February 28, 2024

Words of the Month - Petting our Pets


         The word pet, referring to a domestic animal kept primarily for companionship, is quite a new one in English.  Originally a Scottish and northern English dialect word in the sixteenth century, and not appearing in other English dialects until the mid-eighteenth century, its origin is unknown.  The best assumption is that it is related in some way to petty meaning “small,” which in turn comes from French petit.  The usage of the word pet for a favorite, spoiled child is attested slightly earlier than its use for an animal, but it seems equally likely that animals were the primary usage and the record is simply not complete.
        For me the burning question this raises is, what did people call their pets before they had the word pet?  And I can’t find this answer at all, much to my frustration.  (I did discover the word cade, which is a new one for me.  It means “a pet or tame animal, especially a lamb raised by hand.”  This dates to the late fifteenth century, so it’s quite a bit earlier than pet in most English dialects, but I have no idea how widespread it was.  I also don’t know whether it’s still in use at all today, seeing as I’ve never heard or seen it before.)  My best guess is that people didn’t really refer to pets as a class, but simply named the specific creature in a particular circumstance, such as spaniel, cat, goldfinch, ermine, monkey, etc.
        So let’s look at the two most popular of those pets.  The word cat is quite ancient, dating back to Old English, and its various forms are nearly universal in European languages.  Although I always think of the Latin word for cat as feles, in the first century this was generally replaced by catta.  This, in turn, probably comes from Afro-Asiatic roots, since after all, cats had been domestic pets in Egypt since about 2000 BCE, while they were not particularly familiar as pets in classical Greece and Rome.
        Dog, on the other hand, has a slightly twistier path.  It does date back to late Old English, but seems originally to have referred to a specific large, powerful breed.  No one knows why it pushed aside the original old English general term hund, essentially trading places so that now hound refers to specific breeds, while dog is the general term.  Oddly, Spanish perro and Polish pies are also of unknown origin.  Why are cats universally cats, but dogs are called a whole variety of often-unexplained words?  Is it because cats are all pretty universally similar while there’s an enormously wide array of different dog breeds?  I don’t know.
        It’s also worth noting that while people have enjoyed domestic animals for companionship for millenia, throughout most of history, most domestic animals had other purposes which (except perhaps for the very wealthy) were primary.  Most dogs and cats were working animals.  That’s another reason that I’m guessing that there may not really have been a word for “pet” before the word pet.  Still, if anyone has further information on this, I’d love to see it!
        Finally, the verb pet first meant “to treat as a pet,” and arrived about a century after the noun.  The meaning “to stroke” isn’t attested until 1818, well after the noun had gained currency throughout English.  So yes, we pet our cats because they’re our pets, and not the other way around!  On the other hand, we could pat the bunny about a hundred years earlier.  That word seems to be unrelated, coming from a noun that originally meant “a blow or stroke” (so yes, we can also stroke our pets), and eventually came to be specifically “a light tap.”  I can’t help suspecting that the verb meaning of pet was helped along in its shift to “stroke” by the similarity with pat.
        Do you have a pet or pets?  And do you like to pet them?


[Pictures: Puppy Love, rubber block print by AEGNydam, 2012;

Cat in a Box, rubber block print by AEGN, 1999;

Coy, rubber block print by AEGN, 2023;

Old English Sheepdog, rubber block print by AEGN, 2013.]

