Vikings and Ragnar Lodbrok

I’m gripped by the History channel’s Vikings. As a nerd for Norse mythology it’s right up my street.

There’s something about the blend of characters that works just great for me. As with Game of Thrones, the central theme is control.

Though Ragnar himself is a fine and battle-hardened warrior he shows great empathy and cunning. As a farmer his natural instinct is toward land ownership, but he is also fascinated by foreign cultures. Something that lands him in a head-to-head conflict with his trusted (and balmy) friend, Loki.

What I love about this show is its grittiness. Like Game of Thrones it offers some fairly engaging battle sequences, though we tend to pull away from the pointy end making contact with somebody’s neck just moments before the ketchup gets spilled.

In many respects it’s Game of Thrones Lite.

The Vikings’ story is not nearly as intricate as the spaghetti threaded storylines of Westeros. But that’s no bad thing. Essentially it’s a story of family, pride and loyalty with the tantalising prospect of exploration and wealth from distant shores. Something that it shares in abundance with Game of Thrones.

Through the eyes of the central character, Ragnar, we see a different world to the world that we may automatically assume to be the one in which Vikings lived.

Ragnar is clever. Where most hot-headed Northmen may shoot (or swing) first and ask questions later, Ragnar thinks several shots ahead. An astute warrior with remarkable intuition and a strong sense of leadership. When his fighters have their backs against the wall and run out of options, he brilliantly conspires to rescue the situation. (Season 3 – Paris)

This depth of Ragnar Lodbrok’s character is exciting for a writer. While all around him is potential chaos, he sees a certain clarity that allows for smart and often informed decisions. His attachment to the gods fades over time thanks to his acceptance of a key figure from his first raid. This intrigue with foreign cultures that are alien to his inherent beliefs serves him well despite those amongst him taking great issue.

As a writer and keen storyteller the Vikings premise is a strong one. There’s plenty of conflict and plenty of character growth, but there’s also a healthy amount of intrigue and exploration.

The protagonists venture far beyond their comfort zone with no apparent fear of failure. The gods have their back and for those that die in battle, Valhalla awaits. Indeed this lack of fear for death (“for death has already been decided, so fight well”) is what gives the Northmen their edge. Whereas their enemy is often clad head to toe in steel armour, the Norse raiders wear hard leather and furs. The best form of defence? Don’t get hit. (C) Mr Myagi :)

I’m up to the first episodes of Series 4 just now. I recently read that the 5th series is in production with 16 planned episodes.

 

Escape to North Carolina?

 

southport-03

I’d like to expand my blogging a little to include some non-art related posts. So here goes.

Yesterday evening I put my feet up and settled down to watch a movie on Amazon Prime.  I chose Safe Haven, a beautifully set romantic drama that sees a young wife (bloodied hands and all) fleeing her home town in search of a new start.

The reason I’m writing about it here is that the setting (Southport, North Carolina US) captivated me. We’re just into Autumn here in the UK and everything is beginning to rust and fall through various shades of red and gold.
Southport appeared to be doing the same thing to great effect.

As an artist and aspiring writer it was precisely the sort of location I’d head to for some inspiration. Somewhere to just escape it all for a while.

I often daydream about fleeing the run of the mill and heading out to some place to start again. Watching ‘Katie’ become somebody new and start a new life several hundred miles from home was infectious and extremely appealing.

A good film despite the lousy reviews. But then, make your own decisions, I did and wasn’t disappointed.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s style

I am fascinated by the French artists of the 19th century. Monet, Renoir, Degas and Manet in particular. But it’s Toulouse-Lautrec who I think has the more interesting story.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

My first thought when viewing Lautrec’s paintings is for Degas. The real life nature of his behind the scenes look at the Parisian brothels is quite reminiscent of Degas’ work at the ballet.
It also puts me in mind of Manet or Renoir in that there is some close study and strong tone around the face.

Seated Ballet Dancer - Toulouse Lautrec

Seated Ballet Dancer – Toulouse Lautrec

Lautrec was a man who never seemed to let his disabilities get the better of him. At just 4’8″ his legs were weak and he was quite clearly a man with some health issues. His love for alcohol and beautiful women however led him to be party to some incredible events. Most notably and famously the Moulin Rouge and the associated acts of La Belle Epoque (The Beautiful Time).

Lautrec’s style appeared hasty to say the least. He often worked on cardboard where the natural tone of the background would appear through any gaps in his brush / pencil strokes. It’s a neat effect.

La Promeneuse by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Oil on cardboard, dated 1892

As well as being influenced by the older and more established Degas he found inspiration in the works of the far east. Japanese wood prints offered Lautrec a great deal in their style and execution. The use of diagonal direction and flat colour within harsh black outlines became very common in Lautrec’s work.

I love the colour in his work. The soft, blue / lilac tones that help to lift the skin tones. Their relationship to the whites and pale pinks found in the clothes of his models (who weren’t models at all but working prostitutes and dancers).

