Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Greg Manchess

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has captivated me since I was little. Just the words, “Sleepy Hollow,” bring images to mind. It’s the right amount of spooky with the right amount of Halloween tropes. Just scary enough.

I couldn’t read the story as a kid, even though I had an illustrated copy of Shirley Temple’s Storybook. Arthur Rackham’s pen and ink drawings inside were so devilish and weird that I couldn’t spend too much time looking at them for fear of nightmares. I later realized how brilliant they are.

Equally brilliant was Norman Rockwell’s painting of Ichabod Crane. Probably the best depiction of a character from literature out there. He painted it as an example to show publishers a set of posters he had in mind for libraries. Well known characters from popular stories. Such a great idea, but he never saw it realized. No one was interested.

Seriously? Norman Rockwell. Icabod Crane. Not interested.

This story has been on my list of Things To Paint for many years. At the top of the entries was the Headless Horseman. Then called last week and wanted something to illustrate the re-issue of the Washington Irving story in conjunction with the latest TV show.

The opportunity was perfect. My idea was a straight-up posed portrait and risked looking a little boring, but I knew the life of the piece would come out of the finished drawing. I’d painted and repainted it over and over in my head, so it was crystal clear. I sent Irene Gallo a quick thumbnail.

I’m already a fan of the show. Completely wacky and yet I’m drawn in every time I watch. So I didn’t want to show the horseman as a wild, horse-rearing, icon. Most artists depict that. I wanted mine to show potential, and let the viewer add the creepy, the drama, the Yikes Factor. Like a hollywood poster that teases the character.

This horseman sketch is slated for a large original oil painting, and perhaps a follow-up poster. Then it’s on to the Wicked Witch of the West, Flash Gordon, Ulysses, Scrooge, Robin Hood, etc, etc.


  1. Really looking forward to seeing this finished!!

  2. This is going to be good! I feel like I have seen that coat before.
    James Gardner Art

  3. What really works and makes it super creepy is the horse looking straight at the viewer with the white eyes.- Flash Gordon please!

  4. Can't wait to see the finished piece!

  5. I think I just heard Greg nominate himself to finish those series of posters Rockwell had in mind. I for one couldn't think of anyone better to take up the charge. The next question we all you take cash or check?

  6. Really wicked drawing (couldn't resist)! Awesome painting by NR as well.

  7. I suppose I have to paint it now!

    Thanks, Jared! Yeah, you're right....I've been thinking of taking over for Rockwell's idea for decades. Although, years ago, I wasn't up to the task. I really would love to do it. And perhaps I can offer posters here on Muddy.

    Must get to Flash, Matt! Glad to hear there's a fan...

    And Karl--ain't that the best Rockwell? It's so true to the character without the sweetness or charm. Just dead-on. One single image, one slice of time, and it still inspires over so many years. He painted it in '37.

    Single images can still eclipse film, photography, and any other technique about to be used. It's raw, it's real, it's direct. It locks the head into a feedback loop that doesn't stop. Visual Twitter.

    Arg. Did I say that?

  8. Love it. The b/w medium seems very fitting... almost no need to paint it in my eyes. Though I'm sure I'm going to love the painted version as well.

  9. Love that Rockwell and I must pick up the torch, Greg. Love this illustration as well, especially the horse's eyes. I was wondering if you drew this on vellum.

  10. Fantastic work Greg! I think the choice to have him standing still is much more intriguing. I'm really eager to see a Manchess Robin Hood series - Maybe do that one next? :)

  11. So glad you like the show too! It's the best mix of hijinks and history! I've been doing fanart for it on my tumblr =) Love your badass horse most about this drawing!

  12. Seriously Greg, when are you coming out with an art book of all your paintings?

  13. Super excited to see the final illustration

  14. Word on the street is he's working on a very special, top secret, kick-a**, book project, that I may or may not have seen part of...(by the way it was awesome!)

  15. Greg, I saw that Rockwell in a show of his work last year. Out of all the iconic images in the exhibit, I spent more time gazing at this one, trying to soak up every nuance of it. I have always loved this piece, and to see the original just blew me away. Someone needs to at least make a nice full size print of it.


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