As in so many of Greek myths, Daphne’s is the story of a woman victimised by a man and ultimately punished by the patriarchy. Essentially poor Daphne was used by Eros to curse Apollo, one of Cupid’s arrows having created his obsessive infatuation with the naiad Daphne. An arrow fired at her ensured that she would always flee Apollo. Therefore, poor Daphne was basically stalked by Apollo, which effectively means she was being punished for no reason. In order to escape Apollo’s sexual violence, Daphne pleaded with her father, a river god, and his solution was to transform her into a laurel tree. Daphne, treated like an object by these male gods, was therefore rendered completely and utterly passive – so much so, in fact, the Apollo ended up possessing the laurel as his special tree. Ugh.
Anyway, still plodding on through the green section of my Rainbow Art Journal, I decided to illustrate Daphne’s tragic story. I wanted to communicate something of the violence of her situation and of her transformation while also suggesting something of the fact she was forced to become even more passive.
I have never participated in official Art Therapy but I would definitely vouch for art being therapeutic. I personally use it for stress busting and to invest in myself by topping up my reserves by taking some time out of life’s flurry of activity and just doing something focused and creative. Therefore, while dealing with the aftermath of our basement flood, feeling completely frazzled, and being physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, I knew that the best way in which I could recharge my batteries was to take some time out for art. It was just the tool for decompression that I needed.
I used a recent Art Journal Adventure prompt – Celestial – and cracked open my art journal and opened my box of watercolours and got stuck in. As those who follow my blog will know, I am interested in Greek Mythology so I decided to depict Nyx, the goddess of Night. In Classical art, she was depicted as having wings or riding in a chariot but I kept the shapes and forms simple and made her body a flowing shape, a sort of cloak of spreading darkness. By keeping the composition simple and letting wet paint run and flow, other than drying time, this whole illustration was done and dusted in no more than 20 minutes. It was, therefore, really took no time at all out of my hectic day but left me feeling recharged and ready to battle on.
One of my sons is obsessed with Greek Mythology – all of my kids were at one point – and that means that, thanks to osmosis, I have become a bit of a Greeky Mythology nerd myself. The mythological figures, especially the monsters, therefore often appear in my sketchbooks. A few years ago now, that theme was even the basis for a challenge I did to draw 40 drawings in 40 days. I have contemplated returning to that theme for a whole series of drawings – but without the time challenge – but that shall be for some future juncture. For now, I decided to draw Icarus in my Rainbow Art Journal.
I am currently working through the yellow section of my art journal and bold yellow suggested sunshine and sunshine suggested Icarus’ wings melting … This was my thought process. This was another page that had some little underlying texture as I had previously scraped leftover white acrylic over the page. You can spot the lumps and bumps. I kept the illustration simple and, therefore, kept the colour palette limited. I generally suck at drawing wings but I actually really like the way these turned out given that they are supposed to be a) manmade and b) broken. I tried using spray inks to create some visual texture between the sun disc and the falling figure but it seems that the inks don’t perform well on top of acrylic – hello, learning opportunity – but it adds a sort of glow around the sun so at least it did not ruin the illustration.
This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “goddesses or monsters”. As long term readers of my blog will know, I love mythology and especially Greek mythology. I was, therefore, overwhelmed by the possibilities and suffered from a creatively crippling bout of indecision. In the end, however, I decided to whip up a quick ink and watercolour illustration of a Minotaur. The Minotaur is one of my favourite monsters and I had not drawn one for a while. This one echoes the body shape and proportions of one I painted in an altered book three years ago. I placed him on a grey background and used a more muted palette so suggest his labyrinth dwelling. I kept second guessing myself as I am usually a bit more bold with my use of colour. However, I am calling this illustration done.
As ever, I drifted quite far from the exemplar, taking ideas from the lesson and making them my own. This time the elements I took from the tutorial were colourful spatter on a black background and incorporating the oenochoe jug.
