40 Drawings in 40 Days – #34 – Siren

The sirens were a group of dangerous women in Greek Mythology, using their song to enchant and lure sailors to their deaths by drowning them.  When we vacationed on the Sorrentine peninsula back in 2006, we were told that the rocks between the bay where we were staying and the island of Capri were the home of the sirens.  Thankfully we didn’t run into them.  There is a strong history of drowning in my family history – it’s the leading cause of death after war and tuberculosis – so I wouldn’t fancy my chances up against a siren.  I am pretty sure lots of Mediterranean islands lay claim to being the home of the sirens in the hope of enchanting and luring tourists.  Not to their deaths.

The sirens feature in some of the major myths.  In the story of Jason and the Argonauts, for instance, Orpheus whips out his lyre and starts playing it in order to drown out their song.  Orpheus’ music was more beautiful than their song so the sirens were defeated.  Take that!  In The Odyssey, Odysseus decided he wanted to hear the siren’s song so he had his men bind him to the mast of his ship – so that he was prevented from diving into the water when the sirens tempted him – while his crew plugged their ears with beeswax.

In classical writing and art, sirens were part-human-part-bird – rather like the harpies –perhaps because of the connection to bird song.  Despite their hybridization, they were considered to be beautiful, sensuous and seductive.  Think “sexy sparrow”.  No?  Me neither.  I, however, decided to not take my drawing down that classical route.  The original sirens have become conflated with mermaids so I decided to draw a mermaid.  This was for two reasons: firstly, it avoided me all but repeating my harpy drawing; secondly, I have been meaning to draw or print a mermaid for quite some time now so I thought this drawing would be a good starting point for working on another mermaid some time.  I drew her with lots of curves to reinforce the idea of her sensuality but I added the skull and bone at the base of her rock as an allusion to her deadliness.  As a creature of the sea, I used a blue and sea-green colour scheme.  I enjoyed drawing her so I do hope I find time to create more mermaids some time soon.

34b - Siren



40 Drawings in 40 Days – #24 – Cyclops

The Cyclopes were a race of giants with a single eye in the middle of their foreheads.  They were skilled blacksmiths and constructed the magical weapons of many of the gods, including forging Zeus’ thunderbolt, Hades’ helm of darkness and Poseidon’s trident.

The most famous Cyclops in Greek Mythology was Polyphemus.  He was the son of Poseidon and a sea nymph.  Polyphemus lived on an island that Odysseus and his men happened to make land on during their epic journey home after the Trojan War.  The men helped themselves to Polyphemus’ food and drink which he stored in a cave so when the Cyclops returned home he trapped them in the cave and started feasting on the men.  Fair trade.  Odysseus – giving his name as Nobody – got the Cyclops drunk on strong wine.  Then, with Polyphemus dozing in a drunken stupor, Odysseus blinded him with a sharp stick.  Polyphemus then had to resort to feeling his sheep as he let them out to graze in order to ensure the men were not escaping among them.  Odysseus, however, being wily, had instructed his men to hang from the undersides of the sheep to avoid detection.  Having made their escape, however, Odyssesus’ arrogance got the better of him and he revealed his true name to the Cyclops as the ship departed the island.  He was to regret his conceitedness as Polyphemus was able to ask for assistance from his father, god of the sea, to exact revenge upon Odysseus and add further trials and tribulations to their journey.

I wanted to make my Cyclops look lunkish, like something you would lure down a mountain with a haunch of meat.  I wanted him to look brutish and strong but also dim – because Polyphemus had to be a bit lacking in smarts to be tricked so readily by Odysseus’ Nobody ruse.  I drew him slack-limbed with dreadful teeth, wearing fuzzy pants and slippers adorned with human skulls.  I thoroughly enjoyed drawing the Cyclops and am rather happy with how the finished piece turned out.

