Even Gods Were Young Once

As promised, I’m writing about Herne the Hunter today. He is a deity with which I have a close affinity, so naturally I wanted to include him in my portraits of Death Deities. I decided to take another look at some of the information available and the effect it had on my work.

Herne is said to have been a royal hunter in the time of Edward II of England, the early 1300’s. While hunting in the woods around Windsor Castle, Edward was attacked by a stag and Herne threw himself in front of the king. None of Edwards other woodsmen would heal Herne out of jealousy. It was finally a dark rider who agreed to help and cut the horns off the stag and tied them to Herne’s head. He was healed, but lost all his prowess as a hunter. In despair at the loss of his skill, he ran into the forest, wearing the antlers and was later found hanging from an oak tree. When Edward’s retainers tried to recover the body, it had disappeared. The tree is known as Herne’s Oak and is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. Since that time, Herne the Hunter has reappeared in the Windsor Great Park many times, most recently in the 1970’s.


The figure of Cernunos on the Gundestrup Cauldron.

The figure of Cernunos on the Gundestrup Cauldron.

What is interesting though is the possibility that the story goes back even further. H and C are interchangeable between the Indo-European languages and therefore Hern can become Cern and applied to Cernunnos, a horned deity depicted on the Gundestrup Cauldron, dated between 200 BC and 300 AD. So here we have a horned deity sharing Herne’s name a thousand years before the reign of Edward II.

Jesus on the Cross, by Albrecht Dürer, Wodin Hanging, by Franz Stassen, and Herne's Oak, from the Folger Shakespeare Library

Jesus on the Cross, by Albrecht Dürer, Wodin Hanging, by Franz Stassen, and Herne’s Oak, from the Folger Shakespeare Library

So, you may ask, what does this have to do with Death Deities? Well, obviously Herne symbolizes sacrifice. He first put himself in harms way to protect his king, and then hung himself on the oak. (Parallels abound with Odin and Jesus.) After Herne’s disappearance, he was seen as the leader of the Wild Hunt, a spectral phenomenon throughout Northern Europe usually occurring in winter and presaging some sort of disaster. Herne and Cernunnos are seen as the Holly King and Oak King respectively, by modern pagans, and they symbolize the cycle of death and rebirth in nature. If we link Herne with Odin (who was widely revered in Anglo-Saxon Britain) we see a god who escorts the dead to the afterlife. And I’m just skimming over the surface. A great resource is Eric L. Fitch’s book: ‘In Search of Herne the Hunter’. If you’re interested in this mythical figure at all, I highly recommend it.

Herne the Wild Hunter, from symboldictionary.net

Herne the Wild Hunter, from symboldictionary.net

And finally, we come to the drawing I did for the show. A friend was surprised when she saw how young Herne is. Traditionally he is depicted as an older man, middle aged at least. His beard is long and his hair longer. But in the story of Herne, he is human and eventually becomes the ghostly, horned hunter. So he was young once, maybe even at his death. There is also the fact that this telling of the tale is one of the more recent versions (in a historical context) and therefore younger.

The Young Herne

The Young Herne

However one chooses to look at it, the image in the drawing is what I saw in my mind’s eye. And perhaps that is how Herne wished to appear. This time.


Lightness in the Dark

You can’t draw portraits of death deities without reflecting on the issue of mortality, or at least I can’t. I took the gallery owner’s challenge; to go beyond sugar skulls for the Day of the Dead show, and started looking at death deities and their lore. What I found were some interesting similarities, some major differences, and some great stories. What I was hoping for, as the title of this post suggests, is to shed some light on these characters/archetypes/beings, and thereby illuminate the subject of death as transformation, a natural process that all living things share. I’m not trying to say that death is good, but neither am I declaring it bad. It simply is.

Raven Detail 3


There are five pieces in the show, each subject from a different religion/culture: Irish, English, Norse, Greek, and Egyptian. Starting with the Irish, because I promised to post more pictures of the Raven, is the Morrigan. In the notes for the show, this is what I wrote:

The Morrigan
One of the Celtic ‘triple goddesses’, a deity with multiple aspects, that of Maiden, Mother, and Crone. She is linked with cattle, and therefore fertility. She is also associated with rivers and lakes, the water being seen as a sign of rebirth. The Morrigan is also known as a battle goddess, but not by wielding a sword. Her power is in her ability to enchant or curse. She can clear a battlefield with a poem. She can transform into a raven, flying above the warriors, choosing who will die. She can be seen at a river ford, washing clothes and armor before battle, symbolizing the washing and anointing of the body after death and preparing it for the next life.

