Monday, November 13, 2006

My Art is being featured at the Endicott Studio blog!

I am thrilled beyond belief!
I commented on an entry at the Endicott Studio blog yesterday regarding a poem about a DeerWoman and included links to two of my DeerWoman-based pieces. To my immense delight delight and honor, Terri Windling chose to highlight both of those images and my artwork in general in today's blog entry! You can read the entry yourself if you like: November 13, 2006.

If there ever was an occasion that warranted a "Squeakers of joy!" this is certainly it!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The White Doe of Nara

In many ways, my piece entitled DeerWoman was an artistic turning point for me. Although I have been creating images of deerwomen since early childhood, that particular work signaled something significant for me; reactions from both within and without indicated that I should follow that path beyond the tapestry of hunters deeper into the forest. In a sense the White Doe of Nara, created about three years after DeerWoman, is both a kind of commemoration and a futher exploration on the mythology and theme of my beloved DeerWoman. Yet the White Doe is not just a reinterpretation of the same figure in a different cultural context, in fact, the White Doe's character and tale is nearly a direct compliment to that of DeerWoman's.

Where DeerWoman is tragic, perhaps a victim or perhaps a reluctant but mythically necessary sacrifice, the White Doe is a figure with power. While destiny is something DeerWoman succumbs to, the White Doe has a direct hand in weaving it. DeerWoman avoids the viewer's gaze, the White Doe commands it. I feel that the compositional appearance of the landscapes in both images is significant also; DeerWoman is poised at a threshold between worlds, but the White Doe is the threshold, a manifestation of it as well as a gatekeeper of sorts. Unlike the melancholy DeerWoman, the White Doe sprouts antler spikes - she has a means of defense (or offense!). And, of course, there is the rather obvious distinction in cultural context. A Western European influence is prevalent in DeerWoman, but there is a pan-Asian inspiration for this piece.

My main cultural influence for this painting, revealed in its very title, is from Japan. I have long been captivated by Ukiyo-e, Japanese woodblock prints, particularly by the Bijin-ga genre prints of Kitagawa Utamaro. In fact, the background texture and partially revealed hand of the figure in my piece were very much inspired by similar techniques used by him in a circa 1793 print entitled "Infrequent Love." In addition to my usual methods utilizing colored pencil and watercolor, I also experimented with other techniques literally involving processes of printing and stamping. I really wanted to combine my love of the gorgeous graphic quality of Ukiyo-e with my propensity for illustrating portraits in subtle gradations of color and shadow. The aforementioned processes, which I have never used in combination with my colored pencil technique, also allowed me to incorporate a stronger element of chance and randomness into the overall composition. When I work with colored pencil and watercolor, my method is very deliberate, direct, and controlled, however, these other processes were more indirect and much less predictable.

In addition to the aesthetic Japanese connection, there is also a mythological one. Within Japan's indigenous religion of Shinto, Sika deer (Cervus nippon) are regarded as sacred messengers of the Gods. In a particular region of Japan known as Nara in which the Kasuga Shrine is situated, it has been forbidden to hunt the deer for centuries. Deprived of the fear of immediate death at the hands of humans, the deer in Nara Park have become rather tame, freely approaching visitors seeking food and roaming the countryside without care. Legend tells that when the God Takemikazuchi-no-Mikoto first arrived to inhabit the shrine, he traveled on the back of a white deer. Deer also have a strong ties to Buddhism, another major religion in Japan. Siddharta Gautama's first sermon occured in Deer Park in Sarnath, and as this sermon set the Buddhist Wheel of Law into motion, deer are often depicted next to the symbolic representation of the Wheel.

While the Japanese influence is certainly the most prominent, I was also inspired by the art of other regions of Asia. For instance, the landscape depicted within the White Doe's kimono was inspired by Chinese screens and ink-wash paintings. White deer are also associated with divine figures in China as well; there is a painting in the Field Museum in Chicago depicting the Chinese Goddess Ma-Ku with a white hart. The White Doe's central hair ornament is a homage to a piece of Balinese metalwork which was once an earring for a large sculpture. The motif is traditional, but I have modified it somewhat for this image.

Original size: 8.5" by 11"
Media: prismacolor colored pencils, acrylic, watercolor, sumi-e ink, etc.
(This entry is backdated to reflect the date I originally uploaded it to my deviantARt gallery, but I added this piece to this journal on 2/14/07)

Sunday, September 24, 2006


"I'm often called a 'fantasy' painter," Brian notes, "but my imagery springs from myth, folklore and the old oral story–telling tradition, not from the modern fantasy genre — although I'm grateful for the support that fantasy readers have given me over the years. I have to confess that, unlike Wendy, I rarely read fiction at all. Most of my reading is nonfiction: history, mythology, archetypal psychology and the like. I prefer the enchantment of a story told rather than one that is written down. In the oral tradition, where stories are told around the fireplace in semi–darkness, the words are alive: they leave the lips, enter into the air and before they fall onto your ear they transform themselves into magic. They're not fixed; they change from telling to telling, and from listener to listener. I want my pictures to have that same quality of mutability. I don't want things to be fixed too solidly or explained too fully; I want each viewing to be like a re–telling of a tale, full of new possibilities." [. . .]