I wanted to give my figure’s body a gentle curve to echo the curve of a rainbow. I also had the idea of letting her lower body fade out rather like the ends of a rainbow fade out. I am not convinced that latter decision has worked well in the composition, however. I like the spectrum dots behind the figure but am not wholly convinced that they read as wings.
I won my place on the Mixed Media Mythology course through Julia Osterc and her Loving Road blog. It was her lesson on Gaia that I tackled next. In Greek Mythology, Gaia was one of the first gods, was the creator of Earth, and Mother of the gods and Titans among others.
Osterc’s approach to depicting Gaia was very intuitive, fluid, and organic. That is not an approach that ever particularly rewards me. I, therefore, took a different approach to constructing the painting. I did, however, borrow three particular ideas from Osterc’s exemplar: the idea of Gaia as maternal or even grandmotherly, incorporating maps, and using collage elements as finishing details.
I have not drawn an elderly person for over two years so I really liked the idea of tackling the face of an older woman. That then became the focus of my painting, getting that right. I clearly need some practice in this area but overall I am satisfied with what emerged. I think she looks like a kindly granny. I used a map from an old atlas as the clothing for Gaia, and I used an image of the globe from a postage stamp to become a pendant, forging that connection between her and Earth. I used shades of green and blue for the same reason.
The next lesson I tackled in the Mixed Media Mythology course was another by Lucy Brydon. This time the subject was Halcyone (or Alcyone) whose tale in Greek Mythology is one of hubris, punishment, loss, grief, and metamorphosis. It is from her that the phrase “Halcyon Days” derives and she is also associated with kingfishers.
The lesson involved creating a splodgy, inky background. I really enjoyed creating it though it possibly ended up being a bit too vivid and bold in comparison to the figure. As the instruction was to draw a female profile and incorporate a kingfisher, my mind flitted to the Phoenix Woman painting I produced a short while ago and I decided to go with a similar composition. I also borrowed from it the idea of making the kingfisher a type of headdress rather than attempting to paint a separate bird. It helped me avoid having to paint a realistic bird but I also thought it might work thematically in terms of Halcyone’s transformation.
As I mentioned previously, in addition to taking the year long Life Book and Let’s Face It art courses, I was also lucky enough to win a spot on a course titled Mixed Media Mythology. Happily this course is much briefer and is self-paced so I can fit it around my other art commitments which, in turn, have to fit around life. The subjects of the lessons are goddesses from a variety of cultures. As suggested by my 40 Drawings of Greek Mythology challenge and many of the monsters in my altered book project, I LOVE mythology so this course was very much my cup of tea.
The first lesson I chose to tackle was based on the Greek goddess Eirene. The lesson was taken by Lucy Brydon and I must say it was a joy to watch video instructions delivered in a Scottish accent. Brydon likes to incorporate monoprinting with the gelli plate into her paintings so it was great to see that in action. I have used gelli plate prints in my mixed media work but as a collage element. This time the printing was done as a layer of the painting. I really loved the effect and can see me using that again in future. I also learned a lot from Brydon’s approach to painting hair.
I actually used a recent ink drawing as the inspiration for this painting. I wanted to challenge myself to meld my style of drawing with mixed media painting, experiment and see how it turned out. As Eirene was the goddess of peace, my intention had been to incorporate a dove into the painting. However, I chickened (or doved?) out of it when the time came, too concerned I would paint a goofy looking pigeon and thereby wreck the whole piece. I, therefore, indicated the idea of peace through using pale, harmonious colours and some olive branches in her hair.
I like how the painting turned out except that the facial proportions went a bit Modigliani on me. I have thought so before but I definitely need to get an easel so that my perspective in relation to the paper is more accurate. My standing easel did not survive emigration. I am considering a table top easel because of the way I work, in fits and starts, as that would allow me to leave it set up longer.
I should not be surprised that I keep falling behind with Life Book lessons given it is the summer break and I have four kids at home to entertain and chores galore – because kids at home create more mess. Furthermore, my art time is being invested in working on my History of Art project with the kids. Still, you know me: Control Freak. I cannot stand not being on schedule for very long so I had to find time to catch up.
