Here are all 9 pieces from my first thesis project!
At the beginning of the semester, I read folktales from around the world and sought out interesting imagery and characters to develop into 9 full page illustrations. As I made each illustration, I did a ton of research into the clothing, symbols, patterns, and other related imagery from the each story’s culture.
I am fascinated by old stories and how they have been passed down and shaped future stories. I learned a lot from this project, but I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface! There is so much more to these unique cultures, and I’ll continue to draw inspiration from them.
For each individually, and some process sketches see the links below:
Pirates and sailors of the past were a very superstitious bunch! Here are just a few of the things they believed would get you a safe journey across the ocean and probably a nice bit of loot at the end of it.
1.) Women or no women?
It was traditionally believed that having a woman aboard a ship was unlucky as she was thought to distract the sailors from their duty and therefore anger the sea. Ironically, having a naked woman aboard was lucky because she would calm the sea. Ships tended to have a bare breasted figure of a woman on the front of the vessel as it was believed her bare breasts would “shame the stormy seas into calm” while her open eyes would guide the sailors to their destination safely.
2.) Which day to sail…
There was a whole host of days where a superstitious sailor would refuse to take to the seas here are just a few of them…
-Never sail on a Friday, it was the day Jesus was crucified on.
-Never sail on a Thursday, it was named after the Norse god of thunder Thor and therefore associated with bad weather.
-Never voyage into the seas on the first Monday of April as this is the day when Cain slew Abel.
-Don’t start your journey on second Monday of August as this is when the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.
-Never sail on December 31st as that day is associated with Judas Iscariot hanging himself.
…So when can a sailor actually set sail you ask? Sunday! Sundays were thought to be the only safe day to start a voyage on and this was further tied in with the Christian ideology, as this is the day Jesus was resurrected.
3.) The Secret Language of Tattoo’s
It’s thought that European sailors getting tattoos originated after Captain Cooks voyages to islands in the pacific ocean after learning the skill from the island’s native tribes. Ever since tattoos have always acted as sign post for where a sailor had voyaged and as a lucky omen. For example, a pig or a hen tattoo was thought to bring luck a sailor in the midst of ship wreck. Despite neither animal being able to swim, sailors believed God would look upon the wreck see and animal who couldn’t swim and therefore take mercy and relocate the sailor to dry land
4.) So no pets?
Animals were a sore issue for sailors, some were lucky while others marked instant disaster.
A few of the good ones were…
Dolphins - Man’s best friend (at least at sea). Dolphins were thought to have the good fortunes of man in mind and their presence meant you were under their capable protection.
Swallows - With swallows being a land based bird, they signalled that land was close by and therefore your destination.
Black cats - While on land they were often thought to be unlucky at sea they were quite the opposite. As well as keeping the rodents at bay and food stocks safe Black cats were thought to posses miraculous powers that would protect ships from terrible weather. Sailors wives would often even keep a black cat at home in the hope it would help their seafaring husband. (You can read more about cats in a later post!!!)
And a couple of of the not so lucky ones…
Sharks - Sharks were thought to be able to sense death so if there was a few sailing around the ship things weren’t looking so good for someone or other in the crew.
Albatross- The albatross and other sea birds were thought to hold the souls of dead sailors, so to kill one was a bad omen. The albatross is one of the most well known after being depicted in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
6.) Don’t Whistle while you work
…Or you’ll whistle up the wind and cause a storm. To whistle on ship was to challenge the wind itself
7.) Say no to bananas!
Bananas were considered to be an unlucky cargo to have aboard your ship which probably links back to the 1700’s and the then Spanish-Caribbean trading route. Apparently the majority of ships carrying bananas mysteriously never finished their voyages…
There could be several reasons behind the evil of bananas though…
-Poisonous spiders got mixed in with the bunches of bananas and one bite would instantly kill the sailor.
-If the bananas were on board for a while and began to ferment they would release a deadly poisonous gas that would kill the crew.
-The banana transporting ships travelled so quickly that fishermen on the boat could not catch fish, which was no good for the fishing side of the business!
8.) Dead Red.
Sailors weren’t big fans of ginger haired people. Seeing a red head before you started a voyage was thought to bring bad luck to the ship but if you spoke to red head before they spoke to you, the unluckiness was averted.
9.) And its probably best to avoid saying….
-Thirteen, sailors had to say 12 and 1
-“Drowned”, “drowned at sea”, “goodbye” all these were said to tempt fate and an early death.
-Good luck, it was thought to bring bad luck instead and to reverse it you had to draw blood. So expect a punch or a knife wound if you wish a sailor from history good luck!.
10.) Mermaids and Monsters
The seas were thought to be racked up with a whole host of mythological creatures (so many another post would be needed to cover them all!), including sirens who would lure sailors to their death with their enchanting tones, legendary sea monster like the Kraken and of course sea hell, Davy Jones’s Locker. The locker was an idiom for the bottom of ocean where all shipwrecks ended up so it became associated with death in the sailing world.
“He journeyed onwards, straight ahead, a long time or a short time–for speedily a tale is spun, but with less speed a deed is done–and finally came to a little hut; it stood in the open field, turning on chicken legs.”
Gather ‘round, children, and let ol’ Daddy Denny tell you about one of America’s greatest heros: Johnny Avocado Pit. Now, you may have heard about Johnny Appleseed, and sure, he was a fine enough guy—but Johnny Avocado Pit? Now HE was a true American hero. You see, apples were already popular and readily available when Mr. Appleseed went cavorting around these fine United States planting his basic as heck trees. But avocados? Now that was rare! And the countrymen were yearning for something different, something new, something zestful and soft. That’s where Mr. Pit came in. No one knows where he came from, or where he went off too after the great Pitting of '42, but legend has it he single-handedly brought the “grandfather of guacamole” to this fine country, planting 'cado pits wherever he could. And for that, ol’ Daddy Denny tips his hat. Thank you, Mr. Pit. You’re really are a hero.