"I find that some fantasy genre painters tend to over–paint their pictures; they're a bit too . . .over–wrought for my taste. When I look at them I find them much too bright and shiny. The artist has finished every detail, and every edge is hard and bright — which doesn't allow me into their world, my eye slides right off that shiny surface. I prefer to keep the rendering as loose as possible, just on the edge of being finished. I want a painting to give just enough information for the picture to make sense; there should always be a little bit kept back, a few pieces missing, which the viewer must supply himself. In doing that, the picture comes to life. It becomes part of a reciprocal process, a communication. The painting allows you inside, where it can grow, and you can grow."

- Brian Froud as quoted in an essay by Terri Windling, Brian Froud: Portrait Painter to the Fairies

I both sympathize and emphathize.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Capturing the Elusive with the Stroke of a Brush

Artwork of fey-creatures and shape-shifters for your appreciation:

Bacchanalian Scene by Richard Dadd
My first glimpse of this painting was as thumbnail image of the cover of Loreena McKennitt's To Drive the Cold Winter Away, and I was immediately captivated. I'm seriously considering this image for my first tattoo. Thalia Took, an artist herself, has scribed some beautiful and entirely apropos words to describe his work:
Dadd was a Victorian fairy painter who in his early twenties developed schizophrenia/severe bi-polar disorder and then murdered his father. He spent the rest of his life in an institution, where he continued painting. Some, not all, of his paintings have a fey, alien quality to them. The best I can say is that his humans are not human, and have a genuine wildness to them, a deep unconsciousness, impartial and malevolent, like looking into the eyes of a leopard. Gorgeous yet disturbing. Very compelling.
I doubt that I could have described it better myself.

The Bacchante or Head of a Woman with the Horns of a Ram by Jean-Léon Gérome
This painting verges on being stark, but the delicate folds in the Bacchante's sleeve and the aching curves of the horns endow it with a surprising sensitivity.

Birthday by Dorothea Tanning
I had the pleasure of discovering this painting in person at the Philadelphia Museum of Art where it inhabits the Modern and Contemprary Galleries. This .jpeg reproduction does the painting little justice. While it is a surrealist self-portrait, it nevertheless seems to possess the taint of fey. The artist, in her tendril-adorned dress, reveals a series of open doors stretching to infinity. Her strange, winged familiar is poised by her feet.

Lavinia, Deer, and Rabbit by Sam Weber
I discovered the work of this artist in the 2006 Illustration annual of Communication Arts magazine. I am enamored with his technique of rendering trees, a method which gives the impression that he glues elegant pieces of driftwood directly to the paper. Upon visiting his website, I was delighted to find animal-people among his subjects. His sketch of "Rabbit" reveals something of a trickster character. (I couldn't resist including "Deer" in this list, because, well - it's an illustration of deer!)

Flidais by Forest Rogers
I was guided to the remarkable work of Forest Rogers some time ago through a link on the Endicott Studio webpage, but I had not visited her site recently (shame on me!). I was again guided back to her amazing figurative sculptures/art dolls through the Endicott Studio and discovered this piece which especially tugs at my heartstrings: Flidais a simply gorgeous rendition of a WhiteDeerWoman. She is the artist's vision of a Celtic Goddess of wild creatures and sexual potency. Be sure to view all of the photos in this gallery otherwise you may be apt to miss some lovely details. Her feet are particularly well conceived - at first glance it might appear as if she simply has her toes curled in an interesting fashion, but this is not the case. Her creations possess a Pre-Raphaelite beauty which I really appreciate, and her commentary is also intelligent. She has an all-around great website which I highly recommend.

Faun by Lou Rogers
This remarkable painting was created by sculptor Forest Roger's late mother. Evidently artistic talent runs in the family!

First Blessing by Dawn Wilson-Enoch
Fresh out of college Dawn emerged as a fantasy book cover illustrator. Although she gained renown for her work in that field, the type of art required of her in that career became spiritually draining. She now creates visionary paintings and jewelry based upon the landscape surrounding her New Mexico home. First Blessing is a piece partially inspired by the work of another artist enchanted with the desert southwest, Windling's novel The Wood Wife.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Faery Nature & the Nature of Faery {a work in progress}

Two paths mark the way to Faery 1. The first dazzles the eye with an assortment of glittering accessories and pretty trifles. It is easy to locate; the merchandise will lead the way. The second path is a bit more difficult to come by. Legend tells us that it can sometimes be found while trying to follow the ghostly blur of a white deer through the forest or by stumbling upon a ring of mushrooms and fertile grass.

