May 17, 2024

Owls, Owls, Owls

         It’s time for some block prints!  Now that I’ve got a little early summer vacation between art shows, I’ve decided to update some of my notecard collections with new designs.  One of these is the “Backyard Birds” note cards, so I thought for today’s blog I’d share some relief block prints of birds by other artists.  But the first thing to catch my eye were a couple of owls, and since there’s no shortage of wonderful owl art, I’m going to set aside all the other birds and focus on owls today.
        Up first is a dark and shadowy owl by Jack Coughlin.  I’ve paired it with an owl by Helen Siegl that has a similar pose, but where Coughlin’s owl is in some dark corner, perhaps in a barn, Siegl’s is isolated without a background.  Although both of these have
wild feathers carved with lots of small strokes, Coughlin’s looks much more controlled and planned, while Siegl’s looks skritchy and rough.  This is the first piece by Coughlin I’ve 
come across, but you can revisit some other wood block prints by Siegl at previous posts Critters by Siegl and Crazier Critters by Siegl.
        The next owl is extremely precise and accurately detailed.  This great horned owl by Nick Wroblewsky uses multiple colors on multiple blocks.  I love how the night sky shows the grain of the wood, and how even with the level of detail, when you look closely Wroblewski’s marks still look like carving.  I shared another piece by him back at Autumnal Block Prints.
        Here's an owl is by one of my favorite current block printmakers, Mary Azarian.  This comes from her Farmer’s Alphabet, which I’ve featured on several occasions.  Here our owl gets even more scenery, in an owl’s-eye view of a small Vermont town.  The upper and lower case O’s seem particularly appropriate to evoke the owl’s round eyes and its call: Ooo oooo!  I love the variety of textures and patterns of feathers, trees, hills, and fields.  You can see a few more letters that I’ve previously posted from The Farmer’s Alphabet: A, B, D, G, H, M, X, and Z.
        Next is a collection of little owls, in a range of styles, but all with similar faces and perching postures.  The first is by another artist who’s new to this blog.  I discovered "Christophski" on Instagram, where he seems to do lots of small prints that all incorporate the little red stamp.  (There’s another owl in the same post where I saw this one, which you can visit from the link in the credits below.)  I’ve given this owl a parliament of peers from some other artists who have appeared in this blog before: Andrew Wightman and Antonio
Frasconi were both featured in the 2023 A to Z Challenge when my theme was block printed alphabets.  You can find more of their work at Animals and Fenning’s Fairy.  The fourth owl in this group is by Thomas Bewick, without whom no discussion of block-printed birds would be complete.  You can see in it why he’s considered the father of modern wood engraving for the accuracy of his observations and his use of detailed textures in shading.  The patterns that make up the branch are especially interesting.  For the full scoop on Bewick (including another of his owls!) check out Master Engraver.
        Finally, we’ll end with a dramatic owl by Christopher Wormell, another artist whose alphabets I’ve featured on numerous occasions before.  He makes excellent use of rich color in his multi-block linoleum prints.  You can do a search for him in the sidebar, or start by checking out what I shared at West Wonder.
        But that’s not all!  People have long been fascinated by owls, and they make such a great subject for art that quite a few of them have appeared on this blog before.  Be sure to click on all the links to find owls you’re sure to love by the following additional artists:

Stephen Alcorn

Anonymous Fourth Grader (styrofoam)

Neil Brigham

Anne E.G. Nydam (me!)

Joe Talirunnilik (stone)

Yoshijiro Urushibara

Scholarly owl (from 1618)

        (As for my new notecard designs which started this whole thing, there is no owl among them.  But you’ll be able to see them on my web site before long.)

[Pictures: Owl, woodcut by Jack Coughlin, 1970 (Image from Davis Museum);

Owl, wood block print by Siegl, from The Birds and the Beasts Were There, The World Publishing Company, 1963;

Owl in Cedars, woodcut by Nick Wroblewski (Image from;

Owl, wood block print by Mary Azarian, from A Farmer's Alphabet, 1981;

Owl, rubber block print by Christophski, (Image from christophski on Instagram);

Owl, linocut by Andrew Wightman, c. 2015 (Image from AndrewWightmanPrints);

O, wood block print by Antonio Frasconi, from Bestiary, 1965;

The Female Short-Eared Owl, wood engraving by Thomas Bewick from A History of British Birds, 1979 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

O, linoleum block print with multiple blocks by Christopher Wormell, from A New Alphabet of Animals, 2002.]

