Saturday, 25 February 2012

Once Upon a Time

Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told to me in my childhood than in the truth that is taught by life.” - Johann Christoph Friederich v. Schiller


 I'm afraid I've been rather artistically challenged lately! A combination of stuff getting in the way, an odd lack of motivation, and an excessive use of that infamous little mental phenomenon called 'procrastination'. The things that have been particularly prominent in my mind lately, and that have been the main focus of my limited random doodling in recent weeks, are myths and fairy tales, as may have been evident in my most recent blog posts.

I’ve long had a fascination with fairy tales and myths - European folklore and Greek myths being my favourite. I wrote several essays and a dissertation on the nature and evolution of fairy tales during my years at university, and my major project in my final year was based on folklore from around the world (though I shamelessly messed around with tradition and skewed tales to my own needs).
Since this obsession has been particularly intrusive in my brain of late, I’ve decided to vent my thoughts onto this blog, and share what I think are some amazing artists of the fairy tale genre (and also a collection of my own fairy tale doodles towards the end). Get ready for a hella big blog post!

Some of my favourite artists are closely associated with the fairy tale genre, many of them from around the time of the Golden Age of Illustration during the nineteenth century; Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen and Edmund Dulac; and also some modern ones such as the fantastic Brian Froud and Tony DiTerlizzi.
Fairy tales originally began, across the world, as oral traditions, stories for both adults and children to enjoy when books, literature and the ability to read them were scarce or reserved only for the elite members of society. They were mostly tales of morality and caution, teaching modesty, courage, honesty, cunning and many other virtues of human nature that were very often portrayed in archetypal form as animals.
Fox= cunning and deceit
Dog= loyalty and bravery
Pig= gluttony and sloth
It was only really when the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries came into being that fairy tales became thought of primarily as stories for young children, and the great illustrators of the era rose to fame through their rich visual narration of those tales and newer stories (from the age) with heavily folklorish elements, such as 'Alice in Wonderland'.
Arthur Rackham
My second favourite artist, and probably the most renowned fairy tale illustrator of them all; illustrated such books as 'Grimm's Fairy Tales' and 'Alice in Wonderland'.
'The Old Woman in the Woods' by Arthur Rackham

"The Goose Girl" by Arthur Rackham

I just love the detail to his work, the muted, aged colours, the foxed backgrounds, the flowing penmanship.

Kay Nielsen
Another prominent Fairy Tale illustrator.
"Blue Beard" by Kay Nielsen

Illustration from 'Sleeping Beauty' by Kay Nielsen

Fairy Tales have seen a recent boom in popularity in modern children's literature and entertainment, such as 'The Spiderwick Chronicles', created and illustrated by Tony Diterlizzi. I both love and hate this guy - his work is so wonderful and dynamic, but it makes me feel exceptionally inadequate as an artist. I hate when that happens!

Two illustrations from DiTerlizzi's Spiderwick Chronicles.

Even my all time favourite artist had a keen interest in fables and folklore. Leonardo da Vinci documented numerous folkloric takes on the fundamental nature of animals (or at least, the natures humans assigned to them), and drew numerous mythical creatures in his notebooks.

A dragon by Leonardo, reminiscent of Chinese Lungs.
A rough drawing of 'The Allegory of the Wolf and the Eagle' by da Vinci.

Fairy tales are enormously important to me. I've always loved them, but I think the artwork that so often accompanied them is the main reason my interest stayed as years passed. The stories themselves are very appealing, with wondrous imagery and clever metaphors for various aspects of the human condition. They inspire me to draw and write more than anything else, I think, and my recent ultra-obsession in them has prompted me to collect together several little doodles and drawings I have done relating to fairy tales and myths over the past year or two:

And here is an image I finished just the other day - an ink drawing inspired by fairy tales. I started it on a rather small piece of paper, then realised I wanted to make it bigger and more detailed, so I carried it over to another piece of paper and stitched it together in Photoshop.

(Click to View properly!!)

Fairy tales seem to many people old, uninteresting or irrelevant in modern times, but they have transcended from oral tradition, to books, and more recently to film and theatre. Their appeal and diverse methods of story-telling that helped shape society from its very beginning have stopped them being pushed to the back of the dustiest shelf of the oldest bookcase in the most shadowy corner of an underused library, even in a hectic age of technology and endless distractions of funny cat pictures and videos of people falling over, they manage to cling to the edges of our culture, quietly and modestly, but very much there. And that's why I love them!

As the wonderful Mr Dickens once wrote; “In a utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected.” 

So, yeah. I'll shut up now. Go away and appreciate the hell out of those old fables! Or I’ll go Evil Stepmother on all your asses!

(Oh! And one more thing, while we're on the subject - My friend takes part in a lovely art project called 'The Drawing Circus', a life drawing event with costumes, props and live music. They are doing a Grimm's Fairy Tales themed event. If you're in or around Brighton UK on the 3rd of March, do make sure you go check it out! I wish I could go, but alas, 'tis not meant to be...