Like so very many things, Faery is not what it seems. Even the fairy tales of our youth, in their true forms, contain sometimes gruesome elements, and there is not always such a happy ending awaiting the protagonist at the end of the story. Many so called "fairy tales" began as folktales catered to an adult audience. The sanitized versions that are read to children to sooth them into sleep and assure them that the hero/heroine always triumphs came later. For instance, in Hans Christian Andersen's original The Little Mermaid, the title character does not marry her handsome prince, nor does she acquire an everlasting human soul through his reciprocal romantic love, in fact, she commits suicide, throwing herself into the ocean while still in human form.

The same can be said of Faery. Modern culture has taught us to regard faeries in much the same way as we now regard fairy tales. We have been fed a pre-packaged, sugar-coated, and well-tamed version of the original:
At the end of the 17th century the sophisticated French fairy-stories of Perrault and Madame D'Aulnoy were translated into English. They began as real traditional tales, polished to meet the taste of the French court, and they were equally popular in England. Half the court seem to have tried their hands at them, and as time went on they moved farther away from their original. The fairy godmothers, already at one remove from folk fairies, became relentless moralists, driving their protégés along the path to virtue. The trend persisted into the 19th century, and it was not until a quarter of it had passed that the researches of the folklorists began to have some effect on children's literature. [...] At the beginning of the 20th century, an extreme tenderness and sensibility about children almost overwhelmed the folk fairies and turned them into airy, tenuous, pretty creatures without meat or muscles, made up of froth and whimsy.2
Faeries are an extremely diverse group, encompassing many, many emanations, yet at present many only acknowledge a very limited portion of their potentialities. The word faery (or "fairy") in our times conjures images of childlike sprites dressed in leaves and flower petals, beings who only exist to be of benefit to humanity. Another exceedingly popular image is that of an attractive female with butterfly wings. Some individuals seem to honestly believe that these archetypes define Faery – that it begins and ends with such shallow, hackneyed images. These people speak only of fresh morning dew, sparkling fairydust, toadstools, and delicate wildflowers. They cannot speak for the totality of Faery, and there is more to Faery than meets the eye: "Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder. Elves are marvelous. They cause marvels...Elves are terrific. They beget terror...No-one ever said elves are nice."3

If one is to discard the definition of a faery as simply a diminutive humanoid being with pointed ears and a penchant for mischievous behavior, then we are forced to ask: what is Faery? Admittedly, this is not an easy question to answer. In fact, it may not be a question that we are entirely capable of answering. Faery will not manifest itself in a lab setting to be measured, dissected, and classified by empirical science. This trait of Faery is likely why a belief in it has persisted even until the present day when science and segments of "rational" society have denied its existence: at the moment, science cannot prove its existence, yet it cannot disprove it either. While a belief in faeries by the uneducated peasantry can often be dismissed as the product of ignorance and an active imagination, "this is not enough. Even let it be granted that nine out of every ten cases of experiences with fairies can be analyzed and explained away - there remains the tenth. In this tenth case one is obliged to admit that there is something at work which we do not understand, some force in play which, as yet, we know not. In spite of ourselves we feel 'There's Powers that's in'"4.

But still the question intrigues us, and so many have sought a working "definition" of Faery. Probably the best and most encompassing definition, in my opinion, is that faeries are spirits of Nature. Of course, even this description begs us to question further what both the notion of spirit and Nature really imply. The term "nature spirit," and even the word "Nature" itself, is often construed as having a much narrower realm of influence and implication than perhaps it should. Some find the application of "nature spirits" to describe faeries as almost demeaning and hopelessly limited. For instance, author Rae Beth matter-of-factly dismisses that term: "Faeries are not nature spirits, they are not flower devas, and they are not tiny. [. . .] Their business, partly, is to weave fate." 5 While there are certainly ample examples in myth and folklore of faeries who are tied to specific plots of earth, landscape features, and even to particular trees or bodies of water, Nature can have much deeper, more profound connotations with regard to the nature of Faery. Nature is not simply the physical soil beneath our feet and that which grows from it. It is not simply pastoral scenes and verdant gardens. Nature can also refer to the nature of existence, the nature of the unseen world which is embodied by and intersects with our own. Nature is not exhausted by its familiar, tactile manifestations in flowers and rocks and winding streams – Nature should be considered a verb as well as a noun. The relationships and processes that bring those tactile elements into form and erode them back into oblivion are also Nature. Ultimately, Nature is the fiber from which Fate is woven, and it is also the complex, interlacing patterns that define the fabric of Fate itself. Therefore, "nature spirits" is only limiting insofar as an individual's concept of Nature is hopelessly limited.

