Harmony and Echo

Written and Illustrated by Brigette Barrager

Random House, 2022
Medium: Photoshop, Radiant Watercolor Ink

I have experienced anxiety all my life, but when I was a child there wasn’t language available to explain what I was feeling. Options for emotions were very basic – “happy”, “angry” or “sad”. If I felt overwhelmed and began crying, which I often did, the response from adults and peers was “What’s wrong? Why are you sad?” In truth the feelings were much more nuanced than that. 

I was interested in making a book about anxiety, with a particularly anxious character in the lead, which became Echo. Anxiety can be like an Echo – repeating the same thoughts over and over, being miserably focused on each tiny detail. The counterpart to that discordant anxiety is an easy going harmony – all things working in time, falling into place. And so, Harmony’s character arrived. Over the course of many long phone calls with my agent, we arrived at the concept of mermaids doing ballet, and how you could go about doing that, because what IS ballet if you have a tail instead of legs? The story came together only once I had the two characters to bounce off of each other.

Echo experienced a specific fear, and instead of Harmony glossing over it with platitudes (“You can do it!” etc), or demanding an explanation (“WHY are you upset?”) she remains by Echo’s side as they work through it. She says that Echo can take her hand if she finds herself in crisis. She offers her presence to her friend in a difficult moment. 

It’s hard to overstate the power of a gesture of friendship like that. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful things we can offer each other in a difficult moment…or any moment. I drew the sketches for Harmony and Echo while I was pregnant with my twins. It was pretty surreal to sit down to draw mermaids dancing underwater while feeling two girls swimming inside of me, with their nonstop kicks and hiccups. I had to stop working soon after the sketches were complete because swelling had caused my fingertips to become tingly, like they were asleep – a feeling that didn’t go away until after they were born. It was also the first final artwork that I completed after their birth. Looking back, I’m not exactly sure how I did that! I know I was breastfeeding while illustrating some pages (which is not as idyllic as it may sound).

Visually the “ballet” pages were inspired by Esther Williams films. She’s about as close to a real life mermaid as you can get!

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