40 Drawings in 40 Days – #40 – Helen of Troy

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.

40b - Helen of Troy

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….

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40 Drawings in 40 Days – #8 – Trojan Horse

Sigh.  Another horse.  Remember I suck at drawing horses.

Thankfully this particular horse was not representing a living creature but was instead constructed by the Greeks as their sneaky way of invading the besieged city of Troy. Nevertheless, the sketch gave me quite a lot of difficulty.  I felt it had to have the proportions of a horse and be clearly horse-shaped but also look blocky so as to not resemble anything organic.  There was a great deal of scribbling and erasing and scribbling and erasing.

Let us just pause a moment and reflect on the daftness of the myth of the Trojan Horse, shall we?  Apparently historians, classicists and archaeologists alike have all pondered the grains of truth that might be contained in the legend.  Perhaps it was really a battering ram or perhaps it is a symbol for an earthquake.  Those are some of the theories.  Putting that aside, however, and focusing just on the literary story, we have a group of people who have been under siege in their city for a decade (if memory serves) who awake one day to find that the Greeks who have been hammering them for all those years have unexpectedly and inexplicably disappeared, leaving behind a wooden horse by way of an apology for the inconvenience caused.  Not thinking this remotely suspicious, the wooden horse is then brought into the city only for the Greeks, hidden inside, to disembark, slaughter everyone and finally claim a victory in the Trojan War.  A War, lest we forget, which was precipitated by a randy Prince making off with some other ruler’s wife.  It’s deep stuff.

Finally I got a shape I was happy with but still something was lacking.  I left the sketch sitting for a while waiting for a flash of inspiration.  Gift.  That was the element that was missing.  The whole idea that an enemy would retreat and leave a present in their wake was the crucial detail that would complete my drawing.  A neatly tied bow in a ribbon and a gift tag were added.  Job done.

2014-09-08 16.02.43

Fingers crossed for no more horses in this drawing challenge.