Tracing the roots and routes of language can often reveal older patterns of thought, illuminating links that were previously sensed
between entities and acknowledging their true ancestral connections, thereby reinforcing intuition with history. Etymology has indeed linked "fairy" and "faery" with the mysterious powers of Fate. Though a more recently introduced term in the vocabulary of the intimate, yet generally invisible realm of the Otherworld and its inhabitants, Faery and its linguistic variants has been almost universally adopted in reference to that realm by European cultures. In numerous lands, however, even though that word is widely known, it may not be widely used by those who truly understand how close at hand the Otherworld is. Comprehending both the inherent potency in that term as well as the fact that faeries revile mortals who try to pry too deeply into their affairs, these folk will nearly always avoid its usage and will instead choose to either refer obliquely to "Them" or to exercise a bit of humble glamour by utilizing less dangerous, more pleasant-sounding euphemisms.

"[W]e are madly erring, through self-esteem, in believing man, in either his temporal or future destinies, to be of more moment in the universe than that vast 'clod of the valley' which he tills and condemns, and to which he denies a soul for no more profound reason than that he does not behold it in operation."6

"It is obviously the purest anthropomorphism to assume that the absence of a human quality in bird, cloud, or star is the presence of a total blank, or to assume that what is not conscious is merely unconscious. Nature is not necessarily arranged in accordance with the system of mutually exclusive alternatives which characterize our language and logic. Furthermore, may it not be that when we speak of nature as blind, and of matter-energy as unintelligent, we are simply projecting upon them the blankness which we feel when we try to know our own consciousness as an object, when we try to see our own eyes or taste our own tongues?"7

Footnotes and Bibliography

1) Technically, according to the traditional ballad "Thomas the Rhymer," it is the third path that is the road to Faery: "O see not ye yon narrow road, / So thick beset wi thorns and briers? / That is the path of righteousness, / tho after it but few enquires. / And see not ye that braid braid road, / That lies across yon lillie leven? / That is the path of wickedness, / Tho some call it the road to heaven. / And see not ye that bonny road, / Which winds about the fernie brae? / That is the road to fair Elfland, / Whe(re) you and I this night maun gae."
2) Briggs, Katharine. An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976. 166-167.
3) Pratchett, Terry. Lords and Ladies. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993. 169 - 70.
4) Evans-Wentz, W.Y. The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries: The Classic Study of Leprechauns, Pixies, and Other Fairy Spirits. New York: Citadel Press, 1994. 119.
5) Beth, Rae. The Wiccan Way: Magical Spirituality for the Solitary Pagan. Blaine, WA: Phoenix Publishing Inc., 2001. 84.
6) Poe, Edgar Allan. "The Island of the Fay." Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales & Poems. Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2001. 228.
7) Watts, Alan W. Nature, Man and Woman. New York: Vintage Books, 1958. 6-7.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Loonatiques


Since my childhood, it has been an annual tradition for many of the men in our family, namely my father but also other members including my uncle and grandfather, to take a sojourn to Ontario, Canada for week of fishing (and likely a fair share of beer-drinking). On his way home my father generally picks up gifts for my sister, my mother, and me at a duty-free shop near the US/Canadian border. My mother and sister have asked him to bring them back typical souvenir fare: keychains, sweatshirts, etc. Although I have received such items in the past as tokens of his trips north, I never asked for them myself.

However, every year I present him with a request, and after all these years this request has yet to be fulfilled. Perhaps it will never be.

Each year I ask my father to bring me back a Loon (Gávia ímmer) feather. { In a strange way, my request mirrors a similar one made by the youngest daughter in the classic Beauty and the Beast tale. When Beauty's father sets out on his journey, his two eldest daughters requested fine jewels and gowns, reminders of their former affluence. Beauty requests a single rose, "Since you have the goodness to think of me, [...] be so kind to bring me a rose, for as none grows hereabouts, they are a kind of rarity." }

Despite the number of loons that dwell around the lakes where my father goes fishing, he has never been able to locate even a small feather to bring home with him. I suspect that someone must collect stray loon feathers in the wavering hours between twilight and dawn. These mysterious figures venture out after the last small lights have returned to the docks but before the earliest riser casts his first line - an in-between time.