This is a greatly condensed description of her attributes, and with a bit of searching you can find good information about her on the web. One of the sources I found was:


They covered the basics of the Morrigan, etymology of her name, where she appears in the legends and myths, etc. Check it out.



The painting shows the transformation of the Morrigan into the raven and perhaps the other way as well. I did a couple of new things with the artwork. In the knot, I came back with thin lines of gouache (Prussian Green and Alizarin Crimson) on top of the watercolor, trying to emulate the iridescence of the black feathers. It’s very subtle and doesn’t show very well in my photograph. I’ll have to see if I can get the art scanned after the show comes down. And there is no black here. It’s all a mix of Indigo, Prussian Green, and Alizarin Crimson. The background behind the knot is Indigo gouache.


The human figure was initially left white, and then I changed her pose. I had to define her new edges with watercolor and then a thin wash of white gouache over all. Her face I struggled with. I was using the gouache and the colors kept looking too intense, so I kept reworking it, blending and adding. What I should have done was paint the face in watercolor completely, and then done my white wash over that. If there’s a next time…

Raven Detail 2

Next post, Herne the Hunter.

The Raven Returns

The print show is up, the ink put away, and the proofs are in the flat file. Actually, that was almost two weeks ago. I haven’t been completely idle, though. The next show at Avanti opens October 10th. That’s just over two weeks away. And again, none of the art for that show is finished. Complicating things a bit is the show I’m doing this weekend, the Emerald Spiral Fall Expo. I will be manning my wife’s booth as well as selling my own work. It will be a fun, long day.

The show in October is themed on Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Curator Wendy Keen said she was hoping to go beyond sugar candy skulls and dancing skeletons and I am happy to oblige. The main piece is one that I thought I had posted work on before, but I can only find the line art.

Knotted Raven 72

The first layers of color were laid down right before a show in May and I started work on painting the knot at the show. Then the 30×30 work started, and the printmaking, and life. So the poor raven sat and waited. But things happen in their own time, and the Day of the Dead show is the right time for my friend here.

The concept for this piece changed significantly since the line art was scanned. In the beginning it was just an exercise in outrageous knot-work. That by itself, however, did not seem to be enough. I tried different ideas for putting the raven in context (though never atop a bust of Pallas) and eventually it chose the Morrigan, a Celtic goddess of death and transformation. I say it chose because it did not entirely feel like my decision. In art school my teachers always told me to ‘Listen to your art. It will tell you what it needs.” This wasn’t so much a matter of my listening, but rather being dragged along by giant talons.

As scavengers, ravens frequented the battlefields of our early history, and were seen by the Celts as the Morrigan incarnate, freeing the souls of the fallen. It is in this guise that this raven spoke to me.RavenProgress1-72

Things have progressed some since this picture was taken. The white space behind the knot-work will be filled in with indigo, a preview of which you can see in the beak, and there’s some subtle coloring to the knot as well. I’ll take more pictures and post as soon as I can.

Tyr, Fenrir, and the Norns

Most people wouldn’t have a clue as to what the title of this post refers to. Even if they were given the hint ‘mythology’. That’s because the mythology we are usually taught in school (if at all) is from the Egyptian era, and/or from Greece and Rome. The mythology I’m working with here is Norse and while there may be some similarities (how many cultures have a war god[dess] or a love god[dess], etc.) the stories are very different and rich with symbolism.

The background color block for the Norns print. I carved the line work first, then made a print using a lot of ink. I then transferred that print to this block to use as a guide. I only had to make minor adjustments in the carving after the first proof.

The background color block for the Norns print. I carved the line work first, then made a print using a lot of ink. I then transferred that print to this block to use as a guide. I only had to make minor adjustments in the carving after the first proof.