It’s easy for me to be inspired by Lautrec in that his work seems instantly accessible. But to reproduce it takes some serious thought. For one Lautrec’s most striking work was completed with oil. My own work is largely pencil based due to my love of the soft shading. But this aside I’m going to produce a few pieces based on my brief understanding of his style and technique.

Detail of La Promeneuse

Detail of La Promeneuse

Ultimately I will produce them digitally using Corel Painter but to start with I want to use cardboard and a soft range of pencils. I’ll struggle to get the whites that he used but perhaps that’s something I can achieve with chalk or pastel.

Presenting my illustrations in a mock paperback format

I draw so much that I sometimes find it hard to maintain a particular style. So many different styles resonate with me and I often enjoy turning my hand to them to see how they work.

As an illustrator in search of an agent I’m always looking at different ways to present my work. So I crafted a paperback spread using Photoshop and applied some of my more recent drawings.

paperback-spread

Paperback spread created with Photoshop (click to view / download)

The drawings I wanted to present are from a collection I’ve been working on that involve a young boy and his dog in a fantasy realm. Here’s an example. It’s a linear style that I enjoy using when creating some interesting textures, such as wood or a gravelly floor.

barter for the bird

Here’s another one. This drawing was created using Mischief. It’s a much looser style and perhaps a bit more fun.

dremlin

I took a couple of images using each style and placed them onto the paper background.

paperback-mockup2

Line art on a paperback background

paperback-mockup1

Loose cartoon style on a paperback background

I honestly like both styles. Which to present?
Or both, even!

To create the desired effect I used Multiply from the layer blends in Photoshop. It renders neatly against the paper backdrop.

The type is Georgia.

Writing for film

I have always wanted to write and produce a film. A short film, ideally. I have no shortage of ideas but I am not in the slightest bit movie minded in terms of crafting such a thing.

My chosen style or genre would lean toward the supernatural. Something that might be lazily interpreted as horror but is in actual fact rather more psychological than gore. I avoid blood and gore in films. To me they are just pantomime.

Recently I watched The Human Centipede. It was billed as ‘truly terrifying’ and ‘the stuff of nightmares’. I think I spent more time laughing to myself than being truly terrified. I certainly didn’t suffer nightmares. A genuinely chilling concept let down, in my opinion, by bad staging and truly awful acting. So much more could have been done to increase the hit on the senses with that story. I don’t know, perhaps the version I watched was heavily censored. It’s entirely possible. The BBFC aren’t known for their respect of adults actually being adults.

Transformation is something that chills me. It always has done.
The werewolf scene in the front room from American Werewolf in London is a masterclass in cinema. The hideous transformation of Jan Francis’ Mina character in 1979’s Dracula is truly disturbing. The wonderfully tense blood test scene in The Thing that led to the transformation of one of the characters is, for me, unrivaled to this day.

Many modern films target immediate shocks as their route to un-nerving the audience. It’s not uncommon for us to witness somebody turning a corner and seeing some hideous demon flash up on screen momentarily. In Drag me to hell the lead character turns over in bed to see the nightmarish vision of her demon lying alongside her. It’s pretty chilling and immediately effective but a short lived horror. When the film is finished you’re left with little to process and very little to unsettle you. At least I was.

For my own project I’d like to conduct a little research into how the human mind works and processes such things as grief and lonliness. Fear of loss and isolation are amongst our greatest fears. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of change. These are all legitimate fears.

Religion has a major place in the lives of many people. It acts as a support, a crutch, to those who have a strong faith. What if that was tested? What if all that is deemed good and right, is shown to be anything but. What if you’re trust in Christ, for example, was shown to be misplaced.

These are things that intrigue me.

Piper Laurie’s character in Carrie was perfect. Recently ressurected by (the gorgeous) Julianne Moore to great effect, Carrie’s mother is the original religious nutcase. Self-harming is just one of her means of punishing herself for her perceived failings. It’s brutal viewing and very effective. There are no monsters and no ‘flashed up’ demons. It feels very real. As if the people living next door to you could be going through the same thing.

Julianne Moore photo from Carrie

I like this more than anything else in cinema. I like truth in film. To horribly paraphrase Hemingway; all writing is good if it is true. It’s this truth that I seek in a story.

M.R.James is a huge influence on my ideas for a story. As is Lovecraft. James’ fireside style of writing as if it were to be read aloud is extremely seductive. Lovecraft’s detail and elaborate portrayal of a netherworld containing that which should not really be known is and always has been hugely inspirational to me.

Photo of MR James

[M R James]

So in short I want to place real people into a real scenario that could well happen to anybody. Ghosts are real in that any form of spiritual afterlife has never been proven or disproved. Monsters less so. Monsters are useful for upsetting children effectively. But not adults. For me adults need reality or the perception of an alternate reality. We as adults need something to get our teeth into that could very well happen to us. And this is my starting point.

First I will write, then I will refine and ultimately I will plan a short film. 30 minutes or so. And then I will figure out how to shoot it!