The first lesson I caught up on was one taken by Tamara Laporte. The thrust of the lesson was about celebrating wisdom and rising above limiting beliefs and negative thoughts. This was to be visually represented by a soaring figure and various mixed media techniques were demonstrated in the tutorial. It took me days of stop-start viewing to watch the video tutorial and at one point my 9 year old glanced at the laptop and commented that the exemplar made him think of Nyx. That was the seed that then germinated in my mind’s eye throughout the rest of the tutorial and by the time I was ready to start painting I decided I was going to paint Nyx, the Greek goddess of the Night.
I used Neocolor II crayons, acrylic paint and Inktense pencils to create my response to this lesson. I am particularly pleased with how the colours in the background bled in to one another and the spattering with the metallic blue and silver paints.
The last drawing! The first subject chosen by my husband – as opposed to my children. My Drawing a Day Challenge concludes with this drawing: Helen of Troy.
Helen had the “face that launch’d a thousand ships” which was Kit Marlowe’s poetic way of explaining that it was a conflict over her that provoked the Trojan War. But before that story, we have the myth of her birth. She was yet another of the many and varied children fathered by Zeus. Zeus was in the form of a swan when he ran into Leda, a mortal woman. Somehow – and I choose not to imagine the scene – the pair mated and some time later Leda laid an egg. It must have been a massive egg. It quite makes the eyes water. From this egg emerged not only Helen but also Clytemnestra and the Dioscuri twins, Castor and Pollux.
There were many suitors for Helen’s hand but ultimately – with some input from Odysseus as advisor to her father, because apparently Helen’s opinion was not sought – she married Menelaus, the King of Mycenaean Sparta. That could have been an arranged marriage version of happily ever after except that Zeus – an ever-meddling biological father – asked Paris, a Trojan prince, to judge a version of Miss Olympus and decide which goddess was most beautiful: Aphrodite, Hera or Athena. Aphrodite won by bribing Paris with the promise of the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris, therefore, headed off to Sparta to stake his claim on Helen.
Whether Helen was abducted or absconded willingly, her disappearance from Sparta caused a right rammy. Jilted Menelaus gathered his allies together and charged off after his missing wife and so the Trojan War began with its epic siege, posturing heroes, meddling gods, and finally the Trojan Horse. And, of course, everyone on all sides detested Helen by the end of it all because it was her desirability that sparked the conflict. Mythology written by men.
It strikes me that Helen is a figure who propels the plot of ‘The Iliad’ along but who is lacking in dimension as a character with even her motivation for flitting to Troy being inscrutable. My options, therefore were to either draw her as beautiful but vague, a pretty blank, or to draw her almost symbolically. I went for the latter option and focused on the line from ‘Doctor Faustus’ since it has become the most well-known description of Helen. I drew Helen in profile so that her tumble of hair billowing behind her could become waves for the thousand ships her face launched. Except I didn’t draw a thousand of them because that would be ridiculous. I had to do a quick google search to see what Greek ships looked like and I then produced a simplified silhouette of these.
Helen of Troy
So my 40 Drawings in 40 Days Challenge comes to an end. I have very much enjoyed the challenge. It has been a lot of fun to collaborate on an art project with my children as directors and encouragers. They are my number one, two, three and four fans as well as the source of much of my inspiration. It has also been great to feel compelled to draw so frequently and it has definitely sanded the rust off and got me back into the habit of creating frequently. I admit, however, that creating a drawing a day, from conception to sketch to finished piece has been probably too demanding for someone with as much else on their plate as I have had. Happily I was working on a small scale (approximately A5) and was able to develop a system that allowed me to complete the drawings in stages that were snatched between chores and childcare duties but it is not a system I could sustain long term. So 40 Days was definitely duration enough for this particular artistic challenge.
My sons have been delighted with my drawings and I hope that you have enjoyed seeing them revealed each day in my blog. I wonder if you have a favourite? Do let me know if you do.
And now I need to decide upon my next art challenge….