Classicists Illustrate Things

Eidolon Crafting Special

Eidolon
Eidolon
Nov 13 · 10 min read

When we asked our readers to share classical crafts they’ve made to feature in the Eidolon Crafting Special, we never could have expected such a huge turnout! We’ve compiled creative pieces from our tight-knit (pun intended) community in a series of posts. In this post, we highlight illustrations. We hope these inspire others to go out and create some classical masterpieces of their own!

Illustrations by Bronwen MacDonald

My name is Bronwen MacDonald and I’m a classicist, artist, and English teacher from South Africa now living in Japan. I began drawing a few years ago and rekindled a love of art. I initially wanted to break into fantasy work but after many heart-to-heart talks with more experienced artists I realized I preferred the classical world as my inspiration because of the chance to study and revive those figures whose stories are now almost forgotten in the modern world.

My current project was birthed from this decision to follow my classical roots. In an effort to find a stepping stone between scientific illustration and narrative illustration I decided to create a series based on the relief statuary found in the Templum Divus Hadrianus in Rome. By reinterpreting sculpture into ink drawings this series allows me to train both my draftsmanship and inking techniques, and also explore a modernized style based on the etchings of Giovanni Battista Piranessi who did artworks of many buildings and artifacts from antiquity in the 1700s. At the moment I have three of ten drawings completed. They are three of the trophy panels. While sixteen relief panels with personifications of the provinces remain, I have chosen seven to complement the three trophies and round out the set. I am also considering adding portrait drawings of the Emperor Hadrian, his wife the Empress Sabina and his lover, Antinous, as bonuses to my patrons or other supporters once the core set is complete. Ultimately these illustrations will be packaged as postcard sets for those classically inclined to send around the world.

Other projects that I have in mind are an illustrated book of Sappho’s poetry, an exploration of Etruscan art (which I am writing my Masters on), a calendar with illustrations of ancient Roman festivals, and learning to oil paint so that I can begin working on epic narrative paintings of the ancient world. Readers can follow my work on Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/bronwen) or Instagram (@bronwen_mac), and my website is http://bronwenmacdonald.com


Lino Prints by Alison Innes

As an artist, I find myself drawn to the simplicity of Minoan, Mycenaean, Cycladic and Geometric art. Figures are reduced to simple lines and forms that still evoke so much feeling and meaning. The apotropaic gorgon faces of archaic art have so much humour and creativity in their lines and shapes, with the emphasis on the eyes and mouths. I am particularly interested in the depiction of mythological monsters and creatures,

The “Apotropaic Gorgon” is a lino print, hand pulled, approx.. 5 x 7 inches on rice paper. I originally designed this as a gift for Patreon sponsors for our podcast MythTake. This particular piece was inspired by the gorgon’s head on the pediment of the Temple of Artemis at Corcyra. Although that temple is in the Doric order, I went with Ionic columns in my print for the aesthetics and to provide a visual frame to the gorgon. The stylized depiction of this Medusa, as well as the use of (or lack of) scale in this pediment made it a memorable one in my undergrad Greek art class. “Apotropaic Gorgon” seems to bring a smile to those who see it!

The second piece “Dancing Octopus” measures 6x6” and many will recognize this as an octopus in the Minoan marine style. I was inspired by the combination of fluidity and movement and symmetry of marine style octopuses.

I have been creating art as along as a I remember, but only took it up seriously again following grad school. I work in oil and acrylic painting, mixed-media lino prints, and photography. I design my lino print designs on paper and then transfer the design to a block of lino, a hard rubber like substance. I find the process of carving the lino very meditative. All my lino prints are hand pulled, which means that each print is individually rubbed using a hand tool, rather than a press, to transfer the ink from the block to the paper. More examples of my non-Classical work and information about me as an artist can be found on https://alisoninnes.blog/


Blackout Poetry by Jessica Wright

Blackout poetry redacts existing texts to produce free verse — often “micropoems” — that are most commonly shared on Instagram under the hashtags #makeblackoutpoetry and #blackoutpoetry as part of the Instagram poetry movement. Blackout poetry is often either political or therapeutic in its motivation. For example, some blackout poems redact political speeches to reveal internal contradictions and subtext, while, at the same time, blackout poetry exercises have been incorporated into art therapy and the journalling trend. Blackout poetry is attractive because it is small, it can be done quickly, it can produce unexpectedly significant or insightful texts, and it doesn’t require the practitioner to come up with any of their own words. Some compare blackout poetry to tarot: it exercises intuition and works through co-creation.

I got interested in blackout poetry by chance (it was included as the fun final exercise in a poetry class), I stuck at it because I liked what I made (and, apparently, others did too), and I am still doing it because I am interested in blackout as a reading strategy and an exploratory fragmentation that changes how I write, and also how I read ancient texts. Blackout poetry demands a form of close reading and philological analysis that it challenging to teach. To illustrate what I mean by this, here are some questions that come up when making blackout poetry across different texts: Where are all the nature words? Where are the active verbs? Why does the word “stone” come up so much? Why is the word “stone” always a metaphor? How can I make “stone” mean something different than it means in its original context? Does “stone” have to be a noun, or can I turn it into a verb?

