Saturday, 29 December 2012

Whisper of the Sith (Work in Progress)

My next piece is about the Sith Cat, a fabled creature associated with the Fae Folk. These Cats were described as otherworldly beings, roaming the spirit world and realms of the fairy folk but could also manifest  in feline form. It was said to be good luck to see a Sith Cat and they were told to bring good fortune on those showing kindness. Those who mistreated cats were said to be cursed by the Sith so the Scottish villagers had many superstitions and beliefs around these mysterious creatures.

The Sith or Sidhe (Fae) Cat was recognised by its sleek black appearance and a white patch of fur on its chest. This reminded me a bit of the big cat sightings still being reported around Scotland to this day and although the Sith is a legend I had an encounter with a panther-like cat in the countryside around Milltimber around 8 years ago which left a big impression on me and have been interested in the mysterious big cat sightings ever since. I was thinking a lot about my experience when I started to draw this piece- whatever I saw held me totally entranced (although that's a whole other story)- Maybe this is how people felt when they came across the Sith.

Two main superstitions and stories interested me. The offering of milk or food to the Sith Cat was a tradition on Samhein (Halloween Night). This was said to bring good fortune and protect the home. It was thought unlucky not to honour the cat in this way. The Sith had associations with the wise women and witches of the day- It was said that a witch could change into a Sith Cat on 8 occasions but if she were to change to Sith for a ninth time then she would remain in feline form forever. Some reports suggest that this is where the saying that cats have nine lives came from and its always interesting to see the cross-overs between witchlore and fairylore which seem to be very intertwined. I cannot be sure but "A black cat crossing your path" is also seen as lucky here in Scotland and I like to think that is derived from the Sith cat tales- I will try to find out more as I work on this artwork.

I'm still working a lot on the initial drawing, the main elements are in place although my next stage is to change a fair bit of the background and add some more suggestion of a ritual taking place. Here are the initial sketches and a hint of the ink detail....          

The main story in the picture is of a witch performing a ritual to summon the Sith Cats

I wanted the cats to look slightly alien and otherworldly. My sense of whimsy wants them to have wings as a tribute to their fae roots.

Still much to change in the background here, but getting a sense of how I want the cats portrayed

Thank you to my friend Claire Wood for pointing me in the direction of the Sith Cat :)

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Artwork completed and off to the framers today just in time for Christmas. I have to say a huge thank you to Lesley and Bruce at Frameworks gallery for their expert service and beautiful job on framing these works.

Here is the finished piece with some close ups and the last instalment of the story- will Rashiecoats live happily ever after ?
The little personal touches I included in this piece include a rose quartz pendulum which I own and I thought rather whimsically that the owl with the pendulum might be helping the prince to find Rashiecoats, maybe it led him to that slipper. The rose quartz stone also represents love and fertility. I have also told the "fairy tale" in my own words adding some of my own imagery as a tribute to the word of mouth storytelling tradition. Whilst researching the story I found slightly different versions although the main points remain the same and I was drawn in particular to a video I found of a traditional storyteller reciting the tale- this inspired me to add to it and embellish it a bit.

The finished artwork- A1 on Illustration Board

Some close up details. The Owl changed a wee bit from the original sketch, which you can see if you look back at my posts.    

Rashiecoats (The Story- final part)
The prince was determined to find the beautiful stranger who had visited the kirk, so he took the slipper and sent his best guardsmen on a mission. The young lady who fits into this dainty slipper must surely be my princess he said.
Well the grumpy handmaiden saw a perfect opportunity to marry her daughter off to the prince and together they hatched a plan. The daughter bound her foot tightly and pulled on a silk stocking to hide the binding. When the guardsman came knocking she pushed her foot into the slipper quite easily. The prince got word that his princess had been found and he was so excited until he saw the girl. This surly faced lass was not the young lady from the church for sure. However the prince was a man of his word and he whisked off the hand maidens daughter on his horse so they could prepare for the wedding. The first stop was the goldmine to get his bride a ring cast- when there the enchanted slipper began to whisper and sing "This is not your bride, the one you seek is Rashiecoats". Did you hear that ? the prince said and the hand maidens daughter just grunted in reply. He surely must be imagining things. Off they set to the next town to purchase new linen and a fine duck down quilt for the royal bed. Again the slipper sang out "This is not your bride, the one you see is Rashiecoats" and all the birds seemed to echo the song "Rashie- coats" "Rashie-coats". His bride to be didnt seem to hear a thing but the prince was getting quite anxious by now.
In the final town they set about ordering the finest food for the wedding banquet. The slipper sang out louder than ever and this time it wriggled and jumped clean off the handmaidens daughters foot. Immediately the binding came loose and out popped a rather big foot with unsightly bunions.
The prince was furious at this trickery. They galloped all the way back to the castle and he had some serious words with the handmaiden and her daughter. They were told to set about cleaning the castle from top to bottom as there would still be a wedding........... if only he could find the girl.
With a heavy heart the prince ambled down to the kitchen to fetch a pitcher of beer. There stirring the pot this way and that was Rashiecoats. As soon as she looked up and gave a smile the prince knew he had found his bride. Overjoyed he pulled the slipper from his coat and said "I believe this belongs to you". Rashiecoats smiled and pulled on the slipper. The prince immediately asked for her hand in marriage and wondered why he hadn't noticed the girl before, she was clearly of royal upbringing under her raggedy work clothes.
He held his breath whilst Rashiecoats pondered his request and then she simply replied "Aye".           