May 13, 2024

#WyrdAndWonder 2024

         Wyrd And Wonder is a month-long celebration of all things fantasy.  If you want to know more, you can find out all about the idea and about its noble and heroic hosts here.  Of course my blog is a celebration of fantasy (and block prints) not just for the month of May but all the time, which is why each year I like to make a post that points out where any intrepid travellers from Wyrd And Wonder can find prior posts that connect with this year’s various Wyrd And Wonder prompts.  So let’s dive right in!

Lists of Books

     Bite Sized Islands (Short Stories and Novellas)

            Books for Hope

            Fantasy Tales of Frank R. Stockton

     Clockwork Castle (Subgenre: Steampunk)


     The Road Less Travelled (Underrated Books and Small Press Publications)

            A Few Lesser-Known Treasures

            The Last Three Read-Alouds

          I would be remiss not to mention just a couple more lesser-known treasures that I haven’t had a chance to write posts about yet: Lumina and the Goblin King by Cari Lyn Jones and The King of Next Week by E.C. Ambrose.  The latter could also have been filed under “Bite Sized Islands” above.  The former could probably be filed under “Zone in on Comfort” below.
         I also have to mention my own books in this category!  You can see them all listed here, or read blog posts about a few particular books:

            On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination: Introduction plus An Entire Series of Posts

            Turn the Page… Open the Door… Enter the Adventure (The Extraordinary Book of Doors)

            The Cheesemonster Cometh!  (Kate and Sam and the Cheesemonster)

            Introducing: Ruin of Ancient Powers

            Kickstarter Campaign (Bittersweetness & Light)

     Dragon’s Pass (Dragons, of course!)
            Why Dragons Are Cool
            More Field Guides

Information on Creatures of Fantasy

     The Fountain of Youth (Immortal Characters)

            R is for Regeneration

     Here Be Monsters (the Darker Creatures of Fantasy)

            V is for Vampirism

            U is for Undead

            D is for Demonic

            A is for Anthropophagus

            How to Summon a Giant Skeleton

            N is for Ninki Nanka

            They Run Again

            Words of the Month - Ghosts

            Gruss vom Krampus

            I Don’t Do Vampires

            Words of the Month - Things That Go Bump In the Night

     Dragon’s Pass

            W is for Wyvern

            P is for Pyrallis

            D is for Dragon

            O is for Oracle

            Kircher’s Dragons

            A Short History of Dragon Lore

Fantastic Fives: Zone in on Comfort
       The Golden Key
       Psalm for the Wild-Built and Once More Upon a Time: Books for Hope
       My list of fantasy comfort reads probably should also include
       The Lord of the Rings, suitable for Conflict Bay (Battles or Great Rivalries - something I don’t always have much interest in)
       The Phantom Tollbooth, suitable for Standalone Isle
            assorted Terry Pratchett, and… well, that’s five so I guess I should stop.  For more comfort reads you could also check out the books in my post Random Books of Kindness.
        For me, the ingredients for a good comfort read include
1. Characters I love, who are genuinely trying to do what’s right, without too much angsty whining.
2. Settings I long to be immersed in - including epic landscapes, magical palaces, mysterious libraries, enchanted gardens, and wonders to be seen all around!
3. Happy endings.

        That should be enough content to keep you busy for a while!

[Pictures: Wyrd & Wonder orange dragon by Elena Zakharchuk;

Fire on the Wind, rubber block print by AEGNydam, 2024 (Image from NydamPrints);

Bigger than a Breadbox, rubber block print by AEGNydam, 2022 (Image from NydamPrints).]

May 7, 2024

#AtoZChallenge 2024 Reflection

          Plant a carrot, get a carrot,

          Not a Brussels sprout!

          That’s why I love vegetables:

          You know what you’re about!

        These lines from “The Fantasticks” may be true for mundane plants of the ordinary world, but as we’ve seen in my A to Z Challenge posts this year, you are very far from knowing what you’re about when it comes to the magical plants of folkore, fairy tale, and legend!  If you enjoyed this theme you can also check out a previous post on Fantasy Botany, which is mostly stuff that’s already been mentioned in this month’s A to Z, but includes additional pictures.  And speaking of the pictures, unlike my posts on creatures, I had to do a lot more work on these illustrations.  I ended up modifying or creating a number of pictures for plants that didn’t seem to be illustrated anywhere.  I had fun with that, even if it was more work.  (On the other hand, there are very few examples of my own relief block prints for this theme: just E, L, V, and W, and sort of D.  I guess I’ve been slacking on the imaginary plant art, but I do have another of mine for you today.)
        As for reflections on this year, I did manage to keep my posts manageable by limiting myself to about three or four plants per letter, and ruthlessly weeding out extras.  That meant my posts didn’t get overgrown and I kept well ahead of the alphabet in putting them together, which was certainly more pleasant.  Unfortunately, there were far fewer visitors commenting than in past years.  Perhaps magical botany just wasn’t as popular a theme, but I also think most of the blogs I was visiting were getting fewer comments, as well.  For those of you who did stop by and say hello, I certainly appreciated your company!
        I did visit an awful lot of blogs, but slowly pruned down my list over the course of the month to end with about 30.  Which is too many to post here, but a few favorites included

