Sunday, March 6, 2016


A beautiful week full of unicorns!

So stoked about this - I heart unicorns! My undergrad thesis project was creating a faux natural history exhibit on unicorns, and I'm still interested in them as fictional creatures whose role in myth and history is very real.  

Evidence! from one of my favorite 15th century manuscripts, the Ortus (Hortus) Sanitatis, ca. 1485-1491.   
Monceron,”Ortus Sanitatis, woodcut,
Mainz: Jacob Meydenbach, 23 June 1491
Albert E. Lownes Collection of Significant Books in the History of Science, 
John Hay Library, Brown University,
While I drew on Durer's The Small Horse  for the unicorn's body last week, this week I wanted to focus on the head (and the horn - at last!)). In keeping with the portrayal in the Ortus Sanitatis, I was going for a less horse-y face. I decided to merge the skeletal features of a horse, with those of an okapi  (ahhh, okapis - such beautiful, gentle creatures.) Scholar Chris Lavers in his book The Natural History of Unicorns proposes okapis as a candidate species the stories of which may have inspired and/or fed into the myth of the unicorn - awesome :)!

  *Fun factoid - okapis have long black tongues. For some reason, I find this very funny - imagining my unicorn with a startling, black tongue.                                                                          
So early in the week, I focused on carving the head.
9 x 12," linocut, on gray paper with added white and gold ink
 Not gonna lie - I really like this one :)  - but...

Holding it up to the maquette of the body...
This body is too big....

This body is too small...
And yet the head is just right...

(Reluctant) conclusion? While I tried to convince myself otherwise ("Oh, but the final version will be much more unified - it will all be one media [polyester lithography plates], and it will all be on the same toned grey paper, and I'll have an additional layer of added black and white paint to help unify it," etc.)

And that's all very logical, and true, but the (art) answer is still no, just no. [sigh. ;)]

...So, I carved a new block for the body

The issue is not only the scale, (which could be manipulated without carving new blocks), but that the the character of the marks doesn't match closely enough - there's not enough detail in the body for it to read as having the same texture at the head.  I think the below comparison does a good job showing what I mean - the top image is the shoulder in the blown up version of the first block, the bottom image is the shoulder of the new version I carved this week.  The first go round, I was mostly focusing on getting the correct anatomy, the light on the musculature, and the directionality and variation in size of the marks. The second time around, I tried to hold onto all those things and add more detail including the texture of the fur (- I decided that unicorn fur is slightly shaggier than normal horse fur, more like a Shetland pony :)).

In short, I re-carved the body this week: version 2

9 x 12," linocut
The size of my relief blocks is fixed (9 x 12"), so in order to include a wider variety of marks, one solution was to divide the body up into more sections so that each part can be carved larger. This is a little trickier than just adding more blocks though because I also want to be conscientious of the way the resolution changes.  In a sense, I added another layer to the change in resolution so that it expands outward by degrees - instead of going from A (the body - blown up) to B (the head - 1:1), now I'll go from A (the body - blown up) to B (the neck and legs - blown up less) to C (the head and feet- only blown up a very little or not at all). This way, the change in resolution from the core of the body to the extremities happens more gradually, by degrees. The more gradual transition, I think, will help the whole creature read as a unified form (fingers crossed - we'll see ;)). Time for a diagram!

13" L

Then, at long last, I carved the horn, based on a narwhal tusk.

It was very satisfying collaging the horn on.

the horn and head collaged together for the first time. 
studio shot, including my small heard of horse models and the grassy carving pillow

wall view of the various unicorn parts
Lots (and lots) of carving going on this week, but a few other art activities as well.  I studied for (and passed!) my photoshop final (whoop! - thought I'd use some of my new skills to test out potential wall colors with that lovely celadon background in the unicorn photo :))  In addition, I applied for a workshop to study the care and digitization of Medieval manuscripts - fingers crossed there will be some real life handling of 15th century manuscripts in my future!(:o !)

 And last, but not least, outside time! Spring is just around the corner.