The loose sketch above accompanies this text in my paper journal. After paging through a collection of Remedios Varo's work, which shelters all sorts of delightful OwlWomen and other feathered shape-shifters, in the school library, I was reminded of the loons. I hope that one day this will become a fully-fledged image, but for now it is simply germinating in my humble sketchbook/journal.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

The Art of Faery { book review }

Some people experience Faerie at the level of of art and story, at the level of wonder. Historically, there has been a 'Faery Faith,' and references to it appear in the folklore of rural people all over the world. These beliefs have very little to do with the frivolity and fashion that embodies some of today's interest. The early Faery Faith had a lot to do with safely traversing your local landscapes, and the folklore was filed with warnings, instructions and suggestions for living in harmony with the land on which your people lived.[. . .] Many people today who are interested in faeries enjoy the artistry, the mirth, the costumes, the sparkly-bits (if you will). No problem, faeries have never minded a bit of fun and game. But under all that glitter, something wild and ancient may yet be seen...if you care to look.
- Ari Berk in Faerie Magazine Spring 2007 issue, pages 75-76

Update 7/16/07: Although many of my opinions regarding much of popular fairy art (aptly represented by the volume in question) are still quite intact, my views and overall approach to the contemporary fairy craze and changed and softened somewhat. My earlier, more asinine reflections on the movement were not, as some might suggest 1, due to jealousy borne of the commercial success of some of the artists who are at the vanguard of the genre. Rather my initial fervor has entirely to do with the fact that something very near and dear to me is being cheapened and deprived of its integral mystery and ambiguity largely for the purposes of financial gain and popularity.

If contemporary fairy artists derive joy from their art, it is hardly my place to attempt to intervene. I also completely understand that artists have to eat, and if fairy art is the vehicle though which they obtain the funds to do so, then more power to them. I still feel that there is a great deal more to Faery than what is displayed in most of their work, and to the extent that what they do contributes to the growing superficiality and watering-down of a deep, profound tradition I cannot fully endorse it (sometimes this is born from the artist's genuine lack of knowledge of the subject, other times it is a blithe, arrogant disregard for viewpoints contrary to their own).

My new approach has been to seek to initiate change from the inside of the movement rather than by shunning and trying to disassociate from it entirely. An apt phrase comes to mind: "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Instead of focusing on what I believe to be detrimental, I am working to encourage that which reveals the depth and potency of Faery, hopefully by planting some seeds in the vast soil of the fairy movement with my own art and writing. I want to make peace with the contemporary fairy art scene so I can more readily focus on my own work, and it is much more valuable to me to work on establishing and strengthening an alternative path for those genuinely interested in Faery than to waste precious time with too much criticism. Thankfully, I am not the only one seeking towards this end.

In keeping with this more tolerant, progressive approach, I have voluntarily removed the following review on the Amazon website where it had the most exposure, and I have also deleted or disabled numerous other entries in my blogs. The review contains what I still believe to be valid points, which is why I am allowing it to be viewable here, but most of them were stated in a much harsher manner than I would now prefer, and so I have heavily edited even the currently viewable versions. I think my central ideas are still very present in this newer version, however the segments which I deem as too brash and truthfully distracting from those ideas have been deleted.

There's nothing wrong with a compendium of fantasy fairy art when it is presented as such. The problem occurs when people mistakenly equate the cutesy, whimsical, winged little creatures fabricated in the past few hundred years with the same sphere of Faery that is documented in genuine world mythology and folklore. Unfortunately, only one or two pieces in this book really seem to hint at the true Faery of legend and myth.

Brian Froud's keynote introduction and the opening statement on the back cover lead the reader to anticipate a deeper, more sensitive visual response to the challenge of representing Faery beings than is actually supplied by the book. One anticipates that the artwork will, in the words of Froud, "illuminate the dark inner recesses of nature and our relationship with it." Despite this book's ardent desire and claim to promote Faery as an "individual connection to nature," it really has a great deal more to do with an obsession with the insipid legacy left to us by the Victorians — faeries as spritely creatures of fantasy, drained of their original power, wildness, menace, and expressive potency. Froud makes another telling comment in his foreword which more accurately relates to the book's true contents. He writes of the perception of faeries over time as being "reduced to the tritest and gaudiest products of the human mind, washed up on the shorelines of nurseries." Taking into consideration the many saccarine, winged toddlers and preteens; elfin babies; and the horde of vapid supermodels-turned-fey vixens within these pages, I believe this collection of imagery is far closer to the "trite and gaudy" end of the spectrum. This would not be such a jarring issue if the book claimed to be a collection of fantasy fairy art.

