Watercolor on art board using instructions from Stephanie Pui Mun-Law’s Dreamscapes Magical Menagerie
About a year ago I received my first watercolor supplies. I’ve progressed quite a bit from my first gloppy attempts, and I’m hoping my progress will continue. Thanks to Chris and Karin for putting me on the painting path.
Added the smoke and fringe of flames. The cadmium orange is looking too florescent at the moment, but I expect it to tame down with color added to the bird. While this bird is smoking, another will be roasting. Happy Thanksgiving!
I’ve started a new painting using instructions from Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s book Dreamscapes Magical Menagerie. Her phoenix (which I tend to view as a firebird) has strong peacock influences, which are common in firebirds. The phoenix is a bird from Greek mythology which ends its long life by going up in flames and subsequently being reborn from the ashes. Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawkes, is a delightful modern rendition. The Slavic firebird appears in fairy tales, luring the hero on a wild chase. While the capture of the firebird should result in obtaining all manner of wonderful things, the chase itself often turns into a lifelong quest of difficulty and, perhaps, untimely death. In some variations, the firebird sacrifices all or part of herself before the tale is over.
I painted the kitsune, watercolor on art board, with instructions from Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s Dreamscapes Magical Menagerie.
Foxes appear often in Japanese folklore. They are mischievous tricksters, but can also be strongly beneficial or even demonic. Foxes have special powers that often translate into shape-shifting. Some foxes cannot shift into human form, but can take possession of a human body. When they leave that body they can take with them items that they are holding. Foxes grow wiser with age, and older or more powerful foxes are often depicted with multiple tails. Sometimes young foxes are the troublemakers, and their fox elders must step in before human wrath sweeps over all of the foxes, young and old. Fox lovers are a common feature of tales, with the human lover often not knowing that his mate is not human at all. One medieval story included a man returned to his family after a prolonged stay with his fox lover. He had believed himself finely dressed in a lovely home for three years, overseeing the birth of his beloved children. In actuality, he had spent the last three days under his house in his own ragged clothes, and his new offspring were foxes.
To differentiate regular foxes from magical tricksters of Japanese lore, they are generally called kitsune, which is Japanese for fox.
Japanese Tales. Ed. Trans. Royall Tyler. Pantheon Books: New York, 1987
Carotenoids also color vegetables in the same hue family.
When the chlorophyl green of summer breaks down in leaves, we briefly get to see their underlying carotenoids, which appear as yellow, orange, or red. Unusual colors outside of that spectrum are created by different pigment combinations. For instance, anthocyanins are a blue, violet, or red pigment, which in high concentrations turns some Japanese maples that rich hue of purple. A combo of chlorophyll and anthocyanin produces bronze. Not until the leaves’ chloroplasts disintegrate do the leaves turn to dead brown.
Engber, Daniel. “Why Do Leaves Turn Different Colors?” Popular Science Nov. 2013: 73.
In a nod towards the old, Irish tradition, we carved a turnip jack-o-lantern last night. My husband found the turnip easier to carve than the beet, but the beet held its face better. Another slight problem is that the candle light tends to be too high to shine easily through the features. Next time, particularly with the beet, we’ll have to dig a deeper recess for candle insertion.
Spirits are not the only things that come out during the night in which the veil between worlds is at its thinnest. I learned that in County Connaught and County Kildare, Halloween was also called Puca Night, in reference to the tricksy, shape-changing fairy (incidentally, one of my fairy favorites). Nicholas Rogers quoted one individual as saying, “[T]he good people were supposed to be very active on Hollantide night. People did not throw water or sweep out floors that night for fear of offending the good people” (40). While tales of the pooka vary in severity from beneficial to outright evil, some involve the types of pranks Halloween was once known for, including the destruction of crops. Rather than the neighboring kids out causing mischief, people could imagine ravaging faeries scouring the land.
Pookas, imps, or galavanting goblins, I can rest at ease tonight knowing my home will be guarded by a dreadful beet and a terrifying turnip.
Rogers, Nicholas. Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. New York: Oxford UP, 2002.
After learning the tale of Jack of the Lantern, I decided to look a bit more deeply into our beloved jack-o-lantern tradition. It didn’t take much to find that pumpkin jack-o-lanterns took off with the arrival of Irish immigrants to America. Prior to that, the good people of Ireland, Scotland, and England made their lanterns from root vegetables.
The innocent beet.
Wanting to try my hand at Stingy Jack’s turnip lantern, I kept my eye out for a large and worthy turnip. The small, purple specimens I ran into were quite a disappointment. I did, however, find a nicely sized beet, which one book said was the choice of English children. (I also found a good baking potato, which my friend Sarah drew up all pretty-like, but, unfortunately, was sacrificed to celery soup prior to lantern carving.)
Jack displays his nose of distinction.
I drew the face, and the Jack-to-be languished in the refrigerator (while fellow potato-Jack got eaten). For all the prospective beet carvers out there, I urge you to carve more promptly after drawing. As my husband carved, I feared that Jack’s face would be irrevocably smashed in. In the end, however, Jack had just the right amount of flexibility to allow for mock laughter and the easy insertion of the tea light through his jaws.
When jack kept his top on, the roasting smell of beet permeated the kitchen.
As you can imagine, a tea light did not produce the awe-inspiring glow that one would expect to come from hellfire embers, so a fire escalation was needed. Fortunately, Sarah was able to produce a beer cap, which my husband promptly filled with white gas and lit. Voila!–the flames of hell.