May 31, 2024

Words of the Month - Let There Be Light

         Last night lying in bed I had a little idea for a short story that involves ley lines (working title “Murder on the Leyline Express”), and this morning as I started jotting down notes I got curious about the etymology of the word ley.  Not entirely surprisingly, it was made up by Alfred Watkins in 1922 when he made up the entire concept of ley lines.  However, Watkins apparently came up with the word by varying from the word lea, so what’s the etymology of that?
        lea - “open field or meadow” goes all the way back to Old English, and variants of it show up in lots of names (Lee, Leigh, and even the loo in Waterloo).  But if we look back even farther, lea comes ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root *leuk-.
        Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is essentially English’s great-great-great-great…-grandparent language, and you can get a very quick refresher about it here (or here).  The word that linguists refer to as *leuk-, (because that’s all the information they’ve reconstructed about it based on its various descendent languages), meant “light, brightness,” which then came to apply to a whole host of words not only for literal light, but also for metaphorical concepts like “understanding” and related concepts like “clearing, open area, meadow” as in lea.  English, in its charmingly acquisitive way, has collected a number of words that derive from the PIE root *leuk-.  There are so many of them partly because we’ve gained them by way of a number of different languages that descended from PIE, and partly because different forms of the word in PIE (such as verb forms versus noun forms, or forms with different suffixes) gave rise to different words in PIE’s grandchildren.  Let’s take a look!

From Latin some examples are lucid, translucent, Lucifer, and illustrate

          luminous, luminary, and illuminate

          lunar, lunatic, and lunette


From Old English we get light itself - but only in the sense of “brightness.”  Light meaning “not heavy” actually comes from a completely different PIE root.

          lightning and of course all sorts of other related words with light in them

          lea, plus Leigh and ley that started this off

From Greek (probably) we get link, a now-archaic word for a torch, which you can see in my prior post on Past Professions.  (Links of a chain are unrelated.)

        I’ve chosen a couple of relief block prints to go along with the theme, and the first is a cartoonish piece made as an advertisement.  However, the artist shares the name of the electric company being advertised, and I’m assuming it’s a family business, although I don’t know the actual connection.    There’s something fun about this handmade linocut ad so different from today’s slick commercial pieces.
        The second piece, however, is far more than a bit of fun.  I find the light in this piece absolutely sublime.  The stairs and decorative bannister are suggested with just the slightest threads of light, leaving the leaded glass window to get all the attention.  And yet instead of being centered, the intricate panels become even more dramatic, drawing your eye in and up.
        I’m looking forward to playing around with my story idea and its ley lines, but in real life it’s worth looking for the lines of light that might actually illuminate us.

[Pictures: Marshall Electric Company ad, linocut by Charles Leroy Marshall Sr, ca. 1933 (Image from Kansas State Beach Museum);

The Staircase Window, linocut by Ethel Spowers (1890-1947), (Image from Art Gallery New South Wales).]

May 27, 2024

Cunningham's Cuts

         Mary Phillips Cunningham (USA, 1903-1980) spent the latter part of her life living in my old home town of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where she participated in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s juried May Show, and the Print Club of Cleveland.  I have very little biographical information on her, and I suspect that her biography, at least as far as being an artist is concerned, isn’t particularly remarkable.  She achieved some moderate success as a printmaker without becoming either famous or infamous, and she made some block prints that I think deserve to be shared.  So that’s what I’m doing today.  (I will note the one possibly strange element in her life: there's another minor printmaker named W. Phelps Cunningham who, according to the biographies I could find, was also born in Kansas in 1903 and also died in Cleveland in 1980.  Are the various galleries confusing and conflating the two artists when they go looking for biographical information, or is this actually a spectacular coincidence?  If you want to compare Mary P. Cunningham's twin, I shared a print by W. Phelps Cunningham back at Finding Balance.)
        Now, to put the spotlight back on Mary, first up is the one likely to be voted the prettiest and most universally appealing: Wild Strawberries and Blue Star Grass.  It looks to me like it was made with about 7 separate color blocks, which are relatively subtle rather than 
using intense, bold colors, and even the darkest is not fully black.  The layers build up to form a delicate little detail of natural bounty and delight.
        The Patchwork Quilt is very different, most obviously in being black and white instead of color.  But that means that areas are delineated by lines rather than shapes, differentiated by patterns rather than colors.  Value (light and dark), too, is created by patterns of fine white marks rather than by different colors, and black shadows are the absence of the white details.  The over-all impression is of cozy darkness rather than fresh spring brightness.  All the different fabrics in the crazy quilt are fun, and the potted geranium makes a nice contrast to the geometry of the quilt.
        Different again is Cunningham’s scene of Shacks in Tiptonville.  This is looser and less precise than either of the others, with the sky composed of larger gauges and the lines of texture and shading less carefully even.  I always love it when artists use relatively few, simple strokes to call an entire scene into being.  Fruit Shop, Villefranche is another view of buildings and small people, but it looks as if it was planned more carefully and executed with more control.
        Printmakers pretty much never get the same level of attention and acclaim as painters and such flashier media, and there are hundreds of printmakers whose work deserves more attention than it gets.  It looks like Cunningham did steady, excellent work, mastering a range of relief block printmaking styles and techniques, while keeping an eye open for the small glimpses of beauty and resonance.