Off The Map: Medieval Monsters and Dark Age terrors.
Between the calligraphy of medieval manuscripts lurks a whole host of illuminated creatures and beasts that would have given any book (in particular a copy of Pliny the Elder's Natural History) owner the heebie jeebies as they were all believed to exist.
Here are just a few of the creatures that were embedded both on page and mind in the medieval era:
Originating from Persian myth, the manticore is a terrifying creature known for using it’s scorpion tail to paralyse and kill victims before devouring them whole. Medieval texts depict a manticore as being composed of several different animals. The most popular depiction being a creature with a human head with three rows of shark-like teeth, the body of a lion and bat’s wings. The manticore regularly featured upon medieval heraldry.
Blemmyes and Headless men
With all their facial features in their chest you might think these guys were going to be a rather monstrous bunch but that was not always the case… The Blemmyes, a famous tribe of headless men who lived in Ancient Nubia, Kush or Sudan, were described by Greek Geographer Strabo as a peaceful people. Although they did help a neighbouring king battle against the Roman emperor Septimus Severus in 197AD.
Headless men were genuinely believed to roam around all the uninhabited parts of the world throughout the medieval era and onto the 1500’s. Explorer, Sir Walter Raleigh confirmed their existence his work, Discovery of Guiana and Shakespeare gives them a mention in The Tempest.
The Cynocephali were reported to have the body of a human and the head of a dog or a Jackal. Medieval writer Paul the Deacon reported in his work, The History of the Lombards, that the Lombards conjured a plan to spread the rumour amongst their enemy that they had Cynocephali in their camp who "wage war obstinately, drink human blood and quaff their own gore if they cannot reach the foe.“ As late as the high/late medieval period Italian explorer, Marco Polo records spotting them on his travels.
Sciopods translates into English as the ‘shaded foot ones’ as this one footed race were reported to use their singular foot to shade themselves from the sun. Medieval writer, Isidore of Seville reported that the Sciopods inhabited Ethiopia and strangely, despite their lack of feet, they were 'wonderfully speedy’.
The Myrmecoleon was believed to be either the offspring of a Lion and a ant or 'The Lion of Ants’. The latter theory describes some form of super ant or creature that lives in the dust and kills off smaller ants. While the former (and more bizarre theory) depicts the Myrmecoleon as a tragic hybrid who having the face of a lion but the body of an ant eats meat but can only digest grain so it ends up starving.
1st-Century Roots of 'Little Red Riding Hood' Found
Folktales can evolve much like species do, taking on new features and dropping others as they spread to different parts of the world.
One researcher in the United Kingdom tested this analogy quite literally, using analytical models that are typically used to study the relationships between species to create an evolutionary tree for “Little Red Riding Hood” and its cousins.
“This is rather like a biologist showing that humans and other apes share a common ancestor but have evolved into distinct species,” Durham University anthropologist Jamie Tehrani explained in a statement. Tehrani found that “Little Red Riding Hood” likely branched off 1,000 years ago from an ancestral story that has its roots in the first century A.D. Read more.
In the Winter, Kai would run with Gerda to her grandmother’s window. “The snowflakes are swarming like white bees,” the grandmother would say.
“Do the snowflakes have a Queen, too — like the bees?” Gerda asked one evening.
“Well, no one has ever seen her, but they say that once long ago the Snow Queen looked up at her icy palace and felt sad because she was all alone. She had a mirror which she used to look at the icy things she would make. The mirror was the Queen’s only companion. She loved it more than anything else. "I love you,” it seemed to whisper to her.
“But one day, she stared into her mirror and grew angry because she led such a lonely life and because there was no one there to love her. "You don’t love me!” she cried in rage and threw it to the floor. Down, down it fell, shattering into a million pieces.
“All of her loneliness, sadness and anger were captured by the millions of shattered fragments of her magic mirror. Some were tiny as grains of sand and when the winds came, they were scattered everywhere. If one of these ever entered a person’s eye, nothing ever looked right again. But far worse was the fate of those whose hearts were pierced by a sliver of the mirror. They would soon forget the pain and go on as before, never knowing that the heart inside of them had frozen into ice…
"Ever since then, on snowy nights, the lonely Snow Queen flies through the streets of the town and looks in at the windows and then they become covered with ice flowers.”
“But why does she do that?”
“Because she is always looking for someone to take back with her to the land she rules with magical powers — a lonely land of ice and snow… and forgetfulness.” — The Snow Queen, by Hans Christian Andersen.
Suppon on Oryo — The Legend of the Vengeful Ghost Turles
A folktale from Edo Period Japan,
A man named Kiroku had a successful suppon shop in Nigata city. Every day he butchered and served up hundreds of turtles. One day at work, his body suddenly felt heavy. At the same time, everything became cold and dark, and it felt like he was being submerged under water. He tried to shout, but no voice came out. He felt around with his hands, and felt something even colder. It was a turtle shell. All around him were hundreds of turtles, crawling over his body and dragging him down.
Finally, Kiroku managed to let out a cry of horror, which brought his wife running into the room. When she opened the door, all of the turtles vanished.
This happened night after night, until finally Kiroku had enough. He had learned his lesson, and swore an oath against the taking of life. The wrathful turtle ghosts never came again.