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.

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The Reduction Print

The last print is done. It will be delivered to the gallery for framing on Tuesday. This one of Slepnir, Odin’s eight legged horse, was a special challenge because I decided to do a reduction print. For those unfamiliar with this technique, please forgive me if I geek out a bit. It is a way to make a multi color relief print using only one block. But it’s also kind of like working without a net because there is little room for error. First you carve away everything you want to appear as white, then print the first color.

This is a scan of the first color. I only touched up lint spots on the scan. The ink coverage was fabulous, and I was surprised.

This is a scan of the first color. I only touched up lint spots on the scan. The ink coverage was fabulous, and I was surprised.

 

The next step is to carve away everything that you want to appear as the first color. In this case, I wanted only the background to be the Naples Yellow-like color, so I carved away all of the background. Well, almost all. There’s some lettering above the horse’s back that I carved around, but it doesn’t show in the next picture because I didn’t ink it during printing.

The second color was straight Dark Yellow over the pale yellow mix of the first run. If you look closely you can see that the ink coverage is a little spotty, but not too bad.

The second color was straight Dark Yellow over the pale yellow mix of the first run. If you look closely you can see that the ink coverage is a little spotty, but not too bad.

 

Lastly, I carved away everything I wanted to stay as the dark yellow. I then printed the third color, a mixed dark brown. The coverage on the final run was the toughest. There was either not enough ink, or the ink was too stiff, or not enough pressure, or too much ink and it plugged up the small spaces, but no matter what, I couldn’t get a good clean impression. Again, I don’t think it’s too bad and the majority of the prints will be useable, but it was exasperating.

The final print showing the lettering (runes) that I avoided in the second run.

The final print showing the lettering (runes) that I avoided in the second run.

 

And now a bit of a test. I took some video of the printing process and will attempt to post it here. I’m just following directions on how to post this, I really have no idea what I’m doing, so I hope it actually works.

 

All this and Tom Waits on the radio. Yeah. Life is good.

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:

MuninProcess72

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:
kevinecain.com