November 7, 2017

Feathers to Light the Way

        Here is my newest piece, illustrating a hercinia.  The hercinia is a bird with feathers that glow and shine at night like fire, and serves as a guide for travellers in the dark forest.  Isidore of Seville (Spain, c. 560-636 CE) described them, “Their feathers sparkle so much in the shade that, however dark the night is with thick shadows, these feathers, when placed on the ground, give off light that helps to mark the way, and the sign of the glittering feathers makes clear the direction of the path.”  I find this a really lovely idea: the Light guiding us in the darkness, sometimes like a shining beacon, and sometimes just with little clues of Light that mark just one or two steps at a time but keep us safely to the Path…  The bird itself glows brightly, but the feathers don’t lose their light when they’re shed but continue to mark the way, even if we miss the bird itself.  The birds’ name comes from the forest they inhabit, the very forest that gave us all those fairy tales warning us not to stray from the path.  The Hercynian Forest was ancient in antiquity and stretched right across Europe.  Now only pockets of it remain of which the Black Forest is probably the most famous.
        For my illustration of the hercinia I knew exactly what I wanted: the dark, dense forest with shadowed trees tangling themselves into the distance, and the bright bird like a spirit of Light beckoning the viewer in.  This was more complicated and detailed than most of my pieces, and the layered shadowiness particularly was a little different from what I’ve attempted before.  I used a fine crosshatching to try for a mid-tone between black and white in addition to various areas textured like bark, grass, leaves, moss, etc.  For the most part I’m pretty pleased with it.  I think the cross-hatching worked best where I had vague shapes in it, as just above the hercinia, rather than the areas of more even cross-hatching, which look a little too geometric.  I am pretty disappointed by the feathers along the path, which I think look a bit too much like large, hairy caterpillars.  Not that glowing caterpillars couldn’t be good guides, too, of course, but that was not exactly my intention!  On the other hand I’m very happy with most of the trees, with their variety of bark patterns, and their texture and shadow.  Over all I really stretched my technique with this one and am well satisfied with how it came out.  I’m also having fun thinking about what I might say about the hercinia in the theoretical mythical bestiary I’ve been playing with.

[Picture: Feathers to Light the Way, rubber block print by AEGN, 2017.]

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