I find it strange that many of the artists within this book list Alan Lee and Brian Froud's seminal book Faeries as a major influence, yet their own work doesn't seem to indicate that they actually read it and/or seriously investigated the illustrations therein. On the contrary, it seems like they may have skimmed the book, taking note only of the petite creatures that suited their pre-conditioned notions of Faery while ignoring the vast majority of information presented. The denizens of Faery are linked not only to the spiritual heart of the landscape, but also to the realm of the dead and the mysterious weavings of fate. Faeries of old were not merely acknowledged by humans, but greatly respected, and, in some cases, feared. Despite the attempts of certain artists to depict so-called "dark faeries" in this volume, the figures they paint are simply the same fairy characters as in their other pieces playing dress-up; there's nothing inherently menacing, disturbing, or powerful about them other than the fact that these particular fairies apparently shop at Hot Topic instead of at the typical Renaissance Faire or hippie clothing store at which they normally purchase their garments.

The website of one artist included in this work hailed The Art of Faery as a compendium of "the best faery artists in the world." While this book does contain the work of a handful of skilled individuals who have a decent handle on human proportions, shading, perspective, color, etc. (as well as containing the work of a number of those at the other end of the spectrum who definitely do not have a good understanding of the human form or a sensitivity to their chosen medium) nearly every example of the faery art in this book suffers from an extremely limited visual vocabulary. Virtually every single image in The Art of Faery, regardless of the talent and skill of the artist in question, is hidebound by convention and stereotype. With scarcely any exceptions, all of the supposed faeries these artists depict embody a cookie-cutter mentality: they are either cutsey children with wings and clothing of petals and foliage, or they are winged Victoria's Secret models with similar botanical decorations.

Some of the more technically proficient, stylistically refined artists include Marja Lee Kruÿt, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, John Arthur, Maxine Gadd, and James Browne. Sadly, a number of artists included in this volume, some of them at the forefront of the contemporary Fairy Art movement, do not simply create images of fairies, they manufacture them using their own established stock of poses, clothing design, faces, motifs, etc.

Undoubtedly, this book will be (and already has) become a cherished addition to the libraries of many fantasy fairy enthusiasts. It is a pleasant, pretty, and whimsical volume sure to provide inspiration for many mental flights of fancy. However, for those interested in genuine, mythic Faery art this collection may largely prove to be disappointing. To find artwork that earnestly seeks to "illuminate the dark inner recesses of nature and our relationship with it," one needs to look elsewhere. There is so much more to the fey than the pleasant, pretty, and whimsical modern veneer many assume is the totality of Faery. Don't be fooled into confusing fantastical fairies with the real thing; enjoy these fantasy fairies for what they are — creatures of fantasy.

1) Galbreth, Jessica. "Advice from Jessica." Enchanted Art.
I'm referring specifically to the following statements: "Of course with the huge amount of artists springing up, there is bound to be a bit of negativity as well. [...] We must remember that this is just like any other industry. And, some people react to other's successes by trying to tear them down, maybe with the hopes that if they do, there will be more room for them."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Faery Trappings

"Those who seek elves have minds so full of preconceived ideas about what they are looking for that they no longer see anything."
- Pierre Dubois in The Complete Enclyclopedia of Elves, Goblins, and Other Little Creatures

From my paper-based journal:
We become so caught up in the trappings of Faery that we have lost any real conception as to what Faery means in the first place. The visual shorthand, articles of which may have once housed deeper, more profound meaning, is now mistaken to be the genuine item to such a degree that Faery is now often defined as the shorthand itself. The trappings are no longer seen as a vehicle for representation but as the reality itself.

In a recent article in a popular fairy-enthusiast magazine, one woman essentially used an entire page of type relating to her readers her favorite faery attributes: she's enamored with the work of Amy Brown, Jessica Galbreth, and David Delamare (she has such shocking and original preferences, I know!). She loves their fairies' romantic garments, lean figures, pointed ears, and diaphanous wings; she was even adventurous enough to admit to indulging in the sultry gazes of so-called "dark faeries" from time to time. All in all, she basically wastes a full page on superficiality, blithely frolicking with her one-dimensional visages while gleefully steering clear of any hint of substance. Why does she love faeries? The answer is simple: because they have great fashion sense and cool, fanciful accessories (i.e. wings, ear attachments, etc.).

I stumbled upon an Amazon recommended reading list today which made me smile. I wish the author of the list would have had more recommendations and some specific commentary for the books he suggests, but some comments in the first paragraph are worth repeating (I didn't fix his spelling errors):
"If you are brave...really brave...and find the 'status quo' a bore...then perhaps you are ready to learn about the REAL realm of fairy. Not chicly dressed fairy's in thigh high boots with coordinating hose...but REAL FAERIES -
Then read on...
There are places on this earth where it is common knowledge that the realm of fairy is very real, very present and waiting to connect with their human Be open minded because real fairys do not shop at the mall for their wardrobe but are more akin to nature spirits…and are not something you see (although some can) but something you sense."
When I manage to accumulate some extra money, I plan on purchasing a number of R.J. Stewart's books

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Impressions of Faery

I draw largely upon my own personal experiences and impressions of the fey within my own work. This is largely due to the fact that my more recent faery work is inspired by local land/nature spirits, and, to my knowledge, there exists no compendium of mythology directly related to them for me to reference, so my own impressions are all I have to work with.