Friday, 21 December 2012

Rashiecoats Update

So Rashiecoats is finally finished. She is just being scanned and stitched together so I can share some close ups and the completed artwork with you- Hopefully tomorrow as its getting late here. I thought I'd catch up on the story a bit for you and share some smaller wildlife pieces I did recently which may serve as studies for future works in this project, certainly I've included Hares and Owls so far and there will definitely be a host of other animals along the way.

Celtic Hare

Secrets- Available at the Woodend Barn- Langbyre Gallery until the end of January

Curious Hare

Solitude- Available at the Woodend Barn- Langbyre Gallery until the end of January

Rashiecoats the Story (Part 4)
And so came round the next Sabbath. Rashiecoats again used magic to do her chores and stole away to the Kirk wearing this time her coat of feathers. The congregation all turned to stare and once more everyone wondered who the beautiful stranger was. The prince again fidgeted through the sermon, he simply must talk to this girl. As the sermon came to an end and as the moon was rising Rashiecoats slipped out of the kirk. All the birds of the land came down and carried her off in her coat of fine feathers back to the palace kitchen before a soul could notice. The prince was once again left looking around in bewilderment.
The next Sunday came around and Rashiecoats ensured she could go to the kirk again. This time she wore the coat of rushes and the very special enchanted slippers. It was Samhein night and the moon was full and magic was in the air.  
Well everyone gasped out loud as she looked at her most lovely and the prince fidgeted so much the king had to prod him in the ribs so he wouldn't appear to be rude.
Under the witching moon Rashiecoats slipped away and all the woodland creatures came by and led her to the stream which washed her back to the palace in the twinkling of an eye.
The prince had ran down the hill to see if he could catch her, but to no avail. All that was left was a finely woven slipper made of rushes sitting on the bank of the stream......

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Rashiecoats (Work in Progress)

I have made a lot of progress with my drawing these last few days. I think there comes a point when drawing on this large scale when you can see the complete piece come together. Its like a turning point that inspires a "quickening" towards the end result- a very nice feeling. Here are some more details for you and the next instalment of the story ...

The canopy of birds is complete with some added colour. Details are coming together on the costume with the Petticoats ready for inking. The little Dear is complete and just out of shot I am away to start on a Barn Owl.   

Rashiecoats (The Story- Part 3)
So Rashiecoats left the palace and walked for many days and nights. She wore the coat of gold and the sun rays would find her and warm her bones. She wore the coat of feathers and all the birds would come down and find food to keep her strong. She wore the coat of rushes and the woodland animals would appear and lead her to water. Eventually she came upon a grand castle and they happened to be looking for a new kitchen maid. Rashiecoats settled into her new life well. The new handmaiden was quite grumpy and her daughter unpleasant but Rashiecoats could cook and sew well and happily went about her tasks whilst watching the royal family in the courtyard. The young handsome prince caught her eye and he was so kind to his horses and dogs she was sure he was the sort of man she would love to marry but alas to be stuck in the kitchen as a lowly maid, she didn't dare to dream of such a thing.
Every Sunday the Royal family would attend the Kirk on the hill to hear the sermon and give worship. The grumpy handmaiden and her unpleasant daughter would attend to look after the young princesses. Rashiecoats was not allowed to go, she had to stay in the kitchen and prepare the evenings meal.
One Sunday Rashiecoats decided to use magic to prepare the food and give her time to steal away to the Kirk. She wore her golden coat and when she entered the Kirk everyone turned to stare and a whisper went around the room "Who was this beautiful young woman ?" everyone wondered. The prince was enchanted and knew he must speak to this girl. He fidgeted throughout the sermon and at the end turned to find Rashiecoats had gone. Whilst the sun was setting Rashiecoats had slipped away and the suns last rays caught her coat whisking her up into the sky and back to the castle before anyone could notice. All the prince was left with was the dance of fireflys in the fading sunlight and a heavy heart.....  