February 21, 2024

Tiny Doodle Blocks

         In the past few months I’ve been playing with a handful of tiny doodle blocks.  I carved these little scraps of rubber doodlewise, without any particular plan to their design, but for at least some, I did plan to make them combinable.  To that end, some of them were cut (more or less carefully) into tessellating shapes.  Then I learned about @PrinterSolstice on Instagram, which is giving a theme per week for block print experimentation.  This year the themes are all different color schemes, and (given the title of this blog) you can guess that isn’t always my thing when it comes to block printing - but it worked particularly well to use my doodle blocks to play with the color schemes, because it was all just fooling around anyway.
        As it happened, some of the results were quite ugly, but others please me a great deal.  Today I share a range of the little designs I came up with — far from a comprehensive record, but a sampling to demonstrate some of the various combinations I came up with.
        First up, here are some designs without color, so you can see more clearly what the blocks were, and how they combine.  I made a diamond with 60° points, so it could be turned into a six-pointed star.  In fact, as you can see, it could be turned into several different six-pointed stars, depending on which points are in the middle.  (It could also be turned into a complete tiled field, but I haven’t played with that yet.)  I also had a skinny little scrap that could be fit into half of that same diamond, so that’s block 2.  Block 3 was actually made last summer, I think, and is a little scalene right triangle.  Block 4 is a heart.  Later I cut the diamond block apart so that the two parts could be inked separately, and that’s what you can see in the upper right and bottom left designs in black and white.
        As I said, the Printer Solstice themes were all about color schemes, and here are a bunch of stars I made for some of their prompts.  They’re cool colors, primary colors, analogous colors, and triadic colors.  Then the pale blue one is just being a snowflake, because that’s what the block pattern suggested to me.  And the final star is one that I used as the base for an illustration that’s going to be in my upcoming book.
        Not all the playing was just stars, though.  Here are a few more designs, using other blocks and combinations.  The triangle is a split complementary color scheme, printed with block 2 and half of block 1.  The square diamond is analogous/warm colors, made with block 3.  The flower circle is a full spectrum printed with the heart.  You can see that I intended the heart to have a 60° angle also, but obviously didn’t get it quite accurate.  (That’s okay - I plan to print it as a little free-standing block anyway.)  And that final thing, which is cool colors, is an even scrappier scrap just carved with a few stripes and swirls, plus the tiny butterfly I chopped out of a larger block that got abandoned.
        These are all printed with stamp pads, some of which are higher quality than others, mostly on scrap paper of various sorts.  They’re not intended for show or sale, but thanks, @PrinterSolstice, for giving me a push to spend some time playing around with them.  And in the end I’m pleased enough with a few of them that I’m considering making a set of notecards with an assortment of colorful star designs.  What do you think?


[Pictures: all rubber block prints by AEGN, 2024.

You can see "Tiny Doodle" and "Sing from the Heart" here.]

February 16, 2024

Year of the Wood(block) Dragon

         Now that we’ve embarked on a new lunar year, of course we have to celebrate with some block prints of dragons.  But since I’ve been blogging long enough to have celebrated the last dragon year, you can start by going back and seeing the examples I found in 2012.

        As for 2024, I’ll start out with a New Year greeting that’s up-to-the-minute - and with a Texas twist.  This linocut print includes some other auspicious symbols in addition to the dragon (and of course the color red), but I can’t help thinking there’s just a touch of arid lizard in the look of this one!
        We’ll turn now to something more traditional: a dragon with a sage.  This dragon seems like a reasonable size to be a pet or a familiar, and I like how sage and dragon are both grinning.  The artist Gakutei specialized in pieces combining illustrations with poetry, which was often light verse or clever aphorisms.  Unfortunately, I don’t know what poem this piece is illustrating, although I’m curious!  It certainly seems like some interesting stories could be told about these two.
        Back to the lunar zodiac, but with once again a very different look, here’s another quite modern dragon.  The face looks a little cartoonish, the colors look wild and bright, and the sky looks rather stormy.  This is not your traditional dragon, and it’s certainly got plenty of verve, but I have to confess that it’s not my favorite.  Which of these dragons do you like best?  And does your answer change depending whether you’re thinking of the dragon as art, as a companion, or as a protector of the new year?


[Pictures: Year of the Dragon, two-color linocut by Jackdaw Russell, 2024 (Image from the artist’s Etsy shop JackdawFolkArt);

Sage and Dragon, woodblock print by Gakutei, c. 1825 (Image from Ronin Gallery);

The Year of the Dragon: Like the Wind, woodblock print by Gashu Fukami, 2015 (Image from Ronin Gallery).]

