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.


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.