story!)

I came up with 5 different themes. After brainstorming the different elements of each, I decided that 2 of them might not lend themselves well to pen and ink as their “look” was more about the color of their accessories. The three themes I chose to complete were Woodland, Gingerbread, and Ghost of Christmas Present. Below is a page from my sketchbook where I was brainstorming different ideas.

My goal with each nutcracker was for each one to have 1) an amazing, over-the-top hat, and 2) a base that reflected the theme. (Really, I was most excited about the hats!)

A quick overview

Before I get into each nutcracker, here’s a little overview into how I created these nutcrackers from a process point of view:

  • To get the “correct” proportions for the nutcrackers, I found images of nutcrackers that I liked and loaded them into Adobe Illustrator. Then, I increased the image size to how large I wanted the drawing to be and measured out the different sections of his body (e.g. the top of the head to the teeth might have been 3 inches, and the base height might have been 2 inches.) This allowed me to easily map out their proportions onto my own sketches…and I didn’t have to worry about how long his legs or his arms should be.

  • I used the basic shape and style of the Woodland Nutcracker to create the other nutcrackers by tracing the drawing and then altering details in my sketches.

  • The complete process from initial sketch to final drawing went something like: 1) sloppy sketch to get a feel for the nutcracker, 2) 2-4 more sketches to figure out all the details, 3) one final, “clean” sketch that I can use as a tracing guide for the final drawing, 4) trace the nutcracker onto a nice sheet of paper, 5) pen drawing. This is how most of my drawings go…and personally, my least favorite part of a drawing is getting to the “clean sketch” phase. It takes me a while to get to a clear picture of what I want.

  • Also, you should know that I didn’t plan to have plants wrapping up the sides of each nutcracker. During my sketches, I felt like something else was needed to frame and fill out the compositions…hence the addition of the leaves.

The Woodland Nutcracker

I began with the Woodland Nutcracker, because it was the clearest theme in my mind and I had a good idea of what I wanted his details to be: a nest on his head with mountains and waterfalls; a skirt made of pine cones; mushrooms at his feet; fur-lined clothing; and a base with wilderness imagery. Below you can see the progression of my sketches, other progress photos, and the final drawing.

The Gingerbread Nutcracker

Next up was the Gingerbread Nutcracker. My main ideas for this one included a decked out gingerbread house on his head, a tiered base featuring gumdrops and hard candies, and lots of icing!

I was conflicted about adding the leaves to this one, because plants don’t really have anything to do with gingerbread. However, when I tested out other ideas, such as tinsel, I felt that it made the drawing look sloppy. So, I opted for mistletoe leaves, because they have a whimsical shape, and I think mistletoe has “sweet” connotations, even if that sweetness has nothing to do with food.


The Ghost of Christmas Present Nutcracker

The last nutcracker is based on the Ghost of Christmas Present from A Christmas Carol. Ya know, the big old jolly giant with the velvet robe who eats all the food? (Side note: A Christmas Carol is one of my favorite things…but the earlier movie adaptations are the best. The older actors play Scrooge much more like a true curmudgeon and it’s wonderful. Anywho…)

The nice thing about this last nutcracker is even if you didn’t know or like A Christmas Carol, an alternative name for this nutcracker could be something like the “Christmas Eve” or “Christmas Night” nutcracker, due to his specific characteristics: the burning fireplace stand with stockings ready for Santa, a Christmas feast on top of his head (complete with wine, grapes, and an entire ham), and the abounding holly that’s always a welcome sight in the middle of winter.

His hat went through many iterations. I couldn’t decide what the focus should be or how all the food should fit together. You can see me working it out in several places on my sketches.

So, there you have it. Three nutcrackers for Christmas. I think my favorite is the Ghost of Christmas Present, but I love all three of them. Eventually, I’d like to hang all three together on my wall, even though they’re Christmas themed. They’re too much fun to only see once a year.

I hope you all have a very happy Thanksgiving, and thank you for reading! -Mackenzie


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