Saturday, 14 March 2015

Gods and Monsters: Developing an idea 3.   Mary Harrsch – photo of Ba bird.

 Like politicians in some failing political party that is slightly past its ‘sell by’ date, the Egyptian gods were represented by some pretty odd and wacky characters.  Some, Frankenstein like, were made from bits and bobs of animals and humans like Ammit who I mentioned last week.  Go on, you know you’ve voted for someone like that in the past.

Looking pretty strange was an obvious occupational challenge for the rulers of the afterlife, and there were lots of mysterious denizens of the Egyptian pantheon that I could choose to illustrate.  There is Sobek, a crocodile headed god, and Horus a deity in the shape of a falcon.  There was a hippopotamus headed goddess named Taweret, the goddess of childbirth, and Bes, a distinctly weird looking gentleman – chunky in build, entirely blue and with a lion’s mane.

When an Egyptian died, a number of different spirits were supposedly released, among them the Ka, the Akh and the Ba.  They all have different powers and represent aspects of the deceased; the Akh for instance represented their immortality, while the Ka was their life force or genius.  The Ba represented their character, the things that made them what they were, and is represented by a human headed bird, with human arms.  In Book Of The Dead manuscripts these Ba birds along with the other spirits are seen present at a funeral hovering near the deceased while they carry through various duties, saying prayers and spells, worshipping, and waiting for their moment to re-enter the corpse.

Ba’s were also able to re-visit our world in a variety of forms.  Recalling Anubis and his weighing of the heart, the Ba was also the poor unfortunate that had to witness this important procedure, no doubt biting its nails (remember, its got hands) as to the result.  They look cool and elegant in the manuscripts, and I might have a try at illustrating one.
Bast scribbles.  Left Bast examines the world - right, Bast preying.
But using Bast as my first project, I wanted to do a larger study of the head and settle on another pleasing (to me anyway) position for the arms and hands.  First I used the previous approach, black with blue outline, which I was happy with, but then using the same drawing (always on a separate layer from everything else) I gave the image colour.

I felt that the colour range that I could use should be reflected by actual animals (So green was mostly out – after all it’s a cat I’m painting not a parrot) and blue outlines notwithstanding, a reddish yellow colour set seemed the most appropriate.
Bast scribbles.  Figuring out posture and positioning of limbs.
Using two or three colours allows for light and shade to be applied, and therefore modelling of the surface.  So the result is a more round and three-dimensional form, but it can still be kept straightforward and simple.  The strong highlights are blended together, but have been deliberately placed fairly roughly onto the figures for a sense of spontaneity.  I colour the eye separately as I have done with all the images up to now, as the eye is a focal point in the design, always an important object in the depiction of any face.
Finished designs with different body postures.
That might seem an obvious thing to say, as if I were going to then say that the nose or lips were not really that important and could be left out of any portrait to save time.  I suppose its part of the design stage; the artist decides how a feature is represented, from what angle it will be seen, and how well defined the feature is.  It is possible to paint a face and have the eye be the first thing anyone sees.  Design and composition can be complex.

Bast designs comparing colours.
 Next I take the character of Anubis, and carry through a similar process, a different position of head arms and hands, this time he his holding some small jars instead of scales.  I think this new position shows him of as a jackal better than my first, he has slightly bigger ears and a longer snout, his head being almost in profile.  I’ve also given him and Bast more realistic body shapes; here he has a neck, shoulders and a tapering waist, but, as with Bast, I’ve made the design decision to leave the arms fairly ‘boneless’ so they can make fluid curving shapes around the body. 
Anubis designs colour comparison.

Here are some more design scribbles for an image of Sobek the crocodile headed god I 

Sobek scribbles.  I chose the one on the right to develop further.
 mentioned above.  Next week I will talk about this design and also experiment with CYMK colour.  As all these designs will to be printed by the print on demand company Zazzle, then this colour type becomes important, as it can affect the colours put down digitally using a RGB palette.  And so, until next week.


  1. Enjoyed this. It taught me quite a lot I didn't know about Ancient Egyption mythology.

  2. gan good job, this article is very interesting to note, cool deh,, of course we have new insights that we get after reading it, thanx yah :-)

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