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Rashiecoats Work in Progress
Some more progress on my Rashiecoats drawing today. More of the foliage and birds are being inked. I will probably leave the colour until last on the birds to see how much they need- as you can see, I work in a very limited palette with just a touch of grey tones and pink. Her face and hair is complete now and the black background helps me get an idea of the contrasts in the drawing working out. Right now I'm working out more of the fine detail on the costume and background in pencil. Here are a few updated images and the continuation of the tale.

Rashiecoats (The Story) Part 2
The hand maiden this time told Rashiecoats to go to her father and ask him to make a coat of feathers. So the the king sent his servants to feed the birds and every bird in the land came down and in exchange for a grain of corn they left a feather. The royal seamstresses worked for 7 days and 7 nights to weave the most beautiful coat of feathers. Rashiecoats loved it and it felt so light and warm but still she did not want to marry her chosen suitor. So again she asked the hand maiden for advice.
This time you must ask for a coat fitting of your name- a beautiful coat made from the lush rushes on the riverbank said the hand maiden. Rashiecoats made this request and this time the hand maiden offered to make the coat herself. The hand maiden took much less time (being descended from the fae folk) and she added a magical enchantment into the weave of the coat. The hand maiden also made a pair of matching slippers and to these she added an even more potent enchantment. Rashiecoats was quite overcome when she saw the beautiful and intricate design of the coat and slippers but before her father could see it she shed a tear and told the hand maiden that she could not see a way out of marrying this time.
Then it is time for you to go out into the world and seek your own path. Take the three coats and the enchanted slippers with you for they are woven with magic and will protect you along the way. Now make haste before the King notices you are gone- said the hand maiden.  

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Rashiecoats (Work in Progress)

My second piece "Rashiecoats" is beginning to come together. The rough pencil layout is complete and I have started a portion of the inking. I will continue to draw and ink across the piece, working out the fine detail of the drawing as I go. This seems to be the way I like to work best.
This one has a portrait layout and an all together more feminine energy. In the story, Rashiecoats has a magical coat woven from rushes by the royal hand maiden. I especially wanted to have fun creating her costume in a mixture of rustic weave and intricate pattern as I imagined the attention to detail would be high in the royal household.
Rashiecoats is our very own Scottish version of the Cinderella tale, which has variations throughout the world and of course is a well loved favourite with little girls everywhere. I am not sure where the tale originated but the Scottish version has some wonderful imagery. I would like to share the whole tale as I draw this piece so bear with me as the story unfolds.

Rashiecoats Story (Part 1)  
Rashiecoats was the daughter of a wealthy Scottish King. She appears to have been a very strong willed girl and was close to her hand maiden since losing her mother at a young age. The hand maiden was said to have been born of the Fae Folk or Sidhe and taught Rashiecoats the magical arts as well as how to cook and sew.
When the time came the old King chose a husband for Rashiecoats, as was the way back then. Rashiecoats found the man to be ugly and heard he was mean spirited so she really did not want to marry him. She asked her hand maiden for advice. The Hand Maiden told her to ask her father to weave her a coat from the finest gold thread in the land and then maybe she would consider getting married.
The Kings seamstresses worked for 7 days and 7 nights and Rashiecoats was presented with the most beautiful coat of gold which shone like the sun in the the weak rays of Scottish daylight..... but her heart was still heavy, she didnt want to marry this man. So Rashiecoats again asked the hand maiden for advice......

Some close up details from my first sketches. The inspiration was taken from a bit later in the story. Tune in to find out what happens to Rashiecoats next time. 

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Here is the full artwork. My first piece completed. The next piece I'm working on is a Scottish "version" of the Cinderella tale "Rashiecoats". One of my ideas for these pieces was to create new challenges in my compositions and ideas as well as incorporating personal symbolism within the artworks. I think on reflection the main challenge for me in FinFolk was more about exploring a predominantly male figurative piece as my comfort zone has been drawing more feminine artworks. The personal symbolism is not so apparent but the overall artwork does reflect my Orkney heritage. My grandparents on my mothers side were from Orkney so the tale had particular fascination for me and seemed like a very good place to start this journey.
I look forward to sharing my next work in progress images with you soon (so many ideas already taking shape).
FinFolk- Ink Drawing- A1 on Illustration Board
I have finished my FinFolk piece and here are a few close ups. Now its off to the framers and into storage for the planned exhibition next year.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

FinFolk (Work in Progress 4)

A close up of part of the foreground in progress. You can just make out the coin bag that the FinWife has dropped beside the guardian hares.