2014-09-24 13.49.57


40 Drawings in 40 Days – #22 – Nemean Lion and Erymanthian Boar

The Nemean Lion and his colleague the Erymanthian Boar were both ferocious monsters.  The Nemean Lion  – yet another child of Typhon and Echidna – had golden fur that was invincible to attack and claws so sharp they could tear through armour while the Erymanthian Boar was simply vicious and wild with no super-powers.

Both were ultimately defeated by Heracles as part of his Twelve Labours.  The destruction of the Nemean Lion was indeed his first task.  Heracles trapped the beast in its cave and then clubbed and strangled it to death, having discovered that no weapons could pierce its hide.  He then used one of the lion’s own claws to flay it and he then wore the lion skin about himself for protection.  The capture of the Erymanthian Boar was Heracles’ fourth labour.  On the advice of Chiron the Centaur, Heracles drove the Boar into deep snow to give himself an advantage and then wrestled it.

I decided to draw the monsters waiting around for Heracles to show up.  Thinking of the Aesop’s Fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, I imagined them being rather complacent, anticipating easy victory, not preparing at all, as they assumed they would easily defeat their foe.  I drew them sitting back to back, trading stories of humans they had ripped to shreds.  They both look rather goofy and the Erymanthian Boar would probably benefit from going on a diet.

22b - Nemean Lion & Erymanthian Boar

Monstrous Chums

40 Drawings in 40 Days – #21 – Oedipus

Oedipus.  Oh dear.  I think I may have audibly gasped when my children delivered the news that they wanted me to draw Oedipus.

Seriously, what bits of the Oedipus story are appropriate for children?  His father’s fear of a prophecy led him to take his baby son to a mountainside, nail his feet together and leave him to die.  Should I draw that?  No, I would rather not.  Oedipus, of course, survived and one day met a man on the road who he quarreled with and killed in the ensuing fight.  This man turned out to be his biological father, Laius, and so Oedipus had unwittingly fulfilled part of the prophecy.  Patricide?  Pass.  Oedipus then married his victim’s widow who was, of course, his biological mother, Jocasta.  Incest?  Moving on.  Finally learning of the fact that he had fulfilled the prophecy having murdered his father and married his mother, Oedipus gouged out his eyes and Jocasta hanged herself.  Child-friendly material?  No.  There’s a reason why this myth kept Freud so busy.

Sophocles’ Theban Cycle is a fantastic triology of tragic plays (my favourite being ‘Antigone’) which I recommend everyone sees in performance or reads.  What it doesn’t much inspire is art appropriate for an audience of young boys.  There was, however, one bit of Oedipus’ story that was fit for child consumption and that was his meeting with the Sphinx.  In order to rid Thebes of the tyranny of the Sphinx and then marry the city’s widowed queen, Oedipus had to solve the Sphinx’s riddle.  The riddle posed was “What has one voice but walks on four legs in the morning then two legs in the afternoon and then three legs in the evening?”

My inspiration for my sketch – actually it was more of a blueprint than mere inspiration – was the front cover of my Penguin copy of the Theban plays.  It’s a photograph of a picture on a cup held in the Vatican’s Etruscan Museum.  It depicts the Sphinx sitting atop a column opposite Oedipus who is deep in thought presumably pondering the answer to the riddle just posed.  I rather suspect that the original depicts Oedipus bare-legged but I decided to transform those into natty leggings in my drawing.

21b - Oedipus

Riddle me this!

40 Drawings in 40 Days – #20 – Centaur

I really thought my kids had exhausted all the horses of Greek Mythology so that I was spared having to draw another horse but I forgot all about Centaurs.  At least a centaur is only a half horse so that was something of a blessing.

Centaurs have the hindquarters and legs of a horse but the torso and head of a human.  In the myths, they are renowned for their warring ways.  In their most famous conflict, they gate-crashed the wedding of a cousin and attempted to abduct the bride and all the female guests.  In that instance, they were defeated by the hero Theseus.