I find that my own experiences with the fey are difficult to describe. I have yet to physically see a faery in humanoid form appear before me (although I don't necessarily think that faeries always manifest physically as human-like, which is supported by both mythology and UPG), but I do believe I have sensed their presence on numerous occasions. Many of my impressions derive from simply being immersed in a certain landscape or location and being perceptive of its qualities and characteristics. I take in its sensual aspects, i.e. the colors, textures, scents, sounds, local wildlife, weather, etc., and I also try to get a deeper sense of the energy and consciousness of that specific area, and from those perceptions I create my art. I believe that such sensitive immersion and appreciation often facilitates nonverbal communication with the fey that reside there.

The Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) are blooming! The verdant spikes of hostas have now unfurled, bursting into lush foliate mounds. The bitter greens and dusky reds of early spring are just starting to deepen.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Hope in Peripheral Shimmering

Counterpoint. Just as I was again losing hope in the whole prospect of art relating to Faery, I found myself being led down various paths and discovering a section of the Endicott Studio I had not visited before. Although I am familiar with Oliver Hunter's art and writings, these journal entries of his are brand new to me (if you are unfamiliar with his creations, I highly recommend that you remedy that by visiting the journal link, A Cupfull of Oliver, or the remnants of his former website at Muse Hill):
"In a metamorphosis of states, the Invisible — a word, a character, a point of view — dresses ceremoniously in the garb of the visible as a disguise. Faery as an ocean is unfathomable; a strange and green ocean. Cocteau allies himself with the Invisible. He would have us believe, not only that there is an invisible existence, but that he too is a creature of this element. I may be writing this out of jealousy that my bones don't harbour as much, but then again, I don't necessarily want them to. I am content in my humanness, I don't trace my lineage in the hopes of finding mystics or demigods — it feels too uncomfortably melodramatic. My relationship with the invisible, with Faery, is one of carefully considered distance and respect. I don't presume to know its innermost facets; I know that such presumptuousness is delusion, a dangerous position in which I am liable to invoke the wrath of the unknown. But I also stress that neither is this relationship one of superstition, which implies that my attitude might be unreasonable and born from ignorance. I do not weaken the Invisible by dismissing its existence as nonsense, but nor do I demonically wrap myself up in its cape, laughing at the rest of the world in its petty mortal state. Quite simply, I take the invisible seriously. I attempt to meet it on its own terms. It is not such a silly thing to believe, as Ljerka once mentioned to me, in the 'connectedness of all things.'

Invisible connections, then what does this have to do with painting? I'm looking across the riddled treetops of Faery, hunting for something — not a secret exactly (not something to be made visible), but a sign, a directive to action. This is cheapened by giving Faery an opaque and fathomable character because it places the (human) author in an omnipresent position, which does not and cannot apply in the case of the invisible. The best ghost stories are written from a limited perspective, where the unknown retains its dignity by cloaking its motives (if indeed it has any at all) in darkness and doubt. The invisible maintains this essential invisibility even when disguising itself, as Cocteau points out, in the semblance of the visible. But underneath the forms of the faeries are leaf mold and moss (pigment, binder and canvas). These visible forms are like garments in that they contain clues for the human to interpret. We are wrong if we attempt to unveil the invisibles by these clues, for by nature they are consistently inconsistent. They are monstrously convoluted messages about ourselves."

In these two paragraphs, he has expressed eloquently something I with which I was verbally struggling in my ruminations on mythic art (see previous entry). I have in my own notes that "fantasy artist tend to depict mythical beings, creatures, etc. as if they are corporal, flesh-and-blood whereas mythic artists are inclined to depict them visualizations of symbolic traits, as emanations/representations of generally non-ordinary beings. Within fantasy artwork, creatures like dragons, elves, etc. are shown and conceived of just as humans and other animals are." I wasn't satisfied with the manner in which I attempted to impart the real concept I had in mind, so I left that section out. Oliver Hunter bore to the heart of what I intended to say: "I'm looking across the riddled treetops of Faery, hunting for something — not a secret exactly (not something to be made visible), but a sign, a directive to action. This is cheapened by giving Faery an opaque and fathomable character because it places the (human) author in an omnipresent position, which does not and cannot apply in the case of the invisible."