The Norns are a trio of goddesses conceptually aligned with the Greek Fates and I’ve depicted them in a similar fashion. Urd, what has become, is spinning the yarn of our existence. It is what we are. Verdandi, what will become, is measuring out the yarn. This is not a fatalistic viewpoint, but one of potential. She simply measures and our actions guide her hands. Skuld, what should become, cuts the yarn. Again, she does not decide our fate. It is up to us to determine how to use the time we have.

The first print run of the Norns. I used a mix of dark yellow and white to come up with a Naples Yellow-like color.

The first print run of the Norns. I used a mix of dark yellow and white to come up with a Naples Yellow-like color. You can see that the background isn’t a solid color, but has a Norse scrolly design that I hope reflects the roots of Yggdrasill, where the Norns live.


The Norns, who live at a well among the roots of Yggdrasill, the Norse World Tree, are also said to weave these threads into a tapestry and to carve the runes for peoples lives into Yggdrasill’s trunk.

The Norns with the black line work on top of the yellow.

The Norns with the black line work on top of the yellow.


Fenrir was a giant wolf and one of the sons of Loki, the god of transformation, trickery, and chaos.

The block for Tyr and Fenrir, inked and sitting in my makeshift printing frame. Apologies for the washed out pic.

The block for Tyr and Fenrir, inked and sitting in my makeshift printing frame. Apologies for the washed out pic.


It was foretold that Fenrir would slay Odin at Ragnarok, the final battle. So the gods tried to trick Fenrir into being bound by magic cords, saying that they were only testing the strength of the cords, and they would release him as soon as the cords were tested. Fenrir, who was no fool, didn’t trust the gods.


The first print, an artist's proof, to make sure everything looks OK. The carving was fine, but we decided to lighten up the brown.

The first print, an artist’s proof, to make sure everything looks OK. The carving was fine, but we decided to lighten up the brown. It also let me know how much pressure I needed to use to get a clean print. (A lot.)


So he asked for one of them to put their hand in his mouth as surety of his release. Only Tyr, the great warrior, was willing to do this, knowing full well that Fenrir would not be released.  For this, he lost his right hand, and he is considered to be the embodiment of willing sacrifice.


A few of the prints in this run. You probably can't see the difference in the ink color, but it really was an improvement.

A few of the prints in this run. You probably can’t see the difference in the ink color, but it really was an improvement.


Heavy stuff, huh? Here’s a sneak peek at the next block to lighten the mood. The sketches for it are under all the shavings. It will be of Slepnir, Odin’s eight legged horse, Because who wouldn’t want one of those?


You can see a hoof and three of Slepnir's eight legs.

You can see a hoof and three of Slepnir’s eight legs.

Can We See A Pattern Here?

August was busy. Get the new web-site operational. Create art and a story for a small show. Get prints and framing for another small show. Both of those flew by. Sorry for not announcing them. Oh yes. There’s also the next show at Avanti, a printmaking extravaganza. “Would you like to be in it?” they asked. “Sure! Why not.” I replied.

I’ve done printmaking in the past, mumbldy-mumble years ago, and I remember it being very freeing as a technique, but not without its challenges. And because I seem to be genetically disinclined to do things the easy way, I decided to go back to my Norse roots and take a look at the myths and legends from that side of my family.

First up were Hugin and Munin, Odin’s ravens. He would send them out across the land (and worlds) and they would report back to him what all they had seen. I laid the designs down quickly enough, but there they sat.

And now for a change of perspective…

Hello to all reading this blog, I’m Levi Cain; Kevin’s son & a recent graduate of high school. For all ya’ll wondering why I’m writing the remainder of his blogpost, it’s kinda simple; the art opening my dad mentioned previously is in less than twelve days, and he doesn’t have any finished pieces for it… yet. (Lets not mention the fact that they will need to be framed as well, shall we?)

As I sit here writing this he is calmly working away at solving this current issue and panicking as well. A little bit of an oxymoron, I know, but it’s the truth. The work itself, despite a certain lack of completion, is coming along quite nicely.

Here’s the WIP of the print block for Munin:


The show opening for Avanti will be on Friday the 12th of this month at 6:00 PM.