As a consequence of their brutish and brutal behavior, Centaurs are usually depicted as being macho and muscular.  I, of course, decided to do something different in order to put my own spin on things.  When pondering centaurs, I could not rid myself of the image of a pantomime horse and that made me think of something that looked a little goofy and ungainly.  That then sparked an idea in my head: what if there was a runt of the herd?  What if there was a centaur among them who did not want to go off raping and pillaging but instead wanted to read books and discuss philosophy?  And that then led me to ponder what a nerdy centaur might look like.

I struggled a bit with the sketch as I decided to depict the centaur front facing rather than in profile.  Trying to get the shape of the horse body and legs right gave me some difficulty but finally I came up with a composition I was content with.  I gave my centaur prominent teeth in order to suggest that a little bit of horse made it above the waistline too – and I was thinking of the daft grins on those pantomime horses again – and funnily enough it makes him look like he could be a relative of Wallace from the ‘Wallace and Gromit’ series.  Since I also drew the Golden Fleece looking like Shaun the Sheep, I must have to count the animation of Nick Park among my influences.

2014-09-20 16.17.52

Nerdy Centaur

40 Drawings in 40 Days – #13 – Cerberus

Cerberus was a three-headed hellhound who guarded the entrance to the Underworld.  Except sometimes he was not three-headed.  Sometimes he was depicted as having a whole bushel of heads and other times as having just one. Apparently – and I did not know this before I embarked on my drawing – he also had a mane composed of snakes, the tail of a serpent and lion’s claws.  I bet he was at the pound for a long time before he was rehomed.

Cerberus was another of the monstrous offspring of Echidna and Typhon, making him a sibling to the Chimera and Hydra.  The capture of this monstrous beastie was one of the Labours of Heracles.  Ultimately the real challenge for Heracles was entering and exiting the Underworld while being very much alive.  When it came to capturing Cerberus, all he actually had to do was ask Hades who in turn set him the task of overpowering the dog without recourse to weapons.  Heracles, with his legendary strength, found this to be no bother at all.  It’s almost as if Hades wanted shot of Cerberus so as to avoid the massive pet food bills ….

As I had done with his siblings, I chose to depict Cerberus as a young’un.  I asked myself what a monstrous three-headed puppy would look like.  My 7 year old has an obsessive notion for a pet pug.  He’s even picked a name out for it: Russell.  It’s not happening.  However, this meant that I did a rough sketch idea for a pug version of Cerberus.  I just could not get the scale to work though: three round heads would not fit on to such a short and stocky body.  Trying and failing to resolve that problem then resulted in my brainwave of making Cerberus a dachshund.

In order to maintain some of the monstrosity of Cerberus – as opposed to him being the type of critter my kids would beg to have as a pet – I did add some sharp claws and painted him red.  I thought red was the most obvious colour for a hellhound.  Though I’ve never been a fan of chartreuse so maybe that would be the colour of hell.  The heads, however, don’t have even a modicum of menace in them.  They are just dappy, sloppy and sappy, like those of a pet puppy.  Clearly Cerberus would have to go to dog training school to learn how to be a ferocious beast who ate raw flesh and protect the gates of the Underworld.

13b - Cerberus

Here, Cerberus!  Good dog!

40 Drawings in 40 Days – #12 – Satyr

It was such fun to draw a satyr so I am very glad my kids had one as an item on the challenge list they compiled.

Satyrs were actually beings that were partially horse but they were conflated with fauns in Roman usage to become half-human-half-goat.  My aversion to drawing horses meant I most definitely opted for the goat version.  I did not want to draw the meek and sensitive Mr Tumnus type of satyr which is at complete odds with what satyrs are like in the original mythology.  I wanted to try and depict the cheekiness of the satyrs.  They are ribald creatures, fond of chasing women and quaffing wine.  They were party animals.

I drew the satyr in a cocky pose, as if ready to chat up a maenad, all smarm and exuberant over-confidence.  What with his fuzzy nether-regions and more human torso, I thought the satyr might be fond of a bit of manscaping so I also gave him a groomed goatee beard and an exclamatory quaff.  The rakish, saucy smile completed the sassy look.

2014-09-12 15.14.41

Saucy Satyr