Saturday, 6 June 2015

Called to the Ba.

No, that isn't a typo in the title smarty-pants;  it refers to a type of exotic and mythical creature, part of ancient Egyptian religious beliefs.  I mentioned the Ba bird a few blogs ago, and stated that I'd like to have a go at illustrating it.  You may know, or remember from the last blog that the Ba was one of three spiritual entities believed by the Egyptians to inhabit the tomb of a deceased person after the tomb was sealed.

The Ba represented the character of the deceased, the thing that made them who they were.  Oh and did I mention that they're birds with human heads and arms, so, ideal for the average bird watchers notepad.  Ba's could travel around in the real world in any shape if they needed to, possibly putting right the misdeeds of the dead person, or seeing to last minute problems. (was that life insurance policy up to date?)  But they had to return to the tomb to witness the weighing of their masters soul before re-entering the body of the deceased.  A workload like that would ruffle anybodies feathers.

As usual with this digital illustration thing, I start to draw on a layer with a slate grey line as large as I want because I will shrink the drawing down, as I need more room.  This time round I decided to use a layer for a very rough sketch and brought the opacity down to three of four percent so the lines were barely visible.  I then put another layer above and drew the actual lines on this.  It helps you judge better where you really want the lines and the faint lines don't detract from a change of mind.
Beginning of the drawing with paint additions
I began with the head, as most artists do, and if it's a full face I start my line almost always at the point where the bridge of the nose slides into the furthest eye socket.  It's a good point to start, because its very easy to then judge where the tip of the nose and nostril should be, and from that you can then easily judge how much of the furthest side of the face should be visible.  Easier said than done I hear you say?  Well, maybe, it all depends how far down the road you are.  

Close up of the paint, showing the way shadows are placed.

  I probably show all the traits of lack of patience, as I want to start painting at once, and so begin to apply a yellowish base colour onto the same layer as the drawing.  I place in a slightly darker yellow for the first indications of shadows, and a yellowish grey for darker shadows, at all times avoiding true black.  The hair or wig will be a very dark reddish brown.  I use a grey brown and work it around the eyes, covering the eyelids, and fill in the spaces where the eyes will be with the yellow of the skin.

Grey shadows defining the nose, neck and eyes.  The spaces of the eyes are also filled with yellow.
The dark wig will have long trailing pieces hanging down each shoulder, across which the arms will cut.  I have placed a little light on the face, on the nose and cheekbone and around the mouth, but I'm keeping it low for the time being.  Here I have to admit that I'm not sure how the whole picture will look.  This is the basis of many of my failures over the years; I have a vague idea of what I want, but then try to make it up as I go.  However gradually I am getting a clearer idea, I want an image of the full Ba bird, holding a scroll of papyrus, as if showing it to the viewer.
Faint grey lines used to work out positioning of the arms and scroll.

This means showing the whole bird body, with its tail feathers and long legs.  I wondered at this stage how the Egyptians themselves depicted the particular birds they used in their drawings and sculptures of the Ba.  Were they one definite bird, and was that bird still around, or had it gone extinct, as I believe some of the animals of ancient Egypt have?   I was curious, as I wanted a guide for the feathers of the bird.  The Egyptians seemed to depict the birds in many different ways, sometimes as hawks, sometimes as stalks or cranes.  I looked online and found a common Egyptian bird that I liked and which seemed to resemble some of the ancient depictions - a yellow wagtail.  I'm less worried that this isn't authentic than I'm happy to have something to use as a reference. 

But I now see something more worrying than a bad choice of Egyptian bird.  The figure is becoming unbalanced, too elongated.  I need to concentrate on making the body smaller.  To make this work the bird should have a big head and a petite little bird body, with quite long legs and arms.  It's going wrong, but when that happens you have to fight it until it goes right.

Lets see what we have next week.

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  1. I'm getting an education in Egyption mythology here! Those ba birds were handy things to have about. Beautiful drawing too.

  2. Thanks Sue, it would be good to have one as a pet, instead of keeping it in a cage you could send it on errands.