One More Thing…

My dad has finally gotten his website (with store!) up and running. Granted, it’s still in the beta phase right now, so feel free to contact him should you be encountering any problems with it.
The Link:

The Next Thing

I’ve had an idea kicking around even longer than the Green Man (he’s actually one of the more recent). A raven done in Celtic knot work. I figured out the knot several years ago in a sketchbook and never did anything about it.

Knotted Raven 72

Earlier this year I got a call for submissions for a juried art show on the subject of Crow/Raven: Magic and Mystery. But the art wasn’t anywhere near being ready for something like that, so I never even responded. Then about a month ago, at an opening for a show my wife was in, I met the curator for the Crow/Raven show. In the course of our conversation, he prodded me, wondering how long it would take me to get the art finished. When I convinced him that was not going to happen, he told me there was a lecture series associated with the show, and asked me if I would like to work on the art in the lobby between the lectures.

For some strange reason it took a bit of convincing for me to say yes, but I did. As a result, I will be working (painting, hopefully) on my knot work Raven on Sunday, June 8th, from 1pm to 2pm, somewhere in Blakely Hall in the Issaquah Highlands. Stop by if you can and say hi. I will be working, but having a conversation will be just as much fun. And the lectures sound fantastic.

I’m really looking forward to it. Hope to see some of you there.

Green Man at Last

Hmmm. I was supposed to post something about the final Green Man art, but things got a bit hectic at the end. There I was, pleasantly painting away, when I got a phone call from a gallery I’ve displayed at before. Turns out they had a big show coming up and wondered if I had anything to submit. Well technically I didn’t because the piece wasn’t done. But I had two weeks before the show was hung. That’s plenty of time. Right?

This was at the end of April and if you look at the progress of the art in the previous post, it wasn’t a lot farther along. In fact it was going to be a push to get the piece ready at all. After it was finished, I had to have it scanned, and then framed. It all came together, but just in time.


Normally I do my own scanning, but this was for reproduction. So I took it to a local shop, the Color Group, and the results were fabulous. Apparently they use an old drum scanner and the optics are amazing. One of the papers the use to make prints is the same as what the art was painted on: Arches 140# hot press watercolor paper. They gave me a color proof on the hot press. Stunning. The framer actually thought it was the original when she saw it.

And now that I have a GOOD scan, and once I figure out a web site I can sell from, there will be prints available. Go ahead and contact me if you’re interested and I can put your name on a list. Then I can send out an announcement when I have all my ducks in a row.

Until then, on to the next thing…

Green Man’s Progress

In the previous post I may have given the impression that I was done with the watercolor on this piece. It’s possible I may have even believed it. This is, however, a new process for me; this mixture of watercolor and gouache. And it is the first of several similar pieces I hope to finish this year. So I am paying a bit more attention to my working process than I normally might.

The preliminary drawings for the Green Man were very detailed. My palette was simple. I even thought I had a good handle on the technique to get it all done. For the most part it has gone according to plan. But once I started to get the dark green into the negative space, my concept fizzled.


What I was going to do was finish the Terre Verte gouache in the negative space, then outline the knot with thinned gouache in a dip pen, probably a mix of Indigo and Prussian Green. I quickly realized this would severely darken the piece and focus too much on the knot rather than the Green Man.

Detail showing the base layer of watercolor (bottom), some shading on top of the base layer (middle), and the knotwork shaded with the negative space filled.

Detail showing the base layer of watercolor (bottom), some shading on top of the base layer (middle), and the knotwork shaded with the negative space filled.

So I started shading the knot, defining the over-under pattern. I’m using tiny dabs of Sap Green, then blending it into the green of the knot. It was a concern of my critique group that I would be lifting up the gouache if I put watercolor next to it (or picking up the watercolor by laying gouache on top). I’m not working very wet, though, and there’s only been one tiny area where the gouache lifted. I dare anybody to find it. I think the effect is going to be much better than had I gone with my first idea. And because I hadn’t finished with the Terre Verte, I have some places where I’ve shaded the knot without the negative space being filled in. You can see an example of this in the detail photo. It will be interesting to see if it looks the same once I fill in the Terre Verte gouache. If it works, I will probably use this technique for later paintings.

My next post should have the final art.