     The Multicolored Diary

     Finding Eliza

     The Great Raven

     How Would You Know

There were also a few blogs that I would have liked to comment on, but I was unable to post on them because they required some kind of login that I couldn’t seem to do.  That was a little frustrating, but technology does seem to like to tease me by making some difficult things possible (such as all the research I do for my posts!) while then turning around and making other simple things difficult.  So it goes.
        Usually I like to include a little extra content in my Reflections post - stuff that I couldn’t fit in elsewhere.  So for today here are a few magical and mythical gardens to visit.  Some have already been alluded to in this alphabet, such as the Garden of the Hesperides where Hera’s golden apples grow (see G), and the garden of Xi Wangmu Queen Mother of the West where she grows her peaches of immortality (see X).  I mentioned the Garden of Eden at K, but there’s also a whole post about it which you can read here.
        Avalon is another magical garden of apples, and another island.  According to some versions, it’s the final resting place of King Arthur.
        In Greek mythology Elysium, where heroes enjoy their afterlife, takes the form of beautiful flowery meadows and fertile gardens.
        Fangmu is one of three Islands of the Immortals, which may actually be gardens atop the backs of giant turtles, which is always excellent.
        In the Hindu epic Ramayana, Ashoka Vatika is a garden in the kingdom of the rakshasa (“demon”) king.  Although it has mythical origins, it is now identified with an actual garden in Sri Lanka.
        The opposite case is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which (like Xanadu, a semi-mythical pleasure garden I wrote about in this post), was once upon a time a real place (probably), but has over time become elevated to mythical status.  I made this illustration of my own imaginary version of Hanging Gardens that are more magical than the original was.
        In the fairy tale Rapunzel, the witch’s garden presumably has a certain amount of magic growing in it - including perhaps the herb rapunzel itself.  
        And I have to mention the Secret Garden from the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  Although not technically magic, it certainly verges toward magical realism in its life-giving power.  Which serves as a fine moral for today: even the most mundane garden can be amazingly magical!

[Pictures: Flowers, illustration from The Land of Neverbelieve by Norman Messenger, 2012;

Parallel Plants, illustration from Parallel Botany by Leo Lionni, 1977 (Images from Ariel S. Winter on Flickr);

Garden, hand colored wood block print from Buch der Natur by Conradus de Megenberg, 1475 (Image from MDZ Digitale Bibliothek);

Hanging Gardens, rubber block print by AEGNydam, 2021 (Image from]