February 12, 2024

A Desperate Little Exhortation About (Bitter)Sweetness and Light

         Hooray!  My Kickstarter campaign is fully funded, and my book Bittersweetness & Light will really be happening!  I’m so glad and grateful that this project will be shared with the world… And yet… let me share a couple of recent conversations that gave me pause…
        During a reading I was explaining that my book was meant to give hope and joy, and that my stories are always guaranteed to offer some sort of “happy ending.”  A lovely and well-meaning person responded eagerly, “Oh yes!  Sometimes you just need a fluffy beach-read!  And other times you need something with more depth to really engage in, so it’s so important to have both kinds of books.”  In another conversation a couple of days later I suggested that movies and other media that are nothing but unrelieved doom and gloom, misery and blame, don’t necessarily motivate people to work for good.  The immediate reply was a disparaging, “Right, Ignorance is bliss.”  The automatic assumption I keep facing is that anything that isn’t dark and painful must be shallow and mindless; that happiness is “fluffy;” and that only violence and misery are “real” or worthy of serious engagement.
        Well, I’m serious about joy.  I absolutely believe that joy and hope are real, important, engaging, and worthy of deep consideration.  I have no problem with “fluffy beach-reads” and the occasional escapism (and indeed, some of the stories to be included in my book are certainly “fluffier” than others!)  But it drives me crazy and breaks my heart that people can’t even imagine that a “happy ending” could have substance.  It doesn’t even cross their minds that anyone serious, intelligent, well-informed, and rational could share causes for joy or reasons to hope; if you’re not wallowing in misery, you must be burying your head in the sand.
        Let’s break down these assumptions.  For some time now the whole world (and certainly myself) have been suffering from unhealthy levels of stress, trauma, and anxiety.  Obviously this is partly because there are so many real, serious things going on that of course cause stress — but it’s also because we are so immersed in the bad news that we never get a chance to focus on the good things.  It’s because there are forces in this world that actually benefit by keeping us too depressed and cynical to stand up against injustice.  It’s because our species is actually hard-wired to be hyper alert to every possible danger and focus more on the things that might go wrong.  It’s because even when we try to fight injustice, we just end up beating ourselves up and burning ourselves out.  In the face of all these reasons, it is actually an act of fierce defiance to acknowledge joy.  To stand up and claim that Goodness does exist, that Love is powerful, that Joy is possible, and that we all need to work harder at finding that joy, and sharing it with each other.
        I keep trying to spread that message, but honestly, these conversations coming one after another gave me a bit of a crisis of confidence.  Clearly whatever I’m saying doesn’t seem to communicate the point I’m trying to make: that one can look at a world that is broken, full of suffering, and feeling ever more precarious, and yet still see that there also exists infinite beauty, capacity for love, and possibility of redemption – and more than that, we need to take a long, hard, serious look at all that beauty, love, and possibility if we’re going to have any chance of surviving these threats and making things better.  Maybe I’m not the right person to be the messenger, if apparently I don’t seem to be very effective at expressing the message.  Still, I have to keep trying – because I do still have hope - and Bittersweetness & Light is part of how I’m still trying, as one small person with just a small voice.
        So, I’m serious about joy, but that absolutely does not mean that I’m now turning “joy,” too, into something drearily dutiful.  This collection of stories, poems, and art is serious in the sense that I hope it will engage you, make you think, and reach somewhere deep in your heart – but that doesn’t mean it has to be serious in the sense of somber, dark, and depressing.  I hope this book will be make you happy and lift your spirits!  I hope it will be entertaining to read, fun to look at, and delightful to your mind, heart, and soul.
        I suggest you try a little exercise: pay attention as you go through your day and start noticing how often you encounter those assumptions that only the bad, mad, sad stuff is worthy of serious consideration – or tend to make such assumptions yourself!  Start pushing back against them, and keep reminding others (and yourself) that joy is real and that we need to share it with each other.  Let me know how it goes, because I need all the help I can get!  And if you do want to join in the Kickstarter campaign for Bittersweetness & Light, you have just one more day!  The campaign ends just before the stroke of midnight on February 13, so procrastinate no longer, but come share my joy in this!

February 7, 2024

Resources for Boskone Panels

        This weekend I will once again be at the Boskone sci fi/fantasy convention in Boston.  As usual I’ll have work in the Art Show (63 pieces, which I think is an all-time high!); I’ll be participating in the Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Reading (sharing a preview of something from Bittersweetness & Light) and taking shifts at our book-selling table; and I’ll also be participating in four panels on a variety of writing topics.  It’s that last facet that’s providing the reason for this post.  This is a map and guide to various previous posts likely to be of interest to anyone attending those panels and looking for more details about anything I might reference.


