The Fool on the Hill (30cm x 15cm ink and coloured pencil 2022)
In my previous post I mentioned that last year, I’d tried to overcome a creative block by taking part in online challenges, particularly one, created by a group of illustrators, on folklore and folk customs. For those of you not on Instagram, I thought I’d share a few of the prompts and my responses.
Folklore is not an area I know a great deal about, so the research alone would be distracting before I’d even put pencil to paper. The first prompt was Fool, which was nicely open-ended for a starting point. It’s also great fun to draw medieval fools with their caps and bells and exaggerated movements. I chose The Fool on the Hill (above) just for the chance to draw an impossible hill, not to illustrate the Beatles song (in which, you’ll remember, the Fool stands ‘perfectly still’ and doesn’t prance around like a hare on a griddle).
The Tale of the Disappointing Tree (A4 ink and coloured pencil 2022)
The next prompt was Tree, which is where the research – and the strangeness – began.
James Frazer’s The Golden Bough describes a folk tradition in Bulgaria. On Christmas Eve, a woodsman would threaten a low-yielding fruit tree with an axe while a second man intercedes on the tree’s behalf. Three times the tree is threatened with destruction, three times its advocate pleads for mercy. The threat of extinction is enough to frighten the tree into producing fruit abundantly the following year.
Stars (A4 ink and coloured pencil 2022)
Later in the week we were given the prompt, Stars.
There are numerous approaches to this: Orion being killed by a giant scorpion and the gods arranging their constellations so that they never appear together in the night sky; the belief that shooting stars were the souls of new-born babies being despatched to Earth; or the rule that you should never point at stars because they represent gods who don’t like mortals pointing at them.
In the end I went for this charming medieval folk belief. Trying to count stars is again considered bad luck, but if you’re looking for a life partner you may count up to seven of them for seven nights, then on the eighth day the first person with whom you shake hands will become your husband or wife. So here’s my pale poet, eagerly counting up to seven while his troubadour strums upon a lute. He looks eager enough, doesn’t he? I do hope he finds someone.
There were further prompts for Costume, Victory, Tricks and Potions, all of which sent me off to reference books and internet searches. It was an inspiring week of learning, drawing, posting and admiring the efforts of others involved in the challenge. It also demonstrated that as much as I enjoy painting still life arrangements or churches or flowers, I’m at ease with this sort of pen and ink illustration and can concentrate on the subject without too much worrying about technique. If I’d been compelled to use acrylics or pastels without the comfort of the inked line I’d probably still be working on them. In that sense the challenge helped me return to creativity without too many hurdles to jump which, at that time, was more than welcome.
Most of all, looking at different subjects for six days (I missed Potions) and having to produce a drawing each day was a useful exercise to restore drawing muscles I’d neglected over the previous months. As I mentioned in my previous post, regardless of your particular area of creativity, these challenges can be both useful and inspiring. At the very least, you’ll discover something about trees and stars.