April 30, 2024

Magical Botany Z

         Welcome to the April A to Z Blog Challenge!  My theme this year is the Botany of the Realms of Imagination, in which I share a selection of the magical plants of folklore, fairy tale, and fantasy.  If you’re just arriving, you’re obviously a little late to the party, but you can find out all about the A to Z Challenge here.
        For Z we’ll start with the lotus tree, which is not to be confused with the water lotus plant, for which reason I’m filing it under Z for Ziziphus lotus, that being the Latin name of a real tree hypothesized to be the basis of the myth, and therefore named for it.  The lotus tree grows on an island, and its fruit is sweet and delicious.  However, whoever eats the fruit and flowers forgets their friends, families, and home.  Lotus-eaters fall into a sort of stupor of idleness and apathy in which they no longer care about anything except eating more of the lotus.  Obviously this is a magical plant, but (as usual) people have tried to assign its identity to a real plant.  There are a number of possibilities, but of course I’ve chosen to go with Ziziphus because it starts with Z.
        Zaqqum is another tree with fruit you don’t want to eat — although you may not have a choice!  The Zaqqum grows from the depths of hell in Islamic cosmology.  Its fruits are shaped like the heads of devils, and the tormented sinners are forced to eat these fruits and be torn apart inside by them.  An interesting twist is the idea that the fruits are the growth of the seeds of sin planted by the evil-doers during their lives.  I don’t even need to wait until the end of this post to point out that the moral of Zaqqum is not to sow seeds of evil!
        The Zieba tree sounds like it could be slightly related to the lotus tree.  According to the internet, “No study of fabulous plants would be complete without mention of the Zieba tree, a huge, shingle-barked growth that supported in its lower branches a nest of bare bosomed men & women.  Like all those who choose to believe in the tales of these incredible plants, the humans reposing in the Zieba tree spend their days sitting exalted in fantasy, contemplating in wonder all things seen and unseen.”  But that’s just the beginning of the story, as far as I’m concerned, and the moral of the Zieba tree is not to believe everything you read on the internet!  
There’s actually quite a saga here.  When I started planning this A to Z theme, I found the Zieba tree mentioned in a few lists of mythological trees, and added it to my notes.  However, when it came time to write the post, I started doing my research and discovered that every mention of the Zieba tree on the internet has the exact same description - in the exact same words, no less, as quoted above.  This raises a big red flag, because obviously all these sources are simply cutting and pasting from each other.  I dug through them until I found one that gave a bibliography; the citation was for a book from 1974 by one William Emboden.  I had actually requested this book from interlibrary loan months earlier, but because there’s only one copy in my library system it hadn’t yet come to me.  So I continued to search for references to that book on-line, and found a short review of it in a journal in 1974.  This review copied the picture of the Zieba tree, and mentioned that the story and picture as given by Emboden had come from an author in 1676.  More searching turned up the title of the 1676 book by Christophor Vielheuern, and eventually a digitized copy.  Looking through that I did indeed come to the engraving of the Zieba tree with the people sitting in the fluffy nest in its branches, which I share with you here.  
But what about the story of the people who spend their days dreaming in fantasy?  I can’t find any indication that this 1676 book said any such thing.  It’s written in seventeenth century German printed in Fraktur, and while my seventeenth-century German is weak, my Fraktur is even weaker.  Nevertheless, I can make out enough to feel confident about a couple of interesting points.
1. In the text the tree is not called Zieba, but Zeiba, which is cognate with ceiba, aka kapok, which, if you recall, is the mundane identity of ya’axché back at Y.
2. The text is all about how the Zeiba tree grows its cotton and how the people of those lands use the cotton.  Nothing fantastical at all.  I wondered whether perhaps the people shown in the picture were simply harvesting kapok?
3. While point 2 might be plausible, the text never says anything about people climbing the tree to collect the soft fibers, nor does it give any explanation at all of the picture and what, exactly, it might be illustrating.  The text and the engraving really have only two points of connection.  One is the approximate name of the tree: Zieba/Zeiba.  The other is that the engraving labels the tree “15 fathoms thick,” while the text includes the fact that “The thickness of this tree is said to be such that hardly 15 people can surround it.”  The word “fathom” (Klafter) is very close to the word “surround” (umklaftern).  So it looks pretty clear that whoever made the engraving had done a very careless reading of the text they were assigned to illustrate, and whoever published it had done a very careless proofing job, so that there’s a little garbling between the text vs the picture.
        Okay, but none of this gets us any closer to explaining where we got that original story about the “mythical Zieba tree” and its fantasy-nesting people.  So finally I managed to get a copy of the 1974 book to find out exactly what Mr Emboden says.  Oddly, he asks of Herr Vielheuern in 1676, “What might have engendered in the author the notion of a Zieba tree in which humans sit like fledglings awaiting the day of flight?”  One might ask the same question of Emboden, since Vielheuern never seems to have had any such notion at all.  In fact, the story seems to have been made up out of whole cloth by Emboden, with a little suggestion from a careless anonymous engraver.  This leads me to a few possibilities.
1. In his acknowledgments Emboden thanks the man who sent him the engraving of the Zieba tree, so one possibility is that Emboden never saw the text of the book at all, and just made up his own explanation of the mysterious illustration.
2. Emboden notes that the very long title of the 1676 book lists all the various foreign materials and species and ends with “und davon kommt” which he blithely translates as “and whatever else happens to come along!”  First of all, the title ends “und was davon kommt,” but more importantly, I translate this as Minerals, Plants, Animals “and what [materials] come from them.”  (Which is in fact exactly what Vielheuern did describe in the case of the Zeiba tree.)  So the second possibility is that Emboden saw the text of the book but knows even less German than I do, and made up for his deficiencies with imagination and overconfidence.
3. The third possibility is that Emboden was perpetrating a deliberate hoax.  He says “Who among us would not like to encounter a Zieba tree,” and I wonder whether that was a little hint that he was just giving people what he thought they wanted in a popular science book for the masses.
But regardless of which explanation you choose, and regardless of the fact that I quite enjoy this mythical Zieba tree as fiction, I am honestly appalled by this lack of respect for the most basic scholarly standards coming from a senior curator of botany, professor of biology, and lecturer in ethnobotany who supposedly had a distinguished academic career!  For shame!
        Well, here we are at the end of the alphabet and the end of the April A to Z Blog Challenge.  I bet you didn’t expect Z to be the longest post of all, or for a jolly little romp through a magical garden to turn into a scathing exposé of academic malfeasance!  I didn’t expect it myself.  But don’t worry, we can go ahead and wrap up without further ado; since I already gave you two morals, all that’s left is the gardening tip of the day: be careful that you plant only what you actually want to grow, for as you sow, so shall ye reap.  Oops, I guess I just had to squeeze in one last moral.
        The final question of the A to Z Challenge always has to be: what was your favorite magical plant?  Or if you prefer, what’s your favorite non-magical plant?