In other words, the kinds of questions that crop up when reading fragmentary texts occur when fragmenting texts also.

Blackout poetry demands, and therefore develops, skills in reading texts closely and listening to the multiple valences of each word on the page. Like any form of poetry, it is easy to do poorly. When done well, however, it can not only generate astonishing poetry, but can also transform your whole reading of a text.

All of my blackout poetry is available on Instagram (@sublunam). I’ve also included a few samples from different books.


The Future Fire: Classical illustrations from a science fiction magazine, by Djibril al-AYAD

As a non-profit speculative fiction web-magazine, The Future Fire commissions original illustrations from up-and-coming artists for each story and poem that is published online. A fair number of stories over the last couple years have had classical themes, directly or indirectly, and some of the associated illustrations are interesting pieces of classical reception in their own right. What I find fascinating is the way that each artist — writer, poet, painter or crafter — is a storyteller, and sometimes they play off each other as well as the generations of artists that have come before them.

1. My first example is Donyae Coles’s “When Dessa Danced”, a science fiction reimagining of the Medusa story set on a distant, inhospitable mining planet, in which the beautiful Dessa is punished by society for surviving a sexual assault, and yet she and her story outlive her abusers. In this illustration by NY digital artist Saleha Chowdhury, we see Dessa/Medusa dancing, her snake-like locs swirling fiercely and protectively around her, as the audience of faceless but ominous men loom and jostle around her, keeping out of reach of the locs. Superimposed over the silhouette of the crowd is a figurative representation of her mesmerizing/petrifying eyes in a fiery glow, both foreshadowing the more sinister later events of the story, and marking Dessa as not entirely defenseless in the now: she is the one with the powerful gaze, she is not merely eye-candy for the audience.

2. Another science-fictional retelling of Greek myth — and perhaps more narratively straightforward — is Stephen Whitehead’s poemEchidna, in which a “mother-ship” and her “engineer-lover Typhon” build monsters to overthrow the “god-king on his lightning throne.” This dark and biomechanical illustration by Eric Asaris of Misfit Toy Art owes more to H.R. Giger than to classical art, and yet the snake-legged Typhon is recognizable despite his space-suit and dank, semiorganic, metal-piping environment. The image beautifully captures the pathos of the poem, which is a tragic retelling of the birth of monsters from Echidna and Typhon’s perspective, while also positioning itself firmly in the expectations of the genre of SF-horror. Outside of the context of the poem, this illustration is itself a visible retelling of the Typhon myth, the monster shiny with old metal, death’s-headed; you can almost hear the rusty grind of his wings and snakes moving.

3. Hayley Stone’s experimental poem, “Results of Your Quiz: Which Survivor of the Trojan War Are You?”, written in the manner of answers to a viral Buzzfeed quiz, captures the horrors of four war-captives more poignantly in a dozen lines each than most prose accounts could. The accompanying image created by author and artist Katharine A. Viola does not attempt to literally represent any of the scenes from the poem, but rather represents the duality that runs throughout all the pieces with a pair of semi-abstract wings: one pristine and beautiful, reflecting the strength of the survivor; the other scorched and visibly damaged, representing the torments each woman has undergone.

4. Another short poem that tells so much of a great story with a single short vignette, Jennifer Bushroe’s “Shrouded is about Penelope’s hopelessness as she weaves and unravels the shroud for Laertes, which “might as well / be / my / own.” The consciously classicizing illustration by Valeria Vitale (classical archaeologist, digital humanist and 3D modeler at the Institute for Classical Studies, London) plays on the simple style of ancient Greek paintings, and on the theme of weaving that is of course central to the poem; the image of Penelope is made from fabric scraps, details embroidered in bold black thread, and the tapestry itself was woven on a model loom as part of a classical public engagement event. The edges of the image, as much as the tapestry-within-a-tapestry itself, are unravelling, much as Penelope feels she is coming loose at the seams in the poem.

5. My final example is not taken from a story or poem, but is the cover art for the Making Monsters anthology, a classically themed fantasy and horror volume edited by Emma Bridges and Djibril al-Ayad, painted by Robin Kaplan, an illustrator, comics artist and crafter who works under the name The Gorgonist. This is not a newly commissioned image (although Robin expanded it and provided the high-resolution version for the book cover), but a work titled “The Lonely Gorgon” that is already available for sale as a print on her online store. In this beautiful painting the sweet little Gorgon sits alone on a rock in a beautiful, dark forest, her snakes looking around her curiously, as more snakes from the trees above dip their heads down to say hello. Given all the lovely creatures and other details popping out of the undergrowth in this image, the Gorgon should be anything but lonely, but she’s clearly pining for someone or something — perhaps human company that she has to avoid for fear of killing them with her petrifying gaze? The image itself tells a story that reinvents and reimagines the figure of Medusa in just the way that we were hoping the stories in the anthology would.

There was craft involved in all these pieces of work, whether painting, digital art, weaving or sculpture. Some of the artists are professionals, others talented amateurs, but all engaged with classical mythology and art as well as with the pieces they were asked to illustrate.

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idle musings

a blog by the editors of EIDOLON

Eidolon

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Eidolon

idle musings

a blog by the editors of EIDOLON

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