A Protagonist Walks Into a Bar…  
…what does it look like? Who's in the room? How is it decorated? What does it smell like? How loud is it? We discuss just how much detail you really need.”
I’m in the pro-description camp, as a reader and therefore also as a writer.  The following posts are arguments in favor of plenty of lush description:
Here are a couple posts that have to do a little more loosely with how to choose words and description to express more than just bare bones of plot:
And something on balancing how much information to share in world-building:

Uncommon Creatures from Fairy Tales  “What about the creatures we don't hear so 
much about? Who are they and what role do they play in the realm of the fair folk? Are they getting short shrift in the literary realm in favor of their more common cousins? Let's scan the globe for other instances of curious creatures with poor PR.”
If you click the Label “mythical creatures” in the sidebar, you’ll find over 200 posts on all manner of creatures, but for the posts which give information specifically about various creatures from fairy tales, folklore, and mythology, here are some categories that pare it down (slightly):
     26 alphabetical posts on collected creatures here: A-Z Challenge ’16
     26 more regarding the creatures in my own bestiary On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination: A-Z Challenge ’19
     And 26 posts on creatures arranged according to particular traits, with lots and lots of examples from all around the world: A-Z Challenge ’22

If what you’re looking for is resources to do more research of your own, the following posts include lists and reviews of encyclopedias and other reference books that feature magical creatures:

     Creature Collections: Encyclopedias

     Creature Collections: The More the Merrier

     Creature Collections: For Young and Old

     Creature Collections: a Touch of Science

     Creature Collections: Artists’ Edition

     Field Guides to the Creatures of Fantasy

     More Field Guides

Plus, a great on-line resource can be found here: A Book of Creatures

Language in SFF
  “From The Languages of Pao to Embassytown, authors from all eras have explored the limits of humankind's greatest invention: language. In this panel, linguists and language experts discuss what works and what doesn't, and where one draws the line between science and science-fiction with respect to language.”
     My posts on this topic tend to be a little more tangential, but a few stories and issues related to SFF exploration of language are mentioned in the post L is for Language
     One facet of the use of fantasy languages appears in Poetry for Worldbuilding
     And some of the issues around using made-up languages in your fiction are the same as those involved in Character Names in Fantasy
     (Since it came up during the panel) a post about writing swearwords as Grawlixes and Other Maledicta
(Plus, if you’re interested in linguistics more generally, and especially in etymology, just click the Label in the sidebar for “words” and find all my monthly posts on tidbits of language.

Alternative Publishing 
     I haven’t written so much about this, but we’ll start with an essay on Why I Chose to Self-Publish
     You can see my current Kickstarter campaign here: Bittersweetness & Light
     And you can also still visit the page for my first Kickstarter campaign, if you want to see what that looked like: On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination.
     If you have any questions about any of this stuff, I’m always happy to do my best to help, so feel free to contact me.


[Pictures: Barmaid, lithograph based on linocut by William Nicholson from London Types, 1898 (Image from Cleveland Museum of Art);

Polypodrollery, rubber block print by AEGN, 2019 (details here);

Two scholars discussing books, illumination on parchment from Brevicum ex artibus Raimundi Lulli electum - Codex St. Peter, 14th century (Image from Badische Landesbibliothek).]