The Green Man

Anyone who has followed this blog for a while (and thank you, oh patient folk) will know that I do Celtic art. I learned the technique years ago and have been playing with it on and off, usually creating small pieces for friends or special occasions, or just my own doodles. Only recently have I started thinking of reproducing my art for sale. Some would say, “It’s bloody well about time!” and I’m sure they are right. The reasons for me not taking this step sooner are personal and probably boring, so let’s skip over them and get to the art.


There have been lots of Celtic art comings and goings in my sketchbook over the past few years. And this piece is actually one of the more recent ones. The image of the Green Man will be familiar to many. There is considerable folklore and history intertwined with this figure. He appears in churches, manuscripts, and has been redrawn innumerable times. If you are unfamiliar with him, do a Google Image search and you’ll see what I mean.


My version has a personal twist. Besides being constructed as an endless knot, he is holly on one side, and oak on the other. The holly and the oak are seen as the two halves of the year. Even though the oak is a symbol of longevity and strength, it goes dormant in the fall and winter, when the holly reigns. You will find this symbology in the legend of the Oak King and the Holly King.

Detail of the knot work. The image area is about 1.875" x 1.5"

Detail of the knot work. The image area is about 1.875″ x 1.5″

After designing the knot (an arduous process) I transferred it to hot press Arches watercolor paper. I then painted the leaves which required me to evenly wet the leaf area, and only the leaf area. It started as a slow, careful procedure until I started laying down paint, then it turned into a mad dash to get it all down before things started to dry out. It’s all a slap-dash blend of Permanent Green Light, Sap Green, Hansa Yellow, and probably some Prussian Green. (I’m not positive what that blue-green blob on my palette is.) The background came next and wasn’t too bad at all. I was able to do it in manageable chunks. The color is Daniel Smith Garnet Genuine. Yum.

My palette, with left over colors from a previous job.

My palette, with left over colors from a previous job.

With the watercolor out of the way, I have started on defining the knot by painting the negative space with gouache. The color I’m using here is Holbein Terre Verte. Things will be further outlined and defined, but I’m not sure with what color yet. Hopefully you’ll get to find out in a couple of days.

The Wake-up Call

Flicker Feathers

This will be a long post, so grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, depending on your time zone or your tendencies.

Sunday morning I was awakened by the thumping of a flicker on the side of my house. I had actually woken up about an hour earlier and then dozed off while musing over what to post that day, so when the flicker drummed me awake I thought, hmmm, maybe this bird is trying to tell me something. There is a lot of symbolism surrounding the flicker, primarily spiritual, emotional and creative change. (This according to “Animal Speak” by Ted Andrews.)

And this is not first time I’ve had this bird fly into my consciousness. Flickers are common in my neighborhood as we have a good mix of tall trees and green lawns. I’ve had them come very close to me while I was working in the garden, and they are often calling, chattering, or drumming in the nearby trees. Perhaps the most interesting encounter was finding five tiny feathers, no more than an inch long, laid out in a neat fan on my porch one morning.

Suffice it to say that, with all this contact with the flicker, I am no stranger to change, even if I am brought to it kicking and screaming. I am actively involved in trying to change my life on several levels. That is part of what this blog is for. Flicker was just reminding me.

Either that or he was telling me I’ve got bugs in the side of my house. Then again, maybe it’s all the same.

We have wooden siding, and not particularly high quality stuff. There are splits and knot holes. Lovely places for bugs to get in, and for flickers to get breakfast. I’ve known this for quite some time, but I don’t have the expertise to fix it myself nor the finances to have somebody else do it. So I bide my time and hope that the situation doesn’t reach a crisis before I can deal with it.

And this is where change comes in. Do you have habits that get in the way of your creativity; or even worse, your health? I do. These may be things that we are hoping will just go away. It can’t be that bad. I mean, I still get some work done. Right?

We, my friends, have bugs in our houses. And even if we call the exterminators, what made the walls susceptible to bugs will still be there. Don’t get rid of the bugs; fix the house.

The painting is watercolor on Fabriano hot-press paper. It was an interesting exercise in using multiple layers of paint in different techniques, all the way from wet-on-wet to dry brush. I did most of it in about two hours, trying to work quickly. After all, I only made it as a header for this post. But I like it and I hope you do too.