[Pictures: Wild Strawberries and Blue Star Grass, linoleum cut by Mary Phillips Cunningham, 1945 (Image from The Cleveland Museum of Art);

The Patchwork Quilt, linoleum cut by Cunningham, 1937 (Image from The Cleveland Museum of Art);

Shacks in Tiptonville, 1937, linoleum cut by Cunningham, 1937 (Image from The Cleveland Museum of Art).]

May 22, 2024

The Sorcerer’s Tower

         This post is for Wyrd And Wonder’s prompt “The Sorcerer’s Tower: Magic Users,” and I thought I’d come at the prompt from the angle of world creation.  If you’re writing a story in which there will be magic users, what do you need to think about as you devise your universe?  The very first question is how much thought you’re really planning to lavish on your magical systems.  If you’re writing flash fiction about a stereotypical wicked witch, you won’t necessarily need much original world creation, as opposed to a six-novel series in which you’re coming up with an entirely new secondary world.  But just for the fun of it, let’s say you’re making up a whole new world, and this world has magic users in it.  Keeping the focus on the magic users themselves for purposes of this post, here are some of the things to think about…

      • How does one get magical power?

            Only some are born with it?  If so, who?

            Anyone can learn?  If so, how?  And who gets access to this education?

            It comes from wielding magical items?  If so, where do magical items come from?

      • What is the cost of doing magic?

            Costs can be economic, physical, emotional, moral, psychological, social…  What are the trade-offs or sacrifices that it takes to gain and use magical power?

      •  What types of magic are there?

            Potions, rituals, necromancy, magic wands, incantations, hand motions, spirits, familiars, tools, special language…

      • What factors contribute to a magic user’s powerfulness?

            Training, innate power, quality of wand or materials or familiars, time of day or year…

      • What are magic users called?

            Are there different meanings for different words?  So a “wizard” does one kind of magic while a “magician” works in a different way, and a “sorcerer” is something else again?

      • How are magic and magicians viewed by society?

            Do different types of magic users have different status?

            How do different types of magic users view each other?

      • What is magic users’ role in daily life?  Or are they called upon only on special occasions?  And if so, when?

            Do they intermingle with everyone else, or live apart?

      • Does society in general know about magic?

            How accurate is their understanding of magic?

      • Are there civic laws regarding the use of magic?

            Are magic users above or below the law?

      • What is the relationship between magic and the adjacent fields of technology and religion?

            How do users of technology or adherents of religion view magic users, and vice versa?

        Of course that’s barely a toe-dip in the ocean of world-creation, but hopefully it’s enough to get the creative blood pumping and the ideas flowing!

As for me, I’ve built magic users into a few of my books.
      The Otherworld Series is a high fantasy in which immortal cumarĂșn are like magical guardians who are seldom seen and often misunderstood.  Their magic is not flashy, as their role is to guide people rather than doing things for them.  But one of them, at least, does indeed live in an excellent Sorcerer’s Tower, which you get to see in Song Against Shadow, book 1 of the series!
      The Kate and Sam Adventures is a three-book fantasy series for elementary-age kids, in which the magic users are fairies.  They have all kinds of powers of illusion, transformation, and more.  There are also genies, who are another kind of magic user, capable of granting wishes, among other things.
      The Extraordinary Book of Doors is a middle grade fantasy in which the magic is provided by magical books.  Theoretically anyone with one of the Books can wield the magic, although it does take a certain amount of observation and imagination to realize that the books are magic and find the keys that make them work.
        I’ve also written short stories with a whole variety of different magic users, including a vengeful nature sorceress, a recovering wicked witch with a very unusual familiar, farmers who raise magical creatures, a trickster shapeshifter, a siren, and a reimagining of Rumplestiltskin.  So  many intriguing possibilities!
        Finally, I couldn’t do a #WyrdAndWonder post without extra links.  Be sure to check out my previous posts that include lots of excellent art featuring

Wicked Witches

Gandalf and Dumbledore

Plus a whole post on how to make your own Philosopher’s Stone, and

the back story on my own relief block print The Philosophers at Home  which just might be the scene inside a Sorcerers' Tower!

        Who are your favorite magic users in fiction?  Favorite types or specific favorite characters?

The Tower, Phillip Hagreen, 1922 (Image from Pallant House Gallery);
The Witch, illustration by John D. Batten from Hansel and Gretel, 1916 (Image from Monster Brains);
Wood block illustration from The Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Dr Faustus, c. 1700 (Image from Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton);
The Druids, engraving by S.F. Ravenet after F. Haymen, 1752 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);
Sorceress, woodcut by Oh Yoon, 1985 (Image from MutualArt);
The Astronomer, wood block print by Jost Amman, 1568 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Bee-faced Mushroom Shaman, rubbing or drawing of cave art from Tassili n’Ajjer, Algeria, Neolithic period (Image from Food of the Gods by Terrence McKenna, from Open Culture);

Caillee the Fairy, illustration by AEGNydam from Kate and Sam and the Chipmunks of Doom, 2009 (Image from NydamPrints);

The Philosophers at Home, rubber block print by AEGNydam, 2018 (originals sold out, image from NydamPrints) ;

Tower of Donauworth, 1926 (from The Woodcut Art of J.J. Lankes by Welford Dunaway Taylor, 1999);

Wyrd & Wonder orange dragon by Elena Zakharchuk.]

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).]