January 31, 2024

Words of the Month - Kickstarter

         The big news is that my Kickstarter campaign has successfully been fully funded!  I am full of gratitude for all the backers who are supporting my mission to bring more joy and hope into the world through one small (but beautiful) book.  The campaign is still on-going for almost two more weeks, so there’s still plenty of time to join in if you were thinking about joining the fun, but just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.  Here are a couple more teaser snippets to give you a taste of the sorts of art and writing that will be included.
        But of course that news isn’t all, because it’s the last day of January and that means it’s time for Words of the Month.  In honor of which, here are a few fun etymological factoids about the word kick-starter.
        The original kick-starter (noun) dates back to 1916 and is the method of starting a motorcycle’s internal combustion engine by pushing down a lever with the foot.  (The mechanism was apparently invented in 1910, but I guess the word wasn't coined until a few years later.)  The word then gained its attendant verb to kick-start, as well as the metaphorical meaning of getting any process off to a quick start.  Meanwhile, by the time Kickstarter was launched in 2009 to facilitate crowd-funding, kick-starters had become much less common in motorcycles, replaced by electric starters.  So far, so good.  But let’s look back even farther.
        Kick (verb) dates back to Middle English (late 14th century) and probably comes from Old Norse kikna meaning “bend the knee.”  However, some older etymologists thought it might come from Celtic.  Use as a noun didn’t appear until the 16th century.  Some of the more interesting slang meanings include the kick (the latest fashion) c. 1700, to kick (die) 
1725 (and kick the bucket in 1785), to kick oneself (self-reproach) 1891, kicks (shoes) 1904, and to get one’s kicks (get pleasure) 1941 (but kicks meant the high from alcohol or drugs in 1844 - it meant to end a drug habit in 1936).
        Start (verb) seems like an even more basic word, and goes all the way back to Old English.  There, however, it didn’t mean ‘“to begin,” but instead meant “to leap up, or to move or spring suddenly.”  This meaning still exists, although it’s less common nowadays, but you can still see it in the related startleStart doesn’t seem to have gained the sense of “to cause to begin acting or operating” (transitive) until the 1660s, and “to begin to move; to begin action” (intransitive) not until 1821!  It’s surprising to me that our primary definition of start is actually much more recent a word than the backers who supported my project!  Backer meaning “supporter, one who aids” dates back to the 1580s.
        Now that my own Kickstarter project has been fully backed, I can make use of a whole host of past senses of the words: I can bend my knees in gratitude, I can get my kicks from each new supporter, I can spring up in excitement, and I can begin my action in earnest, as I get to work putting this book together.


[Pictures: Scott Two-Stroke, 1910 (Image from cybermotorcycle.com);

Sample bits from Bittersweetness & Light, “Love Potion,” “Dreams,” text and illustrations by AEGN, 2023.]

January 26, 2024

Audubon's Fantasy Species

         John James Audubon (France/USA, 1785-1851) is probably the most famous artist of birds and wildlife in the western world.  However, unlike Bewick, he didn’t do relief prints… so what’s he doing in this blog?  It’s not the medium of art he used that prompts me to feature him, but some of the more unusual creatures he discovered.
        Most of these creatures are reported not by Audubon himself, but by an eccentric naturalist called Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (1783-1840).  In 1818 Rafinesque visited Audubon in Kentucky for three weeks, eagerly filling notebooks with all the species that Audubon told him about.  According to a story related by Audubon and generally corroborated by Rafinesque, on the very first night of the visit, bats flew into the visitor’s room through the open window.  Convinced they were a new species and frantic to kill some specimens for study, Rafinesque grabbed Audubon’s violin and began chasing around the room, wildly flailing at bats, and generally trashing everything.  It is assumed that Audubon proceeded to slip Rafinesque tales of unique species both as payback for the destruction of the violin and as a test of how far Rafinesque’s passion for new species could be pushed.
        Among these creatures are some rarities that have never since been sighted, including the Devil-Jack Diamond Fish.  Up to 10 feet long with bulletproof scales, these fish often float motionless at the surface of the water, resembling logs from a distance.  Audubon actually pointed one out to Rafinesque.  In all, there are at least ten species of fish reported by Rafinesque that are dependent entirely upon Audubon’s authority, including the Toad Mudcat and the Buffalo Carp Sucker.  There is also a Tri-valve Brachiopod, and a number of “wild western rats” including the Three-striped Mole Rat, the Lion-Tail Jumping Mouse and the Brindled Stamiter, all of which more closely resemble Old World species - although still having a number of unique characteristics of their own.
        In general, Audubon took his work with birds more seriously, but even here he introduced the world to a number of singular species.  The best name of a mystery bird is the Carbonated Swamp Warbler, because I love to imagine either a fizzy little bird or, better yet, one of the strange species of the great bubbling Carbonated Swamp of Kentucky.  However, Audubon himself was dubious about these specimens, which he suspected might simply be juveniles of another species, a perfectly reasonable mistake to make in the days before DNA analysis, and frankly no fun at all!  Indeed most of Audubon’s anomalous birds are assumed to be simple errors.
        So let’s talk about the  Blue Mountain Warbler and the Small-headed Flycatcher.  The first was recorded by Audubon’s chief rival Alexander Wilson, and Audubon later claimed to have gotten his own specimen to include in his own book.  Meanwhile, he claimed that Wilson had copied the flycatcher from him.  Neither bird has ever been seen again, and I can’t help suspecting that the two rivals were playing the same games with each other.  Unfortunately, these birds have no interesting characteristics such as bulletproof feathers or 100-year lifespan or something.
        Finally, I have to mention the great Bird of Washington.  This eagle looks very much like a golden eagle or juvenile bald eagle, but is far larger than any other eagle known in the New World, with a wingspan of over 10 feet - for the male, which would make the females of the species even larger.  Other than the remarkable size of this noble bird, its other remarkable feature is its timing.  Audubon had just headed to Europe in a desperate attempt to gain support and funding for his long-dreamed-of project of an epic illustrated book.  His financial state was at its lowest ebb, his nomination for membership in the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia had been rejected, and he was afraid that if he couldn’t make a success of this project, he’d have to leave America forever.  (Frankly, I feel his pain — he was, after all, essentially launching a Kickstarter campaign for the project dearest to his heart!  So, for Audubon’s sake, please check out my Kickstarter campaign for my illustrated book project!)
        Back to Audubon, freshly arrived in England in 1826.  He unveiled a magnificent large painting of a magnificent new American species: a noble and wonderful bird worthy of the noble and wonderful continent his book was to depict.  And suddenly the nobility were all enthusiastic about the project and subscriptions started pouring in.  Thus Audubon’s epic book The birds of America was  brought to life.  (Did I mention my beautifully illustrated book?  I’m making up everything in mine, so it should be even more enthusiastically received!  Help me bring it to life!)  Too bad the magnificent Bird of Washington has never been seen again.
        Normally I might have been inclined to post this to celebrate Audubon’s birthday on April 26, or possibly on April 1.  But in this blog April is always taken over by the A to Z Challenge, so I’m celebrating instead for Audubon’s deathday, which is January 27.  At any rate, in conclusion, John James Audubon is widely acclaimed as both an artist and a naturalist, and rightly so.  But while I certainly do not condone scientific fraud (or indeed fraud of any sort), I have to confess that Audubon’s lesser-known species do tickle my fancy!