[Pictures: Ziziphus lotus, hand colored wood engraving from De Materia Medica, 1555 (Image from Library of Congress);

Zaqqum, illustration by Homa, 2012 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Zieba, engraving from Gründliche Beschreibung fremder Materialien by Christoph Vielheuer, 1676 (Image from Biodiversity Heritage Library);

Zeiba/Ceiba tree, photographs by AEGNydam, 2023.]

April 29, 2024

Magical Botany Y

         Welcome to the April A to Z Blog Challenge!  My theme this year is the Botany of the Realms of Imagination, in which I share a selection of the magical plants of folklore, fairy tale, and fantasy.  We’re getting close to the end now, but it’s not too late to check out my fellow A to Z bloggers on the Master List of participating blogs here.
        Today’s plants span worlds and time, so we’d better get right to it…
        Yellow musk creeper is another dangerous plant from the world of Dungeons & Dragons.  Its bright yellow orchid-like flowers waft out a heavy, musky scent that both attracts prey and dazes it.  The plant then burrows into the mind of the victim and plants its bulbs in their brain.  When the bulbs sprout, they reanimate the victim as a zombie.  However, if you can collect the petals of yellow musk creeper you can use them as an ingredient in Potions of Superior Healing.
        Another yellow-flowered plant, beneficial instead of monstrous, is yao grass.  Actually, there are two types of yao grass mentioned in the Classic of Mountains and Seas, and despite having the same name, they don’t seem very closely related.  The yao grass of Guyao Mountain has yellow flowers, lush leaves, and a stringy-looking fruit like cooked spaghetti.  It’s a powerful love potion, and anyone who eats it will attract the love of others.  The yao grass of Taishi Mountain, on the other hand, has white flowers and black fruit, and its magical power is to bestow mental clarity and prevent confusion.
        We can’t leave Y without mentioning Yggdrasil, the world tree (see W) of Norse mythology.  Yggdrasil is an ash tree whose branches reach up into the heavens while its three roots reach to wells in the different worlds of humans, giants, and Hel.  The gods hold council around Yggdrasil, and Odin once sacrificed himself to himself on its branches.  It has the classic eagle above and snake below, but also has a squirrel that runs between them, and deer that browse its branches, so that (like everything in Norse mythology) it’s all about the suffering.
        Halfway around the world, Y is also for ya’axché, the world tree of the Maya.  Ya’axché is a ceiba tree (aka kapok), that grows not just as the axis mundi at the center of the world, but also with another tree at each of the four cardinal directions.  Sometimes its trunk is actually a crocodile, reminiscent of the distinctive thick thorns on a ceiba’s trunk.
        The moral of yellow musk creeper is that ’tis better to plant than to be planted in.  The gardening tip of the day is that you can try coyote urine, electric fencing, or all manner of other pest deterrents to protect your world tree, but those darn deer and squirrels will always find a way!
        Which kind of yao grass would you choose?

[Pictures: Yellow Musk Creeper, illustration from Wizards of the Coast, 2017 (Image from Worldanvil);

Yao Grass, collaged by AEGN using illustrations from Honzo Zufu by Iwasaki Tsunemasa, ca. 1830-44 (Images from Library of Congress);

Yggdrasil, illumination possibly by Sigurður Gíslason from Langa Edda, late 17th century (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Yggdrasil, illustration from Prose Edda, English translation by Oluf Olufsen Bagge, 1847 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Ya’axché, detail from Tepantitla Mural, Teotihuacan, ca. 500 (Image from Historical Mexico).]