Babette’s Feast

Posted by on Jan 30, 2018 in Illustration, Pastels, Portland Stage Company | 2 comments

I worked on the poster illustration for Portland Stage’s world premiere of Babette’s Feast about a year ago. It wound up being a circuitous journey to the final piece, which can happen sometimes. I faintly recalled having seen the movie years ago, but didn’t want to see it again or color my approach too much by what had been done cinematically. I based my ideas on the script written by Rose Courtney and adapted from the short story by Isak Dinesen. Local actor and Affiliate Artist Abigail Killeen conceived and developed the play, which is set in the small town of Berlevag in Norway.

The story takes place in the mid- 1800’s in a pious community at the edge of the world. Two daughters gain the affections of many, but their conservative father, the church leader, discourages their suitors. One day, a mysterious refugee, Babette, arrives from war-torn France, and insists on working for the sisters. She proceeds to add flavor to their simple lives in an act of generosity that feeds their very souls.

My sketches all feature Babette in a variety of compositions, allowing room for several credits. Her apron seemed like a good area to place visual elements.

I also tried including a church, native to that time and place. In this sketch, the two sisters, Martine and Philippa, who provide refuge for Babette, are silhouettes in the open door. A towering Babette rings the dinner bell, sign of the large figure she becomes in village life.

A variation on the idea of Babette feeding the village with her magic.

What’s a feast without French champagne?

I tried drawing the table setting, as Babette scurries about.

I really liked this idea, going back to the apron as a portal to the Norwegian village under a winter moon.

In this sketch, Babette is conjuring a table of bounty in her mixing bowl.

This last one got the nod. In the final illustration I went for a Parisian cafe feel, looking at posters and palettes of Henri Toulouse Lautrec.

This was well received. I went on to work on another poster. A couple of weeks went by, and then Director of Communications and Marketing, Eileen Phelan, called to say there’d been a change of direction. In a conference call with Eileen and Abigail, I got new feedback and went back to the drawing board. I focused less on the figure of Babette, who needed to be older, and more on the setting of the fjord and church, with Northern lights swirling from the bowl.

I thought I was done, but no. Awhile later, I revised the typography and removed the face, to add to the mystery.

The end result is still vibrant yet less cluttered.

I saw the play on Saturday night, and it is quite a production! There is humor, music, and profound elegance. The stage set is stark. Rows of sea glass hang like icicles from above, and a simple wooden table is wheeled in for a few scenes.

Otherwise, it’s the agile cast in drop-dead amazing costumes by Oana Botez that activate the stage, riding invisible horses, or gathering as a congregation to sing hymns, or bartering in an imaginary market. It borders on being Shakespearean at times, with a Greek chorus speaking in third person. There’s a dynamic variety of sizes and shapes of actors, and when they convene for the culminating dinner, it is a sight to behold. Kudos to director Karin Coonrod for bringing all the layers of magic together. Come, be at this feast of theater, too!




  1. Jamie
    You continue to amaze me every time I read your description of arriving at another poster. I LOVE this one!!!
    I admire you for the fact that you didn’t want to “color my approach “, as you put it, thus avoiding too much info as you started out.
    Plus, you could sell out every performance with your mere description of “drop dead amazing costumes “! Can hardly wait to see this play!

    • Gunnel, it is a very interesting production. you will want to be at that table when they feast at the end.. thanks for reading!!

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