[Pictures: Devil-Jack Diamond Fish, pencil and ink sketch by Rafinesque, 1818;

Toad Mudcat, pencil and ink sketch by Rafinesque, 1818;

Three-striped Mole Rat, Big-eye Jumping Mouse, and Lion-tail Jumping Mouse, pencil and ink sketch by Rafinesque, 1818;

Brindled Stamiter, pencil and ink sketch by Rafinesque, 1818 (All Rafinsesque images from Biodiversity Heritage Library);

Carbonated Warbler, engraving by Robert Havell, hand-colored, based on painting by John James Audubon, c 1827-38 (Image from University of Pittsburgh);

Bird of Washington, engraving by Robert Havell, hand-colored, based on painting by John James Audubon, c 1827-38 (Image from Wikimedia Commons).]

January 22, 2024

Tiny Reduction Landscapes

         I treated myself to a belated Christmas gift: a miniature reduction block print by Dealey Dansby of Pink House Print Shop Co.  I myself have done a number of reduction prints, but mostly only a couple of layers, and all quite simple.  (Read here, if you need to know what a reduction print is.)  I’m always very impressed by people who do more complicated reduction designs, and today I’m celebrating my beautiful new addition to my art collection by sharing the work of two artists who not only do more complicated reduction prints, but who specifically do miniature reduction landscapes.
        I couldn’t resist my new piece “On the Water” because I love the subtlety of color and the glow of light.  You know I love black and white, so I always feel like there’s no point in doing color at all unless it’s going to do something that black and white really can’t do.  And in this case, that’s the pale, delicate light of a fading day.  This piece is only 2x2 inches, and uses 7 colors.  Here’s another piece by Dansby, this one with 9 colors.  In Dansby’s work the colors lie softly with each other, with gentle shapes and thickness of ink that make the shapes and colors almost blend in places, which is certainly different from my style of block prints.
        I’ve also been admiring the work of Molly Lemon, whose tiny reduction landscapes are done with wood engraving rather than linoleum blocks.  To put an even more impressive twist on these pieces, she carves and prints them plein air and without any sketching ahead of time!  I discovered her on Instagram where she posted little videos.  Honestly, I normally refuse to watch the reels on Instagram because you can’t skip forward or back, which is too annoyingly stupid.  Also, when it comes to art, I always prefer still photos so I can just look at things at my own pace.  But in this case, I did find it fascinating to watch Lemon’s process.  She certainly makes it look idyllic, but I think I’ll stick with working in my own room where I have a little more control and all my tools more easily accessible!
        I’ve picked two examples of Lemon’s work to share, and you can see that there are similarities and differences with the prints by Dansby.  The clearest difference is that wood engravings are composed of lots of tiny lines as opposed to larger solid shapes.  This first one is 4.2 cm square and uses 6 layers, some of them printed with a bit of color gradation.  The second appears to be 4 layers of ink.
        Both of these artists make other prints as well, larger ones, black and white ones, and so on.  For purposes of this post I was focussed on just one sort, but I do like the others very much and you should definitely check them out!


