Getting it right
Bestowing a level of integrity on any fantasy world means accepting aspects of it that you may never explore, constructing an alternative art history, creating artefacts and costume styles, accepting inconsistencies and blank spots, finding the best way to make it appear as a realistic universe. Something of a contradiction, perhaps, but the necessarily empirical approach involved – if indeed you are provided with the excuse to return to any given world – weaves these inconsistencies into the fabric of the place. It all comes down to ‘getting it right’.
But how do you make a cloak look convincing? When is a sword blade too long or too wide? How is the grip constructed? How do helmets stay on heads? Between the neighbours in a sheet secured with a safety pin and a character wearing half a dozen square meters of natural wool sewn into a proper cloak and fastened accordingly, there is a huge difference, and probably more of it sneaks into a picture than you would think. So, how do you draw a proper sword? Once again, the willing neighbour holding the yardstick is fine, but it’s still second best.
The real answers to these questions are to be found in archaeology, and then getting your hands on it. Of course, you can’t (always) pick up museum exhibits and you certainly must not wave them about, but a conscientious reconstruction of an object, one that you can use, abuse and repair, wear and carry around, can be exceedingly instructive.
If it can’t be real, it should be realistic. This is hardly the place to discuss the relative merits of historical re-enactment, but the principal aims of serious living history are just that, trying to ‘get it right’, with the full awareness that ‘right’ one month may be considerably modified by new research and finds the next. While it is an exercise in applied imperfection, the path followed by like-minded individuals is in their forays into history. This is an exceptionally useful one for the artist. There is so much to see along the way.
As they no longer exist, nearly all of the items used in living history must be recreated, thus I find enormous satisfaction in making objects. It seems so much more concrete than pushing colours around on a flat piece of paper, and it must be therapeutic in some way; I try to do as much of this as I can. More importantly, the nature of the materials used will lead the hand and mind to designs inaccessible to a pencil on paper.
Our garage and attic are consequently piled high with shields of every period, with lances, spears and bits of armour, old tools, tree roots – all the flotsam and jetsam of sudden inspiration, which usually rises quickly and then slowly ebbs, leaving dozens of half finished artefacts above the tide line. Gandalf wears a sword I own, the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk a costume belonging to a friend, Lancelot’s armour is in another friend’s attic. While they may end up gathering dust, they are often propping up some notion of reality somewhere in a painting.
This text is taken from “Myth & Magic“, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001