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June 30, 2009

Instructions for Drawing What Doesn't Exist

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

If you wanna draw or paint faeries -- what you read about in childrens' stories -- then here is a book for you.

How about wizards, witches and warlocks? Check here. Or here if you need dragon-drawing help.

On the other hand, if a commission for a portrayal of goblins, orcs and "other dark creatures" flies over the transom, then you might want to get a copy of this book.

As nearly as I can tell (you might disagree), there are no such things as faeries, witches, warlocks, dragons, goblins and orcs. So painting them plein-air or posed in the studio might prove frustrating. Thank goodness those books exist and can come to the rescue.

What I find interesting is that there is enough agreement about the appearance of non-existent creatures that such instruction books are possible.



posted by Donald at June 30, 2009


There were rules for the portrayal of the classical Greek and Roman deities and heroes. There were similar rules for depicting figures of Hindu mythology and Chinese mythology.

For that matter, there were strict rules for the heraldic depiction of griffins, wyverns, and unicorns.

Yes, all these entities did not exist, but they were all derived from real-world entities and need to be reasonably consistent with the real world to be believable.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on July 1, 2009 12:12 AM

For once, my time as a geek allows me to answer a question on an art blog.

Two words: Dungeons and Dragons.

Probably the game helped create the idea of a *standardized* fantasy universe in which all the monsters of European myth existed and could coexist.

The Monster Manual (which has pictures and stats of all the beasties you were going to fight) is actually a neat sort of surrealistic postmodern idea if you think about it. Detailed, baseball-statistics like descriptions of the strengths and weaknesses of creatures that *don't exist*.

I always thought it was too bad RPGs were taken over by the Linux-and-Fritos crowd in many ways. (I say this as a guy who took differential equations in the twelfth grade and turned down a chick who asked him to the prom because she wasn't smart enough--in his stupid adolescent mind anyway!) How many artsy people would go for the idea of *telling a story together*, that gets made up as it goes along? Toss out the polyhedral dice and the textbook-like rulebooks and I think a lot of writer types would have had a great time. Imagine 'running' Pride and Prejudice and letting each player be one of the sisters and having them vie for Mr. Darcy's affections... or how about 'running' the Bostonians, where players playing Ransom and Olive can see who can get Verena? No rules like a board game--you make the story up as you go along. You can have Ahab ignore Moby Dick and become a newspaper man if you like--and tell all the ridiculous outcomes!

You'd have to figure out some sort of resolution system (ie does your pass work or not?) for the math-phobic, but I think this is an idea whose time will never come, largely because no artsy person would ever do something that smells of geek.

Posted by: SFG on July 5, 2009 10:19 AM

Having known more than a few "artsy types" who are into RPG you'll need to something other than anecdotes that confirm your own biases to make a case for saying "no artsy person would ever do something that smells of geek. Hell, these days geek is chic.

To the question of illustrating creatures that do not exist, RR has it pretty well when he says, "they were all derived from real-world entities." And, in general, described in literature and song countless times, thus developing a general consensus as to the characteristics that pertain to an orge or a fairy.

Posted by: Chris White on July 5, 2009 12:59 PM


Look up the RPG version of "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen". No dice, no stats, just seat of your pants storytelling competitions. Complete with drinking games. It's one of the most fun games out there, and if you tone down the bawdiness, perfectly acceptable to play with kids.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on July 5, 2009 4:20 PM

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