[Pictures: On the Water, reduction lino print by Dealey Dansby;

Siler Bald, reduction lino print by Dansby (Images from Dansby’s Etsy shop PinkHousePrintShopCo);

Miniature Landscape II, reduction wood engraving by Molly Lemon, 2022 (Image from Molly Lemon Art);

Prema, reduction wood engraving by Lemon, 2023 (Image from mollylemonart on Instagram).]

January 18, 2024

Sea Witch

         Today I’ve found a number of illustrations of the sea witch from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Little Mermaid.”  Right away I need to state that I think the story is an absolutely dreadful tale!  (I’m sorry to yuck on the yum of anyone who loves this story, but I’m afraid I find it simply appalling.  However, if you’ve never read the original version, you can find it on Project Gutenberg or here.)  Even the happy ending of Disney’s version can’t lessen the numerous problematic elements of the thing — although I do love the music of the Disney version, and especially Ursula the sea witch’s song!  Back to Andersen’s version, however, the sea witch is unnamed, and her own appearance is not described, although we are told that she’s accompanied by sea snakes and a toad.  (How is a toad living at the bottom of the ocean?  Never mind that - what’s the point of a fairy tale if you can’t be fantastical?)
        "The Little Mermaid" was first published in 1837 and translated to English in 1845.   The illustrations I’ve collected today cover a range from 1899 through 1937.  Of course plenty of other artists have done illustrations for “The Little Mermaid,” but most of them don’t show the witch, and that’s all I care about today!
       So, how have artists imagined and portrayed a sea witch?  The first question is always whether she’s a traditional mermaid herself, or some other sort of being.  Four of today’s six illustrations give her a fishy tail, although the first one here is definitely not an entirely normal sort of mermaid tail.  One artist gives the witch legs with webbed feet, and another covers her lower half with a blanket of some sort, so we really don’t know whether she has limbs or a tail… or octopus arms, or crab legs, or sea anemone polyps, or what.  In fact, the 
way the witch speaks in the story tends to imply that she does not have legs herself, but we don’t really know for sure.
        The next point is that she’s most commonly portrayed as old and ugly.  This fits in with the standard stereotypical fairy tale wicked witch, but I have to confess that I think she could be done well as a coldly beautiful type instead.  In most she’s skinny rather than fat.  In many she has bad teeth.  In some she looks rather comical, while in other’s she’s more intensely terrifying.
        The first is my favorite.  I love her muppety face and arms and how she’s making kissy faces at her toad.  Number two is my next favorite, and very different indeed with her sharp features and sharp glare.  (The little mermaid herself, meanwhile, looks utterly bored and indifferent!)  But look at those magnificent zentangle patterns on the mermaid’s tail, and the swirling flowers on the sea floor!  Each of the sea snakes has its own pattern, too.  In illustration number 3 the artist has brought long-legged crabs to the mix, which is fun for variety.
        So, which is your favorite depiction of a sea witch?  How do you feel about the sea witch as a villain?  How do you feel about Disney’s Ursula?  And how, for that matter, do you feel about the whole fairy tale?  Regardless of my dislike of the story, I do enjoy seeing how different artists have imagined it and brought it to life.


[Pictures: Illustration by Ivan Bilibin from The Little Mermaid by H.C. Andersen, 1937 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Illustration by Harry Clarke from Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, 1916 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Illustration by Hans Tegner from Fairy Tales and Stories by H.C. Andersen, 1900 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Illustration by Anne Anderson from Hans Andersen’s Fairy Stories, 1924 (Image from SurLaLune);

Illustration by Helen Stratton from The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, 1899 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Illustration by Monro S. Orr from Andersen’s Fairy Tales, 1930 (Image from Sofi Flickr).]