November 14, 2014

Altum Incognitum

        You’ve heard of terra incognita on old maps, of course: unknown land, unexplored territory.  But unexplored land is scarce these days, and if you want to find the true unknown on earth you need to look to the depths of the ocean: altum incognitum.  Here’s my new leviathan block print, which does just that.
        For the first stages in the creation of this piece, and the description of the leviathan, you can refer back to my earlier post.  More than anything else, in this piece I was trying to experiment with depicting light.  Sunlight fades as the water gets deeper and deeper, so the first job was to try to make a gradation from top to bottom.  The leviathan itself had to be visible, but I tried to give it a sense of looming out of the darkness.  To this end I put white outlines only along the top edges, and left the bottom undefined.  I also tried to give an appearance of glowing to a few spots of bioluminescence, and finally I wanted to show the stirring up of the water as the monster writhes about, as the description of the leviathan demands.
        The leviathan isn’t the only inhabitant of the ocean, of course, so I added some other fun details.  From the top going down you can see great white sharks (although they’re black), blue whales (although they're white), a couple of disproportionately large sea turtles, and an oarfish, which is one of the creatures given as the scientific explanation for a number of sea serpent sightings.  Also a few schools of unidentified fish.  Continuing down still further, there are sperm whales and a giant squid, but also a plesiosaur of some sort and the kraken itself, huge, of course, but rather small compared with the leviathan.  And finally, down near the ocean floor, a somewhat ill-defined gulper eel and anglerfish, giant tube worms near the deep sea vents, and some truly enormous sea stars.  I had fun deciding what to put into the picture and how to compose it, and I challenged myself on the small details and precision of lines depicting the water and leviathan.  Alas, the biggest challenge of all on a block with this much black is to get the inking relatively dark and smooth.  I never did get it as perfect as I would have liked, but I’m still pretty happy with my image of the mystery of the unknown deep.

[Picture: Altum Incognitum, rubber block print by AEGN, 2014.]

(And thanks to local Latin teacher L. Downey for obligingly checking my Latin phrase!  When it comes to Latin, I know only enough to know that I don’t know enough.)

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