Some characters from medieval romance

 

I have recently started a PhD, and now find myself catapulted into a world of fantastic stories. As I surround myself with ancient legends and far-off romances (the medieval kind), I find it difficult to ignore a childish sense of glee. I am reading and writing about the best kind of stories – stories about giants, trolls, kings and knights – and this is my day job.

After a term, just over two months, spent immersing myself in many Old Norse-Icelandic and Middle English romances, I have a few favourite characters. Here are three of them.

Sleeping Arthur

1. King Arthur

You are probably familiar with Britain´s legendary king. Hollywood has done a good job of perpetuating his image: recklessly brave, wise, incredibly handsome. Arthur is the king who will return to save England from the Saxons, the Normans, Brexit. But the Arthur of Middle English romance is quite different. In fact, his most famous characteristic is that he falls asleep a lot. In one story, Arthur bails on his own Christmas feast because he is feeling sleepy, and his knights continue the party while keeping watch outside his bedroom door.

 

 

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2. Surtr

This is by far the creepiest giant in Norse sagas. Surtr lives by the sea shore, somewhere far to the north, and hunts human beings. Even more terrifying, he catches them, salts their flesh, and keeps their bodies in huge storage pits which he has dug out of the beach. These pits are also filled with the flesh of whales, walruses, seals, polar bears, and fish. Meeting Surtr would be terrifying, and enough to put anyone off meat for life.

 

 

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3. Guinevere’s mother

I love the character of Guinevere’s mother because she is incredibly grisly. One day, while out hunting, Guinevere and Gawain stop by a lake, and a corpse rises out of it. Dripping wet, covered in pond slime and burned black by hell fire, the corpse of Guinevere´s mother speaks to the legendary queen, warning her to cease her sinful ways. Guinevere´s mother is terrifying. Her flesh has burned from her bones, and there are frogs living in her skull. This image must have been enough to terrify a medieval audience into behaving well.

 

 

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Illustration for Lucy and Yak

Firstly, dungarees. I have been living in these wonderful garments for decades (since birth) and am strongly of the opinion that they are the most useful things I own. Comfy clothes with pockets for carrying around paintbrushes, notepads, and occasionally mice – who needs more? One day, my housemate, who is also a massive dungarees fan, told me about a wonderful bunch of people who make dungarees (and ONLY dungarees!): Lucy & Yak. Soon after, I was wearing the best pair of dungarees I have ever owned.

The magic of Lucy and Yak doesn’t stop there. They actively encourage creativity through their Instagram feed, posting not only snaps of their manifold happy customers, but also illustrations of and by these happy customers. I decided to do my own Lucy & Yak illustration, inspired by their wonderful clothing creation.

In the process, I discovered a style I really like, and which I feel communicates the essence of storytelling I have been striving towards. This is composed of ink (my faithful and always favourite medium), watercolour, and digital collage. In short, I have discovered mixed media. This, then, is what happens when great dungarees, a clunky old typewriter, and my ink-assisted imagination combine:lucy an dyak illustration ed

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

 

— Becca

Spring Flowers

Spring is finally here, and I’ve been spring cleaning my room/studio. It was about halfway through sorting the mess into a second shoebox of art stuff when I realised that, despite spending a lot of time painting, I don’t actually have many pictures on my own walls. I spent the next few days fixing that, and drew some fresh spring flowers.

Rose

Bluebell

Snowdrop

And here they are in action, brightening up my room.

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Hunting Birds for Conisbrough Castle

In recent months, I have had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer with English Heritage at Conisbrough Castle. This Norman tower, a hidden gem near Doncaster, sits at the top of a hill above the town of Conisbrough, somehow always managing to catch the sun. A few weeks ago, I tried to sketch it:

Consibrough Castle Sketch

For Easter weekend, the staff at the castle are putting on some activities for visiting families, including dressing up and tours of the keep – a chance to imagine what it was like to be a “Medieval”. In preparation for this, I’ve been asked to draw some birds of prey for colouring in.

Bird no. 1, Hawk –

Hawk Colouring

Bird no. 2, Falcon –

Falcon colouring

And, Bird no. 3 (my favourite, because it’s so fluffy, as well as being the name of the best character in the Windsinger book series), Kestrel –

Kestrel colouring

So, there you are, my colouring in birds of prey, especially for the magnificent Conisbrough Castle. Feel free to download and colour them in, I’d love to see your creations in the comments!

(Check out my instagram for the messy origins of these smoothly digitalised chirpers.)

 

 

Medieval Monsters

Around this time last year I began an MA in Medieval Literatures. Safe to say it was an incredible year, and one of the best bits was an introduction into the weird and wonderful world of medieval marginalia.

I was fascinated by the thousands of illustrations enchanting the pages of the ancient books I was reading on my course, most of which made very little sense to my modern understanding. You might have come across the mystery of snails in medieval manuscripts. At some point the consensus of our great*-grandparents seems to have been that snails were evil critters who attacked knights and sometimes rabbits for no apparent reason. The British Library have a great blog about it and some conspiracy theories of their own.

Terminator snails are not the most fearsome monster to be found in the borders of medieval books. There are also contortionist dragons, fearsome rabbits, and yoga-practicing knights, among many others. All are beautifully drawn using rich pigments and illumination – where gold leaf is applied to the picture. The Book of Kells is a great example of the finest illumination. I couldn’t resist having a go at drawing some of the images I saw, as well as trying to interpret them from a modern point of view.

A year on, I have selected my favourites of my manuscript monsters. This is what happens when you take medieval art completely out of context.

Over and out,

Drake