Exactly. Mythic art is deeply involved in what it conceals and reveals, and it acknowledges that it cannot reveal everything and thus leaves potent space for the viewer (and indeed the artist him or herself) to probe. On the other hand, fantasy art tends to be extremely concerned with forming every detail of costume, motive, character, language, landscape - the artist seeks to build an entire, meticulously-ordered, pre-determined, self-contained world inside their own skull. The creatures and characters in fantasy artwork are entirely solid: although in one particular image we might not be able to see the underbelly of some great, lolling beast, there is no doubt that the artist has conceived the texture and color of that underbelly.

When I utilized the term solid in the previous sentence to refer to creatures in fantasy artwork, it was not to suggest that the mythic is in all manifestations non-physical, non-tactile. Physical, tactile things have their mythic aspects. Deer, for instance, are real creatures which exist in our ordinary, so-called objective reality. One can touch them, dissect them, even ingest them, yet for all of that we cannot deny their mythic quality (i.e. the Invisible facet of which Oliver speaks and the "mystery" Joseph Campbell refers to in the quotations in my previous entry): "Craving the dialect of cities, I forgot the way deer steal into the yard with their big hearts and fragile dreams. I wasn't here to follow their gaunt, level eyes, or the staggering poetry of their hooves" (Diane Ackerman in A Natural History of the Senses). Mythic artwork is engrossed with somehow imparting the "staggering poetry of their hooves;" fantasy tends to depict its subjects, whether "real" or "imaginary" with the fervor of scientific illustration.

Kakuzo Okakura writes in his The Book of Tea that "[i]n leaving something unsaid the beholder is given a chance to complete the idea and thus a great masterpiece irresistibly rivets your attention until you seem to become actually a part of it. A vacuum is there for you to enter and fill up to the full measure of your aesthetic emotion." This is why East Asian artists are often seen as the masters of empty space, why their landscapes often writhe in a mist that defines the majority of the composition as seemingly empty, allowing the character of the paper itself to become part of the painting. Personally though, I disagree with Okakura's use of the term "vacuum" in reference to those significant, ill-defined places - at least in the context of mythic artwork. A vacuum to me implies void, nothingness, whereas I believe in actuality those ill-defined places are in fact quite the opposite: teeming with possibilities simply because they do not provide such distinct limitations to the viewer. Those spaces are "blank" or vague not because they represent lack, but because the artist comes to terms with the fact that her splay of many-hued leads, her wells of jewel-like ink, impressive as they are, do not contain the liminal, shimmering colors necessary to truly "complete" the tableau. And as Oliver stated, it would only cheapen the subject to suppose that one could render the mythic in its entirety.

When I posted my drawing of The CatfishWoman to my Epilogue gallery, one individual wrote that by choosing to crop the figure of the faery as I had was teasing the viewer, "Your description of her only makes me want to see how you would draw the rest of her. What you have here is quite a tease!" When I posted the same drawing in my Elfwood gallery, someone commented that judging by what portions of her anatomy could be perceived in this image, she was far too human to be considered adequately within fantasy genre and he expressed that the image was lacking. I responded, "I agree that I have not pushed the boundaries as far as I could have regarding her degree of catfishiness, but the representation felt right to me at the time and I'm still pleased with how it turned out. I envision her as a shapeshifter who can embody a broad range of forms between wholly human and wholly catfish. Perhaps I will depict her in another piece in an aspect closer to the catfish end of the spectrum. The way I chose to frame and compose this piece should also be taken into consideration. Perhaps her arms and torso lead off the page and form elegant fins, perhaps not. I like giving the viewer room to put their own imagination to use. Someone over at my Epilogue gallery commented that this image was a 'tease' since I didn't show her in her entirety, and in a way they're quite right, and I personally think the image might become too dull and predictable if I just handed the viewer all of the information."

Shimmering peripheries. Potent spaces. Although they can be embodied in the clean absence of pigment in Chinese ink paintings, I believe there are other manners of allowing potentiality, ambiguity, mystery into one's artwork, more ways than I could possibly enumerate.

In other news, I have a new friend! :D A recent trip to Skippack, Pennsylvania introduced me to a small shop which included among its wares a collection of Native American style flutes. Tsunami flutes to be precise. I hit it off with a lovely flute in the key of F, its body crafted of Tulip Poplar and its bird/block/fetish of Palownia. The natural tone of both woods is quite light: a pale flute for a pale girl. I have a particular affinity with Tulip Poplar as that species of tree populates much of the land surrounding my home. (Tulip Poplar spires wreath my Horned God's brow and a Tulip Poplar leaf-pen entwine my Green Lady's hair.)

Well, that's enough writing for one night I think!