Hope you have enjoyed the first few work in progress shots. I'm very keen to get on with the inking and will share more soon. 
FinFolk (Work in Progress 3)

A close up of the FinMan holding the shape shifting cat that his wife would send to communicate in the guise of a fish. I've started to think about the clothing he might wear.
FinFolk (Work in Progress 2) 

The FinWife was said to be a far more sociable and peaceable creature than her male counterpart. The female FinFolk were said to be born as Mermaids or Selkie like tailed beings and if they were to live out their days under the water they aged very quickly into Sea "Hags". To retain their beauty they would take a mortal husband and go to live on land mixing with the natives and going about their daily business. The FinWife has similar lore to the Wise Woman or Witch in that she earned her way by performing the Healing Arts for the townsfolk and was associated with her cat "familiar". Little did the natives know that she was attached to her equally amphibious husband still and would steal away to the shore at night to deliver her "earnings" in silver coins.

This is the first portion of inking showing the FinWife beckoning her husband. The puffin represents Orkney wildlife and the Hares in the foreground represent the shape shifting nature of the FinFolk. I see them as guardians to the exchange, other FinWifes keeping a careful watch on proceedings. Often in Scottish Witch lore the witch was said to change into animal form and the most popular association was of a cat or hare.

FinFolk (In Progress)

A1 on Illustration Board

My first artwork is based on the legend of the FinFolk from the Orkney Isles, a race of dark sorcerers living under the ocean. The FinMen were well versed in the Magical Arts and could control the seas and storms around the coast. Rising from the deep in boats fashioned without sails they would propel silently by magical means into the fishing waters of the island to pick up messages from their land dwelling FinWives who would send a shape shifting cat to them in the guise of a fish. A deeply feared and malevolent presence who would pull hapless fisher folks to a watery end should they venture into the FinMans path.  

I wanted a sense of silent, static menace with my FinMan. The deliberate stylisation of the face is representative of the Folk/Pictish style that I have been exploring recently and will continue in the pieces.    

Welcome to my first "Whisper of the Sith" Blog post. I am a full time artist living in Aberdeen, Scotland and Whisper of the Sith is a new body of work based on Scottish Myth and Legend.

The Project is supported by The Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Visual Arts Award Scheme.

My art is created by hand using ink pens and I enjoy most of all playing with intricate line work and pattern in a highly stylised manner. I create mainly pieces in A3 size and under due to the level of detail in each piece but the challenge of this project was to create a set of A1 size works in my style whilst retaining the level of detail and experimenting with composition and contrast. The award has meant that I can cover framing and presentation costs to a high standard and my hope is that this will form my first exhibition of large scale works. I will be creating 8-10 A1 pieces over the next 9 months and some smaller companion pieces.
I hope you enjoy following my progress.    

A big part of the project has been to research the Myths and Legends from my Scottish heritage. I have been keeping  a sketch journal of notes which I hope to share with you here as each piece unfolds. I also hope to learn a great deal about how I work and put together my finished pieces. I have always been a spontaneous artist, working straight onto the finished board and drawing and inking in short bursts working out the image as I go along. I guess my first "self discovery" was that this is how I am comfortable and side sketches and thumbnails are not my usual style. Certainly for the first piece I have found myself working this way and perhaps because it is "the first one" I am revisiting imagery that I am comfortable with, familiar symbolism and stylisation. Now that I have started I am interested to see how my workings develop in the other pieces, how I will push new ideas and if I will do more in the way of working sketches.
It will also be a new thing for me to talk about my work and share the stories behind the pieces. I am used to retaining a sense of mystery,allowing the viewer to interpret their own thoughts and stories so I hope in this Blog I can do justice to the fabulous tales I am unearthing. Scottish legend has traditionally been passed down through verbal story telling and it is often like grabbing for something through the mists of time across the heather, a fine subject for artistic representation.
Thank you for joining me on this journey.

Anita x  

The Project came about after creating an A1 sized piece which left me longing to do more.
"Five Familars" was created in 2012 on A1 illustration board. The piece was accepted into The Aberdeen Artists Society Annual Exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery where it sold earlier this year.